Local Singers Launch Worthwhile Relief Fund

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“A Singer’s Voice,” presented last Saturday evening at Back Bay’s Church of the Covenant, launched “The Boston Singers’ Relief Fund,” a worthy venture by any measure, and the program made it clear that we have much to celebrate in our professional singers. Not only had they been well rehearsed, but they sounded like an experienced and cohesive ensemble, not always the easiest thing to achieve with a group of professional singers. Murray Kidd was organizer and conductor of this concert, which featured a broad range of choral music as well as one operatic excerpt from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, which featured Barbara Kilchuff, soprano. Stanford’s serene “Beati Quorum Via” provided sweet contrast to the sturdiness of the opening Mendelssohn work, and Hubert Parry’s grand and glorious “I Was Glad,” rang out in elegant grandeur through the lofty rafters of the church. Frederick MacArthur managed the organ accompaniment deftly, and this performance even included the stirring “Vivat Regina” section that is often omitted. “Agnus Dei,” from the interesting Mass by Puccini was charming, made even more so by tenor Michael Calmes’ lovely singing. There were many short, splendid solos in Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music, and one had the happy feeling here, as in the rest of the program, that the singers were collaborating, not competing: a wonderful thing. I have never been entirely convinced by this piece, but this performance made the best case to date. “For All We Know,” by Fred Coots in an arrangement by Brent Pierce was the very quiet concluding anthem. It was refreshing, especially in the context of this evening’ program, to end quietly and thoughtfully. [Click title for full review]   [continued]

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First Monday is 25!

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lesser   [continued]

An avuncular Laurance Lesser presided with obvious pride over the 25th anniversary performance of the First Monday at Jordan Hall Series that he had originated in 1985. The concert, on October 5, was performed, as usual, by Lesser’s reliable amalgam of faculty, students, alumni and friends.   [continued]

The evening began with a dramatic darkening of the house as antiphonal brass choirs deployed on opposite sides of the balcony, illuminated only by their music stand lights, in a stately rendition of two Gabrielli Canzonas. In the Bach “Solo” Wedding Cantata, Weichet nur, betrübte Shatten BWV 202, the still lustrous-voiced soprano, Lisa Saffer, offered an alternately dramatic and consoling rendition—though without the production of many German consonants.   [continued]

The evening closed with a well plotted Quintet in g minor of Mozart which could have benefited from a bit more of the risk taking, which an established ensemble would have dared.   [continued]

This journal joins the very satisfied Jordan Hall audience in saluting emeritus NEC President, Laurance Lesser on the silver anniversary of his estimable series. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Von Stade, Te Kanawa Farewell Concert Left A Longing

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Mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade performed her Boston “Farewell Concert” with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and pianist Brian Zeger at Symphony Hall on Sunday afternoon, October 4, the inaugural offering of the 2009-2010 season of the Celebrity Series of Boston.   [continued]

The two marvelous singers, who also have been close friends for 40 years, gave us a concert that was long on cutesy and short on heart-rending, which they both can do so well, even granting them the vagaries of  seniority. Te Kanawa’s voice was often inaudible in Row O, though she could still send out a wonderful long, high note. These were the ones that gave von Stade problems, but her gloriously human, interpretive singing held court.   [continued]

The hit of the first half of the concert was the duet, “Ah, guarda, sorella,” between the two sisters, Fiordiligi and Dorabella, from Cosi fan tutte; von Stade seemed to bring out the best in Te Kanawa.   [continued]

The Aaron Copland setting of the Emily Dickinson poem,  “Why do they shut me out of Heaven?”,  is often sung with humor, but it seemed overdone by Te Kanawa, albeit the audience did giggle appreciatively.
Five songs from Chants d’Auvergne, by Joseph Canteloube, seemed a few too many. But the Poulenc songs, to poetry of Apollinaire and Anouilh, were wonderful.   [continued]

Throughout the concert, the ladies had a fine accompanist in Brian Zeger.   [continued]

The last of the “additional songs” was La “Vie en Rose,” sung achingly beautifully. A Grand Finale for von Stade. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Chameleon Presents Colorful, Inspired Juxtapositions in Season Opener

