Felicities and Gloomy Songs from Emmanuel

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In a nod on its fortieth anniversary to Emmanuel Music founder, the late Craig Smith, Artistic Director Ryan Turner began its chamber music series on Sunday afternoon, October 31, at Emmanuel Church. It was a attractive program performed by superb musicians to a capacity house. A rarity, the String Trio No 1 in E-flat Major, op. 3, played by violinist Rose Drucker, violist Jonina Mazzeo, and cellist Michael Curry, had felicities throughout: drones, pizzicato passages, and jolly finale. The gloomy Gellert songs, op. 48, written when Beethoven was increasingly deaf, were performed effectively by tenor Zachary Wilder and pianist Judith Gordon. Sunniness returned in Piano Trio No. 1 in E-flat Major, op. 1. This spirit was infectious.            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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The Kid Has Chops: Albright at Gardner

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The annual Wendy Shattuck Young Artist Concert presented Harvard/ NEC pianist Charlie Albright at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on October 31. Albright treated Haydn’s late Sonata No. 62 in E flat as if it were Beethoven, with powerful surges, active pedaling, and rat-a-tat precision in the hammered repeated notes of the finale. No complaints from this quarter. In Liszt’s Sonata 1.X 1905, Albright achieved powerful sonic effects through sudden pedal releases, and in general conveyed its brooding gloom. In some of the twenty-one pieces in Robert Schumann’s groundbreaking Carnaval, op. 9 we could have wished for greater dynamic contrast and variation in touch, but this was, on the whole, an immensely satisfying reading.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Not a Dull Moment From Camerata

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“Vieni, Imeneo! Marriage & Music in the Italian Renaissance” on October 31, was Boston Camerata’s engaging season opener in Harvard’s Memorial Church.

Three sackbuts announced the concert’s beginning from the balcony behind the audience, and from then on, there was not a dull moment. The charismatic Anne Azéma, artistic director, mezzo-soprano, and when needed, conductor, was a charming guide to music and its history.

Camerata’s “Marriage and Music” was compelling for its inspired choice of music and sites from which the music was emanating. Rarely would two pieces use the same singers or players, although each time the three sackbuts — kinder, gentler trombones —played, I would have been happy to spend the whole afternoon hearing them.            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Music Meets Physics at Harvard

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Firebird Ensemble performed a program of spectralist composers Murail, Saariaho, Grisey, and Satoh at the The Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments at Harvard University on Thursday evening, October 28, featuring interesting visuals from a spectrograph being projected throughout the concert and sirens and various historical instruments related to the physics of sound. All of the pieces accompanying the exhibit, Sensations of Tone: wave physics and the creative arts are, in some way, profoundly connected to physical aspects of sound, generally in ways which integrate technology.

While discussions were informative and interesting, I think most would have preferred the traditional format: panel discussions and presentations pre-concert, with uninterrupted music. Despite being presented in an ultra-cerebral environment, much of the music was intriguing and beautiful.            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Labadie, Levin Enliven H&H

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Robert Levin, the formidable fortepianist, historian, lecturer, and intellect, joined the Handel & Haydn Society’s period band for a spirited and probing performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G-major, Op. 58 Friday evening, October 29, in Symphony Hall. Levin’s cadenzas, highly anticipated moments of his concerto performances, did not disappoint. In fact, astonished. In the Concerto’s second movement, Levin was truly revelatory.

The H&H orchestra played two Haydn symphonies, No. 83 in G-minor, “The Hen,” and No. 94 in G-major, the “Surprise.” Though I would have preferred a couple more violas and ‘cellos to boost their overall balance with the violins, the entire orchestra was spot-on under Labadie’s energetic conducting; the wide dynamic range they exhibited was a joy to hear.    [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Truly “Applausive” Night at BSO under Robertson

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Guest Conductor David Robertson and the Boston Symphony Orchestra had something to say in a rare and truly “applausive” night at Symphony Hall on Thursday, October 28. Robertson’s Tragic Overture of Brahms stayed in motion, especially through crisp and stately march-like passages set off against flowing lines always undulating through myriad shapes of crescendos and decrescendos. Disappointingly, the momentum of John Adams’s opera did not carry over into the “Doctor Atomic” Symphony. Forty-year-old pianist Nicolas Hodges made his Boston Symphony Orchestra debut in a gripping interpretation of Prokofiev’s youthfully charged, virtuosic Piano Concerto No. 2. An absolutely maniacal hang-on-to-your seat delivery from Robertson and the BSO of Bartók’s Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin brought the program to a whirlwind close.          [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Sing the Song of Mary

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Magnificat, the Song of Mary is a title to whisk one right into the spirit of half a millennium of European music. Canto Armonico Boston and their frequent conductor, Simon Carrington, in concert on Oct. 24 at First Lutheran Church, Boston, gave us a rousing, dynamically vital interpretation of the extraordinarily beautiful, technically exacting Magnificat by William Cornysh.

