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Matthew Rose @ Vocal Arts D.C.

available at Amazon
Schubert, Winterreise, M. Rose, G. Matthewman
(Stone Records, 2013)
Matthew Rose's voice continues to grow, after first striking me as a little gruff and unrounded. The British bass, whose Leporello was one of the best parts of a Don Giovanni at Santa Fe in 2009, opened the Vocal Arts D.C. season on Sunday afternoon, with a lightly attended recital in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. The program had a first half of unexpected music that brought out Rose's strengths, and a second half given over to Schubert's final song set, Schwanengesang (D. 957). It is a powerful voice, and Rose still tends in some cases to hurl it at the music, meaning that there was occasional imprecision of pitch, especially at loud dynamics, but also some truly thrilling listening.

Two longer Purcell songs featured Rose's excellent English diction, with the gloomy recitative of Job's Curse and the depression of the spurned lover in Let the Dreadful Engines of Eternal Will playing well to the dark side of Rose's timbre, especially at the low end. The latter song, on a poem by Thomas D'Urfey, has its silly moments, too, which suited the more buffo side of the voice. Rose and his accompanist, Vlad Iftinca (heard earlier this year with soprano Hei-Kyung Hong), performed these two songs in arrangements by Benjamin Britten, and the modernizing details of the piano part especially added to the appeal. A long song by Carl Loewe, a rambling ballad on an episode from the life of Scottish nobleman Archibald Douglas, was a pleasing curiosity, revealing the reasons why so many composers revered Loewe, whose work is mostly forgotten today.

Other Reviews:

Simon Chin, From promising UK singer Matthew Rose, inconsistent recital at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, October 21)
A gentler tone came through in some of the songs of the Schwanengesang set, starting with the opening song, Liebesbotschaft. Here the piano's murmuring brook echoed the singer's line endings, and Iftinca created a stark death-knell accompaniment in Kriegers Ahnung. Rose put the blustery power of his voice -- heard to great effect as Bottom in Britten's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Metropolitan Opera and as Shadow in Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress at Glyndebourne -- to good use here, too. The cathartic crescendi and full-throated outbursts were effective in songs like Aufenthalt and In der Ferne but out of place in others, like Ständchen, where the lack of a truly purring legato was most felt. This set is not really a song cycle, in the sense that Winterreise, which Rose has just recorded, is -- some songs, like the silly ditty of Das Fischermädchen, stick out like sore thumbs. Rose could not quite make these pieces work as part of the group, none more so than the final song, Die Taubenpost, appended to the set by Schubert's publisher. Rose would have done better to omit it, ending the evening on the most chilling and fog-benighted performance of Der Doppelgänger I have ever heard, a grim expression of Heinrich Heine's self-loathing that understandably appealed to the dying Schubert.

The next recital presented by Vocal Arts D.C. will feature soprano Pretty Yende (November 6, 7:30 pm), at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.


Choral Arts Chamber Singers Go Finnish

available at Amazon
E. Rautavaara, Works for Mixed Chorus, Finnish Radio Chamber Choir, E.-O. Söderström
(Ondine, 1996)
Charles T. Downey, Choral Arts Chamber Singers perform ‘Under the Midnight Sun’ (Washington Post, October 20, 2014)
Scott Tucker was appointed artistic director of the Choral Arts Society of Washington in 2012. As the ensemble nears its 50th anniversary next year, Tucker has instituted the Choral Arts Chamber Singers, a small chorus within the chorus that gave its first concert on Friday night at Falls Church Episcopal. The new series allows the musicians to explore a different repertoire beyond the big choral chestnuts with orchestra that are their normal bread and butter... [Continue reading]
Choral Arts Chamber Singers
Under the Midnight Sun
Music by Finnish composers
Falls Church Episcopal


Ionarts-at-Large: Aussies Rock Viennese Classics in Vienna

“Haydn solves all Problems!”