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The Chameleon Arts Ensemble continued their tradition of creative, thought-provoking, entertaining programming with “Music and All Silence Held,” the season opener at the Goethe Institut in Boston’s Back Bay on Saturday evening, October 3.   [continued]

Kristopher Tong, the Borromeo String Quartet violinist, pinch-hit for injured Joanna Kurkowicz concert in Mozart’s lighthearted Duo No. 1 in G Major, K. 423 for violin and viola. His  performance was playful, lyrical, energetic, and expressive. Violist Scott Woolweaver’s approach was somewhat straightforward and workmanlike, an excellent foil to Tong’s more exuberant interpretation, though I would have preferred a few more sweetly soft moments in the second movement.   [continued]

Cellist Rafael Popper-Keizer’s playing in Claude Debussy’s Sonata in d minor for cello and piano was more than up to the technically challenging spiccato, pizzicato, and flautando passages. Pianist Gloria Chien’s powerful, rock-solid playing belied her diminutive stature.   [continued]

The overall effect of Toru Takemitsu’s And Then I Knew ’Twas Wind was moody, brooding, haunting, pensive, somewhat disjointed. Deborah Boldin’s ethereal and pellucid flute playing juxtaposed effectively with the scratchy sounds required of the viola. Harpist Anna Reinerman created a flowing cascade of shimmery, shapely notes, including some bent at all manner of odd auditory angles.   [continued]

The pièce de résistance was Olivier Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, Clarinetist Gary Gorczyca spun sinuous, limpid melody lines that expressed subtle emotions, Chien was a pianistic dynamo, and cellist Popper-Keizer handled the challenge of numerous extended tones in the fifth movement with ease, adding subtle color to avoid the tedium of repetition. Violinist Gabriela Diaz, a second pinch-hitter for Joanna Kurkowicz, absolutely hit one out of the park! Her playing featured sterling technique and a kaleidoscopic range of tonal color. All in all, the most convincing, nuanced, colorful, compelling, coherent rendition of this piece I’ve yet heard. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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“Chaconne, Anyone?” Steinhardt Says Why

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Arnold Steinhardt, first violinist of the famed Guarneri String Quartet, came to the Gardner Museum, Sunday, October 4, to answer his own question before a dedicated and expectant collection of listeners: Why is the “Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D minor of J. S. Bach “the masterpiece that every aspiring violinist must study and eventually perform?”   [continued]

Billed as an afternoon of conversation and performance, conversation it was not, but storytelling at its best — totally engaging, entirely enjoyable and fabulously informative. Steinhardt brought in Pablo Casals, Jascha Heifitz, Mischa Ellman, and a gypsy violinist extraordinaire.   [continued]

When Steinhardt heard violinist Mischa Elman play the Chaconne, the young boy’s life changed. It was Elman’s “gorgeous sound,” his way of bringing out “patterns” in the piece, and his extraordinary way of making the instrument sound like the human voice in expressing “all kinds of feelings and emotions.”
Steinhardt did not play, due to a minor elbow inflammation. Jennifer Koh’s performance of the Partita was a total disappointment. No human voice, no “gypsy-like” freedom, no dancing, no blueprint: none were evident in this 30-minute-plus work.   [continued]

At brief question-and-answer session, someone asked how long it takes before one feels comfortable enough to play a piece like the Chaconne in public. “Comfortable?” replied Steinhardt, “That’s a new concept to me. These are scary pieces!” [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Exsultemus Channels Hamburg

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The Exsultemus Ensemble opened its 2009-2010 Concert Season at the First Lutheran Church in Boston with an attractive program devoted to 17th- and 18th-century sacred music from the city of Hamburg. The program focused on the three composers who defined Hamburg’s musical life in their respective periods: Matthias Weckmann and Christoph Bernhard, the two star pupils of Heinrich Schütz, from the mid-17th century, and Georg Philipp Telemann, the dominant figure in the 18th century. The juxtaposition of two distinct style periods proved to be most illuminating.   [continued]

