Celebrity Series Gone World Series with Perahia

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Murray Perahia conveyed an uncommon ease throughout Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, which began his concert presented by the Celebrity Series on Sunday, March 29, at Boston’s Symphony Hall. He let the discursive dances speak for themselves and coaxed simple two-note calls and responses into animated conversation. As for Mozart’s Piano Sonata in F major, K. 332, I have never before heard such an action-packed performance: blinding shifts; bell-like melody soaring above a warm, sotto voce accompaniment; and finally the rip-roaring last movement, where Perahia swerved in and out of passages now joyous, now tongue-in-cheek, now bold. What a way to lead into the softest sounds of the afternoon: the pianissimo opening of Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata! It was stunning. Perahia plumbed its depths in a non-stop high drama thick with emotion. In the first movement, he pedaled the ba-ba-ba-baah motive, causing sounds to overlap; he then articulated the same motive crisply in staccato fashion, the two iterations creating an unnerving suspense. After intermission, Perahia played Brahms’s rarely heard Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Handel in B-flat major, Opus 24.Without showing any sign of fatigue after 25 variations, all technically demanding, Perahia hit the ground running with a stentorian performance of the Fugue. Perahia’s rendering of these four masterworks at Symphony Hall showed what an inexhaustible source of transformative power they possess when in the right hands. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Some Gems, Some Rough Edges

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The Oriana Consort, a group of 25 singers, performed with a baroque string ensemble at the Swedenborgian Chapel in Cambridge on Sunday, March 29, under director Walter Chapin. Arvo Pärt’s setting of the story in Matthew, The Woman with the Alabaster Box (1997), is full of unusual tone clusters sung with purity of tone and pitch. The resulting “tintinabulation” was easily heard and strangely beautiful. The soprano section singing the choral tune in J.S. Bach’s Christ lag in Todesbanden (1707) was equally wonderful. The high point of the program was Frank Ticheli’s a capella setting of Sara Teasdale’s poem, “There will be rest.” The piece opens with disturbing clusters of notes, which resolve in and out of tonal harmony. Not everything on the program worked well, but Chapin and the chorus get considerable credit for a fascinating collection of seldom-heard music. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Violinist Batiashvili Debut, Guest Conductor Dutoit, Superb with BSO

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Charles Dutoit’s insouciant slow stroll from the stage door to the podium of Boston’s Symphony Hall would suggest a laid-back approach to music-making from this Swiss-French maestro, but this assumption was quickly proved wrong on Saturday, March 28. Karl Muck and the BSO first performed Ravel’s Mother Goose in Boston in 1913, and thereafter all of the orchestra’s music directors have presented it. Now Dutoit has put his own mark on the work, and the result was an extraordinarily elegant and beautifully sensitive reading, illumined and lovingly presented. Lisa Batiashvili made her BSO debut with the Prokofiev’s demanding Concerto in G, op. 63, another work which looms large in the BSO’s history. Bringing an air of assurance that belied her tender age, this Georgian (Russia) firebrand played flawlessly and with a passion and gentle sensitivity wholly appropriate to the mercurial demands of this essentially lyric though thorny masterwork. Again , there is a long BSO association with Stravinsky’s Petrushka. One would be hard-pressed to think how the performance given by Dutoit and the BSO on Saturday evening could have been bettered. His absolutely clear direction, his concepts of instrumental line and timbre, his pacing, his self-assurance and élan, all coalesced this band of individual virtuosi into a great ensemble performance. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Pacifica Quartet Shines in City That Fosters Chamber Music