After getting happily bogged down in questions of audience, expectation, tradition, (bad) listening habits, and how to bring ears to repertoire they are likely to love but not know, time runs out for the brief interview with Richard Tognetti, backstage at the Wiener Konzerthaus, because he is off to practice before the first of two concerts—the last of the orchestra’s European tour. So I turn my last two points of proposed discussion (the above Haydn-utterance and “Chamber music is at the heart of music-appreciation”) into Yes-or-No answers.
available at Amazon
J.S.Bach, Keyboard Concerti v.2 (BWV1053-57),
Angela Hewitt / Australian CO

Tognetti jumps in with the affirmative. “I couldn’t agree more.” He elaborates in the doorway: “True for listeners, but also for musicians… and if you can play Haydn well, you can play anything. And an orchestra doesn’t play Haydn well, do we trust them with the rest of the program?”

I’d forgotten that the Australian Chamber Orchestra (first appearing on my radar, on record, 10 years ago) performed a Haydn Symphony to open its Konzerthaus-concert, otherwise I might have less emphasized the point of orchestra abusing Haydn as the throw-away, instead of playing it last, where it belongs. Then again, if you play Haydn like the ACO ended up playing him, orchestras might as well play it wherever they please. No complauding™* necessary.

Said Haydn from the ACO, the “Chicken” Symphony No.83—was harsh, in the better, electrifying sense, with dynamic liveliness and spunk, pianissimo tic-tocs in the Andante that one might expect in a really HIP and truly great Four Seasons performance, a choosing of character over beauty everywhere, but with plenty beauty still, and a finale with instrumentalists like rambunctious doggies tearing at a piece of expensive curtain. What an appetizer. The applause at the end of the opening Allegro a.) proved that particular interpretative approach

Perchance to Stream: Mid-October Opera Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • The Choeur de Chambre de Namur and Les Agrémens give a concert performance of Rameau's Le temple de la gloire at the Opéra Royal de Versailles, conducted by Guy van Wass. [France Musique]

  • Listen to Christian Thielemann conduct a performance of Wagner's Flying Dutchman at Bayreuth, starring Ricarda Merbeth (Senta) and Samuel Youn (Dutchman). [RTBF]

  • From 2012, a production of Strauss's Ariadne auf Naxos from the Wiener Staatsoper, starring Soile Isokoski (Ariadne), Johan Botha (Bacchus), and Daniela Fally (Zerbinetta). [ORF]

  • The Chorus and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment perform sacred music by Conrad Rein, Michael Praetorius, and others at Christ Church, Spitalfields, in London, conducted by Robert Howarth. [RTBF]

  • From the Utrecht Early Music Festival, watch Vox Luminis and Ensemble Scorpio perform the Kaiserrequiem of Johann Joseph Fux. [Avro Klassiek | Part 2]

  • Watch Concerto Palatino and La Dolcezza perform Bertali's Missa Redemptoris at the Utrecht Early Music Festival. [Avro Klassiek | Part 2]

  • From the Salle Pleyel, Vasily Petrenko conducts violinist Baiba Skride and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in Szymanowski's violin concerto and Mahler's seventh symphony. [France Musique]

  • Listen as the Nash Ensemble celebrates its 50th birthday in a concert at the Wigmore Hall, with music by Faure, Debussy, Ravel, and Berlioz. [BBC3]

  • Watch Tugan Sokhiev conduct the Orchestre National du Capitole in Toulouse, with Anna Caterina Antonacci singing Berlioz's Les nuits d'été andd Benjamin Britten's Four Sea Interludes. []

  • From Tallinn, listen to Neeme Järvi conduct the Estonian National Symphony Orchestra in music of Strauss and Beach, plus Mahler songs with mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi. [Radio Clásica]

  • Via ABC Classic from Australia, listen to concerts by string quartets from the Melbourne Festival. [Flinders Quartet | Orava Quartet | Debussy Quartet | Part 2 | Part 3]

  • From the Risør Chamber Music Festival last June, countertenor David Hansen joins the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra, led by Øyvor Volle and Per Kristian Skalstad, along with violinist Henning Kraggerud and friends, for music by Beethoven, Britten, and Taneyev. [ORF]

  • Christina Pluhar leads L'Arpeggiata in music of Bertali and Sances at the Utrecht Early Music Festival. [Avro Klassiek]

  • Paavo Järvi leads the Orchestre de Paris in music of Dutilleux, Lalo, and Tchaikovsky. [France Musique]

  • Pianist Rudolf Buchbinder, clarinetist Jörg Widmann, and friends perform chamber music by Widmann, Beethoven, and Mozart at the Grafenegg Festival last August. [ORF]