At the center of the program stood Weckmann’s monumental chorale elaboration on the Lutheran hymn “Es ist das Heil uns kommen her,” one of the most extended and extraordinary organ works of the 17th century. The scale of its sophisticated design became wonderfully apparent through the varied and powerful sound of the Richards & Fowkes organ, the very best instrument in the city of Boston for the North-German Baroque. Bálint Karosi, the organist, turned out to be a most impressive musical interpreter for this challenging piece.   [continued]

The second group of vocal works introduced three rarely heard Telemann works, demonstrating his magisterial command of sacred music, his differentiated musical expressions, and his stylistically forward-looking approach.   [continued]

The four singers formed a most homogeneous, transparent, and balanced vocal ensemble for the concluding motet, “Laudate Jehovam” for four voices and instruments. The conductorless ensemble might have benefited here and there, notably at final cadences, from an occasional waving hand or shaping gesture. On the whole, however, the performers excelled in highlighting two striking culmination points in Hamburg’s musical culture. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Florestan, BMOP Offer Sublime Tribute to Vocal Music

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Florestan and BMOP together offered a sublime tribute to the voice at the recent three-day festival, September 25 to 27, At Tuft University’s Distler Performance Hall. Florestan presented the complete songs of Samuel Barber, some 75 in number. The Sunday afternoon concert featured a chamber-music-sized BMOP with concerted songs of Samuel Barber and Virgil Thomson.   [continued]

Baritone Aaron Engebreth lent his strong baritone in two songs from the 1930s. Pianist Alison d’Amato was his able collaborator. Then tenor Joe Dan collaborated with Anne Kissel. Soprano Sarah Pelletier, with Shiela Kibbe at the piano, sang songs from the ’20s, including the harrowing, but unpublished, “Man.” Baritone Thomas Meglioranza offered a wondrous “The Feast of Love,” a fourth-century work translated in 1964 by Virgil Thomson.   [continued]

After intermission we were in for a treat, Barber’s Knoxville, Summer of 1915 (James Agee text) and Thomson’s Five Songs of William Blake (1952). The rarely performed Thomson songs, sung beautifully by Meglioranza, were equally moving.   [continued]

It is a pity that more people didn’t turn out. Perhaps they would have if they had known that Florestan, in honor of Tennessee, planned a bourbon reception afterwards to celebrate the weekend. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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First-Rate Perfomances by Boston Musica Viva

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There were no riots at the Musica Viva concert “All-American Grooves” on September 25 at the Tsai Performance Center, but there was plenty of approval — and for good reason. The performances were first-rate. Music Director Richard Pittman led his superb ensemble with skill and understanding, and his players responded in kind.   [continued]

Michael Gandolfi’s Grooved Surfaces utilizes a typical Adowa drum-ensemble rhythm in which the pizzicato ‘cello and left-hand piano mimic the role of the shakes (the drum-ensemble instrument that provides a steady rhythmical underpinning). The first movement was mesmerizing in its use of shape-shifting repetition; the second fully exploited the minimalist textures, creating a kaleidoscope of colors. The energetic Flipsides that concluded the work was played brilliantly by the ensemble, pianist Geoffrey Burleson dispatching the complicated piano part with aplomb.   [continued]

The Seven Ages by John Harbison, which received its first Boston performance, is based on six poems by Louise Glück that are magnificent, terrifying, depressing and bittersweet. Mezzo-soprano Pamela Dellal sang all with excellent diction and a complete understanding of the words, creating a performance vivid and deeply felt.   [continued]

The second half opened with a world premier, Richard Cornell’s Images (2009). The opening duet between piano and drums was particularly effective. Movement II came off just like that: an unattractive research exercise, without engaging the listener.   [continued]

Elliott Carter’s Triple Duo (1982/83) concluded the program. What more can be said about this iconic composer who has given us numerous masterpieces for almost a century. Only time will tell which of the works on this program will be considered an old chestnut in 50 years. Viva Musica Viva for giving us the opportunity to hear them first. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Compelling Performance of Barber Songs by Florestan Project

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The second program in this three-concert series by The Florestan Project of the songs of Samuel Barber, which took place on September 26 in Tufts University’s Distler Performance Hall, demonstrated just how effective and enlightening a well-organized and skillfully performed exploration of a single composer’s output can be. The stylistic progression was fascinating to hear, from songs written when he was 10 to 13, with keen and serious mimicry of the late-Romantic textural and tonal thickness in vogue at the time, to his late 50s, when Barber had mastered a musical language that allowed the deeply personal and poignant sentiments to emerge with stunning sonic imagery.   [continued]

