Boston’s Professional Musicians Turn Out in Force for Rattle and Berlin Philharmonic

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The Berlin Philharmonic under conductor Simon Rattle presented two war horses, Brahms Symphonies No. 3 and No. 4, and a seldom-heard piece by Arnold Schoenberg, Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene — written, ironically, for a film that existed only in his imagination. For this sold-out, eagerly anticipated event, there were more professional musicians in the audience than were on stage. The performances of the Brahms Symphonies  No. 3 and 4 were no less than thrilling. The strings move together the way the winds breathe together — as one. They take their cues not just from the conductor but from each other. In the Third symphony, this reviewer was mesmerized by the sound of the pianissimo strings in support of the expressive woodwind solos throughout. In the e minor symphony, the horn call opening the “Andante moderato,” played by the third and fourth horns, reminded us that it is an entire section of virtuosi. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Beyond a Recital – a Piece of Art from Chin, Rostad

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Wayman Chin, dean of the Conservatory at the Longy School of Music, joined forces with Masumi Per Rostad for his faculty recital on Sunday, November 15 at Longy School of Music. The concert started with a sometimes awkward Sonata in c minor written by Mendelssohn at the age of 15, in 1824. Rostad described it as a piano sonata with viola obbligato. The Schubert’s Sonata for Arpeggione and Piano, D. 821 that followed was written the same year, by a mature composer at the height of his power. Chin and Rostad firmly demonstrated the bond that continued through the rest of the evening. The second half started with a minimalist piece, mu “for prepared viola,” by Keeril Makan, composed in 2007. The viola – prepared with two paperclips between the strings – made the sound of wind, of air, but with distant pitches. It was serene, peaceful, quite successful. In the Shostakovich Viola Sonata opus 147, viola and piano share the weight of Russian sadness, but not without some wonderful melodies, and even a peasant dance. This recital was great, but not only for Rostad’s viola playing. One expects to hear the piano in an accompanying role, but Chin’s playing went way beyond that. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Shofar Highlights Concert with Coro Allegro at Sanders

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Coro Allegro, under the direction of David Hodgkins,  presented a program on Sunday, November 15, at Sanders Theater, Harvard University, in their tradition of diverse repertoire and exceptional quality of performance. Donald Wilkinson, scheduled to sing in Shofar, substituted for an ill Sanford Sylvan in Five Mystical Songs of Ralph Vaughan Williams. The long choral lines of Cantique de Jean Racine of Gabriel Fauré made one admire the pleasing balance the chorus achieved between warmth (i.e., vibrato) and purity of blend; and dynamics throughout were impressively nuanced. The main event was the premiere performance of the expanded oratorio Shofar by Robert Stern with libretto by Catherine Madsen. The first section ( “Whole”) opens with the chaos of creation which resolves into wholeness and leads into an exquisite love duet (“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”) between the tenor, Jason McStoots, and the soprano, Teresa Wakim. Unfortunately, her radiant lyric soprano was swallowed up by the chorus and orchestra at several climaxes of the hearty celebration. The second section (“Broken”) calls for musical hedonism which Mr. Stern ably provides. The celebration of the golden calf is led by Ms. Wakim, in one of the most delicious passages of the score. Moses is sung with authority by Donald Wilkinson. The section ends with God’s brokenhearted lament: “The misery of love as a father weeps [for] a child he cannot love ,” which David Kravitz sang with beauty and pathos. The final section shows the return to wholeness through a renegotiated covenant between Moses and God, which culminates in a duet, first in Hebrew, then in English: “God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, full of kindness and truth …” [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Prize-Winner Ripka Offers Magic on Sumptuous Taylor & Boody Organ

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Many a face from Boston and elsewhere equally distant from Worcester glowed gently in the reflected light in St. Joseph Chapel, Holy Cross, Worcester, on Sunday afternoon, November 15, for the Chapel Artists Series. Multiple prize-winner Joseph Ripka has no trouble transcending the organist’s accustomed invisibility as his young career continues to unfold. He opened with a pair of extravagantly expressive secular works by ever-surprising Dieterich Buxtehude, Präludia in C & a, then redefined the very same idiom theme with Georg Böhm’s restless, terse Präludium in a. Three preludes in a row made for gripping listening, not monotony. Mr. Ripka’s poignant unfolding of Bach’s Allein Gott in der Höh’ sei Ehr, BWV 662, made his subsequent forthright leap into our era the recital’s turning point, with one of Marcel Dupré’s Trois préludes et fugues, Op. 7. Ripka concluded with five brash, extrovert, clash-permeated broadsword iterations of the Victimæa Paschali by contemporary Parisian composer Thierry Escaich. The exquisitely voiced Taylor & Boody organ (Op. 9, 1985) is widely known as one of the great instruments of our land. Its elaborate stop list is a fully kitted-out child of the flourishing, opulent organ-building era of the late-17th/early-18th-century Netherlands and neighboring North Germany. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Brisk Night With Slowind

