Bird Songs Old and New


John McDonald, composer and pianist at Tufts University, has nurtured and promoted a generation of student composers while composing and performing literally hundreds of new works of his own and organizing performances for dozens of Boston-area composers. The Mockingbird Trio paid tribute on February 26 to five years’ good feeling with some fine old songs and piano pieces, songs premiered previously, and two new works of major proportions. Howard Frazin was on hand to hear his song “The Wren,” on a text by Denise Levertov, a tribute to the poet who taught for several years at Tufts. Levertov’s work also provided the text for McDonald’s song “The Mockingbird of Mockingbirds.”

A Field Guide to Backyard Birds, a cycle of six songs on her own texts by Francine Trester. showed an abundance of expressive tonal harmony, sometimes sounding like Barber, or Copland, or even Gershwin, but colored with a bittersweet chromaticism that was Trester’s own. Another new work by McDonald written for the trio, From the Fall of a Sparrow, ” contains an ecological envoi that may be ominous: “The sparrow is the new canary.”

The concert continued with outdoor songs by Brahms and Schubert and finally Mahler’s Lob des hohen Verstandes from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. The ornithological motif was triumphant to the end in this memorable comedy about the competition between the cuckoo and the nightingale, refereed by the donkey. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Spirit of Shostakovich at Sanders Theater


Mozart’s Duo for Violin and Viola in G major with Harumi Rhodes, violin and Mark Holloway, viola, was finely tuned and professionally polished, but how much more enjoyment could there have been had the two showed us the communicative joy of music-making between two stringed instruments?

Violinists Ida Levin and Harumi Rhodes, violist Mark Holloway, cellist Ronald Thomas, and pianist Randall Hodgkinson reached out and made contact, helping us feel the ambivalence of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor. By the third movement there was no denying the power these interpreters held, especially Levin and Hodgkinson. Both kept sparking the quintet, Levin through intense emotion and Hodgkinson through deep conviction. Levin’s playing was positively beautiful in the Intermezzo.

Sometimes moving, sometimes predictable were the contrasts, buildups to climaxes, and other shifts that make for Beethovenian drama. in his “Archduke trio.” However, there was so much attention to detail that one felt the overall flow was somewhat hindered.

On Sunday night, the spirit of Shostakovich inhabited Sanders Theatre through the power of the Boston Music Chamber Society. Mozart and Beethoven never noticeably fell short of high performance art. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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More Praise to Levine for “Mozart’s Symphonic Legacy”


The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s presentation of “Mozart’s Symphonic Legacy” continued last week with the second program, featuring several Salzburg-era works. Aside from the horn playing, this was orchestral music making of the highest order, and the horns in all fairness did settle down and into the music after the first movement of the rather rudimentary Symphony No. 19.

The flutes and strings were ravishing in the second movement of Symphony No. 20, as Levine insisted on soft dynamics and coaxed some sublimely shaped phrases. Symphony No. 21 in A made little impression on this listener in spite of an outstanding performance, and pride of place went to the Symphony No. 25 as the concluding work. Levine nearly leapt out of his chair for this piece, and the orchestra responded in kind.

There will be strong opinions on either side of Levine’s choice of three consecutive programs of Mozart Symphonies, but Boston is blessed to have this astounding genius, and it is good news that he has signed another five-year contract. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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A Tale of Two Concertos: The Worlds of Emotion and Politics


There were two concertos on the program of the Boston Philharmonic at Jordan Hall this past Saturday, but they couldn’t have been more different, though both were written in the 20th century.

I wish I could have added the performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 by Gabriela Montero and the Boston Philharmonic to my list of favorites, but a number of crucial elements were not quite there, at least on this evening. Ms. Montero is a great pianist. What was missing for this Rachmaninoff fan, however, was some heart-on-your sleeve emotion (schmaltz, if you will), a flexible tempo, and poetic gestures.

Concerto for Orchestra by the Wiltold Lutoslawski, composed in the 1950s, belongs to an entirely different world. For one thing, Lutoslawski set out to exploit the virtuosity not of a soloist, but rather that of the 20th-century orchestra. The Concerto is also a product of the current political history, and it is not a pretty story. Lutoslawski paid homage to another 1948 victim of a repressive Soviet regime–Dimitri Shostakovich–by interweaving the notes to spell out DSCH, Shostakovich’s musical signature.