  • Watch the final evening of the Armel Opera Festival. [ARTE]

  • Pianist Daniel Lebhardt, winner of first prize at the International Russian Music Piano Competition, plays music by Debussy, Alkan, and Ravel. [France Musique]

  • Franz Welser-Möst leads the Cleveland Orchestra, in music by Brahms, including the fourth symphony, and Jörg Widmann. [ORF]

  • Robin Ticciati conducts the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in music by Mahler, Haydn, and Hosokawa. [BBC3]

  • Dennis Russell Davies conducts the Orchestre français des jeunes at the Parc floral de Paris, in music by Mozart, Strauss, Saint-Saëns, and Thierry Escaich, with the composer at the organ. [France Musique]

  • Mark Elder conduct the Hallé in music by Brahms, Wagner, and Sibelius. [BBC3]

  • From the Wigmore Hall in London, mezzo-soprano Katarina Karnéus performs a recital with pianist Joseph Middleton, with songs by Wilhelm Peterson-Berger, Brahms, Chausson, Schumann, and Saint-Saëns. [BBC3]

  • Listen to the Altenberg Trio perform music by Schubert, Haydn, and Piazzolla, recorded in the Wiener Musikverein. [ORF]

  • Philipp von Steinaecker leads the vocal ensemble Musica Saeculorum in motets by Anton Bruckner, recorded in the monastic church of the Kloster Neustift in August as part of the Brixen Church Music Festival. [ORF]

  • Jac van Steen conducts the Ulster Orchestra in music by Haydn, Strauss, Wagner, and Bartok. [BBC3]

  • Pianist Wilhem Latchoumia and violinist Nicole Léon perform at the Festival Les Solistes in Bagatelle, with music by Debussy, Campo, Ravel, and Bartok. [France Musique]

  • Pianist Danny Driver plays music by Handel, Thomas Ades, Beethoven, C.P.E. Bach, and Schumann, recorded at the Wigmore Hall in London. [BBC3]

  • William Christie leads Les Arts Florissants in sacred music by Rameau, recorded at the Proms this past July. [ORF]

  • A performance of Mitsou, an opéra-film by Claire-Mélanie Sinnhuber and Jean-Charles Fitoussi, performed by the Ensemble Multilatérale, recorded at the Musica Festival in Strasbourg. [France Musique]

  • An unusual concert by organist Valentin Fheodoroff and harpist Julia Christine Lukan, with music by Franck and others. [ORF]

  • Cornelius Meister leads the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien in music of Staud, Haydn, Strauss, and Schoenberg, with Midori as soloist. [ORF]


Dip Your Ears, No. 177 (Frankfurt Liebesverbot)

available at Amazon
R.Wagner, Das Liebesverbot
S.Weigle / Frankfurt O&M Orch. & Chorus / M.Nagy, C.Libor et al.

Riccardo Wagner & Elliot Spitzer

Less Wagner in Wagner is impossible. If Wagner’s Rienzi is “Meyebeer’s best Opera” (von Bülow), Das Liebesverbot might be ‘Bellini’s worst’—in ludicrous German translation. But at its best “The Ban on Love” is entertaining Italianate grand German opera with a subject (think “Elliot Spitzer, the Opera”) that exposes Wagner’s youthful psyche. Wagner himself set the bar so high for his own work, it might relegate Das Liebesverbot—for all its musical merit—to Wagner-completists’ interest. The performance, headed by Michael Nagy and Christiane Libor, though, gives the work all it can be given and constitutes a rare bon-bon for Wagner-explorers. Oehms’ delivers with libretto (German only) and exemplary liner notes (German and English)! 

Review of the performance at which this was recorded here.

Joshua Wright @ Kennedy Center

Charles T. Downey, Pianist Joshua Wright shows his skills in recital at the Kennedy Center
Washington Post, October 18, 2014

A concert pianist must meet high technical standards, but he will gain an audience only if he has even rarer gifts — touch, intelligence and the ability to surprise.