Pianists John McDonald and Alison d’Amato each supported the vocalists with a fine ear and a full-bodied, cushiony touch that never overpowered the voices; though there were many times when they seemed to hold back too much. Mezzo-soprano Janna Baty covered the expressive gamut from humorous to grave with a voice that demonstrated a remarkable variety of colors and moods. Similarly, Aaron Engebreth’s powerful baritone voice never got in the way of his intensely engaging ability to tell a story.   [continued]

The astute program order and the high-quality performances ensured that the “style fatigue” that can often result from a concert of music by a single composer never set in. Instead, the evening was compelling and very satisfying. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Collaborative Playing Rewards Fusion of Western, Chinese Traditions

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Magic Strings: a dialogue between pipa and violin,” the concert on September 27 in Jordan Hall, brought together Boston-born violinist Lynn Chang and pipa virtuoso Wu Man.   [continued]

The three movements of Chen Yi’s Ancient Dances — “Cheering,” “Longing,” and “Wondering” — ranged from the dreamy to the exuberant, the subtle percussion an ideal foil for  Wu Man’s expressive playing.   [continued]

For Chen Yi’s “Sprout” for string orchestra, ancient Chinese melodies are woven together using western contrapuntal and harmonic idioms. The Far Cry Chamber Orchestra, standing (except for the cellists) and without conductor, delivered this piece with a wonderful sense of collaborative energy.   [continued]

Lou Harrison’s Concerto for Violin and Percussion Orchestra combines traditional romantic concerto form in three movements, including a wonderful slow cadenza in the second movement, with a percussion ensemble that includes such “junk” instruments as pipes, flower pots, and coffee cans, along with a bass viol turned on its back. Lynn Chang’s beautiful tone and phrasing soared through it all with expressive conviction. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Pilot Shows Her Skill in Williams Commission, BSO Season Starts with Standing Ovations

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The Boston Symphony Orchestra opened its 2009-2010 season with a gala concert at Symphony Hall on Wednesday, September 23.  It began with an exuberant rendition of Hector Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture. The opening night audience was unusually vocal in showing its appreciation which extended into standing ovations for all of the evening’s pieces.   [continued]

Next came Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor with Evgeny Kissin in a commanding performance, clean and controlled. The melody, played with ease and clarity, lacked the lyricism one is accustomed to hearing. The final piece of the concert was La Mer by Claude Debussy. Under James Levine, the ensemble was tight, the interpretation exciting.   [continued]

The centerpiece of the concert was On Willows and Birches, a concerto for harp by John Williams that was commissioned by the BSO to honor retiring harpist Ann Hobson Pilot. “On Willows,” opens with an adagio designated to be played “dreamily.” The subtle rubato is served by a pulse which waivers frequently and sometimes imperceptibly between duple and triple meter. It is delicately orchestrated — almost like chamber music. The percussion instruments, which include crotales and glass bowl, are gently used for color and support. The second movement, “On Birches,” sparkles with rhythmic energy, this time dancing between duple and triple time. Ms. Pilot, whose playing has been consistently strong, confident, with impeccable rhythmic sense and accuracy, performed with sensitivity and expression that is evident of a musician enriched by experience and maturity. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Jam-packed House for Idiosyncratic Pianism from Sherman

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Not a seat at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall could be found for Boston’s own Russell Sherman performing preludes of Debussy and Chopin on September 24. In his hands, Debussy’s own unconventional music — compositions famous for displays of Impressionism and Modernism, pianism and naturalism — was refreshingly, unexpectedly articulated. Sherman obviously continued on his own personal, if not idiosyncratic journey, envisioning the Frenchman’s art as harmonics — not just harmony.   [continued]

In Broulliards (Fog), chords on the white keys counter arpeggios on the black keys. Sherman melded the two as a single type of vibration as if out of nature. For Feuilles mortes (Dead leaves), he touched up harmonies by not articulating each note of the chord equally thereby creating colors — light — of  all kinds to issue forth in the most astonishingly delicate if not dizzying tonal shades.   [continued]

