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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Levine Returns with, Harold in Italy


James Levine was in good shape after his hiatus for the BSO concert on January 28.

Elliott Carter‘s Dialogues has more abundant virtuoso outbursts and more direct back-and-forth between piano and orchestra than his Interventions, premiered by the BSO last season, but the with same kind of long melodic lines for the violins and noticeable pointillistic contributions from the winds. I didn’t see whether the English horn player, principal Robert Sheena, got a separate bow at the end, but he should have. Pierre-Laurent Aimard had no difficulties bringing off the brittle but colorful solo role.

Berlioz’s Harold en Italie of 1834 has been rudely referred to as the world’s longest viola joke. The second movement is probably the most famous part, a “Procession of pilgrims singing the evening hymn.” The third movement, “Serenade of an Abruzzi mountaineer to his sweetheart,” is a joyful scherzo with bouncing dotted-rhythm accompaniment and an active solo part for the viola, played by Steven Ansell, principal viola, with fine warmth and projection and obvious affection for the part.

We heard a second fine performance by Aimard in the Ravel Concerto pour la main gauche. The “jazz” section, with blue notes and smeared notes and a bouncing Lydian-Mixolydian melody, was Ravel’s most successful joke in a concerto otherwise reflective and even somber. I do think the orchestra sometimes didn’t work as hard on this piece as on the Berlioz; the percussion at the beginning of the “jazz” section was so loud it obscured the ff trumpets.      [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Insightful Pairing: Higdon Significant with Beethoven


Pacifica String Quartet’s pairing of music by Beethoven and Jennifer Higdon featured in the concert at Longy on January 25 was insightful.

The physical drama of the Pacifica’s interaction was apparent from the first few notes, their collective electricity a palpable reminder of the importance of live performance. First violin Simin Ganatra was buoyant in her gestures, and cellist Brandon Vamos responded, even leading with his chiseled jawline and angular shoulders.

Pacifica’s performance of the last movement of the Beethoven Opus 18 No. 6 was at a pace that kept me gasping; and inclusion of the composer’s “Grosse Fugue” as part of Op. 130 convinced me of the wisdom of Beethoven’s original conception.

Higdon’s quartet, Voices, employs a broad palette of sonorities; resonant harmonics give an effect of floating underwater, but melodic gestures build, becoming increasingly exuberant. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Connections, Contrasts, and States of Mind


As part of their residency as Visiting Artists in Chamber Music at Longy, the Pacifica Quartet on January 25 presented a quartet by Jennifer Higdon, sandwiched between one of Beethoven’s earliest and one of his last string quartets. The last movement of the Beethoven String Quartet Op. 18 No. 6, ‘La Malinconia,’ was the most moving, an adagio of anguishingly quiet beauty. The effect was chilling, almost frightening, a hint of the late Beethoven we were to hear. Voices, by Jennifer Higdon, is a wonderful piece—my introduction to a great composer—and a tribute to the skill of the Pacifica. The playing of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 130 was over the top—but the piece is over the top. [Click title for full review.]


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Boston Youth Symphony Chamber Orchestra’s Don Giovanni Convincing, Intelligent


Mozart’s opera, Don Giovanni, was heard on Sunday afternoon, January 25, at Sanders Theatre, Cambridge, in a skillful “semi-staged” performance by professional soloists with the Boston Youth Symphony Chamber Orchestras and members of the Chorus pro Musica, conducted by Federico Cortese. I’m not sure I ever want to hear/see a “staged” performance of this opera again—this one was so convincing, and intelligently presented in every way.

Cortese’s conducting is energetic, but also delicate, using his lithe body with the right balance and bounce to generate just the sounds he wants (and we relish). The 60-member student orchestra, whose entire membership changed between acts, was responsive and disciplined, with near-perfect intonation (just one tiny slip of the exposed horns) [Click title for full review] [continued]

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Time After Time After Time: BCMS Wraps Winter Series at MIT


The Boston Chamber Music Society concluded its three-week winter festival and residency at MIT with a program pursuing the festival’s theme of Musical Time at Kresge Auditorium on January 23. This last installment, with works by Mozart, Loeffler, Still and Foss, was more varied in style and timbre than last week’s all-strings affair, featuring two works—the Mozart Quartet and the Loeffler Two Rhapsodies—with oboe, and one—Foss’s seminal Time Cycle—for a mixed ensemble with a wide battery of percussion. As with prior programs in this series, the relationship of the individual works to the overall theme of time ranged from the obvious to the, shall we say, subtle. All the works received from BCMS’s complement of core (Harumi Rhodes, violin, Marcus Thompson, viola, Mihae Lee, piano) and guest artists (Judith Kellock, soprano, Peggy Pearson, oboe, Michael Norsworthy, clarinet, Joshua Gordon, cello, and Robert Schultz, percussion) performances of high polish and intelligence. [Click title for full review.]