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The only Boston-area performance by the Slovenia-based Slowind Wind Quintet on November 14 was in the Concord Public Library. The program comprised three standards of the wind quintet repertoire (of Hindemith’s “Kleine Kammermusik,” Ligeti’s early “Five Bagatelles,” and Milhaud’s “La Cheminée du Roi René”) and two very recent pieces. Of the new works, the most substantial was “Kontrasti” by 26-year-old Nina Šenk, commissioned by Slowind. Without any direct allusions this listener could detect to Bartók’s clarinet trio of similar name, this work exploited oppositions in texture, timbre, rhythm, and playing style, including unpitched blowing, various gurgling noises of a somewhat alimentary cast, and so on. More importantly, it established an intelligible set of ideas and patterns whose elaboration was quite satisfying compositionally. It seemed that the Slowinds were taking a very gutsy gamble by ending with “Avguštin, dober je vin” (Augustine, good is the wine) by Vinko Globokar, a veteran of Europe’s avant-garde. However, it was all played for laughs. Nothing against lighthearted music, but truth to tell, if the quintet had sat in place and played this piece “straight,” its inherent interest would have a very short half-life indeed. Again, kudos to Slowind’s chops, but in this case they were deployed in service of a work unequal to the effort. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Cosmic Exhilaration from Chi, Madžar in Stockhausen’s Mantra

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Pianists Katherine Chi and Leksandar Madžar certainly pulled off one the best concerts of this young season, a concert that may very well come in as one of the top 10 concerts of the entire year at the Gardner Museum on Sunday afternoon, November 15. A high-speed passage in perpetual motion lasting for an extended length of time headed Mantra to an inevitable close astonishing ever as much as gratifying. The dueling pianists kept absolute track of every quiet twist, slipped in here and there, as well as every one of the many crashing syncopations pounced back and forth between the two. They made Stockhausen’s oftentimes hard-to-take music a magnetizing event, splitting notes as though they were coming apart at the seams, dialing around their electronic devices creating sonic wobbles, buzzes, slides, rumbles, and a myriad of phantom sounds resembling bells, gongs, chimes and the like: all cosmic rays in this enormous, vast space. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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With Hammer and Feather BMOP Goes Percussive

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The Boston Modern Orchestra Project has been all over the news for the promise of hearing the Boston premiere of the near-original version of George Antheil’s Ballet mécanique, which it delivered under the direction of Gil Rose at Jordan Hall on Friday the Thirteenth. Edgard Varèse’s pioneering Ionisation in 1931, which opened the program, has passed the test of time by dint of its vivacity and compositional integrity; Rose and his ensemble kept everything clear, moving, directed and handsomely shaped. On the soft side of percussion was Lou Harrison’s 1973 La Koro Sutra for chorus and “American” gamelan, an assortment of homespun assemblages of pipes, planks, vibes, drums and sawed-off oxygen tanks that bears a close relation to the tinkering of Harry Partch, without the microtonal tunings. Special praise is due to the chorus, the Providence Singers under Andrew Clark. George Antheil earned his self-bestowed sobriquet of “the bad boy of music” with his 1924 Ballet mécanique, originally conceived for forces including 16 player pianos, airplane propellors, sirens, many and varied things to bash, and pretty literally all the bells and whistles. So what, apart from the frisson and the noise, can be said of this work as music? For one thing, this is music. Rose and his team, abetted by Prof. Lehrman controlling the sirens with a Wii remote, brought it all off with precision, panache and a glorious flourish. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Guest Conductor Fabio Luisi, Pianist Lise de la Salle Shine at BSO Last Evening

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Guest conductor Fabio Luisi opened his BSO program last night, November 12, with Honegger’s symphonic poem Pastorale d’été, that shimmered and was well played. Lise de la Salle, born in Cherbourg, delivered a virtuoso rendition of St. Saëns’s Second Piano Concerto. Slightly overheated tempi in the Allegro scherzando and Presto eventually calmed to more natural effervescence. Stravinsky’s Petrushka (1947) closed the program in a blaring, blazing blowout. Maestro Luisi could have been the incarnation of the eponymous puppet. Pianist Vytas Baksys played his devilish licks with dazzling panache.  [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Fine Vocalizations, Some Mediocre Works with Chameleon

