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26.3.15

Happy Birthday, Pierre Boulez!

Pierre Boulez is 90 years old today. The roaring lion of modernism, who once advised the destruction of all opera houses, has reduced his conducting and composing work in recent years. Celebrate his work in both areas with some streaming audio:
  • Matthias Pintscher leads the Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Orchestre du Conservatoire de Paris, with soprano Marisol Montalvo, in Boulez's Pli selon pli (Portrait de Mallarmé), paired with Edgard Varèse's Amériques, recorded at the Philharmonie de Paris. [France Musique]

  • In a concert recorded in 2005 at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, Boulez leads the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in music by Ravel (Ma Mère l'Oye), Debussy (Nocturnes), and Stravinsky (Firebird). [France Musique]

  • From the Salzburg Festival in 2003, Pierre Boulez conducts Mahler's fourth symphony, with soprano Miah Persson, and Haydn's "Salomon" symphony, recorded in 1996 at the Wiener Musikverein. [ORF]

  • The BBC Symphony Orchestra, under Thierry Fischer at the Barbican Hall, play Boulez's Notations and Pli selon pli with soprano Yeree Suh. [BBC3]
You can also have a look back at our articles on Pierre Boulez, his conducting, and his music.

25.3.15

American Ballet Theater, 1940s Ballet Triple-Bill


Xiomara Reyes (Cowgirl) and cast, Rodeo, American Ballet Theater

Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring, heard as a concert work, did not really mean much to me until I saw Martha Graham's choreography live. The same is now true of Copland's Rodeo, thanks to a rare performance of Agnes de Mille's original choreography, from 1942, by American Ballet Theater in the latest of the group's periodic visits here, seen last night in the Kennedy Center Opera House in a triple-bill of ballets from the 1940s. It was another reminder that the separation of ballet music from its choreography robs the listener of a large part of its meaning.

De Mille created a vocabulary of movements for her cowboy characters: they ride horses and are thrown from them, they square dance, they mosey around bow-legged. With its bright colors -- not sure how many cowboys favor this palette from pink to salmon to peach (costumes by Santo Loquasto) -- and glowing sunset backgrounds (scenery by Oliver Smith, lighting by Thomas R. Skelton), it has the feel of an idealistic Hollywood blockbuster. There is no hint of grit or lawlessness in this version of the American West. As the Cowgirl, which de Mille herself created, Xiomara Reyes was a spunky bundle of tomboy cuteness, slapping the men like a pal, thumbing her nose, pulling up her britches. (Reyes will reportedly retire from the company later this year, so it was a special delight to see her in this role before she does.) The Cowgirl falls for the Head Wrangler (a sturdy Roman Zhurbin), whose head is instead turned by the more conventional Ranch Owner's Daughter of Lauren Post, demure in her pretty dress. Down in the dumps at the Head Wrangler's obliviousness, the Cowgirl is cheered up by the handsome, slightly dopey Champion Roper of James Whiteside, who warms to her himself, after delivering a winsome tap solo in cowboy boots.

The company found a fine companion piece for Rodeo in Antony Tudor's Pillar of Fire, premiered in 1942. Set to the string orchestra arrangement of Arnold Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, the story also seems to be set in middle America. Gillian Murphy brought a compelling look of constraint and tension -- all frozen jaggedness --to the sexually repressed Hagar, a middle sister between the prim, maternal Eldest Sister of Stella Abrera and the obnoxious flirt of Cassandra Trenary's Youngest Sister. When the little sister comes between Hagar and her last chance at happiness, the steadfast Friend of Alexandre Hammoudi, she has an ill-advised liaison with the sebaceous Young Man from the House Opposite of Marcelo Gomes. Her pregnancy implied but not overtly shown, she is reconciled with the Friend, who accepts and forgives Hagar as they walk through a transfigured night (this is the tie-in with Richard Dehmel's poem Zwei Menschen, which is the story told by Schoeberg's gorgeous score.)