Colin Davis and BSO Illuminate U.S. Premiere of MacMillan St. John Passion


A special alignment of the stars allowed the Boston Symphony Orchestra the opportunity to celebrate Sir Colin’s 80th birthday with the American premiere of James MacMillan’s St. John Passion. MacMillan’s music, polyglot but never random, employs a large traditional orchestra with an expanded percussion section that includes temple blocks, tuned gongs, and Sanctus Bells and a full complement of strings, woodwinds, brass and chamber organ.

In the role of Christus, baritone Christopher Maltman was exemplary and riveting. The Tanglewood Festival Chorus, wisely on-book for such a complex new work, heroically rose to every challenge presented by this demanding score. The orchestra rewarded Sir Colin and his audience with detailed and beautiful playing of the highest order, all-powerful when required, and preternaturally quiet and contemplative when asked. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Hartman’s Pianism, Choice of Program Shine for Pro Musicis


Pro Musicis followed the North Star to Boston last Saturday evening to launch its annual concert series here with one of the winners of its International Award—the pianist Maya Hartman. No extraneous movement or flying body parts here; Hartman keeps her hands close to the keys, remains calm and poised at the instrument, and lets her fingers and the music do all the walking and talking.

Her choice of program was excellent as well. It began with the Boston premiere of Noam Sivan’s Improvisations on Two Bach Chorales, followed by a fascinating juxtaposition of etudes by Sergei Rachmaninoff and ?Ligeti. The first half closed with a somewhat colorless reading of Haydn’s Fantasie in C Major, H. XVII: 4, but after intermission we were treated to one of Elliott Carter’s finest compositions from his late period, “90+ for Goffredo Petrassi.”

The program closed with Chopin’s Sonata in B-flat minor, op. 35, after which Ms. Hartman graciously singled out the Executive Director of Pro Musicis, John Haag, for his 20 years of devoted service to this noble organization. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Report from Paris: Les Arts Florissants’ The Fairy Queen


Paris, Opéra Comique, 24 January 2010- Special report

Your far-flung Intelligencer correspondents are forever on the alert for interesting musical events with some Boston tie-in, no matter how seemingly remote. This “Fairy Queen” of Purcell, put on by Les Arts Florissants, with William Christie at the helm on most nights, is the third such production in personal memory, and the best and most fun. Furthermore, it’s coming to the States in a few weeks, via the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and Trobador urges his readers to take a trip to New York to take it all in.

This kind of baroque opera-spectacle, to be entirely successful and satisfying, needs to be musical, intelligent, and sumptuous. In Boston, and in the States in general, we have musicality and intelligence galore, but we come up short on the sumptuous side. The money just isn’t there. This coproduction among the Paris Opéra Comique, the Glyndebourne Festival, the Theátre de Caen, and BAM, has it all, as the generous state subsidies in Europe, France in particular, make possible the requisitely lavish scale such spectacle requires.

Here’s a more relaxed approach to the re-creation of a classic work: neither fastidiously historical nor polemically counter-historical. [Click title for full review.] [continued]


BSO Outreach Stretches Repertoire


I heartily support the idea, and its successful realization, of a free chamber-music concert in the suburbs, especially one that might attract young people. The Boston Symphony’s Outreach concert on January 24 may be the first ever in the former Somerville Armory on Highland Avenue. West Somerville neighborhood school, seventh and eighth graders, listened with absorbed interest. To Walter Piston’s Duo, which I had never heard before, then Webern’s nine-minute-long String Trio, op. 20, from 1927, one of his most granitically difficult works.   The players were Victor Romanul, violin, Michael Zaretzky, viola, and Mickey Katz, cello, all outstanding and longtime members of the Boston Symphony.