Joshua Wright, a prize winner at this year’s Washington International Piano Competition, demonstrated those qualities in a recital Thursday night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater presented by the Friday Morning Music Club. The pianist also can be a showman, evident in his performance this year on the television show “America’s Got Talent,” which involved paint and smoke pouring out of a white grand piano... [Continue reading]
Joshua Wright, piano
Friday Morning Music Club
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater


Briefly Noted: 'Become Ocean'

available at Amazon
J. L. Adams, Become Ocean, Seattle Symphony Orchestra, L. Morlot

(released on September 30, 2014)
Canteloupe CA-21101 | 43'14"
When John Luther Adams won the Pulitzer Prize for Music earlier this year, for his orchestral work Become Ocean, he presided over a performance of it at Carnegie Hall the following month. The Seattle Symphony Orchestra, which commissioned and premiered the work last year, has now released a recording on the Canteloupe label. Listening to this pelagic and puzzling work on a sound system cannot truly recreate the effect of hearing it in live performance, so my inevitable disappointment, after so much praise from so many quarters, may be partially due to that lack in my listening life. Given the work's notoriety, I may not have to wait to long for one of Washington's many orchestras to play it in concert. It was an article by Alex Ross a few years ago in The New Yorker that brought the composer to my attention (Song of the Earth, May 12, 2008), and according to that profile, Become Ocean handily achieves what Adams seeks in his compositions.

To create a sense of tidal force, three different groups in the orchestra rise and fall in pre-determined patterns throughout the course of the piece. Here, tinkling harps or searing strings or surging brass ride the peaks of waves and then recede. Curiously, the second half of the piece strikes me as more engaging than the first, somehow seeming to make more sense to my ear. After wondering about that, it occurred to me that it may have something to do with the palindromic nature of the piece: Ross notes that the work's 630 bars consist of two halves that mirror one another, with bar 316 being the midpoint. Something similar happens in the third movement of Bartók's Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta: at the midpoint, you hear a five-note motif, followed by its exact retrograde, and the piece you have just heard unfurls in reverse. With Become Ocean, it seems like one hears the retrograde form first, and then the non-retrograde form, as if the second half was composed first and the first half then derived from it, but this is only an impression.


À mon chevet: 'Un début dans la vie'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
The three young fellows were now as dull as thieves caught in the act; they dared not look at each other, and were evidently considering the consequences of their fibs.

"This is what is called 'suffering for license sake'," said Mistigris.

"You see I did know the count," said Oscar.

"Possibly. But you'll never be an ambassador," replied Georges. "When people want to talk in public conveyances, they ought to be careful, like me, to talk without saying anything."

"That's what speech is for," remarked Mistigris, by way of conclusion.

The count returned to his seat and the coucou rolled on amid the deepest silence.

"Well, my friends," said the count, when they reached the Carreau woods, "here we all are, as silent as if we were going to the scaffold."

"'Silence gives content'," muttered Mistigris.

"The weather is fine," said Georges.

"What place is that?" said Oscar, pointing to the Château de Franconville, which produces a fine effect at that particular spot, backed, as it is, by the noble forest of Saint-Martin.

"How is it," cried the count, "that you, who say you go so often to Presles, do not know Franconville?"

"Monsieur knows men, not castles," said Mistigris.

"Budding diplomatists have so much else to take their minds," remarked Georges.

"Be so good as to remember my name," replied Oscar, furious. "I am Oscar Husson, and ten years hence I shall be famous."

After that speech, uttered with bombastic assumption, Oscar flung himself back in his corner.

"Husson of what, of where?" asked Mistigris.

"It is a great family," replied the count. "Husson de la Cerisaie; monsieur was born beneath the steps of the Imperial throne."

Oscar colored crimson to the roots of his hair, and was penetrated through and through with a dreadful foreboding.

-- Honoré de Balzac, A Start in Life (translation by Katharine Prescott Wormeley)
This is one of the best stories I have read so far in Balzac's La Comédie humaine. The first half recounts in embarrassing and entertaining detail the voyage of a lumbering public carriage, of a type known as a coucou, in the territory outside of Paris. The passengers are thrown together from several overlapping narratives, all making the trip to the manor house at Presles, but they do not understand completely the identities of the other men in the carriage. Balzac lets the reader in on the secrets in advance, so that as the younger men in the carriage weave outrageous lie after outrageous lie, we can watch them hang themselves in their own dishonesty -- none worse than naive Oscar Husson, the least worldly of them all.