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The Boston area is paradise for chamber music lovers. But even in this milieu, the Pacifica String Quartet shines. It is communication, both with us and with each other, that gives them their power. For their concert at Longy on March 26, Pacifica Quartet members Simin Ganatra and Sibbi Bernhardssohn, violins, Brandon Vamos, ‘cello, and Masumi Per Rostad, viola, were joined by guest violist Roger Tapping. The concert started with Mendelssohn’s Capriccio in E minor, op. 81, with the Pacifica pulling at the heartstrings of it. Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, op. 44, No. 2, is possibly one of the most beautiful he wrote. Once again, the Pacifica made the most of it with their moving dynamics and phrasing. The Dvorak String Quintet in E flat major, opus 97, written while the composer was in the Czech community at Spillsville, Iowa, just after completing the “New World” Symphony, is full of American melodies and rhythms. Tapping fit into the group as if he had been rehearsing with them for years. Watching his eyes watch the others, particularly Per Rostad, was a delight. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Prokofiev from LSO and Gergiev: Powerful, Profound

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The London Symphony Orchestra, in midst of a demanding 35-event tour of the world’s concert halls, landed in Boston last Wednesday, March 23rd, As the concert’s opener, Gergiev and pianist Alexi Volodin played Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat, op. 73, “Emperor.” There were times when one longed for a bit more profundity from this pianist, a longing temporarily assuaged when the LSO strings began the concerto’s second movement with the most ravishing pianissimo playing one could hope for. LSO timpanist Nigel Thomas played the wondrous duet in the “Rondo” with the piano soloist with extraordinary grace of touch and wonderful dynamic shading. The orchestra reappeared in much greater number after intermission to face the challenge of Prokofiev’s great Symphony No. 5 in B-flat, op. 100, the American premiere of which was offered by Serge Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony Orchestra on the very same stage in November, 1945. This performance was the finest of this work that I have heard.[Click title for full review]    [continued]

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BSO Burnishes Brahms, Bruckner

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Austrian conductor Hans Graf led the Boston Symphony Orchestra in glowing concerts given March 19-24, 2009, of the Bruckner Seventh Symphony and the Brahms Double Concerto at Symphony Hall. Soloists in the Brahms were Dutch violinist Janine Jansen and American cellist Alisa Weilerstein, young women of exceptional talent and musical maturity. Both engaged in a good deal of physical body language, with much soulful eyes-closed ceiling-gazing from the latter. More importantly, they also constantly watched one another to coordinate their mutual entrances and handing-off of motivic elements throughout the work’s implicit give-and-take, necessary because of there being two solo voices in this concerto instead of the usual one. Graf skillfully sculpted the orchestra’s contributions into elegant frames of accompaniment. Graf’s essay of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7 in E was tightly controlled and elegantly presented, with carefully planned balances between the choirs of the orchestra. Woodwinds and strings enjoyed freedom to play without fear of being swamped by the large section of brass instruments, augmented here by four Wagner tubas and a contrabass tuba. But was it precisely this constant control that may have contributed to the overall failure of this performance to elate and inspire? [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Dove’s Köthener Messe Builds on Bach

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Chorus pro Musica has established a solid reputation by presenting innovative new works throughout its 60 seasons. The March 14, 2009 concert at Boston’s Church of the Covenant featured the Köthener Messe (2002), a recent work of American composer Jonathan Dove based on motivic and biographical details of Johann Sebastian Bach that is at once Baroque and modern. Although the work takes advantage of recent compositional conventions such as dissonant clusters, vocal slides, and extended chromaticism, many concert-goers were reminded of the restrained, later sacred works of Igor Stravinsky; and the more elegiac sections recalled the haunting dissonances of Arvo Pärt. Mezzo soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore’s smooth, mellow interpretation of the opening aria, J.S. Bach’s “Komm, du süße Todesstunde” blended beautifully with Roy Sansom and Roxanne Layton’s sensitive recorder duet. Tenor Frank Kelley’s recitative and aria Der Schluß ist schon gemacht provided the dramatic center of the work. His expressive delivery showcased Bach’s ability to move from simple declamation, to virtuosity, to a brief but emotional cello solo by Marc Moskowitz. Handel’s early work Dixit Dominus, composed in his early twenties during his first visit to Rome, featured the excellent diction of the chorus in a surprisingly light, transparent interpretation. Conductor Michael Driscoll made his debut concert appearance with the CpM in this performance. Bach and Handel may be considered giants of High Baroque music, but Driscoll and the Chorus pro Musica emphasized their humanity, making their music warmer and approachable. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Bezuidenhout/Müllejans Duo Dazzles Cambridge