The big hit of the afternoon was Mozart’s Divertimento, KV 563, one of the cornerstones of the small string trio repertory.[Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Counter-Tenor Derring-Do, Piccolos Highlight Indian Hill Orchestra Concert in Littleton


A treasure of Boston’s Metro West is The Orchestra of Indian Hill, an eye and ear-opening ensemble of some 75 professional instrumentalists, which has been offering a varied and happily top-notch series of concerts to its very loyal supporters and patrons since 1975. The orchestra has prospered under the leadership its present Artistic Director and Conductor Bruce Hangen since 1997, so much so that the ensemble is now regularly heard in very demanding programs that raise the bar for so-called regional orchestra proficiency and virtuosity.

This year’s Student Concerto Competition winner was piccolo artist Jinji Zhang, all of 15 years old, who played two movements of Vivaldi’s Piccolo Concerto RV443 with admirable and confident aplomb.

Kudos to the many Metro West individual and corporate supporters of this fine ensemble and its Music Director.  And, speaking of the audience – its rapt and attentive silence during the music is a tribute to its sophistication. Would that Symphony Hall audiences were as quiet and attentive! [Click title for full review.] [continued]


Kaleidoscope’s Debussy Made the Day


Boston-based Kaleidoscope came to Slosberg Recital Hall at Brandeis University on Sunday afternoon January 24 in a program of three trios that was a mixed affair. Claude Debussy’s highly refined and sensuously colored Trio for flute, viola and harp came alive from the very first sounds out of each of these variegated instruments, its three movements becoming one large escape into a world free of any suggestion of stress. Flutist Jill Dreeben, violist Dani Rimoni and guest harpist Judy Saiki Couture complemented each other at every turn.

Described by one of Kaleidoscope’s members as “coarse and in your face,” Dmitri Shostakovich’s  Trio in E minor, for piano, violin and cello, op. 67, took on that very description but not in an artful way. Gabriel Fauré’s, Piano Quartet no. 1 in C minor, op. 15 suffered from heaviness most of the time.

The Debussy made the day. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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BMOP Does Band


On January 22nd at New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, under the baton of music director Gil Rose, forayed into wind ensemble territory with a program of varying styles and with mixed effectiveness.

The rhythmic accuracy in Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments was impressive; and the ensemble’s intonation was impeccable. Yet the performance seemed somewhat constrained, especially articulation and the varying instrumental colors, a main component of the piece’s design.

The fitful dynamic swells, the nuanced phrasing, and the overall, hyper-lush wind-band sound of Percy Grainger’s The Power of Rome and the Christian Heart were all beautifully captured by Rose and the ensemble. Harold Meltzer’s Privacy (2008), scored for piano (played by Ursula Oppens, for whom the work was written) and a medium-sized ensemble, was annoyingly unimpressive.

The second half more than made up for them with two fascinating pieces, each of which were worth the price of admission. Wayne Peterson’s And the Winds Shall Blow and Joseph Schwantner’s Recoil (2004), a work of brazenly sophisticated barbarism. [Click title for full review.]



With Conviction and Character, Muir String Quartet Continues Beethoven Cycle


In their fourth installment of a cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets, the Muir String Quartet once again offered a virtuoso representation of each period of one of the most celebrated composers of all time. Wednesday’s concert, January 20, featured Quartets in E-Flat Major, Op. 74; G Major, Op. 18 No. 2; and C-Sharp Minor, Op. 131. As with each of the Muir’s concerts in this series, the group has opted to take an approach that highlights the stylistic variety of Beethoven’s life works rather than a consecutive approach.

The evening’s performances became unique characters, the ensemble placing various traits–tranquility and intensity, motion and suspension, delicacy and grit—in all the right places. The Muir’s performance of the C-sharp minor quartet, which contains one of the most inspired, complicated, and elegant webs of musical development in the canon of 19th-century music, was done with such precision that all the inner complexities of the structure seemed to illuminate themselves as the piece unfolded–a phenomenon that can only occur when the ensemble possesses the dedication to apply a vast theoretical understanding of the composition to its practice.