One of Balzac's more delightful characters appears here, Mistigris (the nickname of Léon de Lora), a rapin, or apprentice, to the painter Hippolyte Schinner. Mistigris is a garrulous but dangerous wit, always ready with a demeaning put-down and a scabrous command of Latin, taking his place in the long and honorable tradition of puns and dirty jokes in that elevated language. (When the group finally arrives at Presles, they are offered the chance to take part in the hunt, one of the few delights of the country, to which Mistigris mutters, 'Veni, vidi, cecidi,--I came, I saw, I slaughtered.') Rolling his eyes at the bald-faced whoppers told by the others, Mistigris ridicules them, pointing out "That's what speech is for" (to talk without saying anything) and, when they are finally quiet, he adds "Silence gives content." One can only hope that someone somewhere at some time actually said such things.


Madame Chairman?

Last month I took note of the Web site run by the Académie Française, through which ordinary people can ask the guardians of the purity of the French language for guidance. The organization has gotten involved in a political fracas that occurred in the Assemblée Nationale, when one of its members, Julien Aubert, addressed the body's vice-president, Sandrine Mazetier, as "Madame le Président." Mme. Mazetier took offense, demanding that Aubert address her, as the body's rules stipulate, as "Madame la Présidente," to recognize that she is a woman. Aubert stuck to the masculine form and wound up with a fine of 1,378 euros for his obstinacy. It turns out, though, that Aubert was technically right. The Académie Française intervened, declaring that traditionally one used "Madame la Présidente" when addressing the wife of a man holding the office of president, but when a woman held the office, she should be addressed as "Madame le Président." For a speaker of English, in which most feminine forms of professional names (poetess, chairwoman, even actress) are potentially offensive, this is a strange situation.

According to an article by Mohammed Aissaoui for Le Figaro (Féminisation des noms : la mise au point de l'Académie française, October 15), "les immortels," as the members of the Académie Française are known, did not stop there. In a document called La féminisation des noms de métiers, fonctions, grades ou titres - Mise au point de l'Académie française, the institution reminded the world of the rules about feminine forms of professional titles in French. For those who care, feminine nouns that evolved organically throughout history are acceptable, like artisane, postière, aviatrice, pharmacienne, avocate, bûcheronne, factrice, compositrice, éditrice, and exploratrice. However, new feminine forms, which are sometimes used against the wishes of women who hold these positions, like professeure, recteure, sapeuse-pompière, auteure, ingénieure, procureure, and (shudder) chercheure, are rejected as "barbarisms contrary to the normal rules of derivation." Officially, French will continue to use generic professional nouns, in the masculine form in keeping with its heritage in Latin, for those cases "when the sex of the person is no more important to consider than his or her other individual traits." As for the rules of the Assemblée Nationale, "no text gives to the government the power to modify, on its sole authority, the vocabulary and grammar of the French language. It is not, in effect, a tool shaped according to individual desires or political projects." Only in France.


Classical Month in Washington (December 2014)

The concert schedule in December gets all gummed up with Nutcrackers, Messiahs, and Jingle Bell nonsense, but there are still a few good things to hear. Some of this belongs in the tinsel category, but only the things that should actually be worth hearing.

Helmuth Rilling returns to the podium of the National Symphony Orchestra (December 4 to 6), leading an all-Bach program. The third orchestral suite and a concerto for oboe and violin (featuring two of the ensemble's principal musicians) set off two cantatas for Christmas Day, Unser Mund sei voll Lachens (BWV 110) and Christen, ätzet diesen Tag (BWV 63). Bach performed the latter work, composed around 1713, for his first Christmas as Thomaskantor in Leipzig.

The University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra and Wind Orchestra join forces for yet another intriguing program (December 5). Sibelius's sixth symphony is paired with Milhaud’s La Création du Monde and Stravinsky’s Octet, with conductor Michael Votta at the helm.

Francesca Zambello brings Rachel Portman's opera The Little Prince to Washington National Opera, with five performances in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (December 19 to 21). The work had a mixed reception at New York City Opera in 2005, but we are very much looking forward to forming our own opinion -- with Miss Ionarts in tow, of course.

Opera Bel Cantanti mounts a rare production of a classic Viennese operetta, Kálmán's Die Csárdásfürstin, at the Randolph Road Theater in Silver Spring (February 19 and 21). Take with several glasses of champagne and call the doctor in the morning.

The Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, performs a free concert at the Library of Congress (December 6). The program includes music by Monteverdi, Britten, Schoenberg, and Irving Fine, the last as part of that composer's centennial celebration at the Library.

The always charming Baltimore Consort performs a program of music from the Spanish Renaissance on the free concert series at the National Gallery of Art (December 14).

The Emerson String Quartet performs on its Smithsonian Associates series at the National Museum of Natural History (December 7), with excerpts of Bach's Art of Fugue, paired well with Beethoven's Große Fuge.

The Ariel Quartet performs music by Israeli composers Paul Ben-Haim, Mark Kopytman, and Menachem Wiesenberg, in a concert sponsored by Pro Musica Hebraica (December 14) in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

We always enjoy the celebration of legendary violin maker Stradivari at the Library of Congress. This year the St. Lawrence String Quartet gets the honor of taking some of the Library's Strads for a spin (December 18). The program includes one of Mozart's glorious string quintets, with violist Hsin-Yun Huang.

available at Amazon
On Yoolis Night, Anonymous 4
(Harmonia Mundi, 1993)
Anonymous 4, who know how to give a good Christmas concert, will present their On Yoolis Night program of Christmas music from British sources at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (December 11).

The other contender for the coveted Ionarts Sugar Plum Award, for the year's best Christmas concert, will likely be the Folger Consort's Renaissance Christmas program (December 16 to 23), in the lovely venue of the Folger Shakespeare Library's theater. This year the focus is on music of Flanders and Italy around the year 1500.

Miss Ionarts insists on attending at least one (preferably several) performances of The Nutcracker each December. The one we will definitely not miss this year is presented by Ballet West, last reviewed in 2012. The choreography by William Christensen (December 10 to 14) plays beautifully in the Kennedy Center Opera House.

See the complete calendar after the jump.


Mark Padmore and Jonathan Biss

Charles T. Downey, Mark Padmore, Jonathan Biss give intoxicating performance
Washington Post, October 13, 2014

available at Amazon
Schumann, Dichterliebe / Liederkreis, op. 24, M. Padmore, K. Bezuidenhout
(Harmonia Mundi, 2010)
Mark Padmore has an unconventional voice, but the British tenor knows how to use it to the best effect. This he demonstrated once again in a recital heard Friday night at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at Maryland, performed with American pianist Jonathan Biss as collaborating artist. The audience may have filled only about half of the hall, one of the venue’s smaller ones, but the spell woven was... [Continue reading]
Mark Padmore (tenor) and Jonathan Biss (piano)
Music by Schumann, Tippett, Fauré
Clarice Smith Center

Matthew Guerrieri, Padmore, Biss bring character, technique to Gardner (Boston Globe, October 14, 2014)

Charles T. Downey, Briefly Noted: Padmore's HIP 'Dichterliebe' (Ionarts, August 9, 2012)


Perchance to Stream: Rainy and Cold Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Listen to a performance of Catalani's La Wally, starring Ainhoa Artera and Yonghoon Lee, recorded last June at the Grand Théâtre de Genève. [France Musique]

  • Philippe Jordan conducts the Orchestre de l'Opéra de Paris in Bruckner's second symphony and Schubert's ninth, recorded last May at the Opéra Bastille in Paris. [France Musique]

  • From the église du Collège St. Michel de Fribourg for the Festival de Musique Sacrée de Fribourg, the Ensemble Huelgas performs polyphony by John Sutton, William Horwood, Edmundus Sturton, John Browne, and Robert Wylkynson, conducted by Paul Van Nevel. [RTBF]

  • Watch Laurence Equilbey conduct the Insula Orchestra and the choir Accentus in Mozart's Coronation Mass, Beethoven's King Stephan, and Carl Maria von Weber's Kampf und Sieg, recorded for the first time in multicam, with four different camera angles that you can choose and change. []

  • From the Festival Les heures at the Collège des Bernardins, a concert of Renaissce polyphony by the Tallis Scholars and another of music by J. S. Bach and Arvo Pärt performed by the viol consort Sit Fast. [France Musique]