With Les Fées sont d’exquises danseuses (Fairies are exquisite dancers) came his extraordinary sense of pedaling intended to create an exquisitely tinged swirling effect followed by trills perfectly shimmering in a subdued but intense atmosphere.   [continued]

Chopin’s Préludes Op. 28 were another matter, overshadowed with much the same techniques Sherman had used so successfully in the Debussy. Too much and too often in the forefront, they became the focus. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Gandolfi Commission, Fine Bartok, Herald Concord Chamber Music Society 10th Anniversary

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The Concord Chamber Music Society celebrated their 10th anniversary with a performance at the Concord Academy auditorium on Sunday afternoon, September 20. In  the first piece, Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 10 (op. 96), with Wendy Putnam, violin, and Vytas J. Baksys, piano, the performance was more placid than the dynamic and daring score seemed to suggest.   [continued]

Lukas Foss’s Central Park Reel was another violin/piano duo. While a lazier composer would’ve made a minimalist reel and smiled with smug post-modern satisfaction, Foss dove into the nuances of his material and had fun.   [continued]

Line Drawings, a commission from Michael Gandolfi that marked the society’s anniversary, was modeled after Picasso’s single-gesture works. The music was a set of five sketches for violin, clarinet (Thomas Martin), and piano, each written in under three days with emphasis on a single gesture. The writing in each was strong and clear, but the whole set had a kind of “box of chocolates” effect. You’re happy when you get, for example, the chocolate-covered apricot. In all, the set was pleasant and refreshing.   [continued]

Bartók’s Contrasts shows Bartók at his finest, drawing respectfully from folk music yet finding something altogether new. The players really rose to the challenge, finding all the dance and the snap in the piece. [click title for full review]   [continued]

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Run to See “Say It Ain’t So, Joe!”

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Run, don’t walk, to the Boston Conservatory’s Zack Black Box Theater (8 The Fenway) to see the remaining performances — Sept. 23, 25 and 26, at 8 p.m. — of “Say it Ain’t So, Joe!,” a new opera by Curtis Hughes based on the vice-presidential debate in 2008 between Sarah Palin (Aliana de la Guardia) and Joe Biden (baritone Brian Church).   [continued]

You can hear every word of the vocalization in this opera, a variant of sprechstimme reinforced by pitches from the crack instrumentalists (Rane Moore, clarinets; Kent O’Doherty, saxophones; Javier Caballero, cello; and Mike Williams, percussion).   [continued]

Guerilla Opera, founded in 2007, focuses on short works in small spaces that are nevertheless tightly organized by the singers and the orchestra and the direction,  in this case by Nathan Troup. As such, they occupy a unique niche in Boston’s cultural scene. [click title for full review]   [continued]

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Claremont Trio Plays Russian Trios at Gardner in Memory of Leon Kirchner

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The Claremont Trio, twin sisters Emily Bruskin (violin) and Julia Bruskin (cello) and Donna Kwong (piano), performed at the Gardner Museum on September 20. There could not have been a finer and more welcome program, a brief but undeniably substantial one, at that, for a beautiful end-of-summer afternoon. What is more, the Claremont Trio dedicated their concert to the memory of Leon Kirchner who died this past Thursday.   [continued]

Refined fun along with all kinds of action in Arensky’s Romantic-era retrospective radiated from the trio’s extraordinarily disciplined playing and exceptionally staged presence in Anton Stepanovich Arensky’s Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 32. Obviously, the three know this music inside and out, but for some reason it felt as if they have yet to truly own the Arensky. A certain 19th-century feel seemed to elude them.   [continued]

The Claremont brought the Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67 of Dmitri Shostakovitch to as a chilling and macabre a finale imaginable in its juxtaposing insistent, unrelenting Jewish tunes with stunning flashbacks to earlier movements. What made this so different an experience was that they did not dwell on creating emotional appeal, but rather relying on their musical smarts.   [continued]

Indeed, the Claremont thoroughly engages the listener on a plane marked by a complete grasp of musical ideas coupled with an intensely unwavering focus. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Fenwick Smith’s Thirty-third Annual Jordan Hall Recital Offered Wide Range of Material