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Fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout astonished Cambridge concertgoers on Saturday, March 21, in a flawless recital of Mozart with violinist Petra Müllejans at Harvard’s Paine Hall under the auspices of Boston Early Music Festival. All of the excitement and frisson of the premieres of these Mozart masterworks were recreated in real time. One of the interests in this recital was observing how the prominence of the violin’s musical share flowered as Mozart grew in sophistication and facility in his violin/piano sonatas. Sonata in C, K. 296 began the evening, with its musical challenges mostly skewed in the keyboard direction. Repeats were nicely ornamented, wonderful give-and-take observed, and one was amazed by Bezuidenhout’s mastery of the pp-ppp end of the dynamic spectrum. The softest, most feathery touch was always flawlessly achieved. The deeper Sonata in G, K. 379 followed. The “distance” from the earlier sonata was quite wide, this sounding almost Beethoven-like in its reach of contrast and emotion. Bezuidenhout’s rapid passagework glittered and thrilled. The second movement was theme and variation form, with one variation delightfully embellished with violin pizzicati. The magisterial Sonata in B-flat, K. 454, showed Mozart at the height of his creativity, and one noticed immediately that the violin had achieved equal partnership with the keyboard. Both players rose to every opportunity the music offered, capping with quiet nobility an evening of grace, virtuosity, and elegance one always hopes to encounter, and this night, was gratefully achieved. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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BMOP Harbison’s Winter’s Tale

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The Boston Modern Orchestra Project’s concert in New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall on Friday, March 20, under the direction of founder Gil Rose, performed a single work, a concert version of John Harbison’s 1974 opera Winter’s Tale (revised in 1991), with a libretto by the composer after Shakespeare’s play. The Shakespeare text is hard enough — in fact, dense — so a rendition to music of this play is hardly ever done. But Harbison did it. He is very talented, literarily as well as musically. Winter’s Tale is stunning, but it does not really work as a self-standing work. Some members of the audience commented that the change in musical language made it seem is almost like two operas, Act I and Act II. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Taking a Sporting Chance

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For the better part of a half century, Pro Musicis has concentrated on discovering the young and exceptionally gifted, then going on to assist them in launching their professional careers. At age 25, American-born Tanya Gabrielian was one of four pianists who won the 2008 Pro Musicis International Award. So it was under the auspices of this organization that Gabrielian came to Pickman Hall, Longy School of Music in Cambridge, on Saturday, March 21. The program instantly suggested she might be taking a sporting chance of success, choosing unfamiliar faces and places, Tigran Mansurian, from Armenia, for one. Sonata No. 2 of Schnittke revealed Gabrielian’s exceptional temperament for piano but not for this dark side of the world. A controlled surface she created belied catastrophe, anger and pain, the core of the sonata. Mikhail Glinka’s The Lark, from A Farewell to St. Petersburg arranged by Mili Balakirev, suited Gabrielian’s polished pianism. Her deft and sensitive left-hand accompaniment lifted the cantabile melody into a place few pianists have reached. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Six Strings Brought Delight to Acton

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Guitar virtuoso John Muratore visited Acton Sunday, March 15, as part of the intrepid Music at St. Matthew’s Concert Series and its enthusiastic sponsors, the church’s Church Musician David Potts and Pastor Bob Moore. Muratore is surely one of greater Boston’s most gifted guitar virtuosos, and his broad range of repertoire was on display throughout this recital. The Sonatina of Federico Torroba, its many colors illumined by Muratore’s impeccable technique and soulful interpretation, was followed by Cuban Leo Brouwer’s remarkably evocative El Decameron Negro, then Three Spanish Pieces by Emilio Pujol. Estidio Brillante from Francisco Tarrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra, with its hypnotic mandolin-imitative tremolandi, brilliantly closed the recital’s first half. Muratore returned with two works by Heitor Villa-Lobos: Chôros no. 1, and the first of Five Preludes. Astor Piazzolla’s Dos Piezas summoned a superbly involved interpretation from Muratore. The wistful Sarabande by Francis Poulenc, his sole composition for solo guitar, that showed the emotionally palpable “pull” of this short work. William Walton’s wonderful Three Bagatelles were given a virtuoso reading. The recital closed with separate tributes to two jazz legends penned by New York composer Frederic Hand: Homage to Bill Evans, and Homage to Dave Brubeck, this latter work taking Brubeck’s familiar Blue Rondo a la Turk as its departure point. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Chiara Quartet at Harvard