The members of the Boston Philharmonic under Music Director and Conductor Benjamin Zander played their virtuosic concerto with a level of enthusiasm, commitment and skill that made the performance of this important work memorable. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Angela Hewitt: A Real Discovery


In a world of piano playing where velocity and force prevail, it is beyond pleasure to discover a player with old-fashioned musical values, one who considers the instrument a vehicle for poetry, not an instrument of sheer virtuosic display. With Angela Hewitt at the keys, it is easy to focus on the music and, indeed, life itself. The concert was held at Jordan Hall on February 22, part of the Celebrity Series’s Aaron Richmond Recitals.

She brought a probing, reflective sense to JS Bach’s English Suite in D minor. In the Beethoven Sonata in F Major, op. 10, she soared from the very first phrase.

Given the brilliance and depth with which Ms. Hewitt dispensed two Fauré Valse-caprices, op. 30 and op. 38, substantial, challenging works, it is surprising they are not heard more often. Despite the variety in mood among the six movements of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin, Ms. Hewitt framed the overall arch in an especially unifying manner and with such lavish coloring as to challenge Ravel’s own orchestration: would it really have been more satisfying? [Click title for full review.] [continued]


The Maestro and Mozart: Cohesive, Lucid, Refreshing


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s final triad of symphonies are a tour de force of the Classical symphonic genre. The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Maestro James Levine elected to take listeners on an auditory tour of these masterpieces in the last of three recent concerts dedicated to the exploration of Mozart’s symphonic output. I attended the Friday afternoon concert on February 20.

His big-picture style of conducting was evident in the strikingly cohesive sound and structural lucidity of the music. Refreshing to hear these oft-performed pieces played with an almost preternatural clarity.

From the first note of the first, No. 39, it was evident that concertgoers were in for a joyful ride. Tempi were brisk; the playing highly charged. One of only two Mozart symphonies in a minor key, the 40th is a rich work; it features driving rhythms that propel the music forward. Levine was extremely adept at accentuating this propulsive quality. In the lush and expressive second movement, the birdcalls of the woodwinds were accompanied by the susurrations of some unfortunate audience member’s oxygen tank. Alas, the tank was consistently behind the beat.

Mozart’s final symphony, No. 41, apparently posthumously nicknamed ‘Jupiter’ by music impresario Johann Salomon, is a powerful work that lives up to its sobriquet.

The Boston Symphony is in rare form these days. They seem to exude passion and enthusiasm. The streamlined version of conductor James Levine is bursting with energy and the caliber of play is unparalleled. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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“Saxtravaganza” with Radnofsky and Friends Showcases Saxophone’s Varied Possibilities


Kenneth Radnofsky of the New England Conservatory plays the classical saxophone more beautifully, in this writer’s opinion, than anyone else in the world, though he had some heartwarming competition from some of his students at the fascinating “Saxtravaganza” in Jordan Hall on February 17.

Copland’s Quiet City (1940) was heard in a “concert adaptation” by Christopher Brellochs, in which the saxophone substituted for the English horn. The saxophone’s tone blended extremely well with the other instruments — clarinet, trumpet, and piano — perhaps even more effectively than the English horn would have in this small grouping.

Harold Shapero’s Saxophone Quartet, originally his String Quartet of 1941, was adapted by Pasquale Tassone with Shapero’s advice and blessing. The grouping of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxes has been tried by many different composers, but success always hinges on a good performance, and this one, by the NEC Quadrivium Saxophone Quartet, was really excellent.

Gil Shohat’s Quintet for saxophone and string quartet (2008) met with only mixed success. Yuan, a saxophone quartet (2008) by Lei Liang, was a relentless study in savage timbres with a full arsenal of avant-garde techniques. [Check title for full review.] [continued]

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Fine singers, Clever Orchestration, in Handel’s Alcina from Boston Opera Collaborative


Three-year-old Boston Opera Collaborative is offering Handel’s Alcina with a new production at Massachusetts College of Art, through February 15.

The story of Alcina, after Orlando Furioso, is one of those preposterous Baroque plots difficult to summarize or even to remember. Despite this production’s lively stage direction by Andrew Ryker, the best thing to do is to forget the plot and sit back and enjoy the glorious music.

This is a treble-voice show, clothed here in 1920s garb. Conducting from the harpsichord, Music Director Paul Cienniwa’s music pacing throughout was expert. He cleverly used violins for instruments that had to be cut from the orchestra, due to budgetary cuts. Each act ended with a touch of Yo-el Cassell’s effective choreography for five dancers.