Ne timeas, Maria by First Lutheran’s young music director, Bálint Karosi, premiered, is a moving ten-minute work, well worth revisiting. Karosi called upon First Lutheran’s splendid Richards, Fowkes organ for the sole instrumental work of the afternoon, Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach’s Organ Sonata “senza pedale” in A, followed by his Magnificat in D.          [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Rising Star Returns to NEC

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The October 26 performance of the NEC Philharmonia at Jordan Hall was remarkable both for the East Coast premier of a new work by Osvaldo Golijov and the return to Boston of conductor Mei-Ann Chen, an NEC graduate recently appointed music director of the Memphis Symphony Orchestra. She conducts with great effect and can summon an improvisatory quality.

The concert opened with a very exciting yet very well calibrated performance of Dvorák’s Scherzo Capriccioso, continuing with Osvaldo Golijov’s Siderus. After a grand crescendo the piece slowly wound down to a pianissimo, which Chen prolonged by drawing her arms downward in very slow motion. The mood was magical. Rimsky-Korsakoff’s Sheherazade is almost a concerto for every soloist in the orchestra, and boy! did they shine. Every section of the orchestra acquitted itself admirably.  [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Shelley and Heller Poetry, Sublime Mozart

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On Sunday afternoon, October 24, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum presented Musicians from Marlboro, the touring extension of Vermont’s renowned Marlboro Music Festival.

Jennifer Johnson’s voice of exceptional beauty, amplitude, and flexibility in Ottorino Respighi’s beautiful, elegiac Il Tramonto left moist eyes in the audience. The quartet was then joined by bassist Zachary Cohen for Antonín Dvorák’s Two Waltzes, Op. 54. One could hardly hope for a more dedicated and skillful performance than the Marlboro musicians gave Robert Cuckson’s Der gayst funem shturem (The Spirit of the storm) is a song-cycle setting Yiddish poetry of Binem Heller, who escaped from Warsaw at the outbreak of World War II. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s life-affirming Clarinet Quintet (K. 581) made a perfect anodyne.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Requiems from Two Eras

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Musica Sacra under director Mary Beekman offered an interesting juxtaposition of early Baroque and 20th-century Requiem music in a concert at the First Church, Cambridge. on Saturday, October 23. Musica Sacra’s excellent soloists were members of the choir and sang from within the group. Beekman’s direction elicited pleasing tone color and lively and flexible rhythms from them in Heinrich Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien, composed for the funeral in 1636 of the local sovereign, Heinrich Posthumus of Reuss-Gera, with the prince’s own selection of Biblical and chorale verses. Although the largely syllabic settings of John Rutter’s Requiem could be a bit monotonous at times, they were saved by excellent diction from the choir and relieved by a number of truly lovely melodic passages.   [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Spanish Flutist Arimany In Boston for Bach, Mozart

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The strings of Boston Classical Orchestra, under Conductor Steven Lipsitt, opened the concert on October 24 at Faneuil Hall with the Handel Concerto Grosso in D Major op. 6. Warm-up issues with intonation were due in large part to playing the entire concert at lower than normal pitch out of deference to the visiting flute soloist, Claudi Arimany. J. S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite no. 2 with flute showed great sensitivity to the dance-inflected movements. Some violins dropped out in certain repeats to allow more opportunity for the flute to be heard.

A pumped-up performance, with well modulated dynamics, of a Mendelssohn’s Sinfonia no. 10 was followed by Mozart’s Concerto No. 1 for Flute and Orchestra, the most satisfying performance of the afternoon.             [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Handel in Rome via Old Post Road

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Musicians of the Old Post Road, performing on period instruments, get an “A” in imaginative programming, and for this performance on October 22 as well, which presented music by Handel and other composers working in Rome in the early 1700s.

Suzanne Stumpf, Sarah Darling, Daniel Ryan, and Michael Bahmann, the core group, are all accomplished players fluent in Baroque style without overdoing it. Bahmann’s mostly improvised harpsichord continuo was a model of its kind throughout. The program alternated purely instrumental works with solo cantatas and arias sung by lyric soprano Kristen Watson, whose rich, supple voice roamed over a wide range with ease, clear diction, strong but flexible projection and a vibrato used only for occasional subtle emphasis.         [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Superb Singing and Playing, Questionable Production in Opera Boston’s Fidelio