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The Chiara Quartet, as part of their Blodgett residency at Harvard, gave a program with the title “Banned in the U.S.S.R.” on March 13. The theme emphasizes the political risks entailed under the Stalinist régime in Russia 60 years ago, with two works by reviled “Western formalist” composers and a third work with a Christian message when religious observance was officially banned. I’m not sure why the political motif was needed for an audience in today’s Cambridge, but notwithstanding the reverse chronological order of composition, the program was highly successful. The Chiaras played Alban Berg’s String Quartet, op. 3 with great expression and fine technique. My only caution, for the next time they perform it, would be to back off a little from Berg’s tendency to overload his scores with expression marks, which often have the effect of making the dynamics throb like a sore finger. Schoenberg’s String Quartet, op. 10, was composed in 1908; the last two of the four movements include a soprano solo, with texts by the German expressionist poet Stefan George. Lucy Shelton sang the solo movements with fearless accuracy and total comprehension. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Masterful Mendelssohn by Masterworks Chorale

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The Masterworks Chorale and its Music Director Steven Karidoyanes performed a wonderful concert at Sanders Theater on March 15 that also offered a nostalgic reminder of what home entertainment used to be, when friends would get together after work – and actually make their own entertainment by playing music. Every major composer contributed works to this genre (especially since they knew people would buy them), and Karidoyanes put together a fascinating program of three prime examples, all performed brilliantly by the Chorale and its superb orchestra. The group performed Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes (1870), in the version for chorus and orchestra; Mendelssohn’s Six Songs to be Sung in the Open Air, op. 59, sung a capella; and Mendelssohn’s youthful operatic gem, Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde, op. 89, the high point of the afternoon. The Chorale sang with a rich sound and in just the right style, and the orchestra was first-class under Karidoyanes’ direction. The solo singers for Sunday’s performance were professionals, of course, and they were uniformly excellent. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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BCO’s Classical Hit Parade

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Now beyond “up and coming,” the Boston Classical Orchestra performed the music of “Three composers at the top of the Classical Hit Parade” at Faneuil Hall on Sunday, March 15. Conductor Steven Lipsitt led the procession with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. I expected bold moves and incisive contrasts, or a tautness ready to unravel, or even an overall lightness bordering on the hopeful, but this Egmont seems to have functioned as the warm-up drill. Solo violinist Irina Muresanu combed through Brahms’s Violin Concerto in a demonstration of near exacting discipline and true feeling. Biting, decisive notes closer to midrange countered crystal clear notes up high on the fingerboard. Her openly communicative playing brightened up the old historic chamber. From the start of the concerto, the orchestra found itself much more in step than in the Beethoven: attacks got better, balance surfaced, a Brahmsian ambience took hold. The audience struck back with “bravo, bravo” insisting on an encore, and to their delight, yet another classical hit, Brahms’s Hungarian Dance No.5. In Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 3, “Scottish,” instead of the usual longer pauses between movements, conductor Lipsitt effectively marched the orchestra straight through the entire symphony with hardly a break, to an uncompromised show of splendor and polish. It was a brilliant feat – and a hit! [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Blue Heron: Artistry and Veracity in Revival of Dufay