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Chameleon Arts Ensemble presented their second program of the season, tagged “wordless wondrous things,” at the Goethe-Institut on Saturday evening, November 7. The unifying component of the works performed was that each of the instrumental pieces was, in some way, vocally conceived. Sebastien Currier’s Whispers was by far a more intriguing work and without doubt the most engaging performance of the evening. The piece, scored for flute, cello, piano, and percussion, constantly toyed with the instrumental expression of typically non-musical vocal sounds. Chameleon Arts Ensemble delivered performances of the highest caliber, though the final effect of the concert was that of great performers weighed down by mediocre works. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Musica Sacra’s 50th Anniversary Concert Offers Brahms Requiem with The Boston Cecilia

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To begin its 50th season, at Jordan Hall on November 8, Musica Sacra chose one of the best-loved works of the romantic choral repertory, Johannes Brahms’s German Requiem. The opening piece was a special touch:  A setting of the same text that Brahms set in the last movement of the German Requiem in an a cappella version by one of his greatest forebears, Heinrich Schütz, performed elegantly by the Musica Sacra singers with a fine balance of voices and a clear, expressive presentation of the text. They were joined by The Boston Cecilia singers for a modern choral work sung unaccompanied, Sleep, set by Eric Whitacre. The extraordinary blend of the voices gave luminous expression to Whitacre’s harmonic colors. The pièce de résistance of the afternoon was marked by the same qualities of clarity, balance, and expression. Baritone Dana Whiteside was suitably urgent in the tense anticipation of death and the last judgement, while Emily Hindrichs floated the long-breathed, high soprano lines of the movement that Brahms added in memory of his own mother with superb (and welcome) diction. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Maazel Steps In to Lead BSO Beethoven’s Eighth and Ninth

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The Boston Symphony Orchestra was fortunate to secure maestro Lorin Maazel’s services on such short notice for performances of Beethoven’s Symphonies Eight and Nine, and those onstage seemed grateful to have been placed in his capable hands. Beethoven’s restlessness is best heard when Eighth is left to unfurl in a completely naturalistic manner. Fussy phrasings and changes of tempi often intruded and impeded the symphony’s elemental flow. As a result, the performance, while well played, seemed to lurch a bit too much, and there is already much lurching purposefully written into this music. The Ninth Symphony was beautifully played by the orchestra throughout and rousingly sung by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus in the finale, yet this challengingly disjunctive work often failed to cohere, and there were niggling vocal issues with the quartet of soloists. Michael Polanzani, who should know better, in his solo repeatedly singularized the German word for “brothers” by ignoring the pluralizing umlaut above the u in Brüder, and at times the entire quartet seemed to be over-reaching, even applying an unfortunate and inappropriate crescendo to their final fermata. Yet, the Ninth has the power and virtue of its extraordinary breadth of human emotions and its still sadly unrealized plea for universal loving brotherhood among humankind. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Duruflé Requiem Well Served by Chorus Pro Musica, Old South’s Organ

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Chorus Pro Musica presented an auspicious season opener on Sunday, November 8 at Old South Church in a program highlighting the church’s Aeolian-Skinner’ organ, silenced last year because of the MBTA’s nearby construction. The Duruflé Requiem was well served by mezzo-soprano Laurie Szablewski, baritone Marc DeMille, cellist Nora Karakousglou, and especially organist Ross Wood, who excels in how to use an orchestral organ like this. Dr. Betsy Burleigh, the new director, wants to return this venerable chorus to its “roots.” Was it always so abundant in the treble department? [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Early, Merciful Visit To St. Nicholas

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Masterworks Chorale presented a program of mostly British works in honor of St. Nicholas on Sunday, November 8 in Sanders Theater in Cambridge, though mercifully none of these works had to do with Father Christmas. Conductor Steven Karidoyanes’s “Nicholas, Holy Hierarch,” was mellifluous, prosodically apt. “Apolytikion for Saint Nicholas” by Sir John Tavener, begins with a high drone for women against a continuous melody beginning in unison and ending in a shimmering, rich harmonization. “Hymn to Saint Nicholas,” an a cappella work by Ivan Moody written for the KotorArt Festival in Kotor, Montenegro, builds an almost Ligeti-like density of polyphonic strands and demonstrates a great gift for choral writing. The main course at this particular feast of St. Nicholas was the dramatic cantata “Saint Nicolas” by Britten. Karidoyanes led his forces with precision and panache. The orchestral forces, all top-flight Boston freelancers, were also in fine voice and responsive to the music and Karidoyanes’s lead. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Camerata, Harvard Choir Honor Calvin with Symphony of Psalms

