Strange Celebration of Sir James Galway’s 70th Birthday at Tanglewood

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Tanglewood and the Boston Symphony Orchestra under conductor Leonard Slatkin offered a strange 70th birthday celebration for world-renowned flutist Sir James Galway on August 1. Certainly not a flautist per se, this Irishman has covered all kinds of ground in our vast world of music. An arrangement for two flutes of Mozart’s well-known rondo with Turkish march from Piano Sonata in A Major, with Lady Jeanne Galway, entertained some, but not all, in the audience. Derek Bermel’s new work Swing Song for solo flute and flute ensemble promised a lot and delivered very little. Galway whizzed through showy passagework and his virtuosity astonished. The evening, which ended after 11 pm, became vaudeville, more tiring, more predictable, and more indulgent – save for the Irish flavor of tenor Anthony Kearns’s voice (his diction making clear maybe half of the lyrics of two favorite Irish melodies). I had had enough of having fun with music – Bach Latinized in a hyper tense mode, Danny Boy given a pseudo jazz incarnation on the piano. Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun”  opened the program. Solo flutist Elizabeth Rowe began it all with her own breathtakingly beautiful sound.  It was the expressive oboe appearing and disappearing in this most magical soundscape that would reach through the “haze” of this dream to tug ever so eloquently at the subconscious ear. The seams of this orchestral masterpiece’s gossamer weave became vividly apparent and  unspeakably expressive through Slatkin and players. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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The Boston Landmarks Orchestra Comes to Jamaica Pond

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On Sunday, July 26, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra presented a free neighborhood concert in the Pinebank Promontory, a newly opened site that is part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace park system. Featuring the world premiere of Thomas Oboe Lee’s The Story of Frederick Law Olmsted, Franz Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major, and Felix Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 4, “Italian,” the concert continued conductor Charles Ansbacher’s long mission to present “exceptional orchestral music performances in significant architectural, historical, and geographical settings.” Americana was present in Lee’s musical portrait of Olmsted, accompanying a text by Nancy Stevenson; unruly dogs barked intermittently as families picnicked, children danced, and tandem bicyclists pushed through the crowd. Jacqueline Choi’s gorgeous first-movement cadenza  climaxed with a dissonance that reminded one of his later works. Despite a bit of rushing in the third movement, her performance showed the confidence of an emergent virtuoso. In Mendelssohn’s “Italian,” Ansbacher put his orchestra through its paces and the result was marvelous. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Musical Exchange Between Baroque Dresden, Venice Featured at Longy

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The concert on Friday, July 31, featured Vivaldi as the Italian “rep” splitting the bill with three Germans—Pachelbel, Zelenka and Weiss. Once again, Vivaldi stole the show with his fiery idiomatic writing. Violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock soloed in Concerto ‘Il Grosso Mogul’ in D Major RV 208. Cellist Phoebe Carrai. Sonata IX in G Minor RV turned his language into the most inviting, savory substance, engaging, the way you dream music should be. Oboist Gonzalo X. Ruiz brought great joy and inflection to Concerto in G Minor, Op. 11, No. VI, RV460. The quiet lute of Lucas Harris in Sonata 45 by Sylvius Leopold Weiss entranced. Even with puzzling buzzes from the instrument. Countertenor Ricard Bordas sang Lamentatio Pro Die Mercurii Sancto of Jan Disma Zelenka with considerable sincerity and control, though to me his voice is limited in its tonal and emotive appeal. Recorder player Paul Leenhouts’s softly exquisite sounds barely made it past the ensemble’s stormy energy in Vivaldi’s Concerto “La Tempesta Di Mare” in F Major, Op. X No. I RV 430. Arthur Hass created a cute close to Pachelbel’s Suite in F-sharp Minor and got a laugh out of it, but too many inaccuracies popped up in his harpsichord playing. I often wondered if this were a democratically run ensemble, as it clearly appeared to be in need of a director. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Young Artists Orchestra Shines at Tanglewood

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The Boston University Tanglewood Institute’s Young Artists Orchestra, Federico Cortese, conductor, gave its second concert of the season at Seiji Ozawa Hall, Tanglewood, on Saturday, July 25th, at 2:30 pm. The orchestra got off to a rousing start with Cuban Overture, George Gershwin’s 1932 tribute to Cuban dance and street music. In Beethoven’s heroic Egmont Overture, the strings came to the fore, showing how much they have improved – particularly the violins – since the orchestra’s first program of the season. Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra was an excellent program choice that showed off the skills  of the young players in a spirited and stylish rendering.  [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Through The American Prism: BSO, Hampson, Shaham at Tanglewood

