Strauss of All Sorts at BSO Benefit


The all-Strauss concert presented by Boston Symphony Orchestra on Sunday, February 21 was an unexpected pleasure. While Richard Strauss’ Don Quixote, featuring cellist Lynn Harrell and violist Steven Ansell, is a big, multi-layered work, at first glance the program seemed unbalanced:  Don Quixote occupied the entire first half, while the second half consisted of an overture, a march, and various waltzes and polkas by three members of the Strauss family (no relation to Richard) who lived in the 19th century. It seemed likely that after intermission, we’d be sitting through light “pops” music, eager to get back out to the sunny Sunday afternoon we’d left

The performance of Don Quixote was tremendously engaging from beginning to end. From the moment Lynn Harrell ran out on the stage, eager to begin this orchestral opera, there was a sense of being present at a unique unfolding of this work. The music is so dense, so much is happening at once, surely you could listen again and again, and each time a different aspect of the music would be revealed. The exquisite orchestration and the sense of never knowing what might occur next (although the orchestra was quite secure!) made people in the second balcony lean forward in their seats, the better to capture each fleeting musical event. It was a kaleidoscope of sound, fascinating in itself and constantly changing.  [Click title for full review] [continued]

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Chamber Orchestra of Boston Brings Tangos to the Fore


An extraordinarily refreshing program was offered by the Chamber Orchestra of Boston under its musical director David Feltner on February 12 at the First Church. The event featured tangos and some rarely-heard compositions for string orchestra and percussion.

For the tangos, Feltner commissioned two new works in tango style from Robert Edward Smith and Thomas Oboe Lee. He also consulted with pianist Virginia Eskin, who suggested a number of repertory possibilities (including piano pieces that she played on the concert). The resulting list produced a selection of tangos by a wide variety of composers, including works for piano alternating with others for string orchestra. Two varied groups of five items each opened and closed the concert.

Feltner chose two larger works by major symphonic composers to be embedded in the middle, before and after intermission. Though Mendelssohn and Sibelius are familiar figures in our concert life, neither Mendelssohn’s youthful Sinfonia No. 11 nor Sibelius’s Rakastava (The Lovers), Opus 14, is anything like a standard repertory item. Both call for a percussionist to be added to the standard strings of the Chamber Orchestra of Boston. Feltner’s choices were canny programming, since Thomas Oboe Lee’s new work requires a percussionist. The result made for a concert full of surprises all around.     [Click title for full review] [continued]

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Pearlman Coordinates Kaleidoscopic Styles in Monteverdi’s Vespers


Martin Pearlman and the highly skilled forces of Boston Baroque gave us a splendid rendition on February 19 at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall of Claudio Monteverdi’s music for the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin. The performance was repeated February 20 at Jordan Hall and will be performed again on March 6th at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

When Monteverdi published his collection in Venice in 1610, he was forty-three years old and nearing the end of his tenure at the Gonzaga court in Mantua. The original purpose of the Vespers is not known, although it might have been sung at the inauguration of a new order of chivalry by Vincenzo Gonzaga in 1608. Most probably Monteverdi, who by this time was seeking a position elsewhere (in August 1613 he was appointed maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s, Venice), intended the collection as a portfolio with which to demonstrate his abilities as a composer of sacred music in a variety of styles.

Opulent music such as this would be suitable for any one of the great feasts of the church year dedicated to the Virgin. To complete the liturgical sequence of the vesper service, Pearlman’s performance included the plainchant antiphons for the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin (August 15th) that would have been sung before each of its five psalms and concluding Magnificat. [Click title for full review.] [continued]


Levine Exudes Warmth in All-Beethoven Program Redux


The bare trees lining the streets of Boston may have been shivering in a chill winter wind, but the calendar had flipped ahead a few pages within the capaciously cozy confines of Symphony Hall Thursday evening, February 18th. Conductor James Levine treated a sold-out audience to his realizations of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 (“Pastoral”) and Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 as part of his postponed exploration of the great composer’s symphonic output. Last fall, with Levine on the disabled list, a series of guest conductors pinch-hit on the podium during the originally scheduled concert series. Thus, the intriguing aspect of this program was its performance by the BSO just 111 days earlier under the capable baton of Maestro Lorin Maazel. This gave concertgoers who attended last fall’s concert a rare and fascinating juxtaposition: identical orchestra and program under the guidance of two equally accomplished but markedly different conductors. I was fortunate enough to be one of those concertgoers; click here for my review of the Maazel rendition. [Click title for full review.]



