Tin Pan Alley’s Top-notch Tour of American Song

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Soprano Jennifer Aylmer, baritone Randall Scarlata, and pianist Laura Ward, all absolutely top-notch, transported us back on Sunday, October 3, in “Tin Pan Alley at the Gardner” to another time uniquely American, to alternating states sublime to ridiculous.

Modern Life” focused on the telephone  (Hello My Baby, 1899), another travel invention (Come Josephine in My Flying Machine, 1910),  yet another  (The Enchanted Train, 1923). Counterpointed melodies in Berlin’s Play a Simple Melody (1914), and a subtle, most beautiful modulation in Jerome Kern’s The Land Where the Good Songs Go (1917), showed these popular composers’ artfulness. Enchanted renderings of Beautiful Dreamer (1862) and Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair (1854)  might have been the most moving moment of the afternoon.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Nothing Forced in Potpourri from Violinist par excellence Stepner

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On Sunday, October 3, at Harvard University, violinist Daniel Stepner presented Potpourri — rarely heard compositions. His transcription of J. S. Bach’s Chromatic Fantasy in D minor featured deliberately erratic tempi and extremely virtuosic playing, never sacrificing incredibly smooth bowing. Hindemith’s Sonata for violin solo, op. 31, no. 2 (1924), a lovely gem-like “breather,” was followed by three students performing James Yannatos’s String Quartet no. 2. It is a tribute to Mr. Stepner that these students’ ensemble playing is so disciplined, yet responsive to each other and to the music.

After intermission Mr. Stepner with pianist Donald Berman performed two works, by Carl Ruggles and Charles Ives, an amazing juxtaposition, almost “worth the price of admission.”        [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Gordon and Hodgkinson Show Soft Side of Post-WW II Music

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Although much classical music after World War II emphasizes the ascendance of the hard-core alienated avant-garde, the war did not wipe away all great composers working in alternative styles, a point cellist Joshua Gordon and pianist Randall Hodgkinson made in their October 3 recital at Slosberg Hall, Brandeis.

Their performance was clean and well balanced, with superb tonal and technical control, but oddly diffident and Apollonian, in the Britten cello sonata. They seemed very well attuned to Schuller’s Duo Concertante, with a performance persuasive and idiomatic. In the Prokofiev sonata, op. 119, they brought out all the sonorous tone and brio that had been missing in the Britten, though with tempo a little faster than might have been warranted.            [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Vintage Liszt from Newton Symphony and Guest Pianist Poliykov

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Under the firm, gentle control of Music Director James M Orent, the Newton Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 3 at the former Rashi Auditorium in Newton played demanding repertoire of Liszt, a brilliant virtuoso and visionary innovator, with skill, commitment, and obvious enjoyment.

Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, op. 72b started with some shaky intonation and ensemble but quickly settled into a groove of solid playing maintained throughout the evening. The remainder of the program was vintage Liszt: Piano Concertos No. 1 in E-flat Major, and No. 2 in A Major, the Hungarian Battle March, and the symphonic poem Les Préludes. Oleksandr Poliykov dispatched these great showpieces with aplomb and a big, warm and beautiful sound. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Long-Anticipated Return of Levine with Hero-Status Terfel, Gorgeous Playing from BSO

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A recovered Boston Symphony’s Music Director James Levine received a hero’s welcome at the Opening Night Gala, October 2. After the Meistersinger Overture, the much-loved bass-baritone Bryn Terfel sang Hans Sachs’s Act II Monologue. Mr. Terfel showed a much softer self in “Wotan’s Farewell.” The BSO played “Ride of the Valkyries brilliantly, but for those accustomed to hearing the actual Valkyries singing at crucial moments, it felt like music minus one (or eight). The four harpists who had tried valiantly to be heard in the Meistersinger Overture enchanted in Magic Fire Music. Terfel’s perfect enunciation and pitch, sense of drama, and heartbreaking high notes dramatically limned the Dutchman. BSO’s winds and low brass deserve special praise.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Ideal Setting for Well-Played Corelli et al from Duo Marésienne

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Duo Marésienne, lutenist Olav Chris Henriksen and viola da gambist Carol Lewis, brought a varied program of 18th-century music titled “In the Wake of Corelli,” in a concert sponsored by the Viola da Gamba Society – New England in the ideally-sized chapel of First Church in Cambridge on Oct. 2.  Henriksen and Lewis presented a varied repertory by Italian composers active from the early to the mid-18th century whose music sounds equally well on violin or viol and on harpsichord or lute. Arcangelo Corelli’s famous set of twelve violin sonatas, a viola da gamba adaptation of a violin sonata by Michele Mascitti, then piees in the “galant” or “sensitive” style pieces from the mid-18th century.

[Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Evocations of Agrarian and Café Romp from Radius Ensemble

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Paul Angerer’s tasteful fleshing out of Adagio in C major, a fragment from Mozart’s last year, began Radius Ensemble’s fascinating program in MIT’s Killian Hall on October 2. Radius players — especially clarinetist Eran Egozy — did a wonderful job communicating the individual ticks and mannerisms in Carl Nielsen’s Wind Quintet, Op. 43. The players brought out the airy, blustery sonorities of Takemitsu’s And then I knew ‘twas wind with true expressive skill — harpist Ina Zdorovetchi was particularly adept. Schoenfield’s Café Music was the one piece well suited to the oppressive, almost smoky sonic atmosphere of Killian Hall. Pianist Cory Smythe was particularly adept at knowing when to dance and when to sing. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Sound-Time Space with Dinosaur Annex at Brandeis

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In the Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble program, with Julian Pellicano, guest conductor, at Brandeis University, Saturday, October 2, four of the five pieces were posted as Boston premieres — all exceptional performances by Dinosaur Annex. For me, Garrop’s little bits were by and large inscrutable. Omar Chen Guey, violin, Anne Black, viola, and Michael Curry, cello, assumed total technical control in Andrew Waggoner’s Soon, The Rosy-Fingered Dawn. The loud screaming of Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez’s Trio-Variations proved right off the bat that Slosberg’s concert hall can be too resonant. Shadowing in Keeril Makan’s 2 was not unlike the heterophony of oud and ney. The evening of  sound-time space ended with Melinda Wagner’s Wick, which punched and jabbed.     [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Ruminative, Peaceful, Competent, from Boston Musica Viva

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Patrick Greene’s AbstractEXTRACTION was the regional winner in the Rapido! Composition Contest at the concert by the Boston Musica Viva on Friday, October 1, at BU’s Tsai Performance Center. Judges were BMV Conductor Richard Pittman, Chou Wen-chung, and Lee Hyla.

BMV, fluent in the idiom of Chou Wen-chung, gave a warm, confident, competent performance once again of his Ode to Eternal Pine. Aural Hypothesis by Lei Liang, is dedicated to Chou. Both works were ruminative, peaceful, and a joy to hear from these performers. The BMV core group was joined by mezzo-soprano Pamela Dellal and contrabass Carolyn Davis Fryer. Dellal was at her best in Satires of Circumstance, this vocally extraordinarily difficult work by Seymour Shifrin.    [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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BU’s Vanessa: Hot Passion in a Cold Climate

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The concert performance by Boston University’s orchestra and chorus of Samuel Barber’s Pulitzer-Prize-winning Vanessa, at Tsai Performance Center on September 28, was excellent. The libretto was by composer Gian Carlo Menotti, Barber’s lifetime partner. The music is very difficult, and until fatigue set in at the very end, everyone was quite at the center of it. Concertmistress Lisa Parks’s tone in several solos was ambrosial. The cast, considering that all but the lead were BU Opera Institute students, was quite strong.                        [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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A Lalapalooza: NEC Philharmonia and Hugh Wolff at Jordan Hall

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Lalaoalooza, lallapalooza, lollapazoola — spell it as you wish, on Wednesday, September 29, at Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory Philharmonia with Hugh Wolff conducting certainly achieved “something superior… unusual.” The program: John Adams Lollapalooza, a completely American manifestation exuberantly driven; Beethoven Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, with an unusual quickness in interpretation; and Berlioz Symphonie fantastique, played with boundless energy. The performers: 100-plus young students just returned to a new school year.    [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Callithumpian Revisits Classics of Earlier Avant Garde

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On September 28, at Jordan Hall in the New England Conservatory of Music, Stephen Drury’s Callithumpian Consort revisited works of earlier decades by three then-avant garde composers: Robert Ashley, born in 1930, Alvin Lucier, born a year later, and Christian Wolff, born in 1934. Ashley’s “In memoriam . . . ESTEBAN GOMEZ,” composed in 1963, is still an arresting piece, combining stasis and subtle change. Lucier’s Crossings, dating from 1984, gave fascinating and engaging musical sounds, even if designed as sonic play. Christian Wolff’s Braverman Music (1978,) was a remarkable tour-de-force of superb ensemble playing. The performances were all uniformly excellent.                     [Click title for full review]

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Longy “SeptemberFest” Closes on a Larger Scale