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David Robertson conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood on Sunday afternoon, July 26, through a program of mid-20th-century works of American composers that, for the most part, blur the all-too-commonly drawn lines between the progressive-atonal camp and the conservative-Americana camp. Roy Harris’s Symphony #3 opened the concert with the slow unfolding of chorale-like textures in the low strings. With the unanimity of musical material in each section, the symphony leaves little to be questioned until its abruptly rigid and unsettling ending, which seemed to propel the listener into the following pieces with a sense of apprehension. Although the essence of Five Songs from William Blake by Virgil Thomson features a fairly risk-less relationship between the orchestra and singer, celebrated baritone Thomas Hampson took command of his role with radiance, creating dimension to these steeples of neoclassicist Americana. Anyone looking for a more intriguing and complex dialogue between Thomas Hampson and the BSO was without doubt appeased by the performances of Samuel Barber’s songs with orchestra: Sure on this shining night, Nocturne, and I hear an army charging upon the land. Like Harris’s Symphony #3, Leonard Bernstein’s Symphony #2, “The Age of Anxiety,” received its premiere by the BSO under Koussevitzky decades ago. There seemed to be a supernatural link between pianist Orli Shaham and conductor David Robertson; the conversation between orchestra and pianist seemed to flow like a river, without the slightest disturbance. The program seemed to remind us that the orchestral repertoire of mid-20th-century America is far more eclectic than we often recollect, and is as diverse as it is euphonious. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Berlioz and Mussorgsky Compete with Deluge as BSO Plays on at Tanglewood

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James Levine conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood on Friday evening, July 24,  in a rewarding program of music by Hector Berlioz and Modeste Mussorgsky. After the opening outburst of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, we were treated to one of the composer’s beautifully flexible Andante melodies:  an English horn solo ably played by the BSO’s Robert Sheena and then heard in canon for winds and strings with rustling wind and percussion accompaniment. Coming after this leisurely opening, the Allegro vivace was all the more exciting. Steven Ansell, the BSO’s principal violist, was the soloist in Harold In Italy. From the melancholic opening to the Brigands’ Orgy, the rapport between conductor, soloist, and orchestra was palpable, encompassing the recurrent melody in its various manifestations, the famous réunion des thèmes in the Serenade, and the rhythmic intensification of the finale. As original for his time as Berlioz was in his, Mussorgsky died in 1881, leaving his historical opera Khovanshchina mostly completed, but in piano score. The prelude, composed already in 1874, gives little hint, in its gently lyrical, folk-like melodic language, of the violent plot of the opera and reminds us that some of Mussorgsky’s most expressive music is found among his song settings. Levine and the BSO then did full justice to the inventiveness and brilliance of Ravel’s orchestration of Pictures at an Exhibition, particularly in “Il Vecchio Castello,” with its evocative alto saxophone solo, and the mercurial “Ballet of Chicks in Their Shells.” Partway through the concert, the musicians appeared to be gesticulating rather than playing, their sound all but drowned out by an increasingly ferocious rainstorm. Fortunately technology came to the rescue of the music; microphones and speakers were connected for the remainder of the evening.  [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Thomas Hampson Brings Panache, Puzzlement to Tanglewood Recital