Other Reviews:

Sarah Kaufman, A sparkling start to American Ballet Theatre’s D.C. engagement (Washington Post, March 26)
The only slight disappointment was the company's revival of George Balanchine's Theme and Variations, set to the last movement of Tchaikovsky's third orchestral suite, from 1947. Balanchine later set this choreography as the final act of Suite, a setting of Tchaikovsky's complete suite, but it is the variations seen here that are the meat of the music and the dance. Isabella Boylston and Daniil Simkin made a lovely couple, alternating in duo or solo scenes with the corps and especially in the extended pas de deux (with a fine violin solo from concertmaster Oleg Rylatko), although Simkin was a little stiff, not quite steady in the spins, and a little knee-buckled in lifts, especially at the end. The women of the corps did especially beautiful work, especially in their arm-linked groups of three to the woodwind variation. Conductor Ormsby Wilkins seemed to take the finale at a pace that felt too fast for both dancers and the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra.

This triple-bill repeats tonight only. The company also dances Frederick Ashton's choreography to Prokofiev's Cinderella (March 26 to 29), with the chance to see Gillian Murphy and James Whiteside again as Cinderella and the Prince, on Thursday night only.

24.3.15

Motets of the Bach Family


available at Amazon
Motets of the Bach Family, Tölzer Knabenchor, G. Schmidt-Gaden
(Capriccio, 2010)
Charles T. Downey, Marking Johann Sebastian’s birthday with a tribute to the Bach family (Washington Post, March 24)
Johann Sebastian Bach belonged to a large family of musicians spanning two centuries. With a concert of motets by five composers named Bach, the Washington Bach Consort honored its namesake’s birthday Sunday afternoon at the National Presbyterian Church. This program strayed from the tried-and-true audience favorites the ensemble tends to repeat too often, so it was disappointing not to see the church more full.

The survey started with Johann Bach (1604-1673), whose “Unser Leben ist ein Schatten” was one of the more striking pieces on the program... [Continue reading]
Washington Bach Consort
Motets by the Bach family
National Presbyterian Church

23.3.15

Yuliya Gorenman and Russian Composers


available at Amazon
Beethoven, Piano Sonatas, Y. Gorenman
(2010)
Charles T. Downey, Pianist Yuliya Gorenman takes on Russian composers at Katzen Center (Washington Post, March 23)
Pianist Yuliya Gorenman won fourth prize at the Queen Elisabeth Music Competition in 1995. Since coming to the United States to continue her studies, she has settled in Washington, teaching and serving as musician-in-residence at American University. Her recitals there, including a complete cycle of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, have lately had a national focus, ending with Russian composers in a program heard on Saturday night at the Katzen Arts Center.

Gorenman opened with Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons,” a set of 12 brief pieces commissioned for a Russian monthly magazine, one for each month of the year in 1876... [Continue reading]
Yuliya Gorenman, piano
Katzen Arts Center
American University

'Blue Viola'


Charles T. Downey, UrbanArias’s ‘Blue Viola’ makes for a somewhat intriguing night at the opera
Washington Post, March 23

Opera companies need to sponsor new works if the genre is to have a future. UrbanArias, a small but feisty company based at the embattled Artisphere in Rosslyn, has helped fill that niche by mounting a few new or recent operas each season since 2010. Its latest offering, “Blue Viola,” by music theater composer Peter Hilliard, makes for a moderately interesting evening at the theater. Less certain is whether audience members looking for opera, and all that word entails, would find what they seek in it.

The clever libretto by Matt Boresi adapts the true story of an 18th-century viola left on a sidewalk by the principal violist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra... [Continue reading]
Peter Hilliard and Matt Boresi, Blue Viola
UrbanArias
Artisphere (Rosslyn, Va.)

SEE ALSO:
Charles T. Downey, UrbanArias performs ‘Before Breakfast,’ ‘The Filthy Habit’ (Washington Post, April 16, 2012)

Vernon Miles, Death Knell for Arlington's Artisphere? (Arlington Connection, March 12, 2015)

Matt O'Connor, Guilty Plea In Tangled Case Of Hit Man, Stolen Viola (Chicago Tribune, September 1, 1999)

Phat X. Chiem, Prized Viola Recovered, But Mystery Lingers (Chicago Tribune, June 28, 1998)

22.3.15

Perchance to Stream: Spring 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.