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Fenwick Smith‘s annual NEC recital (number 33!) brought a wide range of material to Jordan Hall on Sunday afternoon, September 13.   [continued]

C.P.E. Bach’s Sonata in G (W. 86) with harpsichordist John Gibbons,was played with a delicate rubato a post-dinner conversation, wine freely flowing. John Heiss’s Five Pieces for Flute and Cello (Natasha Brofsky) were of the genre of modern (ca. 1963) music that reached a pastoral sensibility through carefully dissonant counterpoint. Couperin’s Sixième Concert, a dance suite with harpsichord and cello (Laura Blustein), propelled itself through rhythmic tensions.   [continued]

Charles Koechlin’s Divertissement (op. 90), with three flutes, relished in sustained flute tones, carving out blocks of sound and letting them rub up against each other. Unfortunately, this stasis proved more a liability than an asset for the music’s dramatic momentum.   [continued]

Carl Maria von Weber’s G minor Trio (op. 63), played by Smith and Brofsky on cello, Randall Hodgkinson on piano, gave the piece proper shape without overselling the story. The music was plenty potent on its own. [click title for full review]   [continued]

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Riveting Messiaen, Sonic Obsessive Chopin and Debussy, Dated Crumb at Gardner

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All consummate artists, as well as protagonists of new music, flutist Paula Robison, cellist Yeesun Kim, and pianist Bruce Brubaker, described their program at the Gardner Museum on September 13 as “homage to nature.”   [continued]

The already fast flourishes in Olivier Messiaen’s Le Merle Noir (The Blackbird) were jacked up by Robison’s flute and Brubaker’s piano to blink-of-the-eye speeds, the way birds do.   [continued]

Lyricism was nowhere to be heard in Brubaker’s dry, determined playing of Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major, Op. 61   [continued]

In the hands of Kim and Brubaker, Debussy’s Sonata for Cello and Piano appeared in the garb of pointillism, a trend in music almost forgotten (thankfully) these days.   [continued]

Nature was once again spurned by George Crumb’s meddling with whales. His Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale) relies on amplified acoustic instruments played by masked musicians in quasi darkness. Composed in 1972, it feels very dated. [click title for full review]   [continued]

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Gypsy Night with the BCMS

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On August 22nd in Longy’s Pickman Hall, the Boston Chamber Music Society presented a program—the third in the Hamel Summer Series—featuring music that, to varying degrees, highlighted the Western fascination with the exotic music of European Roma (Gypsies).   [continued]

Violinist Steven Copes, cellist Ronald Thomas, and pianist Mihae Lee performed F.J. Haydn’s Piano Trio in G major, subtitled “Gypsy,” to which Lee brought an animated albeit somewhat heavy touch, Copes a musical yet somewhat-too-Romantic approach, and Thomas a color and sensitivity that was perfect for the work. Brahms’s Piano Trio in B major, Op. 8, the last work on the program, is a prime example of this composer’s rich and intuitive absorption of Roma sounds and gestures; and the three players certainly made the most of it.   [continued]

It might be a stretch to associate the music of Claude Debussy with that of the Roma. There is, however, one feature of his Cello Sonata that at least parallels Roma expression, namely the frequent, almost conversational changes in mood and gesture, especially in the second movement. Sandwiched between the two “Gypsy” pieces, it was the highlight of the evening for no other reason than Ronald Thomas’s brilliantly nuanced playing. [Click title for full review]   [continued]

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Austerity Felt at Good, though Tame, Glimmerglass Opera Festival