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Thomas Hampson, American baritone, sang a recital of American art songs in Tanglewood’s Seiji Ozawa Hall Wednesday evening, July 22 that surveyed such diverse composers as Stephen Foster, Arthur Farwell, Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, Aaron Copland, and Leonard Bernstein. The second half was devoted entirely to a generous sampling of songs by Charles Ives. Mr. Hampson’s recital partner was the remarkable pianist Craig Rutenberg, a keyboardist of compelling intellectual depth and seemingly limitless technique. That such an artist of Mr. Hampson’s considerable gifts of voice and interpretation should become so strong an advocate for the promulgation of American art song is admirable, to say the least. In large part Mr. Hampson “delivered,” but there were too many small but disconcerting slips of judgment and memory which, in sum, prevented this recital from completely achieving the lofty heights it promised. In a traversal of songs by Charles Ives, some cracks began to appear. Mr. Hampson strayed more often than he should have from the printed notes and texts Ives wrote. It created the impression that Mr. Hampson had not prepared these songs to the level of professionalism he had brought to the music on his recital’s first half. Ives’ transcendence suffered, a cardinal sin when presenting these remarkable songs. Much DID work, of course. Mr. Hampson’s instrument has a huge span of range and volume, and he applied these twin assets cannily and effectively throughout the evening. His soulful and powerful interpretation of Arthur Farwell’s Song of the Deathless Voice, a compelling dirge for an entire race of Native Americans, emerged as a shattering depiction, beautifully composed and definitively sung. To What You Said, perhaps Bernstein’s most personal and heartfelt vocal solo, received a performance equal to its content, a highlight of the evening. In the last programmed song, Ive’s The Housatonic at Stockbridge, Hampson gave one of his recital’s finest performances.[Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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BOC Carmen with a Different Cast

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The performance of Carmen by the Boston Opera Collaborative at the Bulger Performing Arts Center on July 25 gave us plenty of reasons to understand why it has remained one of the staples of the operatic repertory. The resources of this new and intrepid opera company are limited, but apparently not the talents of its members. Conductor Michael Sakir led the small and very young but very skilled orchestra with calm control and nice sense of pacing. The sets were minimal, but used to full effect; the costumes essentially street clothes, but they also worked perfectly; and the stage direction under Nathan Troup was impressive. All of this would be irrelevant, of course, if the singers did not come through. They did, for the most part. Brooke Larimer gave us a dark, husky Carmen. Daniel Erbe’s Don José had a tendency to slip into a caricature of Dudley-Do-Right, and the singer had some problems at the top of his register, but he proved a perfect match for Larimer’s rapacious Carmen. Escamillo was beautifully sung by Sepp Hammer, and Margaret Felice, with her drop-dead beautiful voice, was ideal as Micaëla. One major flaw in this production was the diction, or lack of it. Someone also needs to help the singers with their French pronunciation. There were also a few ensemble problems, especially when the orchestra was in one time zone and the singers in another. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Monadnock Music Achieves High Aims with Small Forces

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Monadnock Music presented a free concert of excellently delivered chamber music at the Francestown, NH, Old Meeting House Friday evening, July 24. The program exhibited the rigor and stylistic variety that sets Monadnock Music at the top tier of summer music festivals in the Northeast. The Elizabethan Songs by Dowland and Purcell were interpreted with distinctive vibrancy by soprano Ilana Davidson and mezzo Janna Baty. However, the opening and closing Coperario duets seemed to suffer at this approach, missing the characteristic symbiotic blend that is so crucial to Early vocal music. Dan Lippel provided the lute part on guitar, which worked exceptionally well for the Dowland songs. Guitarist Dan Lippel was simply brilliant in Roberto Sierra’s Triprico for guitar and string quartet, which is as inventive as it is engaging – and as virtuosic as it is inventive. The energy was palpable from the beginning, emanating from cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer. Ilana Davidson and flutist and artistic director Laura Gilbert performed Deux poémes du Ronsard with an organic and captivating sense of chemistry. The concert closed with an top-notch performance of Johannes Brahms’s Clarinet Quintet in B minor. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Giving Emerging Artists a Chance: Boston Opera Collaborative Offers Carmen

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This summer, Boston Opera Collaborative is  tackling Bizet’s Carmen at the Bulger Performing Arts Center, Boston College High School. We knew that we were in capable musical hands as the overture began under the direction of Michael Sakir. Rebecca Teeters (Michaëla) and Jeffrey Nardone (Don José) provided the Act I highlight in their wonderful duet. Teeters also excelled in her moving Act III aria; she is a performer worth watching. Baritone Jeffrey McEvoy failed to capture Escamillo’s heat and natural swagger. His toreador song was tepid, and he was not subsequently helped by Nathan Troup’s direction to turn his back to the audience. The production’s limitations were dispelled in the devastating Act IV. When Don José stabs Carmen as the crowd sings “The Toreador Song,” two wonderful theatrical events occurred simultaneously. The lights were trained on the theater audience while the bullfight crowd cheered. Then the audience erupted with clapping and whistling.  [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Darkness: Organist Diane Meredith Belcher at First Church of Christ Scientist