Ebony Light and Dark at BSO Community Concert


There has not been nearly enough said about the Boston Symphony’s outreach program, funded by the Lowell Institute, that brings chamber music concert featuring BSO players into venues in the various cities and neighborhoods of eastern Massachusetts. On Valentine’s Day the seventh such performance (the fourth discrete program) in this series (ten in all) took place at Roxbury’s Twelfth Baptist Church, before a full and commendably diverse house. The performers on this occasion were clarinetist Thomas Martin and the members of the Hawthorne String Quartet, Ronan Lefkowitz (in the first piece only) and Si-Jing Huang, violins, Mark Ludwig, viola, and Sato Knudsen, cello.

The program for this brief recital (one hour, no intermission) was a bit of a moveable feast. The season flyer for the series promised works of Penderecki, Viktor Kalabis, Gideon Klein and Franz Krommer. In the event, we got three movements of Hadyn’s D minor quartet, Op. 76 No. 2, the Krommer B-flat clarinet quartet, Op. 21 No. 2, the Klein string trio, and the première of Mr. Martin’s arrangement for clarinet quartet of Gershwin’s three preludes for piano, a considerably more demotic assortment. This series has not hitherto shied away from difficult music; we hope the BSO has not despaired of finding audiences for it.            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Baroque Light, ‘n’ Lovely


LAcadémie is a relatively new Baroque chamber group in Boston, established during the 2008-2009 season by harpsichordist and general director Leslie Kwan and tenor, conductor, and music director Michael Barrett. Their concerts this season, all in the Marsh Chapel at Boston University, are diverse but thematic, full of engaging and rarely heard music. The concert I heard on Saturday, February 13th, entitled “(S)he’s Just Not That into You: Love Songs (and More) from Seventeenth-Century England and Italy,” in spite of the ungrateful title, was a fine example of their extraordinary singing and playing, with the added fillip of delightful dramatic presentation that wove the concert into one well-proportioned tapestry.

The two-dozen vocal works were all from the Treasury of Musick (1669), three volumes compiled by John Playford containing music chiefly by Henry and William Lawes. The seven instrumental works, performed before and after each group of four songs, derived from “the first generation of published compositions from Italy for solo instrument and basso continuo,” and included sonatas and dances by Dario Castello (ca. 1590-ca. 1658), Biagio Marini (1594-1663), Andrea Falconieri (1585/6-1656)), and Giovanni Paolo Cima (ca. 1570-1622).         [Click title for full review.] [continued]


Pro Musicis’ 44th Season Continues with Unmistakable Virtuosity and Personal Quest


Pro Musicis artist Lydia Artymiw played piano music of Mozart, Schumann, Messiaen, and Kurtág at Pickman Hall at Longy School of Music Saturday, February 13. Both the older and the newer music underwent a transforming presentation, exhibiting unmistakable virtuosity and personal quest.

Artymiw, with unequivocal determination, followed her muse to extreme individualism, her fingers never failing her. Well-deserved applause goes to her for opening up to us and taking us along with her on her own musical affirmation. While her virtually flawless playing, pervading the top flight acoustics of the intimate hall in Cambridge, left me in humble admiration, I could not understand the plots, messages, and voices of the composers. All seemed to take on a single voice, far too often loud if not overpowering. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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BSO- Best Night in 56 Years!


I don’t think I’ve ever heard the Boston Symphony Orchestra play more beautifully than they did last night, and I’ve been listening to them in concert for 56 years.

The February 11th  program was superbly challenging: Alban Berg’s Three Pieces for orchestra, op. 6; Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs; and Mahler’s Fourth Symphony.  All of these works have social, personal, and national kinships; all the composers knew each other and each other’s work, and the three works frame the most historically important years of central Europe in the past century. For this listener, Mahler’s 4th with soprano, Renee Fleming was a most incomparably rich and expressive performance.       [Click title for full review] [continued]


Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet Demonstrate Complete Mastery


There are not nearly so many woodwind quintets touring the world as there are string quartets, but one of the most highly regarded, a quintet made up of players from the Berlin Philharmonic made its Boston debut under the auspices of the Celebrity Series at Jordan Hall on February 5. The wind quintet is a very different animal from the most familiar of chamber music ensembles, the string quartet.  The latter consists of instruments that bear a close family resemblance in playing technique and sonority; the sound of a string quartet is generally homogenous for this reason, unless the players take great pains to differentiate themselves for expressive effect.  The wind quintet is almost the exact opposite.       [Click title for full review] [continued]