Lead singers Leah Hungerford, Emily Burr, Kristina Riegle, and Brooke Larimer, and all were excellent, especially in Alcina’s anguished lament “Ah! mio cor,” Bradamante’s revenge aria, and Ruggiero’s angry aria, “Sta nell’ircana.” [Click title for full review.]


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Muse and Angel: Schubert’s Winterreise Inspires Composition by McDonald


The concert given at the Goethe Institut of Boston on Sunday, February 8, featured John McDonald’s new composition for alto sax and piano, Stäudlin as Vogl: Preamble to a Winter Journey, an idea proposed by Philipp Stäudlin, his colleague in the Tufts University Music Department. It was followed by the whole of Schubert’s Winterreise.

A year of rehearsing brought McDonald to see Stäudlin on the saxophone in something of the light in which Schubert looked upon his own favorite singer, Johann Michael Vogl- that is, as both muse and angel; accompanying a saxophone instead of a voice brought him an entirely different understanding of the Schubert.

McDonald’s piece is clever, hardly to be grasped in just one hearing. It works wonders to put the listener in a frame of mind anticipating Schubert’s more massive composition. Spare but never timid or understated, McDonald’s music evokes Schubert’s, sometimes melodically, often by rhythm and dynamics; but it also stands on its own as a sort of minimalist representation of the passions running through the original work.

Stäudlin and McDonald worked through Schubert’s entrancing but profoundly disturbing material in Winterreise with a magic of their own. What a stroke of genius to play the work this way. Even Schubert would have discovered something in the music he had not known was there before. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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“Typhoon”: Cyprien Katsaris’s Boston Piano Recital Debut


Should I have taken my raincoat along? Inside the intimate recital hall at Boston Conservatory on February 10, luxuriant sounds from a Steinway piano drenched the audience for the Boston piano recital debut of Cyprian Katsaris. His program consisted of piano favorites from the 19th century.

Schumann’s popular Arabesque went at higher speed than usual, yet without any of the smallest of details missing. A finger arching above the keyboard signaling a poignant moment, a quizzical expression on his face in reaction to an unexpected phrase and an arm gesturing like that of a conductor quickening the tempo, building up to a climax.

However, Katsaris had to come up for air after the slow, inwardly and outwardly probing, second movement of the Schubert Sonata in B-flat Major. He took a big breath, looked at the audience and uttered , “…nice piano.”

Expecting to luxuriate in the nostalgic nocturnes and valses of Chopin, I found myself in arid space. Two Liszt pieces and the oft-played The Banjo by American Louis Moreau Gottschalk brought no real change. I listened for American images of this country and the indigenous instrument in The Banjo, but found, instead, more of a “staggering tour de force of sensational pianism” as had been given previously.

Still in all, Boston Conservatory students have much to learn from him. [Click title for full review.] [continued]


Boston Musica Viva: The Vanishing, The Invisible, and The Hungry


Music as accompaniment to spoken narration is a tradition in Western music that goes at least as far back as the melodramas of the late 18th century. However, most of the well-known works of this type are from the 20th century, among the most famous of which is Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev. On February 8, Boston Musica Viva under the direction of Richard Pittmann presented a paired-down yet lively performance of this oft-played favorite, along with two new and equally engaging “music-stories” for children. Steve Aveson, who narrated all three works, grabbed the attention of the children, who were engrossed throughout the nearly two-hour show.

Andy Vores’s Vanishing Cream created a sound world that is appropriately uncanny. With an odd assortment of instruments, including harpsichord, marimbas, and bundt-cake pans, the music supplies a continuous underscore of high-end radio-play musical effects from which occasionally emerge eerie yet lovely melodies, enhancing an accessibly sophisticated overall sonic atmosphere.

Derek Jacoby’s 2008 accompaniment to the Hans Christian Anderson classic, The Emperor’s New Clothes. Despite sporadic references to certain genres – Latin dance, martial fanfares, Classical marches – the music itself was almost distractingly nondescript, often flattening out the narrative. Luckily, the ensemble’s technical wit and Aveson’s narrative skills were able to give the generally gray musical sonorities some luster. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Harp, Horns, and Choir Make Splendid Music


The poet W. H. Auden disliked the music of Brahms. But he might have thought otherwise, had he heard the performance of Four Songs for women’s chorus, two horns, and harp at Boston’s Church of the Advent on February 6, in a concert co-sponsored by the Harvard Musical Association. It is a pity that this piece is not performed more, a fate that also afflicts Brahms’s other early choral music.