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The unifying concept of Blue Heron Renaissance Choir’s Friday evening program on March 13, entitled “Dufay, Savoy, and the Island of Cyprus” was quite straightforward: in 1434, the King of Cyprus’s daughter went to Savoy to marry the son of the duke, a marriage that resulted in connections between multiple musical styles from different regions. The concert began with a splendid performance of Dufay’s Supremum est mortalibus bonum, followed by Isti sunt due olive. Conductor Scott Metcalfe then picked up a vielle and joined Daniela Tosic and Mark Sprinkle in the first of two works by Binchois for two or three voices in which the unbelievable blending ability of the singers shines through. The second half began with more of the haunting sonorities of works found in the Cyprus manuscript. In a mirror-like order of the first half, Blue Heron then performed selections from a Binchois Mass and closed with a few more works of Dufay’s. “The performance was magnificent,” noted Dufay scholar Alejandro Enrique Planchart, who was honored at the intermission by the Cambridge Society for Early Music. “Furthermore, this is the first performance I’ve heard of any movement of [Dufay’s Missa] Se la face ay pale at what I regard as the right tempos for that piece.” [Ciick title for full review.]    [continued]

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Cantata Singers: Well Balanced, Glorious!

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Friday the 13th (of March) brought the third Jordan Hall installment of the Cantata Singers’ season honoring the works of Benjamin Britten. The concert started with Beethoven’s delightful and seldom performed Mass in C. The solo quartet, Karyl Ryczek, Lynn Torgove, Stephen Williams, and Dana Whiteside, were exceptionally well balanced, forming a chorus of four, not independent soloists. The mass deserves more hearing; the C major is a wonderful balance for economic gloom. The orchestral suite from Britten’s opera Death in Venice, arranged by Steuart Bedford, is at times passionately mad, at times intensely longing. Special praise is due the vibraphone player, who voiced the main character, and the beautiful duets between oboe (Peggy Pearson) and flute (Jacqueline DeVoe). Lo the Full, Final Sacrifice by Gerald Finzi, written just after the carnage of World War Two, celebrates those who sacrifice their lives for a just cause. Finzi wanted the words to be heard, and the Cantata Singers chorus delivered. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Conductor Gilbert’s Sensitive Control Emphasizes BSO’s Music-playing

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Conductor Alan Gilbert exhibited the highest degree of sensitive control, expressiveness, good taste, and communication to the orchestra, much like his predecessors, Bernstein and Mehta, but without their ostentation and theatricality, in the Boston Symphony Orchestra concert on March 10. Gilbert chose an unusual opener to the concert, Night Ride and Sunrise by Sibelius (1907), never among Sibelius’s most popular works, and the performance was outstanding. The night ride was obvious enough, with a galoop-galoop dotted rhythm in the strings that never seemed to go anywhere and quickly became tiring. But all this diffuse rambling was swept away when the sunrise arrived in sudden and resplendent brass. Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, of all of his works for piano and orchestra, is the most grateful to play. It may not be as popular as the immortal Second Concerto, but neither is it as grandiose and bombastic. Stephen Hough has some of the finest jeu perlé and pianissimo that I have ever heard in person, and there was plenty of both in this splendid performance. Charles Ives’s Fourth Symphony is one of the 20th-century’s toughest nuts ever; as a whole it is, I think, a magnificent failure. In the baffling, defective, undeniably wonderful Fourth Symphony, we can discern the outlines, and some of the profound achievements, of one of the most visionary and multifaceted composers of all time, whose work responded as much to the transcendental vibrations of the New England microcosm as to the hidden rhythms of the universe. [Click title for full review. See also related article by DeVoto, posted on this site.]    [continued]

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Two Delights and One Disappointment

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Thursday evening, March 12, Herbert Blomstedt conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in performances of the Nielsen’s “Helios” overture, Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat, with pianist Richard Goode, and Brahm’s Symphony No 4. The first two pieces were new to me, and welcome. Nielsen manages to pack the glory of a sun-filled day into 10 minutes of music, and the orchestra played with verve – clearly excited by the piece. The Mozart was an equal pleasure; the smaller orchestra played with precision and attention to detail The second movement in G minor was the heart of the piece, a lament for times and loves lost. Richard Goode played with great expressiveness, sometimes barely audible over the orchestra. The Brahms was well played – but ultimately disappointing. The performance rose to the heights of this music, but mostly failed to probe the depths. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Constant Communication: The Muir Quartet with Menahem Pressler