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The audience at Opera Boston’s performance of Beethoven’s Fidelio on Friday October 22 at the Cutler Majestic Theater was treated to some superb singing and playing. The cast was excellent throughout, all boasting of big and beautiful instruments that they used to full effect. The orchestra played beautifully under the skilled baton of Gil Rose, something we have come to expect from this fine conductor. Special kudos must go to the horn players (Kenneth Pope, Alyssa Daly, Dana Christensen and Carolyn Cantrell),  who dispatched with aplomb and hunting-call energy some of the most treacherous horn parts in the literature. However,  the production seemed to have little if any connection to the actual story, a powerful tale that takes place in a fetid prison.    [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Near Coup by Boston Philharmonic at Sanders

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The Boston Philharmonic nearly scored a coup at Sanders Theatre, Thursday, October 21 in a concert of Paris connections. Leader and founder of the orchestra Benjamin Zander’s highly successful stratagem, pairing Gershwin’s An American in Paris and Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G not only brought the Brooklyn composer’s singular gem to glittering American-sized life but put to rest the old saw about the one movement piece as lacking structure. Piano concerto soloist Stephen Drury and a smaller Philharmonic beamed a nimbus around the Ravel. The Adagio movement as played by Drury, I would say, may be the very best I have heard.

After intermission, Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments and Debussy’s La Mer continued the Paris connections programming coup.         [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Noteworthy Program Balance by NECSO

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It was alumni reunion weekend at New England Conservatory, so Jordan Hall on October 22 was packed for the performances of the NEC Symphony Orchestra and Concert Choir, conducted by David Loebel. The balance in programming was noteworthy, despite the fact that all the works played were from the same period. The “Jubilee” movement from G. W. Chadwick’s Symphonic Sketches, certainly a rousing curtain-raiser, showing off Chadwick’s ebullience, was followed by the Schicksalslied and Nänie of Brahms, two of Brahms’s great works for chorus and orchestra that are not the German Requiem. In Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Loebel very lucidly delineated lines and contours, and the orchestra’s playing was top-notch. We approved especially of Nathan Grant Raderman’s melting clarinet solo in “Romanza.”            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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New BSO Assistant Conductor Lehninger Assured

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Newly appointed Assistant Conductor Marcelo Lehninger made his BSO debut on Thursday evening, October 21. He brought out the quirky moments of Barber’s Overture to The School for Scandal with charm and navigated swift tempo changes and juxtaposed moods with ease.

The real strongpoint of Pinchas Zukerman, soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D, is his lyricism; the Larghetto contained the most effective moments of the Concerto. In the Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, Lehninger showed particular care for the details – particularly in the shapely swells that gracefully close off melodic lines in the Andante cantabile, while the Valse left something to be desired, adrenaline was poured into the Finale. Across the entire program, Lehninger’s conducting was assured and unfaltering. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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BSO Chamber Players Premier Previn Work

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On Sunday afternoon, October 17, the Boston Symphony Chamber Players premiered a quirky-titled work by André Previn: Octet for Eleven, the pièce de résistance placed between two smaller chamber works for winds.

Oboist John Ferrillo, clarinetist William R. Hudgins, and bassoonist Richard Svoboda gave a well-shaped performance of Martinu’s Four Madrigals with exquisite long lines and trills, chirps, and crisp staccato chords. Milhaud’s The Chimney of King René added flutist Elizabeth Rowe and hornist James Sommerville for a light-hearted and lyrical romp. Randall Hodgkinson substituted for Previn at the last minute in the Mozart Piano Quartet in G minor, K.478 expressively and elegantly with Malcolm Lowe, Stephen Ansell, and Jules Eskin —violin, viola, and cello.            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Beautifully Matched Tone, Intonation from Stile Antico

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Stile Antico returned for a concert, presented by Boston Early Music Festival, at St. Paul Church, Cambridge, on October 15. Standing in a semicircle, they produced beautifully matched tone and intonation in the best English choir tradition. The program of Swansongs and Memorials by the Renaissance Masters, although centered (with exception of Nicolas Gombert’s Magnificat) on themes of death and dying, ranged stylistically from a late-fifteenth-century work by Guillaume Dufay to the early Baroque by way of the English Tudor choral repertory. These polyphonic works for varying numbers of voice parts were interspersed with selections of Gregorian chant, performed with equal attention to coherent phrasing and precise intonation.     [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Blessing the Lord with Heart and Voice

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Seraphim Singers, conducted by Jennifer Lester, presented an imaginative mix of choral music, hymns, and solo organ literature on Sunday, October 17, in Roxbury’s “Mission Church.”