  • Watch a performance of Pergolesi's Stabat mater, with Philippe Jaroussky and Emoke Barath. [ARTE]

  • Gianandrea Noseda leads the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, joined by soprano Diana Damrau, in music by Verdi, Richard Strauss, and Stravinsky, recorded in Geneva. [France Musique]

  • Soprano Nina Stemme joins Hannu Lintu and the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra for music of Sibelius, Matthew Whittall, and Richard Strauss, recorded in Helsinki. [France Musique]

  • René Jacobs leads the Helsinki Baroque Orchestra, with soloists Sunhae Im, Benno Schachtner, Julian Prégardien, and Arttu Kataja, in music of Bach, recorded last year at the Lausanne Bach Festival. [ORF]

  • René Jacobs also leads the Freiburger Barockorchester in a performance of Paisiello's Barber of Seville, starring Topi Lehtipuu. [RTBF]

  • Peter Dijkstra conducts Bach's St. Matthew Passion with the Bavarian Radio Chorus, the Regensburger Domspatzen, Concerto Köln, and soloists. [BR-Klassik]

  • Soprano Inger Dam-Jensen stars in a production of Handel's Alcina, conducted by Lars Ulrik Mortensen and played by Concerto Copenhagen, recorded this month at the Danish Royal Opera in Copenhagen. [Radio Clásica]

  • Music of C.P.E. Bach and Telemann performed by Paul Dombrecht and Il Fondamento, recorded at the Augustinus Muziekcentrum in Anvers. [France Musique]

  • Music by Schumann, Beethoven, Webern, and Rachmaninov performed by cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and pianist Alexander Melnikov, recorded at the KlaraFestival. [RTBF]

  • Violinist Alexander Barantschik joins Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony for music of Vivaldi, Bach, and Mozart. [France Musique]

  • Matthias Pintscher leads the Ensemble Intercontemporain and the Orchestre du Conservatoire de Paris, with soprano Marisol Montalvo, in music of Boulez and Varèse, recorded at the Philharmonie de Paris. [France Musique]

  • Pierre Boulez leads the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in music by Ravel, Debussy, and Stravinsky, recorded at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. [France Musique]
  • Watch a performance of Wolfgang Rihm's opera Jakob Lenz from Brussels. [De Munt | Audio (RTBF)]

  • Krzysztof Urbanski leads the Berlin Philharmonic, with cellist Sol Gabetta in music of Smetana, Martinue (first cello concerto), and Dvorak, in a concert recorded last year. [ORF | Part 2]

  • Music by Johannes Ciconia, Jacopo da Bologna, Guillaume Dufay, and others performed by Michele Pasotti and La fonte musica, recorded in January at the Wiener Konzerthaus. [ORF]

  • Santtu-Matias Rouvali leads the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra and soprano Anu Kmosi in music of Strauss, Glière, Jukka Tiensuu, and Minoru Miki. [ORF]

  • Conductor Daniel Blendulf leads the Sydney Symphony in music of Brahms, Butterley, and the Sibelius violin concerto with Janine Jansen as soloist. [ABC Classic]

  • Listen again to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Massenet's Manon, starring Diana Damreau and Vittorio Grigolo. [ORF]

  • Stéphane Denève conducts the Vienna Symphony in music of Roussel, Ravel (the piano concerto in G major with Till Fellner), and Prokofiev. [ORF]

21.3.15

Second Opinion: Mahler's 9th Symphony

Many thanks to Robert R. Reilly for this review from the Kennedy Center.

On the evening of Friday, March 20, 2015 at the Kennedy Center, I was able to attend the National Symphony Orchestra's second of three performances of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, under conductor Christoph Eschenbach. (See Charles's review of the first performance.)

Eschenbach and the NSO played the first movement with great clarity and precision – not to the point of pointillism, but not exactly a performance of passion either. It was like looking at a disturbed dream through an X-ray; you could see everything inside without being inside. The music was pretty much left to speak for itself, which it did quite well since it was played so beautifully by all departments. Nevertheless, this was an exterior view of it, slightly on the antiseptic side. Also, I never quite noticed before how many false endings there are in the first movement, which made it seem a bit interminable.

The second movement was also played with precision; there was never a doubt as to who was answering whom in the busy orchestral conversations. Eschenbach seemed to delight in pinpointing these. The third movement, called by Mahler “the brutal whirlpool of life,” was played with snap and alacrity. The blistering pace by itself made for sheer excitement in this highly spirited tour de force. It struck me that one might not hear anything this crazed and frantic till Shostakovich some 20 to 30 years later.