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Once again, the editor feels called upon to bring to readers of The Boston Musical Intelligencer a concert that would otherwise not have been noted here. What a pity that would have been. Watching pianist Menahem Pressler smiling benignly, turning to cue the various members of the Muir Quartet as they played the Brahms Quintet in F minor, op. 34, was one of the singular delights of the concert put on by the Concord Chamber Music Society on March 8. The communication was electric, the intonation and phrasing, breath-taking. Another delight of the concert was Five Pieces for String Quartet by Erwin Schulhoff. The five movements played on different musical motifs – waltz, serenade, Czech folk dance, tango, and tarantella – with readily identifiable antecedents. But the most striking element of this fine performance was its light-footed feeling. At the same time, the music is hardly fluff; it has a quirky intellectual development and catchy dissonance, sometimes poignant. The Muir Quartet and Pressler played their hearts out. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Full Radius of Color and Expression

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In existence for a decade, Radius, one of Boston’s finest music ensembles continued its 2008-09 concert season at Killian Hall on the campus of MIT in Cambridge, Saturday March 7. Three pieces—Fuga e Misterio, Oblivion and Libertango—by Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla arranged for winds by Jeff Scott, were expertly played by each performer; however, with neither the bandoneón nor the jazz-type ensemble characteristic of Piazzola’s performances, some of the taste of tango and Argentina got lost in translation. Shrill fanfares in the high piano register announced vast wreckage and destruction in Sophia Gubaidulina’s Quasi hoquetus. With passages that outline distinct shapes, blocks, lines, solids, and the like, one can imagine the music emanating from the likes of a Kandinsky. Described as one kind of culinary delight or another in both pre-concert and concert remarks, Aria, by 20th century French composer Jacque Ibert, completely changed the program’s direction—once again! Call, a pièce de résistance, light, pleasant, tasty. Radius concluded it with String Quintet No.1, op. 88 by Johannes Brahms. Each of the five instruments’ personalities could be seen through a range of physical expressions from the dynamic to the restrained. All, though, were entirely on the same page. Hooray for this daring programming here in Boston. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Lowell House’s Tragedy Otello A Triumph

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The longest-running opera company in New England – Harvard University’s Lowell House Opera – presented Verdi’s Otello to a sold-out crowd at its black-tie opening on March 4. It is difficult to fathom how a student-run opera company can consistently produce serious operas at a high artistic level – but they do. The real star of the performance was the orchestra, lead with great skill by Channing Yu. It is one thing to see a great opera like Otello played to an audience of 3,000 in a large theater, where the average seating distance is more than 100 feet. It is quite another to have a more than adequate orchestra and some excellent singers right in your face. The intensity of the drama was often too much for me. I had to shut my eyes and just listen to the music. A great night at the opera! I can’t wait to see what they will do next year. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Compositional Demands of the Late Beethoven String Quartets Admirably Met by the Borromeo

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To get to listen to all three of Beethoven’s late string quartets played by a top-notch ensemble like the Borromeo, for free, comes close to the opportunity of a lifetime. It takes an ensemble of exceptional caliber to realize that tonal potential to the full. The Borromeo Quartet, in Jordan Hall on March 3, demonstrated that they are up to the job. Opus 132, in a minor began somewhat inauspiciously. Facing the profound andante of the third movement, however, the quartet sprang to life, with the allegro appassionato finale rising to a climax that left hearts—this time those of the audience—soaring. With its arching structure, Opus 131, in c-sharp minor calls for everything from the tightest integration of line, often piano, to the broadest and brashest expressionism, sometimes forte. In both technique and sensibility, the Borromeo matched Beethoven’s every demand. After intermission and turning to the middle of the three pieces, Opus 130 in B-flat major, the performers strangely seemed to fall back into the slight funk with which the program began. Perhaps part of the fault lies with Beethoven himself. By the section alla danza tedesca, the music had begun to fall together. Happily, the players chose to end the whole with Beethoven’s original finale, his Grosse Fuge, a composition of overwhelming dimensions for both players and audience. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Collage Offers Bold Gestures, Hints of Opera, and a Knockout