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Diane Meredith Belcher played the Aeolian-Skinner organ at First Church of Christ Scientist Thursday evening July 2, as part of this year’s American Guild of Organists convention in Boston. Programming three of Mendelssohn’s preludes and fugues, two of them in the dark tonality of the minor mode, and Introduction and Passacaglia from Josef Rheinberger’s eighth sonata, also in the minor, cast a deep pall over the evening. After intermission, Belcher played Suite by Maurice Duruflé. Suddenly there was light! After overcoming obstacle, detour and bypass posed by the searching and striving third movement, Belcher, in an extraordinary approach, reached the music’s majestic end: a full and complete harmony that for centuries has come to symbolize glory, if not the arrival of the ultimate destination. Lee Hoiby’s Rocky Valley Narrative provided Belcher openings for exposing the solo reeds and flutes and numerous other organ stops. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Rare Chance to Hear Full Organ Program with James David Christie at Symphony Hall

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Organist, James David Christie, performed at Symphony Hall in a program of all-French 19th and early 20th repertoire for organ and orchestra. It was a rare treat to hear it on one of the top concert hall organs built for one of the top halls in the world. The American Guild of Organists sponsored the concert as part of its four-day conference. Christie matched moves with the level of clarity only the French believe they can achieve in Francis Poulenc’s Concerto in G minor for Organ, Strings and Timpani, with the New Philharmonia Orchestra under Ronald Knudsen. Hymne d’Action de Grâces, Te Deum by Jean Langlais was given a blockbuster performance. Tuttis with full orchestra and full organ showed Symphony Hall’s rebuilt Aeolian-Skinner up to the task. Marcel Dupré’s warm and enchanting Cortège et Litanie, that we have come to know so well as an organ piece, put the organ in a role of orchestral instrument with the unhappy result of clouding the entire composition. Two favorites from Louis Vierne symphonies and the first symphony of Alexandre Guillmant-pieces on the blacklist for those organ purists a half century ago-saw brand new life. For an encore, James David Christie remembered Daniel Pinkham in a deeply moving performance of one of the late organist’s exquisite works. The New Philharmonia Orchestra, an 80-member non-professional regional orchestra based in Newton, is one of Boston’s real surprises of the year. Theirs is an honest sound, one that goes to the heart. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Solid Performance from Jupiter String Quartet at Rockport Chamber Music Festival

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Performing in front of a sold-out audience, the Jupiter String Quartet gave a solid performance of works by Beethoven, Shostakovich and Mendelssohn last Thursday evening, June 25, at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. Jonathan Vinocour, newly named principal violist of the San Francisco Symphony, played, in lieu of  Liz Freivogel, with regular quartet members violinists Nelson Lee and Meg Freivogel and cellist Daniel McDonough. Lacking really crisp articulation at the beginning of the challenging Beethoven  String Quartet in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2, the quartet really settled into the composition midway through the first movement, and Lee emerged as a strong leader.  The other standout was McDonough. Once again, McDonough grounded the ensemble with his solid rhythmic foundation in the Shostakovich String Quartet No. 7 in F-sharp Major, Op. 108. The Jupiter String Quartet approached this Shostakovich aggressively. The  skill of each ensemble member was highlighted in the third movement where, after a section of imitative counterpoint, each instrument veers away from the group and plays its own obviously challenging line. The quartet and violist Mary Persin sounded at its best in a beautiful performance of the Mendelssohn String Quintet No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 87 to conclude the concert. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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TF3 Swells Rockport’s Sails, Spirits

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The pleasantly low-key barn-like gallery of the Rockport Art Association, long-time temporary home of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival, became an unusually apt stage for the amiable antics and “aw-shucks” musicianship of Time For Three on June 18. TF3 exhibit purebred classic schooling and disciplined ensemble, while its repertoire is tail-wagging mongrel, rich in texture and quick-cut, memorized arrangements. Tall, slender Zach De Pue blithely reeled off glittering cadenzas and technical fireworks with debonair aplomb, while short, feisty Nick Kendall, with his spiky modified Mohawk, sawed away at gritty folk themes and country swing licks. Bassist Ranaan Meyer played the role of leader, composer. Giddy patter and self-deprecatory jokes leavened the pleasant evening and further ingratiated a mixed audience of strait-laced classical listeners and impressionable ingénue teenagers. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Young Musicians Give Excellent Performance at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival

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Pianist Gilles Vonsattel, violinist Frank Huang, and cellist Nicolas Altstaedt presented a program of piano trios by Haydn, Brahms and Tchaikovsky last Sunday, June 21 at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival. Consisting of only two movements, the Haydn Trio in F Major (1784) was a light-hearted, witty opener to the difficulty and weight of the next two works. In the Brahms Trio in C Minor, Op. 101, the communication between these musicians, whether in conversation, counterpoint or unison, was impressive. Tchaikovsky composed the piano part of Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50 in epic, almost concerto-like proportions, at times even overwhelming the violin and cello parts. Vonsattel played with great skill, seemingly unfazed by the difficult nature of his part; and Huang and Altstaedt successfully provided a unified front, with their lines often weaving in and out of one another, in imitative counterpoint or exact unison. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Sick Puppy at NEC

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An eager crowd appeared at New England Conservatory’s Summer Institute for Contemporary Performance Practice at Jordan Hall Wednesday June 17 for a rare opportunity to hear live Three Quarter-tone Pieces devised by American icon Charles Ives. One piano is tuned “50 cents lower” as renowned Boston piano tuner Mark Whitlock put it. Unbelievably, Stephen Drury and long-time friend Paul Hanson made these two differently tuned pianos appear as one singular instrument with ever so alluring sound and fashioned images of a small American town of yesteryear-Ives’ environment. Sick Puppy composer-in-residence, Jonathan Harvey, took a far different tack. If there were philosophical or physical motives underpinning this music, they passed me by. Cellist Francesco Dillon brought absolute involvement and reverence to the demanding instrumental techniques and strange sonic stances called for in Harvey’s scores, and pianist Emanuele Torquati brought unflagging commitment to Harvey’s Tombeau de Messiaen, Pianist Aki Takahashi and five brass players tackled a 1960s piece by Iannis Xenakis entitled Eonta. Brasses and piano form an odd couple, you would think, but not here where they summon up an industrial environment.With more bodies to absorb sound in resonant Jordan Hall the very loudest of passages would not have verged on the intolerable. There were imbalances in ensemble playing and dynamics were too often roughly hewn, all of which contributed to more fatigue than to life-giving energy. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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A Windfall of Musicians – Hitler’s Émigrés and Exiles in Southern California

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A review of a new book by Dorothy Lamb Crawford

This concise and well-written story of the migration of mostly Jewish musicians and artists fleeing Hitler’s onslaught in Europe and eventually “washing ashore” in Southern California is, in a word, essential. Author/musicologist/historian and Cambridge, Massachusetts resident Dorothy Lamb Crawford has penned a highly readable and engrossing account of the cause and effect of the arrival on American shores of hundreds of persecuted European artisans, some well-known, others not, but all who, with their individual gifts of creativity and sheer determination to survive, shaped the music and arts scene in southern California from the late 1930s and ultimately to the present day. [click title for full review]    [continued]

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Courtly Entertainment Delights Festival Audience

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Theatricals of all kinds were banned in Puritan England, but the return of the Stuart dynasty in 1660 brought about a revival of elaborate court festivities. Two of these were presented in “An Evening of Chamber Opera”: Venus and Adonis, by John Blow, and Actéon, by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, as part of the Boston Early Music Festival, Saturday, June 13, 8 pm, at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. Stage director Gilbert Blin and choreographer Lucy Graham collaborated in an exquisite production in which the two “mini-operas” were framed as courtly entertainment with courtiers and their children — five accomplished members of Rebecca Kenneally’s BEMF Youth Ensemble. Elegant costumes in off-white tones by Anna Watkins remained the same throughout both operas; scarves, cloaks, and masks identified the singers and dancers variously as shepherdesses, huntsmen, cupids, nymphs, and hounds. The onstage chamber orchestra was ably led by violinist Robert Mealy. Canadian mezzo-soprano Mireille Lebel, playing Cupid in Venus and Adonis, sang the beautifully nuanced recitatives and dancelike airs of the Prologue with equal stylistic sensitivity. The opening recitative of Act I, with soprano Amanda Forsythe as a resplendent Venus and baritone Jesse Blumberg as Adonis, was deeply affecting. Juno was grandly played and sung by mezzo-soprano Laura Pudwell, in Actéon. In his portrayal of the dying Actéon, Sheehan managed to sing with beautiful tone and expressive articulation and to collapse gracefully at Diana’s feet, all while encumbered with a large stag mask. Saturday night’s performance was a polished reprise of that offered by the Boston Early Music Festival concert series last November. Let’s hope the Festival continues to bring such unexplored chamber opera gems to light. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Surprising Sensuality from Stile Antico