  • Ensemble Organum, conducted by Marcel Pérès, performs a program called "Voie des songes," with Byzantine and Mozarabic chant and other music. [France Musique]


Dip Your Ears, No. 176 (Pachelbel and the Organ)

available at Amazon
J.Pachelbel, Complete Organ Works, volume 1
Christian Schmitt, Jürgen Essl, James David Christie, Michael Belotti

Not the Canon in D

Known primarily for that lovely but hideously overplayed Canon in D, the considerable output of Johann Pachelbel (1653—1706) has been obscured from all but specialist-view. Listening to Pachelbel isn’t listening to a prequel of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Organ Works (who was more influenced by Buxtehude and Frescobaldi); instead it is a shifted parallel kind of enjoyment, lessened by subconscious comparison to Bach, but movingly enjoyable once the ears take that hurdle and let the “Catechism Songs”—Pachelbel’s choral settings—work their own subtle magic. Coupled with the hitherto sole Pachelbel recording of Wolfgang Rübsam (Naxos), this CPO box is a terrific start for the committed Baroque- and organ-maven! 


Angela Hewitt, David Zinman with NSO

available at Amazon
Great Symphonies, Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra, D. Zinman
(Sony, 2014)
This summer David Zinman retired as music director of the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra. Before the birth of Ionarts, we enjoyed listening to him conduct the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and were sorry to see him leave Charm City, but thanks to his series of recordings from Zurich, now available in a box set from Sony, we have kept in touch with his work. So it was a homecoming, in a sense, when the American conductor took the podium of the National Symphony Orchestra last night at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, for the first time since 2009. The skilfully arranged program focused again on classics of the early 20th century: after Webern and Schoenberg last time, here it was Schoenberg's Five Pieces for Orchestra, op. 16, paired with Strauss's tone poem Also sprach Zarathustra, op. 30, from which it is not too distant, in time or character. Unfortunately, many listeners who would have benefited from the lesson Zinman offered probably saw the name of Schoenberg and stayed home.

available at Amazon
Mozart, Piano Concerti 22/24, A. Hewitt, National Arts Centre Orchestra, H. Lintu

(released on July 8, 2014)
Hyperion CDA68049 | 63'20"

available at Amazon
Mozart, Piano Concerti 18/22, Ronald Brautigam, Die Kölner Akademie, M. A. Willens

(released on April 29, 2014)
BIS-2044 | 59'01"
The scholar Carl Dahlhaus noted, in his book Schoenberg and the New Music, that Schoenberg's op. 16, composed in 1909, is one of the pieces that "divides the New Music from the nineteenth century." However, it is also "bound up with the tradition of programme music, the very tradition that was the quickest to become obsolete in the twentieth century and which fell into disrepute as representing all that was bad in the nineteenth century," an element that marks a continuity in this program between Schoenberg and Richard Strauss. Zinman conducts with a no-nonsense and authoritative beat that is such a breath of fresh air by comparison to Christophe Eschenbach, and Zinman left no fat on the bone in his approach to this Schoenberg, either in the barbaric march-like qualities of the first movement or the solo cello- and celesta-marked aura of nostalgia in the second.

Here is a primer of the possibilities of a large orchestra and a much broader understanding of what is "acceptable" in terms of dissonance. As Dahlhaus put it, before Schoenberg arrived at the ordering concept of the twelve-tone system, Schoenberg's music was informed by two ideas: "the difference between consonance and dissonance is one of degree, not of kind," and "tonality is not a natural law of music but merely a formal principle." The third movement is associated with Schoenberg's coinage of the term "Klangfarbenmelodie" (see Dahlhaus's book for an assessment of what Schoenberg meant), and here the floating orchestral colors smoldered inside their slowly changing static state, capped by shocking climaxes in the final two movements. As to what story the work might be telling, Schoenberg chose to remove the programmatic titles added to the movements at the time of the work's publication. Dahlhaus observed that Schoenberg's decision was unequivocal: "Extramusical premisses did indeed exist, but he did not 'give them away'; they did not belong to the work itself, merely to the circumstances of its creation, which were the private concern of the composer."