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Anne Azema showed her skills in a concert at Memorial Church on Sunday, November 8, with singers and musicians of the Boston Camerata and the Choral Fellows of Harvard University Choir. The concert started with a Hebrew Cantilation (Psalm 25) performed by voice and harp, followed by Ms. Azema singing from the audience. Gradually voices and instruments were added until the whole audience participated in Dowland’s setting of Psalm 100, a glorious hymn of praise. “Lobet den Herrn” (Psalm 130) by Schutz, with the marriage of vernacular text, melody and harmony, uplifts the soul – even of this hardened non-believer. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Five Musicians from Marlboro in Amazing Mozart and Messiaen

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Musicians from Marlboro were at the Gardner Museum on Sunday, November 7. Flutist Joshua Smith, violinist Soovin Kim, violist Beth Guterman and cellist Michal Korman gave a spunky, teasing performance of the Mozart Flute Quartet in C Major. Amazing sounds came from the flute and cello in Mirrors by Kaija Saariaho. Shades of Debussy, Messiaen and nature appeared in A Bird Came Down the Walk by Takemitsu. Beth Guterman’s viola and Renana Gutman’s piano avoided poetic images heard in other performances. The performance of the Messiaen Louange à l’Immortalité de Jésus was out of this world. A rigid interpretation lacking emotion and expression was all I could sense in Piano Quartet in C minor by Brahms. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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“What Makes it Great” with Borromeo and Ariel Quartets was Absolutely Great

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A large gathering at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall was on hand Saturday evening, November 7, as Robert Kapilow joined forces with the Borromeo and Ariel String Quartets in an installment of his What Makes It Great? series, now in its thirteenth season. Following our hour-long “class,” we were treated to an uninterrupted performance of the Mendelssohn Octet in E-flat Major, op. 20. I heard the different themes! I heard the inversions! I heard the dissonance…! And on and on. Quite a bit of Kapilow’s analysis actually sunk in. In combination with the brilliant Borromeo-Ariel realization, I found his high-octane, highly entertaining, eminently quotable, erudite-yet-accessible analysis to be invaluable. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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“Returns and Farewells” at the H&H

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For the Handel & Haydn Society concert at Symphony Hall on Friday, November  6, Jane Glover chose to conduct four of the orchestral interludes from Mozart’s Thamos, King of Egypt, his only incidental music. Her tempi were sprightly, the music clear and crisp, the orchestra following all the double-fortes and pianissimos and verbal cues written into the score to reflect the melodrama of the play — the overall feeling very much in the spirit of a Handelian overture. Robert Levin returned, as he has several times since 1990, to play Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 (K. 467). As he remarked in the session that followed the concert, about 45% of his performance was improvised. He played during all the tutti sections and contributed his own exceedingly florid cadenzas that rumbled in the fortepiano’s bass. His rapid scale passages were played with an emphatically legato touch that made real arias rise and fall. In the Andante second movement these phrases were particularly stretched out and melodic, using a rubato that was almost over the top, but in the end, just right. The program ended with Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony. Combine the intimacy of this group, among whom are some of Boston’s finest soloists, with direction by Ms. Glover, and the music-making is guaranteed to be not only satisfying, but memorable. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Efficient production of Carmen at the Shubert

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The attraction of Bizet’s Carmen to generations is the almost non-stop singable melodies, bellowed in enjoyable recollection by even the most amateur chanteurs. The production put on by Boston Lyric Opera at the Shubert Theatre last night (and continuing through Nov. 17) is a good show. The singing roles were well cast, and the orchestra, under Keith Lockhart, did an admirable job. Another good aspect of this production was the choice and unity of setting and costumes. It is a shame that the Card Trio was cut. Is four hours really too long for a humdinger of an opera? [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Two Revolutionaries Beethoven and Ives from NEC Philharmonia

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Hugh Wolff, Stanford and Norma Jean Calderwood Director of Orchestras and Chair of Orchestral Conducting, is a treasure at New England Conservatory. On November 4, he led a lively and exacting performance of the NEC Philharmonia, the school’s top orchestra, which demonstrated that they were the equal of many professional groups. The program was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 and Charles Ives’ Symphony No. 2. There was a particularly beautiful, quietly accompanied, first cello solo in the Lento maestoso fourth movement of the Ives, which led without pause into the raucous last movement. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Fellner’s Beethoven Wows Knowledgeable BCM Audience