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Collage New Music Brings New Perspectives on America’s Pulse


Collage New Music, led by director David Hoose, presented an eclectic selection of 21st-century chamber works on Monday evening, February 8, at Pickman Hall of the Longy School of Music. Featuring four substantial pieces from four well-established contemporary composers Arlene Sierra, Sebastian Currier, Chen Yi, and Steven Mackey, the ensemble displayed a top-tier performance standard throughout the program. All but Chen Yi’s works were receiving their first Boston performance. Hoose was inclined to share with the audience an exploration of American musical identity, and after some stream-of-consciousness pondering on the subject, affirmed that it is some general sense of pulse that unites the canon of 20th and 21st century American music. All of the composers featured on the program (who, Hoose claims, identify themselves primarily as American composers) present their own distinct integration of pulse into their pieces.         [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Bring On Da Groove—Juventas Digs It


At the Middle East Upstairs in Central Square, Cambridge, for the Juventas concert on February 7, what we may be experiencing is a significant infusion of new artistic visions that will keep the classical scene alive. The program presented young composers (that’s what this group does, after all) seeking inspiration in the worlds of rock, jazz, bluegrass, and other elements of American popular music, all to be manipulated by classical procedural means. For the most part, they were not just dipping into pop as exotica or as an abstract structural element, but they were aiming to blur the distinctions between genres.

Piotr Szewczyk’s Wild West Sketch revels in its archetypal pentatonic cowboyisms and multiple other influences, including honky-tonk salon music; we think George Chadwick would have approved.  Lisa Park ripped through Szewczyk’s First Coast Groove for solo violin (Park), played in the second half, with great panache and verve.

Everything stays, um, on track, both uphill and dizzyingly downhill in Dan Ruccia’s Training Wheels for viola and cello.

The ensemble played Alexander Tovar’s Black Dog Variations crisply and with fine high spirits, under the baton of  the group’s new Associate Conductor, Lidiya Yankovskaya. Bass clarinetist Amy Advocat certainly gave the Matthew Mendez’s Riff (raff) plenty of oomph and sex appeal in her tone and opulent phrasing.

The second half continued with the one stylistic outlier of the program, Steve Wanna’s 2007 Trayectoria for the full ensemble with performances that appeared flawless and very affecting. Anthony Lanman’s Cerulean Soliloquy, for flute and piano (Jay and Carey) was very attractive indeed. For the final piece, Ms. Yankovskaya and the players kept David Beidenbender’s Stomp humming with intensity, spirit and perfect coordination.         [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Thoughtful connections in Duo Piano Concert by Goode and Biss


Two-piano concerts are an unjustly neglected genre, as Richard Goode and Jonathan Biss duly demonstrated at Jordan Hall on February 7 as part of the Celebrity Series. On stage, they made for a study in contrasts. Goode, the elder eminence, short and stout with a monkish haircut, makes small, refined movements. Biss cuts a crisp figure, long and angular and uses his body for dramatic effect, singing with his torso and exploding when big chords hit.

Their program brought together music of thoroughly canonized composers, but with enough thoughtful connections between the pieces that it hardly felt rote. Their playing of Schubert’s Allegro (D. 947) had an elasticity to match its swirling textures, but they used a dry, clear sound that sometimes seemed at odds with the music.

The phrasing of both pianists in Debussy’s arrangement for Schumann’s six Studies in a Canon Form was sublime: supplely subdivided beats that made the clockwork sing. The arrangement of Stravinsky’s Agon didn’t get the mechanical obeisance that Stravinsky’s rhythms are predicated on. The contrapuntal and rhythmic complexities of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge were tackled with clarity, never complaint, by the musicians.

En blanc et noir by Debussy piece was a fitting close, as it seemed the best suited to the pianists’ strengths. Goode and Biss brought to it the clarity, restraint, and sensuality that Debussy’s music thrives on.   [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Chameleon Ensemble Promotes Virtues of Recycling


The theme of Chameleon Ensemble’s February 6 concert at the Goethe-Institut was “for that transforming touch,” which, given the program of works by Fine, Larsen, Boulez, Sarasate and Brahms, may not have seemed entirely self-evident. Unifying themes aside, this typically eclectic outing by Chameleon, for whom illuminating eclecticism is its raison d’être, was a mostly satisfying evening.