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Workmanlike NSO, Zinman offer a blurred look back at Central Europe (Washington Post, October 10)
With that in one's ears, it was easy to draw connections to Richard Strauss's Also sprach Zarathustra on the second half, again propelled by the urgency of Zinman's incisive gestures. The performance was good, with a lush solo string ensemble and a nice mixture of orchestra with the imposing organ, and twittering piccolos in dialogue with the raucous E-flat clarinet later. Zinman guided the climaxes of sound, especially with the midnight ringing of the massive chime, which the player had to ascend a ladder to strike. (This dramatic moment made quite an impression on Miss Ionarts, who made her debut as an attendee at an NSO subscription concert.)

In the middle, Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 22 (E-flat major, K. 482) was disappointing, not because it is not an ingenious and eminently likable piece, which it certainly is, but because the soloist, Angela Hewitt, and the orchestra were too often at odds. Hewitt is a gifted recitalist, where she has the freedom to shape each phrase in minute detail exactly to her liking; straitjacketed by an orchestra accompanying her, her performance often felt rushed and a little jumbled, except when she was playing completely by herself. The second movement featured her best playing, as well as excellent turns by the orchestral musicians in the section for wind ensemble and the funny flute-bassoon duet -- this is the first Mozart concerto to feature clarinets in the orchestration, and the use of the winds is extraordinary. Hewitt's cycle of the Mozart concerti has not become a favorite, either, possibly because it is in competition with the always surprising and endearing cycle by Ronald Brautigam on pianoforte -- both soloists released their versions of no. 22 this year within a couple months of each other.

This concert repeats tonight and tomorrow (October 10 and 11, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.


Dover Quartet's Kennedy Center Debut

Charles T. Downey, Dover Quartet’s Kennedy Center debut shows why they should be on must-hear list
Washington Post, October 10, 2014

Conservatories are churning out young new string quartets at a dizzying rate, but lovers of chamber music should put the Dover Quartet on their to-hear list. The group, formed at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music in 2008, swept the Banff International String Quartet Competition last year. Its local debut, last October as part of the Candlelight Concert Series in Columbia, Md., was a triumph, and its Kennedy Center debut, at Wednesday night’s Fortas­ Chamber Music Concerts season opener in the Terrace Theater, was... [Continue reading]
Dover Quartet
Music by Glazunov, Mozart, Schubert
Fortas Chamber Music Concerts
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Charles T. Downey, Welcome to the Dover Quartet (Ionarts, October 7, 2013)

A Brilliant Dance of Cut Paper, Matisse @ MoMA

I’ll say it right off: Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs will be one of the Museum of Modern Art’s most popular exhibits. Over a half million visitors paid a visit to the the Tate Gallery to see this show on its first stop this past summer. It’s a soul-lifting dance of floating shapes of color. It's a garden of simplified elegant perfection that flows from gallery to gallery. The curving other-worldly beauty of Zuma, one of my favorites, shown left, the quartet of deconstructing Blue Nudes or, familiar to Washingtonians, the National Gallery of Art's Large Decoration With Masks: this show is out to please in every way.

Towards the end of his career, unable to stand on his own due to major colon surgery, Matisse began composing using scissors to cut paper shapes, which an assistant would arrange directly on the wall of his studio with pins and tacks. There is vintage film footage in the exhibit, which documents the process, and it is fascinating and eerie to watch. It's the master at work, as an assistant holds the paper, turning it for him with each cut. Bold shapes of brilliant color, the subtle nuance of a change in hue or the exposure of a white shape: this process took Matisse to a conclusion that he may never have achieved with paint alone. Unencumbered flatness, a pure vibration as colored shapes interact.

This new format was a perfect medium for the artist to use in illustrating the Jazz publication or decorating the vestments for the Rosaire Chapel. The flatness made for powerful graphic imagery, perfect for the many reproductions that we have all grown accustomed to. However, Matisse apparently didn't care for how his work looked in this format. What you will never grasp in reproductions are remains of the pin pricks, the uneven edges of cut paper and the three-dimensional effects of overlap–embracing, glued paper. It's a very different experience.

After a five-year restoration to restore its original color and form, Matisse’s Swimming Pool returns as a centerpiece to this exhibit. Designed as his own personal pool, it once graced the walls of his apartment in the Hôtel Régina in Nice -- everyone in!

This show runs from October 12 to February 8. Timed tickets are necessary. If you have ever considered a membership, this may be a good time to do it: no waiting in lines.