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Austerity made its presence felt at the Glimmerglass Opera Festival this summer; but it nonetheless proved a good though somewhat tame festival: there was nothing inherently exciting about seeing Traviata, Cenerentola, Dido and Aeneas or even the nominal novelty, The Consul, nor — despite some baffling decisions in Sam Helfrich’s production of the Menotti — much new in the way they were presented. What made August 14’s performance of Traviata memorable was its lead, Mary Dunleavy, and her touching, romantic chemistry with Ryan MacPherson’s Alfredo. Malcolm MacKenzie, a highly competent Germont, exhibited a fine, substantial baritone but limited dynamic and expressive shading. Rebecca Jo Loeb made a sonorous, committed Annina. The next afternoon, Joseph Colaneri’s crisp, detailed conducting welcomely brought the orchestra up to a different level in Cenerentola. The palm went to Keith Phares’ Dandini, dapper as Clark Gable, channeling his high-quality lyric baritone with bracing agility. Jessica Jahn’s spot-on costumes merit praise. High musical values continued for that evening’s Consul, tautly led by Music Director David Angus. Sam Helfrich directed this uneven but enduringly timely “Broadway opera” as if to impress industry insiders already bored with the piece. In the third act Helfrich threw out Menotti’s carefully plotted stage directions altogether, so  that Magda remained in the waiting room, John was not dragged away, no oven was seen or heard: Menotti’s heroine apparently died of a willed excess of anomie. Kaye Voyce somehow had located the most hideous 1970s garments still extant. The four leads excelled, with Melissa Citro a major find. Dido and Aeneas (August 16), aptly sung by fine young voices, proved a treat despite some initially scratchy string playing under Michael Beattie and Dr. Miller’s having undercut any sense of stature or tragedy. Tamara Mumford looked and sounded beautiful as Dido, her mezzo boasting both sheen and impact. David Adam Moore gym-chiseled Aeneas combined power and sensitivity. Lovely-voiced Joélle Harvey and clarion countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo made a world-class Belinda and Sorceress. Cockney accents did not amuse. But, thanks to the strong soloists and wonderful choral singing, Purcell triumphed. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Dancing with Partners: The Borromeo’s Beethoven at Monadnock Music

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The concert by the Borromeo Quartet on Friday, August 14, the last of a Monadnock Music series “Along the Beethoven Trail” throughout the season, featured two greats: the late quartet Opus 131 in C-sharp major and the Opus 59 #1 in F major (Razumovsky). The concert started with   commentary by first violinist Nicholas Kitchen.   [continued]

Their rendition of Opus 131 was amazing, a delicate conversation among friends, always impelled forward, with phrase endings perfectly slowing from one instrument to the next. This was beautifully highlighted by their new seating formation, with the two violins on the outside, weaving the melody together by gently tossing it from one to the other.   [continued]

The Borromeo’s pacing of louder passages was equally brilliant as they saved the most exuberant sound for just the right moment as at the end of the recapitulation of the first movement of Opus 59, No. 1. An unforgettable performance. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Quintessentialicious: Mazur and Ohlsson at Tanglewood

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“Quintessential” sums up the 2009 Leonard Bernstein Memorial Concert performed in Tanglewood’s Koussevitzky Music Shed on August 16.   [continued]

Conductor Kurt Masur, well into his ninth decade, nimbly led the youthful and hyper-talented Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in Brahm’s Piano Concerto No. 2; all aspects were beautifully rendered, from the buttery tones of the solo horn to the rich sounds of the strings. Mr. Ohlsson dug into the piano passages in an expressively authoritative manner. Though some of the piano flourishes featured a smattering of notes not in the original score, the overall effect was highly pleasing to both ear and mind.   [continued]

At first blush, Brahms’ second symphony is all sunshine and blue skies. There is the occasional cloud shadow, however, and it is this deeper complexity that is vintage Brahms. Given its naturalistic overtones, this piece was an extremely appropriate choice for the venue. Herr Masur’s conducting style was bouncy and efficient, featuring precise gestures and sweepingly concise movements. This was reflected in the unusually coherent sound of the orchestra. The yin and yang of experienced conductor and youthful but talented musicians is a potent combination.  [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Great Pieces, Almost Great Playing from BCMS

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On August 15th, the BCMS Hamel Summer Series returned to Longy’s Pickman Hall for its second concert.  Once again the pleasures and pitfalls of presenting music that is well known to a seasoned audience demonstrated both delight and disappointment.   [continued]

The whole performance of Haydn’s Piano Sonata in C Major by Mihae Lee was too straight-laced, especially in the Allegro molto, which should have just been plain funnier.  Lee more than made up for the short-comings when she was joined by violinist Jennifer Frautschi and hornist Eric Ruske for John Harbison’s extraordinary Twilight Music.  Frautschi and Lee offered  a rousing performance overall of Johannes Brahms’s Scherzo in C minor from the F.A.E Violin Sonata, although Frautschi’s lyricism tempered too much the wildly contrasting, Gypsy-bitten abandon this piece needs to really take off.   [continued]