Chameleon’s wind quintet subset, comprising Music Director and ensemble flutist Deborah Boldin, Nancy Dimock, oboe, Gary Gorczyka, clarinet, Whitacre Hill, horn, and Margaret Phillips, basson, crisply brought out the white-key dissonances in Irving Fine’s Partita for Wind Quintet, but suffered a bit from excessive democracy in its voicing. Libby Larsen is a composer more heard about than heard in these parts, so Chameleon’s performance of her Try Me, Good King: Last Words of the Wives of Henry VIII for soprano and piano was welcome in itself, and we got a dramatically powerful performance of a musically “meh” work. A very fine example of a composer reflecting a bit mellowly on earlier militancy came next: Pierre Boulez’s Dérive I for Pierrot ensemble plus vibraphone—Boldin, Gorczyka, Myer, Katherine Winterstein, violin, Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello, and Aaron Trant, vibes. The players appeared to be enjoying this piece, and the audience, perhaps to its amazement, did as well.

Chameleon’s resident quartet was joined by guest pianist Myer to test their mettle in Brahms’s Piano Quintet, op. 34, this staple of the “central” repertoire. The result of their collaboration was, in the end, highly satisfying: came the finale, and all was sublime—it brought the packed room to its feet. Now for the quibble: These excellent players of Chameleon perform together five times a year and perhaps not as a defined group on each occasion. Add the complication of an outside pianist and one can see why it took two movements for everyone to get in synch. All of them clearly get the piece and get the style (up to and including the wattle-rattling body English), but for a while they seemed to be getting it differently. We remain grateful that they did get it all together for such a rousing finish.  [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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The Salon Was Cold, but Not the Music


Musicians of the Old Post Road presented a concert, “From the Romantic Salon,” at the Harvard Epworth Church in Cambridge on February 6.  The Church’s heating system was not working, so we all sat huddled in our coats—the temperature was surely no more than 50° F (it was 21° F outside), with perceptible drafts. Nonetheless the performers, Olav Chris Henriksen, guitar, Suzanne Stumpf, flute, Sarah Darling, viola, and Daniel Ryan, cello, in spite of their red cheeks, miraculously managed to seem oblivious. The temperature was probably good for the instruments, but these weren’t just any old instruments.

The concert was built around Henriksen’s unaltered six-string guitar, ca. 1805, in the style of the Viennese school of Johann Georg Stauffer (1778-1853), comparatively small but with a rich resonance easily heard throughout the well-chosen space. Suzanne Stumpf’s wooden, multi-keyed, old system flute is also from Vienna at the same period: it has a sweet sound in its lower register, and bird-like fleetness in its upper one. Dan Ryan’s singing cello was made a century earlier (ca. 1700) in Belgium, and Sarah Darling’s viola almost two centuries later (in 1987) in Chicago by William Whedbee.

The music for the first two works was found in the Henriksen family archives, rediscovered a year ago, a collection representing guitar music played in family circles in northern Europe from 1793 to 1850. The two longer works on the program were each in five movements, an assortment of simple sonata forms and dances. Musicians of Old Post Road  do us a great service by bringing to our serious attention tasteful performances of well-chosen music from a genre that was widespread in both Europe and America before the age of the concert hall. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Sarasa Lavishes Elegant, Loving Detail on Baroque Standards


The second of a pair of concerts Sarasa Chamber Music Ensemble gave on the last weekend in January wrapped a comfortably familiar Bach cembalo concerto in “La Primavera” and “L’Estate,” the usual first two of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, then spun “L’Autunno” and “L’Inverno” around a little tour de force by Telemann, a late-Baroque concerted miniature without continuo. The Parish Hall in Concord’s First Parish Church is intimate and flatteringly resonant.

Sarasa’s founder, cellist Timothy Merton, and harpsichordist Charles Sherman established detailed, rhythmically impeccable, and harmonically adventurous bedrock or occasional interweaving filigree above which the mercurial upper strings soared. Elizabeth Blumenstock, as her big public across the time zones knows, is a good deal more than just a very fine fiddler. She provided, in no uncertain terms, the verbal clock spring for the spring-fresh recasting of the music.