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Collage New Music capped off its season on March 2 in a concert displaying precision and attentiveness to the demands of each piece. Donald Crockett’s for solo piano was made primarily of bold gestures. Catherine French’s silky tone complemented the rhapsodic writing that emerged in the middle movement of Andrew Imbrie’s Chicago Bells. Christopher Oldfather’s accompaniment for the two songs in Tobia Picker’s Rain in the Trees pointed at much vaster instrumentation. Picker’sThe Blue Hula brought the entire Collage group together (Pierrot plus percussion). It was a “fun” piece, highlighting virtuosic ensemble playing. David Rakowski’s Phillis Levin Songs (the premiere) were really a knockout, nimbly conjuring forest scenes, subatomic reactions, snowfall, and other snapshot moments. Another Pilgrimage, this one by Imbrie, cast the group as a bunch of boisterous characters (not unlike what Elliott Carter might do) pushing past each other towards the pearly gates. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Nézet-Séguin and Thibaudet at the BSO: Less Familiar Warhorses

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Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s program at this week’s (Feb. 27) concerts of the Boston Symphony Orchestra was well chosen for orchestral brilliance, and the Symphony supported him fully. The works were the less-often-heard warhorses of the crowd-pleasing type. Nézet-Séguin is obviously a conductor with style as well as sensitivity, yet I did not enjoy watching his platform manner. I often wonder whether Ravel really did want to orchestrate his Valses nobles et sentimentales, one of the great piano works of the last century and one of the most sensitively written. The biggest problem is that the entire orchestral conception is too large. Ravel deliberately spiced up the harmony, and the result was a harmony that simply became crushing, which is too bad, because the pattern of chromatic sequences in this piece is wonderful in the piano version. Jean-Yves Thibaudet was a scintillating performer in Liszt’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in A majo that showcased his skill so effectively. His upper-register jeu perlé was especially fine, and there is a lot of it in this work; his double octaves were fearless. It seems a more episodic, fragmented piece, with themes that are less obtrusive and more hidden underneath the pianistic fireworks; yet it moves forward effectively, and the cadenzas don’t impede the drama, The return of the main theme comes within a hairbreadth of sounding silly; this might be Liszt’s gesture of Hungarian nationalist defiance. Dvorák seems to have paid greater tribute to his friend Brahms in his Symphony No. 6. Most of all, though, the Sixth has a stronger and more spacious lyricism than any of the later symphonies. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Celtic Excursions at the Newton Symphony

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With the diversity of styles represented, and some fine performances by featured soloists Susan Robinson and Joseph Scheer, the Newton Symphony Orchestra (on March 1)again exceeds expectations for community orchestras in the Boston area. Hector Berlioz’s Rob Roy Overture was remarkably dynamic and teeming with energy, though at times dissatisfying in rhythmic precision. The real treat was William Alwyn’s Lyra Angelica for harp and strings. The performance of the Adagio was utterly beautiful, showcasing the masterfully gripping technique of featured harp soloist Susan Robinson over an atmosphere of eerie string melodies. Sir Charles Villiers Stanford’s Fifth Irish Rhapsody, featured many moments of chamber-like, stripped-down orchestration. Even in the fully orchestrated moments, the orchestra possessed the precision and rhythmic drive that was lacking in the Berlioz. In my opinion, the inclusion of John William’s Suite from Far and Away was a programming blunder. The ensemble performed the music accurately and with conviction, though I’d wager even the performers had trouble keeping recollections of Tom Cruise’s ridiculous Irish accent out of their minds during the performance. Saved for last was the most substantial work, Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy; it returned harpist Susan Robinson to the stage, along with featured violinist Joseph Scheer, in a performance extremely well handled by the conductor, orchestra, and soloists alike. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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