The program was top-heavy with Mendelssohn, appropriate for his bicentennial but still leading to a certain lack of variety. The choir’s singing throughout was splendid, but they could certainly have bitten deeper into their German consonants. The second half brought Mendelssohn’s Ave Maria. Audience enthusiasm seemed to build with the return of Holliger for a splendid rendition of Rheinberger’s rarely performed Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen.

This concert featured two pieces by Vaughan Williams: an arrangement of his Serenade to Music and Five Mystical Songs. Despite some disparaging remarks about the composer’s output by a discerning American critic, Vaughan Williams is a composer to be reckoned with. His Serenade to Music was a fitting end to a night of splendid music making. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Franco-Flemish Standouts-Wow!


Schola Cantorum of Boston featured Franco-Flemish standouts of the Renaissance at its concert on February 6, given at Church of Saint John the Evangelist on Beacon Hill. In Ockeghem’s Requiem, Medieval roots grow conspicuously and alternately with Renaissance trend-setting ideas. Complexities so often attributed to Ockeghem’s style disappeared. In their place arose one magnificent canvas, instinctive, never academic.

For this composer, and much more so for Josquin and the other younger composers on the program, creating sonic canvases meant making music more readily accessible. The Deploration for Ockeghem, also called Nymphes des bois (“Wood Nymphes”), by Josquin, laments the death of his revered predecessor.

Whether about death or life, the motets of these Franco-Flemish composers breathed new life into Church of Saint John the Evangelist, proving a fine acoustical match. This is my first—but definitely not last—time hearing Schola Cantorum of Boston. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Brave New World Offers Admirable Diversity, Inventiveness


The concert by Brave New Works at Boston Conservatory on February 6 avoided the trap of reflecting the preferences of their adjudicators by featuring not only a collection of works by composers from all over the world, but across genres, styles, and influences.

Sunji Hong’s Shades of Raindrops exposed an abundance of compositional intuition, with instrumental virtuosity to showcase the tremendous abilities of the ensemble. Forest Pierce’s The Black Sword of Sappho showed incredibly versatile use of the harp with wildly demanding writing for the voice.

Mason Bates’s String Band was easily the unique piece of the evening. The piece quickly introduced a driving rhythmic motor. Percussive noises from pencil erasers and screws placed inside the piano added to the momentum, while nicely blending into the texture. The influence of electronic music as it becomes more and more audible was what really made the piece interesting, but after this new sound environment was reached, the piece hit somewhat of a dead-end meandering around timbres and colors long after they were eliciting any interest.

Andy Vores’s Objects and Intervals, featuring Soprano Jennifer Goltz and the entire Brave New Works ensemble, offered some interesting interactions between multiple texts but did little to sustain any tension within the music itself. The piece relied heavily on references; this type of approach seems to support the common “there’s-nothing-new-to-hear” notion, and that we might as well enjoy some mix-mashing of the great masters instead of pushing contemporary music forward. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Emmanuel Music Continues Schumann Concerts with Intensity, Balance, and Grace


This week’s Schumann offering from Emmanuel Music, now in its fifth year of presenting all of Robert Schumann’s compositions, featured two guest artists, Ya-Fei Chuang and Robert Levin, with Emmanuel Music regulars. Kendra Colton, soprano, and Mark McSweeny, bass, brought out the intensity in Goethe’s Meister poetry, which is largely of loneliness, age, and loss. Ya-Fei Chuang accompanied them with exceptional sensitivity and grace, which we have come to expect from this gifted performer. Too often the sound was full power, which is not needed in the small chamber recital room at Emmanuel.

Ya-Fei then played Schumann’s frenetic Toccata in C Major at a seemingly impossible speed – but with great feeling. It was over too soon; the audience gasped for air before wildly applauding.

The final work was a moving performance of the Trio in D minor, Opus 63. Rhonda Rider, cello, was particularly effective. Overall, a fabulous concert, greatly enjoyed by the full house. [Click title for full review.]

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Christopher Taylor Explores Goldberg Variations on Dual Keyboards


Christopher Taylor played Goldberg Variations on his own Steinway-Moór piano at the Gardner Museum on February 1. Taylor’s piano is truly a one-of-a-kind. The only one ever made was by piano developer Moór, in 1929. With two keyboards, both hands avoid being “hassled” (Taylor’s word) with frequent crossing over each other, bumping into each other, or winding up on top of each other-things that happen in performances of Goldberg Variations when played on a single standard keyboard.