The penultimate work was a jewel. In his awesome bursts of creativity through some six decades, Georg Phillip Telemann dashed off four little concerti for four solo violins senza basso continuo. Elizabeth Blumenstock quipped that, just as the band had gotten down to rehearsing one of them in C, the notion began to dawn among the four of them that, really, the Four-Violin Concerto in D, TWV 40:202 (not reliably dated) was the winner.           [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Full House for Kuerti and Cerovsek at Concord Chamber Music Society’s German Concert


Steven Ledbetter’s informed commentary preceded the concert by the Concord Chamber Music Society on January 31, at Concord Academy in Concord, MA. Anton Kuerti’s playing of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 26 in Eb, Op. 81a let the mechanically challenging express-speed passages serve the rhetorical sweep of the piece without once tempting listeners to be distracted by pianistic considerations. There was power aplenty, but also lyricism. It was a great pleasure, by the way, to hear this sonata on a Steinway B, not on the usual concert D, that noticeably favors transparency over massiveness.

In the Schumann Violin Sonata No. 1 in a, Op. 105 (1851), Mr. Kuerti and violinist Corey Cerovsek, who has become nearly as peripatetic and in demand, demonstrated a seamless ensemble consciousness that imbued this by turns intimate and at times briefly extrovert sonata with wonderful unity.

Instead of the promised piano quartet, Corey Cervosek and Wendy Putnam sped out, parts in hand, to laughingly explain that this wasn’t an opportunity they were going to let slip by. Off they dashed into two movements from the charming Two Violin duos from Haydn’s Sonata in B-flat, op. 99(?) Violinist Wendy Putnam, violist Steve Ansell, cellist Michael Reynolds, and pianist Anton Kuerti chose effective tempi for Goetz’s long and rewarding chamber work, his Piano Quartet in E, Op. 6.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Many Debuts in Boston Opera Collaborative’s A Little Night Music


The Boston Opera Collaborative presented a performance of Stephen Sondheim’s most operatic theater piece, A Little Night Music, over the weekend of Feb. 5 to 7 at Tower Auditorium at Massachusetts College of Art. The program repeats on Feb. 12, 13, and 14, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

On opening night, the Quintet, or Liebeslieder Singers (Adrian Packel, Christine Teeters, Heather Finch, Nicholas Hebert, and Erica Bates), not only commented on many of the songs but also positioned much of the furniture. And their stop-action direction was always effective.

A number of key people were making their BOC debuts, including David Gram, the director, and Emily Hindrichs, music director. Rachel Selan was excellent as the wise old Mme. Armfeldt, singing with a radiant mezzo. Samuel Bowen conveyed the confused Fredrik with admirable emotional wavering. Particularly notable was Brandon Cordiero as the gullible Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm. This was the first time I ever saw this theater piece, but I like to think that this production, in its minimal way, honored the spirit of the musical. My only complaint was the venue’s terrible acoustics, making it difficult to hear the singers at times.       [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Fine Singing Almost Overcomes Ordinariness of La Rondine


The weak plot of La Rondine with its nostalgic yearning for romance without treachery and blood and guts cannot be heightened by Puccini’s unforgettable melodies and lush harmonies, despite being performed in the intimacy of the black box by Boston Conservatory’s opera program on February 4 at Channel Center.

The entire cast, dedicated to pull the drama out of the opera as much as possible, was adequate, and some moments seemed to go beyond the pedestrian script. Prunier the artist/poet (played by Patrick Massey) sang of love and romance as a new trend (especially among Parisians) with a nuanced irony and self-consciousness that leaped out of the music and lyrics. In the second act, at Bruiller’s night club in Paris, the men’s chorus did a delightful job of fawning over Magda (played by Mary Johnston). She gave the performance of the night; her voice soared in her upper register and was clear and declamatory in the tessitura.           [Click title for full review.] [continued]


Carter Flute Concerto with Principal Flutist Rowe Brings BSO Crowd to its Feet


The American premiere of Elliott Carter’s Flute Concerto by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Symphony Hall on February 4 was a draw for the “under 30” crowd, but several left before a brilliant performance of Brahms Symphony No. 4. Conductor James Levine appeared as a friendly Drosselmeyer, magically making the orchestra come to life through each phrase. Audience issues aside, Thursday evening’s performance was evidence of an ensemble with a clear voice and impeccable technique; James Levine pulled out nuanced themes and energized rhythms. For Schubert’s incidental music to Rosamunde, Levine was not afraid to give the work just a bit of a campy edge.