This concert’s wonderfully remote beginning, with the performers at the back of the basilica singing Mendelssohn’s “Heilig,” was genuinely evocative of seraphim singing from a great height. The antiphonal writing was largely imperceptible in Josef Rheinberger’s Mass in E-Flat Major. Healey Willan’s Introduction, Passacaglia and Fugue for Organ displayed the beautiful solo colors and majestic tutti of the Mission Church organ. Psalm 96 (“Sing, and let the song be new”), by James Woodman, had wonderful infectious energy. Seraphim Singers and Jennifer Lester certainly do “bless the Lord with heart and voice.”   [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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BCMS Shines in Sanders Season Opener

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Opening Boston Chamber Music Society’s concert on Sunday evening, Oct. 17, Harumi Rhodes and Roger Tapping, violin and viola respectively, brought a lovely sense of blend and rhythmic vigor to Beethoven’s charming and thought-provoking String Trio in D major, Op. 9, No. 2, and Michael Reynolds’s resonant cello provided gracious underpinning.

Rhodes and Tapping were kept happily busy by the considerable demands of Bohuslav Martinu’s fiendishly difficult Three Madrigals for Violin and Viola, with all manner of wit, color, verve and virtuosity. Pianist Randall Hodgkinson joined the string players for a bracing exposition of Camille Saint-Saëns Piano Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 41. The third movement offers opportunities for brilliant cadenzas, flourishingly dispatched by Rhodes and glitteringly essayed by Hodgkinson.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Discover This: Martinu, Schoenberg, Beethoven

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Discovery Ensemble began its third season on October 17 under conductor Courtney Lewis at Harvard’s Sanders Theater in a commendably mixed program of works.

Lewis’s crack band of young performers (not a gray hair) responded with immaculate articulation and dynamic precision in Martinu’s Double Concerto. The greatest challenge of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, apart from its elaborate counterpoint, is to preserve some semblance of balance with only one player to a part, and in the first two movements especially, violins and viola had some trouble making themselves heard. In the majestic restatement of the theme just before the coda of the finale of Beethoven’s Eroica, Lewis achieved a glowing, rounded sonority that has eluded many of his elders.            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Quotations Galore in Concord Orchestra’s Musical Birthday Party

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“Celebrating Concord’s 375th” was Concord Orchestra’s opening program on October 15. Directed by Richard Pittman, the Orchestra was founded in 1969; that’s a long time, and the Concord Orchestra plays with verve and pride under his consistent direction and imaginative programming.  “Hawthorne,” the second movement Henry Brant’s orchestration of Ives’s Second Piano Sonata, made a cheerful and bumptious opener in spite of some perhaps unintentional dissonances among the strings.

Jane Ring Frank’s Concord Women’s Chorus, joining the orchestra for Peter Child’s Louisa’s War, sang in a clear, well balanced, high tessitura, purposefully contrasting with the low grumble of the orchestra. The concert ended with a rousing exposition of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.  [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Restored Ludford Mass Achieves Monastic Ideal with Blue Heron

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On Saturday, October 16, at First Church Congregational Cambridge, Blue Heron under Scott Metcalfe presented what almost certainly the North American premiere of Nicholas Ludford’s Missa Regnum mundi, composed in the 1530s. The tenor partbook is lost (destroyed by reforming zealots?), but reconstructed brilliantly by contemporary English musicologist Nick Sandon.

Blue Heron’s chant singing had unanimity of ensemble, natural rise and fall, and beautiful flexibility. Given the added benefit of First Church’s cathedral-like acoustic, it achieved the monastic ideal. And though the generous acoustics may have aided some subtle staggered breathing, one had to admire how the many extremely lengthy phrases were shaped and sustained effortlessly.        [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Harvard Re-Channels Americana

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The Harvard University Choir, a sixty-voice body of undergraduates under director Edward Jones, presented an unusual concert at Harvard’s Memorial Church on Sunday, October 17. We are grateful to have heard Frostiana again in these environs but would have preferred the 1965 chamber orchestra version to the 1959 one with piano. There were stylistic choices that were also disappointing, such as a parsimonious provision of consonants.

Alice Parker’s Melodious Accord (1974), accompanied by the Riverside Brass Ensemble and Krysten Keches, harp, had more in common with Salvation Army services than with the expectations of the original composers. The congregation was invited to rise and join the chorus for a choral climax — a novel method of insuring a standing ovation.     [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Abstractionism in Mozart from Jumppanen at Gardner

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Finnish pianist Paavali Jumppanen attempted something new in “The Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas, Part I” at the Gardner Museum on October 17. Most rewarding was hearing the first four sonatas sequentially; leaving out the fifth sonata was unsatisfying from any perspective.

In Sonata No.3 in B-flat Major, K. 281, explosions made the music sound urgent, heavy, metronomic, never fluid, and never personal. Hearing Sonata No. 1 in C Major, K. 279 and Sonata No. 2 in F Major, K. 280 was the same. Character and mood are not summoned up from the fingers, all too apt to create percussive piano sound more expected in the music of Pierre Boulez, which Jumppanen plays convincingly. A rethinking of Mozart clearly is in order.   [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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