Taylor found new colors with extraordinary touch of keys and pedal, ways of repeating both sections of each variation as an explorer might, changing this, finding that, altering a course for one reason or another. This worked best when the overall sense of the variation was kept intact.

His Bach was daring; it soared or danced, often with amazing transparency, though it did raise questions. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Unusual, Thrilling Program by Tetzlaff and Andsnes Brought Ringing Cheers


Boston is not likely to hear such a thrilling piano-violin concert for a very long time. Both Christian Tetzlaff, violin, and Leif Ove Andsnes, piano, are world-class artists, known everywhere as outstanding soloists.

The program was itself unusual, the more so to have begun with the Sonata by Leoš Janácek. He is a Czech nationalist, but hardly in the Germanic Czech line of Smetana and Dvorák; his closest kinship with that tradition is rather like Mussorgsky’s in Russia, with a naturalistic vocal style very like recitative that certainly penetrates his instrumental music.

Some would call Brahms’s D minor Sonata, op. 108, composed in 1888, his most successful violin sonata because it is so compactly constructed; it was delightful to hear the lyrical approach in this work, especially in the lovely lullaby that begins the slow movement.

Mozart’s F major Sonata, KV 377 (1781), was published as part of a set of six sonatas “for piano or harpsichord, with accompaniment of violin,” a title which fails to do justice to the violin’s equal partnership; one can understand it by noticing that the piano always initiates the principal thematic material.

Nobody mentioned that this concert took place on Schubert’s 212th birthday, but to hear his Rondo brillant in B minor, op. 70, D 895 (1826), was thrilling. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Six Berklee Composers, One from Tufts, Offer Sensuous Tango, Sinuous Glissandi, Caressing Sounds


Berklee College of Music is widely known for jazz and popular music, despite its long-standing commitment to so-called “serious” art. But the serious message at a recent Crosscurrents concert of compositions by six Berklee faculty and John McDonald of Tufts University was unmistakable, no less than the careful craft behind each work. The entire afternoon was fine testimony to the rich variety of Boston concert life in the service of new music.

Kari Juusela’s piece was a blend of sweet blues and walking bass with elegant D-Major harmony, answered with minimalist improvisation and steady percussion beat; Ramon Castill’s Spaghettification rates as probably the most avant-garde offering of the afternoon.

John McDonald offered two short pieces, one pointillistic and sometimes harsh; the second he called a “distant, tender slow drag,” but the caressing sounds of parallel sixths were the most obvious clue to the ragtime connection. McDonald remained at the piano for two pieces by Francine Trester. Three Dance Stories for piano by Ivana Lisak followed, elegantly played by Irina Bazik. Jonathan Bailey Holland’s Whitman’s War, two poems of Walt Whitman, was the longest and most ambitious work on the program, which ended with Andrew List’s Love Dances for cello and contrabass, ideally performed by Emmanuel Feldman and Pascale Delache-Feldman, who happen to be married. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Dinosaur Annex Performs Adventurous New Works at Young Composers’ Festival


Overall, the Dinosaur Annex concert of Boston premieres by young composers at the Community Music Center of Boston on January 25 showed a promising array of emerging artists. It reaffirmed my belief that the musical climate for the next generation of composers, more than any time in the last century, will be less restrained by stylistic pigeonholes and the restraints of genres.

Daniel Bradshaw’s Synapse was compromised by the string players, who at times seemed uncommitted and removed from the engaging piece, causing some moments of rhythmic drive to lose their potency. Yvonne Lee gave an enrapturing performance of Trevor Gureckis’s Unsound Grounds, for solo piano. The piece was full of character, constantly highlighting a contrast between short notes, long notes, and ornamentations pulsing with the influence of electronic music. I Found it by the Sea, a piece for string trio and piano by Timothy Andres was full of beautiful sounds and truly creative variations on a theme, but was organized over an unnaturally segmented, stop-and-go type of formal structure – somehow reminiscent of the B-track on the MBTA green line. [Click title for full review.] [continued]


Mendelssohn Would Have Lauded this BSO Celebration of his 200th Birthday


The most impressive aspect of the Boston Symphony Orchestra ’s all-Mendelssohn program on January 22 was not of the typical Romantic interpretation, but the subtle Classical elements found in his music. It was magnificent to hear such a fine interpretation under conductor Kurt Mazur of Mendelssohn’s most celebrated works, his Hebrides Overture, Symphony #3 (“Scottish” Symphony), and Symphony #4 (“Italian” Symphony). Symphony Hall, in fact, was modeled after the Leipzig Gewandhaus, where Mendelssohn himself was appointed conductor in the 1830s. It seems serendipitous that all of these elements contributed to a performance that Mendelssohn would have surely lauded. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Collage New Music: Tight Reins and Other Spaces