[Click title for full review.] [continued]

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The Avant Garde Alive and Kicking with Callithumpians


The Callithumpian Consort, under the skillful direction of pianist and conductor Stephen Drury, presented a concert entitled, “Hot Butterknife Knight” to a young and packed audience in the Gardner Museum’s series, “Avant Gardner,” on Thursday, January 21.

What I heard of  Lei Liang’s “Brush Stroke” (2005)were very beautiful sounds inspired by spectral analysis of sounds of the guqin (Chinese zither). “Triplex mobilis” (2009), written by Lei Liang, Adam Roberts, and Nicholas Vines, at the suggestion of Drury is a sectional work of six “scenes,” each with different instrumentation featuring percussion in all six. The work is most engaging, and deserves another hearing soon. “Recoil,” by Boston composer Adam Roberts, is an energetic work I’d also like to hear again soon.

More intentionally difficult was “Torrid Nature Scene” (2008), by the Australian composer Nicholas Vines, which makes frequent use of vocalized sighs (often sounding like shrieks), and distortions of mouth shapes (thus the sounds they emit). It is a tough piece that left the audience sitting for a while instead of rushing to leave. [Click title for full review.] [continued]


Exsultemus Darkly Luminous Laments from Sixteenth Century


A stand-out among the competitive and highly individualistic self-presenting groups around town, Exsultemus Period Vocal Ensemble has been gracing the Boston music scene with a good number of attractive programs each season. Promoting performances of even the familiar a cappella repertoire is no stroll in the garden. The trio of concerts just completed in two less familiar venues and one first-tier one, at First Lutheran Church in Boston’s Back Bay on January 15, is a good example of this.

The Lamentations settings with which the 16th century Catholic lands were so enamored are music of profound introspection and unrelievedly heartbreaking tone. They are tough to interpret with consistent engagement and challenge an ensemble’s variety of approach. Exsultemus, undeterred by the unfortunate acoustics in which it sang, simply glowed throughout this difficult and demanding program. The group’s comfort in the music and its delight in its unfolding was communicated to the audience, who rather liked what they heard. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Carthage Consort Glows from Fledgling Viol Consort to 16th-Century Fantasias


The Carthage Consort of Viols, formed by popular area performers Jane Hershey, Laura Jeppeson, and Emily Walhout in 2005, made the first of their five performances for this program at Carlisle’s First Religious Society, on Thursday, 14 January.

Scott Metcalfe’s exceptionally fine notes unfolded for program readers the transition from Moorish Spain’s vihuela de mano, an ancestor/cousin of the early guitar, to the upright and bowed vihuela de arco. The concert provided an overview of the astonishing richness of this first burgeoning of string consorts in England in the time of Henry VIII in Henry’s Book to near-modern settings in Elizabeth’s days, which were also the instrument’s glorious apogee.

Among the most heartfelt and appealing pieces of the first half was William Cornysh’s Fa-la-sol. Sure-fingered, beautiful phrasing by the players conferred a memorable glow on this extended work by a supreme polyphonic master. The very different and, to the modern ear, easily accessible tone of the 16th century asserted itself in the second half. This was a splendidly researched and played program, a credit to the Carthage Consort of Viols and to the Cambridge Society for Early Music. [Click title for full review.] [continued]


BCMS’ Take Two on Time Probes Beethoven, Child, Dvorák


The Boston Chamber Music Society presented the second installment of its ambitious Winter Festival at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium on January 16 with Beethoven’s op. 3 String Trio, Peter Child’s third string quartet, titled “Skyscraper Symphony,” and Dvorák’s op. 97 String Quintet, the “American.” These were further illustrations, per festival organizer Marcus Thompson, of various approaches to time in music.

The panel presentations at 4 pm ranged in approach from Music Appreciation 101 to free-form philosophical musings, but all the panelists had some insightful things to say, and provided supplemental commentary on the works to be performed on the concert. Time travel, of course, is what music is all about—it has nowhere else to go!—but the speakers on this occasion stressed its ability, by artful repetitions and allusions, to invoke past emotional states, extramusical memories and associations, even as it contends with the present moment and adumbrates the unknown.

With all the build-up of the live presentations and the written program notes with the excellent introductory essay by Michael Scott Cuthbert in the festival program book, the actual experience of the music on which all this analysis fell was, for this listener, a bit of a letdown. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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