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The Viennese pianist Till Fellner played five Beethoven sonatas — six, including an encore — for a knowledgeable and appreciative audience on Tuesday evening, November 3, at Boston Conservatory. In the F Major sonata, Op. 78, Fellner gave us beautifully voiced chords and contrapuntal clarity and light-fingered playfulness. The nostalgic pastoral mood and sustained lyricism of the Rondo Finale of  the Sonata in E minor, Op. 90, interspersed with passages of ethereal counterpoint, was the perfect vehicle for Fellner’s beautifully rounded tone and sense of space. His sure sense of  pacing, his singing tone heard even in rapid passagework, and his ability to render passages with the utmost clarity without sounding forced, all contributed to a stellar performance.  [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Fliter’s Jordan Hall Debut Technically Brilliant, Short on Songfulness

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Celebrity Series of Boston presented Ingrid Fliter in her Jordan Hall début on Sunday, November 1.  without theatrical gestures and with a respect for the score that remained her most winning trait throughout this full program. The top and middle registers of the Hamburg Steinway D she chose to play were entirely magical, reliably allowing Ms. Fliter to summon forth pianissimi and gossamer shimmers that concert grands do not usually produce. The lower reaches of the keyboard, however, emitted chill clangor, even brutality, when the score called for full chordal textures. Ms. Fliter’s diverse collage of six mostly posthumous Chopin waltzes with predominance of flat or natural keys was a treat, an opportunity to savor a gentle, at times buttery palette that was in marked contrast with glittering sharp-key angles. For Schumann’s encyclopedic, swirling Études symphoniques, Op. 13 , Ms. Fliter played the five “posthumous” variations re-inserted by Johannes Brahms in 1873. Fliter brought all this off with great sweep and emphatically symphonic power, leaving the listener with an unaccustomed architectural sense of landscape and irresistible propulsiveness, but she did not evoke lyrical songfulness where it is so very often called for. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Common Ground Between Disparates: Emmanuel Performs Haydn, Schoenberg

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Emmanuel Music presented the second chamber music concert of their 2009-2010 “Haydn/Schoenberg: Fathers of Invention” concert season on Sunday, November 1, that unwrapped musical treasures from the two composers. Haydn and Schoenberg both have been judged by canonical works, and it was a pleasure to investigate the periphery of their output. It was the second half of the program that so perfectly summarized the rationale behind the entire concert series. The concert included Schoenberg’s 1946 String Trio, which recalled some of the ghostly moments of Ein Stelldichein, and Peggy Pearson’s arrangement of Haydn’s String Quartet in D minor, No. 35. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Boston Music World Offers Birthday Tributes to Yehudi Wyner

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Dinosaur Annex sponsored a warm testimony to Yehudi Wyner for his 80th birthday, at the Goethe-Institut on November 1. Composers Lewis Spratlan, Scott Wheeler, Michael Gandolfi, David Liptak, and Laurie San Martin, all told of their long association with Yehudi and brought birthday greetings in the form of short musical pieces. A reference to Yehudi’s piano concerto Chiavi in mano, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2006 following its Boston Symphony premiere, was accompanied by an actual quote from the music. His Mad Tea Party concluded the program. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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Lipkin’s Schubert Daguerreotype at Gardner Museum

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Part I of “Schubert—The Late Great Sonatas” with veteran Seymour Lipkin at Boston’s Gardner Museum on November 1 very much resembled a daguerreotype. Out of brown tints also came warmth of sound, and out of the photographic process came a pianist who impressed with great distinctness. What figured into all of the playing during the unusual afternoon concert — full to the brim with listeners — might simply be called “musicality;” he could pull off the most exquisitely quiet sounds you will hear on a Steinway. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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A Fresh Take on Old Standards

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On October 29, Julian Kuerti led the BSO in performances of the Beethoven  third and fourth symphonies that demonstrated just how exciting — and even somewhat peculiar — such a visit to familiar repertoire can be. Kuerti crafted the Fourth, a symphony of joyously balkanized contrasts, in a stunning performance that gave the work the personality of a young royal on an adventurous outing. Kuerti again managed to make bigness sound light on its feet with his take on the Symphony No. 3. This time the effect was less successful; but the brilliant aura of valiance that he gave the coda made for an exhilarating close. [Click title for full review.]    [continued]

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