David Hoose and Collage New Music made brilliant conversation at Longy recently. Throughout this season, it is honoring Andrew Imbrie, whose music inhabits a contained space. In a few words, Imbrie keeps a tight rein on his music, his Roethke Song offering proof. Once below the somewhat dry and colorless surface of his Earplay Fantasy (1995), a conversation-like composition rich in highly crafted detail emerges.

Richard Cornell’s Light of October, a Collage commission premiered in 1998, protracts and zooms and protracts. An abundance of cues in the beautifully descriptive and sensitive instrumental writing of the Yannatos Haiku Cycle (cricket chirping, darting dragon-fly, sea-surf, air stirs, voices of wild ducks) informed the listener more than it seemed to have the noted soprano soloist, Susan Narucki. Unfortunately, I could make out only a few of the words she sang. Jacob Druckman’s Come Round, a set of variations dating from 1992, is outwardly emotional, a phantasmagoria: sweet notes turn angry in a split second. [Click title for full review.]

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Harbison “Bout of Un-relatedness” Between Two Chestnuts


Discovery Ensemble at Emmanuel Church, Boston. Aaron Copland’s Appalachian Spring (1944) was played in the original version for 13 instruments (flute, clarinet, bassoon, piano, strings). This performance, with a clear and luminous sound, was ideally suited to the opulent acoustics of the church.

Etymologically, a concerto from its Latin roots is really a struggle, or at least a contest. John Harbison’s Concerto for Oboe, Clarinet, and Strings, composed in 1985, answers this description, a “bout of un-relatedness” as he put it. The result, at least to this listener hearing the work for the first time, was a work in which individual instrumental sound was de-emphasized in favor of an overall texture in which the blend is inescapably spicy, the rapid passagework of the solo instruments fighting at every step.

The concert concluded with Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C major., KV 551, the “Jupiter,” and there were problems, above all in tempi. [Click title for full review.]

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Confusion Reigned at Harvard Thanks to Boston’s Youth


Confusion reigned at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre on January 18 thanks to Boston’s youth-and others-with a semi-staged production of Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro). Boston’s youth could be seen performing with a kind of discipline and engagement rarely found in adult organizations. That was in itself exhilarating. Impeccable, vibrant phrasing rejuvenated this centuries-old score. Even though there was heaviness in the playing once in a while and rigidity in the harpsichord accompaniment, the entire result was, as today’s youth might put it, “awesome.”

Creating their share of comic confusion at this special Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra event was a cast of budding professional singers. Oddly, the central figure, Figaro, appeared at times elusive to Eric Downs. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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Lively Vivaldi from Venice


Antonio Vivaldi’s approach to composition was primarily gestural: waves of bristling 16th-notes; hills of terraced sequences; and forests of harmonic progressions both clever and pat, inhabited by the occasional sonic imitations of birds, storms, or shepherds. All do indeed seem to exhaust their possibilities, especially after such a program of eight concerti and three encore pieces as was performed by the Venice Baroque Orchestra on January 17 at Emmanuel Church, Boston.

Violinist Giuliano Carmignola, who joined the group as soloist for four of the eight works, added yet another level of excited energy to the music. He did fall prey to occasional slips in intonation, which were either a result of his tendency toward vibrato-less long-tones or of the cold air in the church. Nonetheless, he delivered some engagingly sensitive and often quirky interpretations. [Click title for full review.] [continued]


Hidden Gems at Steinert & Sons


The program on January 16 at Steinert & Sons featured works by the usual big guys: Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Bach, Tchaikovsky. But near the end, pianist Constantine Finehouse announced that he and violinist Olga Kachanova would perform a couple of hidden gems not on the program, a passage from Gluck’s Orfeo and Bartok’s Romanian Dances, which really juiced up the evening.

While Kachanova’s performances were poignant throughout the evening, it was refreshing to see her loosen up and have fun with a wildly energetic show of Bartok’s Romanian Dances. The performance was filled with the kind of strident grit that the piece calls for (and rarely receives), exploiting the astounding versatility of the performers. [Click title for full review.] [continued]

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