Lee and Frautschi,  joined by cellist Andrew Mark for L. v. Beethoven’s Piano Trio in G major (Op 1, No. 2), played with energy, enthusiasm, and a fine sense of ensemble.  However, the performance failed to capture the real sparkle, the heightened sense of playfulness. It wasn’t until the very last movement that all three players finally let their hair down and took the music where it really could and needed to go; and, judging by the enthusiastic applause, the audience was more than happy to follow. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Old Works Provide Brave Program from BCMS

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There are thrills and there are dangers to performing well-known works to a house packed full of professionals and aficionados. The Boston Chamber Music Society’s Hamel Concert Series began its run on August 8 at Longy’s Pickman Hall with a program that was indeed brave in this respect. The result was an enjoyable concert of the familiar that afforded modest thrills, some delightful surprises, and only a few unmanaged dangers.   [continued]

Some of the youthful springing step in F. J. Haydn’s Piano Sonata in G major was dampened by pianist Pedja Muzijevic’s technical approach, resulting in a somewhat anachronistic Romantic touch to the music. However, larger sections were decorated by the pianist with delightful turns and trills, clever rhythmic variances, and even a couple of improvised transitions.   [continued]

Muzijevic was joined by violinist Arnaud Sussmann for the Violin Sonata in A major, Op. 100 by Johannes Brahms. While Sussmann and Muzijevic engaged the micro-phrasing with great skill, the macro-phrasing never really got off the ground, giving the entire performance a bit of a disjointed feel.  On the other hand, focusing their interpretive energies on the small phrases allowed them to toss these musical gestures back and forth with an ease that gave especially the first movement an unexpectedly delightful air of conversational informality, something that Brahms no doubt would have appreciated.   [continued]

For the final piece on the program, Sussmann and Muzijevic were joined by cellist Julie Albers for a rousing performance of Robert Schumann’s Piano Trio in D-minor, Op. 63.  All three performers brought so much innige Empfindung to the third movement that it provided the richest and loveliest moments of the entire program.  [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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Frisson of the New at Mass MoCA

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Classical music is so busy dying, hardly anyone checks in on its red-headed stepchild. I mean, I guess I care. But at the marathon concert held at the Bang on a Can summer festival at Mass MoCA in North Adams on August 1, my species was not the only one in attendance.   [continued]

More than six hours long, it stops being a concert and becomes an event. One can come and go as one pleases. And yes, please join us for a glass of pro secco if you’re still with us at the end.   [continued]

You don’t even need to evoke exoticism (and none was); diversity and surprise become fuel for the fire of a raging spectacle.   [continued]

All musicians gave extremely committed and energetic performances. They’d been living and working together for the past three-and-a-half weeks, and it showed. Paul Coleman, sound engineer, should be singled out as the only one who played the entire show. That it all went so smoothly is a testament to the professionalism of him and the rest of the stage crew.   [continued]

With such a massive program, it would be unwieldy to touch upon everything. So, take these highlights as more personal takeaways: Meredith Monk’s Three Heavens and Hells set a child’s poem for four female voices. John Zorn’s cat o’ nine tails for string quartet (subtitled “Tex Avery directs the Marquis de Sade”) got the audience laughing at a number of spots, but I’m not sure Zorn has a sense of humor about such things. Extra points to violist Andi Hemmenway for appropriate boots.   [continued]

David Lang’s Pierced had gritty rhythms familiar to his music, but imaginative textures  that were just a little different. Eve Beglarian’s BachFeet: “Brownie, you’re doin’ a heck of a job” was missing the tape part with the titular text, but it was engaging all the same. Fred Frith’s Snakes and Ladders was a well-balanced mobile of angular melodies. The program’s finale, George Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique, was the showstopper it was intended to be.   [continued]

Long live the frisson of the New. [Click title for full review.]   [continued]

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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.   [continued]

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.   [continued]

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.   [continued]

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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