Elizabeth Rowe’s performance as soloist for the Carter Flute Concerto was expressive and flawless, whether the score called for flutter-tonguing, flowing legato lines, or percussive staccato notes. The most impressive moments were the interactions between solo flute and orchestral flute. Carter pairs them together again near the end of the work, and Maestro Levine moved away from his usual exuberance to an absolutely necessary clear beat pattern to tie winds and soloist together. It was one of those magical moments of synchronicity where the feeling of orchestra as single organism prevails. The role of percussion was primarily textural, but so sensitively played that even the reverberation of the bass drum seemed integral to the work’s success. The 101-year-old composer rose to be acknowledged after the piece was played, walking slowly toward Rowe and the orchestra as the audience rose to their feet in appreciation.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]


Evocative Setting for Ghostly Turn: BLO at the Castle


On February 3rd, the Boston Lyric Opera inaugurated its Opera Annex series with a remarkable production of Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw at the Park Plaza Castle in Boston’s South End; one can hardly imagine a more evocative setting. The score is strangely direct and haunting, with textures that tend to be spare, conjuring up the ghostly, lonely images. Conductor Andrew Bisantz led the small group of instrumentalists with skill and an impeccable ear for balance. He seemed content to play a supporting role, letting the singers carry the bulk of the musical drama; a good decision, given the nature of this work. In the interludes that fall between each scene, the musicianship was effective and inspired.

For the most part, the stage and sets were appropriately chilling in their simplicity. The large screen on which were projected silent, live-action, vignettes of the characters in mundane off-stage activities, was a constant source of distraction. Fortunately, the onstage performances were engrossing enough to overshadow any distractions.

Soprano Emily Pulley, the Governess, brilliantly delivered the depth and breadth of the character’s journey from innocence, through fear, defiance, and desperation, to sad acceptance. Rideout, in the role of the ghost Peter Quint, was equally mesmerizing. Aidan Gent, 13, was the boy; his voice was steady yet aptly boyish, and his stage presence was confident. Kathryn Skemp as Miles’s sister Flora sang with great energy and a bright, clear voice but far too adult-sounding for the role of a young girl. Joyce Castle was vocally solid and dramatically engaging as Mrs. Grose, though she played the part perhaps a bit too dodderingly. And though the rich, powerful voice of Rebecca Nash, who sang the role of the other spirit, Miss Jessel, made it difficult for her to match Rideout’s spooky alluringness, it did evoke an unexpected and moving sorrowfulness.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]


Four Strings: Infinite Possibilities


German violinist Christian Tetzlaff used his deceptively diminutive instrument and prodigious musical skills to envelop the confines of NEC’s Jordan Hall in a complex web of sound on Sunday, January 31, 2010. The first half of Tetzlaff’s program was devoted entirely to the music of Bach, specifically Partita No. 2 in d minor, BWV 1004 and Sonata No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1005, part of a set of six in which the odd-numbered pieces are sonatas; the evens, partitas. The Teutonic creator-recreator duo of Bach-Tetzlaff proved to be a powerful one: from the first bar, the music was mesmerizing. Tetzlaff’s introspective style drew the listener in; his smooth bowing, clear articulation, and delicate pianissimos helping to breathe life and complexity into the deceptively simple single line. His serious demeanor was belied by his dancelike dips and gyrations as the music flowed out of him.

The second half showcased music by György Kurtág, Eugène Ysaÿe, and Niccolò Paganini: a veritable smorgasbord of diacritics! Four pieces by contemporary Hungarian composer Kurtág were a late and worthwhile addition to the program and got things off to a tangy start. Four of Niccolò Paganini’s caprices were almost frightening in their technical ferocity. Interestingly, prior to the penultimate piece, Tetzlaff was moved to stop and explain to the audience that there was such a cold draft onstage he was finding it difficult to perform! The show must go on, however, and he soldiered admirably ahead, with his virtuosic bowing making the final caprice sound like the flutter of hummingbird wings.

The immensely talented Christian Tetzlaff, with the help of some immensely talented composers, amply demonstrated the startlingly broad emotional and technical range of this restricted musical medium.     [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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NESE Mixes to Match Mozart, Beethoven, Berio and Piazzolla


The concert on January 30 of New England String Ensemble at Jordan Hall reminds one of the musical arts, namely the art of programming itself. Music Director Federico Cortese chose and arrayed a group of pieces that, while not explicitly so declaring, revealed composers meditating on the Baroque, from affection to irony to something bordering combativeness. Another way of looking at the program is as a collection of works based on other works by the same composer.