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The “SeptemberFest” series of concerts at the Longy School of Music in Cambridge came to a satisfying conclusion on Saturday night, September 25th with the performance by soloists and the Longy Chamber Orchestra, ably conducted by Julian Pellicano, of just three works: Barber’s A Hand of Bridge, op. 35, his Knoxville: Summer of 1915, op. 24, and Schumann’s Symphony no. 4 in D minor, op. 120. Bravi to all the performers and The Longy School for presenting many lesser-known works of Robert Schumann and Samuel Barber alongside famous ones, and doing it all so well.   [Click title for full review] [continued]

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Alexander’s Feast at Emmanuel, an Impressive Introduction for Ryan Turner

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Ryan Turner began the new era of Emmanuel Music this past Friday evening, September 24th, with a simply lovely performance of George Friedrich Handel’s ode of early 1736, Alexander’s Feast, preceded by Stravinsky’s caustic, feisty, and quite brief Fanfare for a New Theatre (1964) for two unaccompanied trumpets. Turner’s supple, even liquid shaping of phrase was the most remarkable part of the evening. Superb singing by bass Dana Whiteside, soprano Kendra Colton, peripatetically busy tenor Jason McStoots, and bass Donald Wilkinson stood out as much through Mr. Turner’s molding as through these singers’ always delightful talents.  [Click title for full review] [continued]

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More Schumann and Barber at Longy

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The fourth in the series, The Romantic Sprit: Celebrating the Music of Robert Schumann & Samuel Barber, September 21 at the Longy School of Music, was well planned, but a mixed bag in execution. Nocturnes for piano by Barber, Field and Chopin were sometimes well played, sometimes not; Barber’s Dover Beach was richly conveyed, and Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro for horn and piano, and various songs and piano pieces, received perplexingly and ultimately disappointingly uneven performances.   [Click title for full review] [continued]

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The Muir Quartet on Haydn, Janácek and Dvorák at Boston University

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On September 21st the Muir String Quartet offered performances of Haydn’s Quartet in G minor, H. III:74, “The Rider,” followed by Janácek’s Quartet No. 1, “After Tolstoy’s Kreutzer Sonata.” The second half of the program was Dvorák’s monumental (and lengthy) Quartet in C Major, Op. 61. All were marked by authenticity of feeling, intensity of sound, and unity of purpose.   [Click title for full review] [continued]

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Perspectives on Minimalism: the Callithumpian’s “Left Coast” at the Gardner

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A splendid array of  West-Coast composers’ classics of the ‘60s and ‘70s was performed by Stephen Drury’s Callithumpian Consort at the Gardner Museum Thursday, September 16th. Performed without pause were John Luther Adams’s ethereal Songbirdsongs, Lou Harrison’s pulsing Suite for cello and harp, James Tenney’s surreal Swell Piece, and Terry Riley’s landmark In C–an engaging and heterogeneous program.   [Click title for full review] [continued]

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Corpses Exquisite and Otherwise at Juventas’s Season Opener

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Dance was used to interpret most pieces on the program by Juventas New Music Ensemble on Sept. 18 at Killian Hall, MIT.

A mostly enjoyable concert programmed a piece using audible breath as an expressive element, a handsome work possibly in need of its composer’s voice, a satirical take that incorporates polishing the piano with a rag, one drawing inspiration from San Francisco (including the fog), another a pleasantly diverse array of sound styles, one with choreography that seemed often to contradict the musical development, one that turned the elemental force of the tango’s vitality to an unnecessarily objectified and desiccated abstraction, and the last, deploying considerable ugliness of string sonority to  a somber subject but with execution excellent.    [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Heart of a Dog (in Human Form) Gets Provocative Staging

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Guerilla Opera opened its new season on Sept. 14 at Boston Conservatory with a new production of Heart of a Dog by Rudolph Rojahn, running through Sept. 26. The audience in this 35-minute production walks around with the cast under the guidance of Carnival Barker (Sean George), creating shifting perspectives for all involved and a greater intimacy for the viewers. It’s the story of a stray dog (played by the brilliant Aliana de la Guardia) that takes human form. That the dog is played by a woman perhaps mirrors Bulgakov’s riffs on what we now might call “gender identity.”

The excellent musicians are cellist Javier Caballero, violist Gabriela Diaz, saxophonist Kent O’Doherty (also the Suitor), and percussionist Mike Williams.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Hamelin, Putnam, Ansell, and Reynolds Astound Concord Chamber Music Audience

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Concord Academy hosted The Concord Chamber Music Society and pianist Marc-André Hamelin for the first concert this season on Sunday, September 19. And what an opener! Mr. Hamelin played Beethoven’s Sonata 110 with his usual beauty of tone, thoughtfulness, and musicality. His dynamics, pacing, and phrasing were ideal.