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The 1500s were a period of sea-changes in Western music, and the sacred music of the time can, upon first hearing, sound staid and cold, the musical equivalent of luminous yet motionless stained-glass painting. Yet, as the British vocal ensemble Stile Antico recently demonstrated, there are worlds of expression to be found in this beautifully crafted church music. The tripping counterpoint and dense imitative textures favored by Clemens non Papa became delicious devices, with a somewhat different flavor from the more mild homophony and parallelisms prominent in the pieces by Francisco Guerreo; the darker hues and striking harmonies of Nicolas Gombert and Jean Lhéritier – holdovers from practices of the previous century – were vividly colored; and the seamless cadences that make the music of Giovanni Palestrina and Tomás Luis de Victoria so vast were delivered with a tactile smoothness. All the singers in the ensemble sang to each other with as much joy and sensitivity as they did to the audience. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Fine Organ Playing, Lecture, at BEMF’s Organ Festival

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The fourth biennial Organ Mini-Festival of the 2009 Boston Early Music Festival on Friday, June 12, 2009, under the direction of William Porter, was held at the First Lutheran Church, Boston. Organist Joan Lippincott, who began the day with Bach’s Art of the Fugue, was not afraid of applying the full resources of the excellent Richards, Fowkes organ in her fine performance. Particularly effective was her handling of the three-voice Contrapunctus 8 as compared to the four-voice Contrapunctus 11, which shares the same material. The lecture by Dr. Christopher Boyd Brown, Assistant Professor of Church History at Boston University, on “Rhetorical Forms in Lutheran Worship,” were illustrated by organ performances from the 17th century by Bálint Karosi, who was born in Budapest, Hungary and now serves as Music Director at the First Lutheran Church in Boston. Karosi then was given a chance to demonstrate his considerable improvisational skills on one of Bach’s chorale tunes. The third part of the day was a long organ recital by William Porter illustrating the musical differences between J. S. and C. P. E Bach. (“Father and Son Together.”) [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Virtuoso Showpieces Highlight of Hamelin at Rockport Music Festival

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Hamelin began his concert at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival on Saturday night, June 13, with Haydn’s Variations for Piano in F minor, followed with a large-scale performance of Mozart’s great Sonata in A minor, K. 310, and the program included a lovely rendition of Fauré’s Nocturne in D-flat major, op. 63, no. 6. The highlights of the evening, however, were two virtuoso showpieces: Liszt’s Venezia e Napoli from the second book of his?Années de pèlerinage (“Years of Pilgrimage”), and Charles-Valentin Alkan’s Symphony for Solo Piano, Op. 39. Hamelin’s  “Gondoliera” took us on a gentle Gondola ride along the shimmering waters of a Venetian canal, and the wild dance rhythms of the “Tarantella” literally brought the audience to its feet. The  technical demands of Symphony for Solo Piano are indeed substantial — no problem for Hamelin— but there is also a richness of musical expression to be discovered in this and many Alkan works. Hamelin found this as well. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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BEMF’s Chamber Orchestra: Delightful One-To-A-Part Affair

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Boston Early Music Festival presented “A Grand Entertainment” at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall on June 12. Dominic Teresi’s phrasing on the bassoon was particularly elegant in Johann Friedrich Fasch’s Overture in G minor. Bach’s fifth Brandenburg Concerto presented by a scaled-down ensemble was a delight to hear. The texture was consistently taught, but floated as if delicate lace. The notorious harpsichord part was easily devoured by Kristian Bezuidenhout, but the other soloists (Sandra Miller with flute, Robert Mealy with violin) were no less distinguished. The Vivaldi Concerto in C major for mandolin (RV 425) was another delight. Paul O’Dette‘s mandolin anchored those trademark resonant harmonies; he was “only” there for the joy of doing what he so clearly loves. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Boston Early Music Festival: All-day Inaugural Keyboard Mini-Festival