Cortese went for rich, full sonorities, with finely crafted phrasing and balance in Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C minor, K. 546. Violinist irina Muresanu in Astor Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires emphasized the music’s universality rather than its Argentine particularism, and turned in a polished, bravura and musically glam performance. Special mention is also due to Joshua Gordon, whose several cello solos and duets with the violin were soulful and affecting.

The typical weakness of a string orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge is that these edges dull in the wash of sound. Mr. Cortese did his level best at this performance to keep the sharpness and grit intact, and succeeded to an admirable degree. At the same time, his fine balance of forces allowed the principal advantage of the orchestral presentation to be felt, which is the architectural and emotional affinities between this work and Beethoven’s great late works for large ensembles, the Ninth Symphony and the Missa Solemnis.

Saxophonist Dennis Shafer attacked his part in Luciano Berio’s Chemins IVb with great gusto, perfectly executing the multiphonics and other technical fireworks while spinning a pure line that forever fell back on that B. One had to focus intently on the strings, at least from where we sat, whose primarily subdued murmuring could at times seem overwhelmed by the soloist.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Magical Performance by Mark Morris Dance Group and Friends in Boston


Friday night, January 29, saw the Boston première of Mark Morris’s new set of dances, “Mozart Dances,” to Mozart’s music performed by Emmanuel Music’s instrumentalists. It was conducted by Jane Glover, with solo pianists Russell Sherman and his former student, Minsoo Sohn.

The first, “Eleven,” Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 11 in F major, with Minsoo Sohn as soloist, opened with a brief appearance of all the dancers. The bare-topped men disappeared at the end of the exposition, leaving the women to finish. In the second piece, “Double,” Mozart’s Piano Sonata in D major for two pianos, K. 448, the “double” was also expressed in an unusual but poignant manner during the Andante by a pas de deux between two lithe male dancers. The piano soloists were truly an expressive, lyrical duo—not a percussive note was struck.

Morris presented the entire cast in soft, flowing white, in happy, effervescent contrast to the previous blacks and grays, for “Twenty-seven,” Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 27 in B major, K. 595 (1791), with extended solo piano passages and cadenzas, so beautifully elucidated by Sherman.  The solo dancers during the cadenzas were particularly memorable.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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A Far Cry in a Knock-out Performance in Jamaica Plain


A Far Cry, a young Boston string ensemble, now some three years on the scene and some 18 string players literally full of youthfulness, played a concert at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jamaica Plain Saturday afternoon, January 30. Whatever your musical preferences, it is likely that you would have been knocked out by their boundary-crossing performance of Concerto Per Corde of Alberto Ginastera. With all but the cellists standing instead of sitting, there was a good deal to see as there was to hear, as a kind of ritual dance visually unfolded as they played.

Italian Serenade by Hugo Wolf was wonderfully warm and ever so delightfully inviting at the hands of these youth, accomplished musicians who also were dead serious about attaining high levels of technical proficiency without any breaks in concentration.

Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence combined unusually well with the Wolf and Ginastera, but needed toning down and breathing space. Sunnier climes of the Tchaikovsky succumbed to a voltage overload not at all helped by the acoustics of the old sanctuary at St. John’s.            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Early Lines Form in Cold for Free Beethoven by Boston Landmarks


On what has likely been the coldest night of this winter, hundreds of people gathered to hear the Boston Landmarks Orchestra’s “Heroic Beethoven” concert in Harvard’s Sanders Theater on January 30. The BLO, celebrating its 10th year of bringing free, professional performances of classical music to the people of Boston, showcased André-Michel Schub as soloist for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor, Op. 37. Orchestra and soloist demonstrated great sensitivity to the transitions between tutti and solo passages, and the orchestra’s understated heroics in the first movement were much appreciated, as some ensembles take a no-holds-barred approach to these works of Beethoven’s middle period, eschewing both nuance and élan.

At times the violins seemed a bit labored in their thematic material, but the orchestra was more self-assured in the second half of the program, featuring Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, Op. 55 “Eroica.” The only drawback was the lack of cohesion in the initial “drum rolls” from the basses, but this was remedied in the reprise.

“Free” does not mean “cheap” and Ansbacher and the Boston Landmarks Orchestra were admirably uncompromising in their mission. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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