BSO violinist Wendy Putman, founder and director of CCMS, and Mr. Hamelin made a case for Prokofiev’s dark, brooding, often spooky Violin Sonata no. 1 in F-minor being as compelling a work as the more popular, sunny D major.

Brahms’ enormously popular Piano Quartet No. 1 in G-minor, op. 25, was given a rousing yet sensitive performance by Mr. Hamelin, Ms. Putnam, BSO Principal Viola Steven Ansell, and Muir Quartet cellist Michael Reynolds.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Wows and Whoas with A Far Cry at the Gardner

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Boston’s A Far Cry, a youthful string ensemble of some 20 strong, opened the 2010-11 Sunday concert series at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on September 19.

A Far Cry, which both amazes and exhausts, obviously wants to make a difference, seen everywhere in its programming and heard in its performance. Today’s went from  Purcell through Mozart on up to Bela Bartók, still further up to Iannis Xenakis, and finally to Richard Cornell, on the faculty of Boston University. As I witnessed last January in a concert in Jamaica Plain and again today, this young group (beginning only its fourth year in existence) is well on its way to defining a singular approach to interpreting string music.         [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Pei-yeh Tsai Program, Piano Slightly Off-Center at St. John the Evangelist

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The Taiwan-born pianist Pei-yeh Tsai has sound technique and a taste for programming just off the beaten path. She gave a brief recital as part of the one-hour after-work free concerts sponsored by the Church of St. John the Evangelist on Beacon Hill on September 15, with a late-middle-period Haydn sonata, two Scriabin Études, a movement from Albéniz’s Iberia, and the first piano sonata of contemporary Australian composer Carl Vine.

The 1880s Steinway and the sanctuary present challenges, which Ms. Tsai largely succeeded in working around. The piano was off center, as was her program. Ms. Tsai’s rendition of the Vine called out the virtues of her Scriabin playing, and made us want to hear the work again.   [Click title for full review] [continued]

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Barber and Schumann with Unusual Instrumentation at Longy SeptemberFest

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The third concert of Longy School of Music’s SeptemberFest celebrating the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann’s birth and the 100th of Samuel Barber’s was presented on Wednesday, September 15. The program, entitled Romance and Nostalgia included Barber’s Canzone, op. 38a for flute, Three Romances, op. 94 of Schumann for oboe and piano. Robert Schumann’s Seven Lieder, op. 104, Samuel Barber’s wind quintet Summer Music, op. 31, Schumann’s arrangement with added piano accompaniment of the Chaconne from J. S. Bach’s Partita no. 2 for solo violin, and Schumann’s Romances for Women’s Voices, op. 69.

The most adventuresome piece was a jazz improvisation on Barber’s Adagio for Strings, op. 11 by saxophonist Stan Strickland and pianist Peter Cassino. A chromatic presto section was particularly ear-catching.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Extraordinary Sonic Sculpting from Fenwick Smith at Jordan Hall

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Fenwick Smith’s flutes were at the center of an extraordinary sound sculpture, Morton Feldman’s Crippled Symmetry, presented by New England Conservatory on September 12 at Jordan Hall. Smith and Sarah Bob, piano and celesta, and Aaron Trant, glockenspiel and vibraphone, sent us miles away from the mundane for nearly 90 minutes non-stop, with altogether sumptuously sonic sculpting from every instrumentalist expected to produce sound within a extremely narrow range of volume, a highly controlled amplitude level set up by the composer: soft.

Jordan Hall is a perfect spot for shaping only soft sounds from one of America’s most original voices. Here, in Crippled Symmetry, there’s no talking, but a wondrous in-between of nature and art.       [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Finehouse on Frederick Collection’s Tröndlin an Alignment of Stars

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On September 12 at the Frederick Collection Historical Piano concerts, Constantine Finehouse chose the ca. 1830 Tröndlin. In these concerts, the instrument is as much the star as its player. Mendelssohn favored Tröndlins; only 12 to 15 remain today.

Finehouse’s performance of Schubert’s Sonata No. 15 in C, D. 840, “Reliquie,” was superb. The William Bolcom completion felt seamless, subtly referencing earlier material; he seems to have succeeded in getting into Schubert’s mind.

The performance of Beethoven’s Sonata in F, Op. 2/1 was an exquisite gem, one of those moments when music, musician, and instrument align like stars to shine more brilliantly than any would alone. Beethoven’s Thirty-two Variations in C, WoO 80, was as skillfully and brightly played.       [Click title for full review.]

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