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The interplay of composition, keyboard and performance was the focus of the six-hour mini-marathon directed by Boston’s Peter Sykes at First Lutheran Church on June 11.  Six of  “today’s most active and respected early keyboard artists”  played on four different keyboards, all replicas of instruments originally built in the 18th century. Kristian Bezuidenhout played Haydn on a remake of a 1795 Anton Walter fortepiano, enabling him to find life in  Haydn’s compositions through the instrument that later had enlightened the composer.  Andrew Willis tested three J. S. Bach solo keyboard concertos circa 1738-1739 on a Florentine fortepiano by David Sutherland. The four “orchestral” strings were too lusciously meaty for the Florentine. Part II shifted to the harpsichord. Luca Guglielmi and William Porter played a double-manual harpsichord by Allan Winkler. Guglielmi displayed technical mastery, with fingers flying through high-speed passages into stunning silvery liquid.  The passacaglia from Musicalisher Parnassus: Uranie by JCF Fischer, played by William Porter, was down-to-earth storytelling; the 10 dances curtsied and bowed. With Guglielmi and Porter alternately at the keyboard, Alan Winkler’s ever so entrancing harpsichord appeared to be two different instruments. For Part III, out came the clavichord, described as an “intimate instrument” associated with “private experiences.” At times, intrusions from Boston’s noisy afternoon traffic made it impossible to hear this incredibly soft-spoken early keyboard instrument. Obviously a suitable venue for future endeavors is a must for  this tiny apparatus that makes the “sweetest of sweet sounds.” David Breitman’s playing revealed many of the instrument’s capabilities, among them, the performer’s extraordinary control over the keys. Sykes asked, “Performers are supposed to care about composers, but what happens if you don’t and you just want to try something out?” His testing Beethoven on the clavichord, raised the big question of the day. He asked, “What do think about hearing Beethoven on this instrument? The Alan Winkler clavichord induced extraordinary tonal, spatial and temporal transformation. In his dual role of performer and director, Peter Sykes did convert-did change the music-and did win over listeners. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Micrologus Searches for Variety in Italian Quattrocento Court Music

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Italian ensemble Micrologus, presented as part of the Boston Early Music Festival, joined guest lutenist Crawford Young Wednesday afternoon, June 10, at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, in a varied and colorful program of 14th-century secular music that included songs by Franco-Flemish composers active in Italy along with home-grown songs and dances. Micrologus showed its virtuosic improvisatory skills in varied and highly colorful renditions of the Italian dance tunes. Colorful variety seems to work less well, however, for 14th-century polyphonic songs in the courtly tradition. Since performance indications are notoriously lacking in late medieval sources, most of our knowledge of performance practice comes from surviving pictorial representations that can be misleading. Varying the instrumentation with each stanza of a single rondeau, as in “Amours, amours” by the Flemish composer Hayne van Ghizeghem, distracted attention from the inherent tension of the rondeau form. If their search for variety sometimes seemed to overreach, we were never bored and often captivated. The ensemble appears again on Friday night, June 12, 2009 at 11 pm at Emmanuel Church in a program of fourteenth-century Italian songs and dances. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Pierre Hantaï: Extemporaneous Harpsichordist Extraordinaire for BEMF

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An attentive audience of intriguingly eccentric Early Music enthusiasts was treated to a true keyboard artiste when French harpsichordist Pierre Hantaï made his long-overdue return visit to the Boston Early Music Festival on the evening of 10 June, at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall. Monsieur Hantaï, playing from a thick notebook of music, used this flexibility to mix things up a bit and toss in a few extra bon-bons, but essentially the concert consisted of a Scarlatti sandwich on thick slices of Bach bread. J. S. Bach is Hantaï’s bread and butter, and he performs the great master’s works with calm assurance and depth of understanding. His playing is by no means glitch-free, but any occasional, ephemeral glitches are self-assured occasional, ephemeral glitches. After a warm-up mélange of several preludes and fugues usually relegated to student recitals, played with maturity and sophistication, Hantaï plunged in to the English Suite No 4 in F Major, played with panache, elegant turns of phrase, and the occasional sweeping hand flourish. The second half opened with four sonatas by Bach’s exact contemporary, Domenico Scarlatti. To round out the program, Hantai treated us to another English suite, No. 2 in A minor. He performed these dance movements with verve and panache, and a generous helping of embellishments. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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