In the closing Adagio, the NSO moved from the exhilarating to the mesmerizing. It was as if Eschenbach and his players chose to relocate to the other side of the X-ray plate. They entered into and were now very much inside the music. In fact, to witness musical concentration at this level of intensity was worth the price of the evening by itself. As dazzling as the Rondo–Burleske was, the half-hour Adagio was the triumph of the evening. The dying of the music left a profound stillness in the hall that some brave soul finally broke after more than a minute of stunned silence with a shout of “bravi.” It was earned.

This concert repeats tonight.

Orchestral Protests in Paris


Last night the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France gave a concert to an empty hall in the Philharmonie de Paris, after management decided to cancel the concert because of an ongoing strike. The night before that, members of the Orchestre National de France protested their own canceled concert by playing in the entry hall to the Maison de la Radio. Fabien Morin reports on the developments (L'Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France a joué devant une salle vide, March 21) for Le Figaro (my translation):
The management of Radio France had made the decision to cancel these two concerts because of the strike that they claimed prevented putting in place enough staff for ticketing and security. From the musicians' side, these arguments do not hold, and anger has not been slow in response. For Jean-Pierre Odasso, the permanent representative of the Philharmonique, questioned by Agence France-Presse, the musicians had informed management "of their presence and their desire to play, being completely in solidarity with the strike at the heart of Radio France." For the orchestra, no reason justified the cancellation of a concert that had been sold out for more than a year.

Friday evening, as a result, the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France played in concert attire before an empty hall, "in the interest of respecting its audience and the place that welcomes them." In a press release, the orchestra justified its choice to give this "forbidden concert," no matter what: "More than a performance, this was an expression, a cry of anger sent up by music, on behalf of music."
On social networks, many people gave their support online. Photos and videos made the rounds to give witness to this expression of solidarity and the "shock" of the musicians of the two orchestras of Radio France.

20.3.15

Lebe[wohl], Edward Cabarga: NSO's Mahler Tribute



Other Videos:
Leonard Bernstein (Vienna Philharmonic)
Bernard Haitink (Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra)
Roger Norrington (Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra)

Live Reviews:
Lorin Maazel (Munich Philharmonic, 2012)
Christoph Eschenbach (Munich Philharmonic, 2011)
Marin Alsop (Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, 2009)
Daniel Barenboim (Chicago Symphony Orchestra, 2005)
Leonard Slatkin (National Symphony Orchestra, 2005)
The National Symphony Orchestra lost one of its own earlier this week: bass clarinetist Edward Cabarga, who joined the ensemble in 2000, passed away on Sunday. The orchestra offered its performance of Mahler's ninth symphony (see the program notes by Thomas May), heard last night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, in memory of their colleague. As mentioned in my preview article yesterday, it is a piece about farewells, in some ways about not wanting to say farewell just yet. It was also a piece, so we hear, that Edward Cabarga enjoyed playing, and every time that the bass clarinet poked its head out of the texture, one thought of him.

Christoph Eschenbach plans to use a good part of his remaining years with the NSO to focus on Mahler's works. Judging by his Mahler performances with the orchestra so far -- No. 4 (2011), No. 5 (2010), and Blumine (2013) -- it will be a rather idiosyncratic cycle (the third symphony and the Rückert-Lieder are planned for next season). What with Marin Alsop in the midst of an ever-improving Mahler cycle with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, it is a good time to be a Mahlerian in the Washington area. Eschenbach avoided Marin Alsop's mistake with the ninth symphony by not pairing it with anything else. This also meant that he could wallow a bit in the score, stretching it out to about 85 minutes, not the longest noted in Jens's overview for this work, but getting up there.

One of Eschenbach's interesting choices was to take the second movement not so fast, so that it had a weighty sort of feel to the Ländler, with some fun rustic touches, although the waltz rollicked more but never seemed out of control. Here and in a few other places the second violins sounded a little leaderless, with some ragged attacks, and were indeed playing without their principal musician. Not surprisingly for Eschenbach, the third movement was brash and rapid, at a tempo for which at times the musicians seemed a little unprepared, which gave this attack on Mahler's critics the feel of parody more than savagery. After these diversions, the finale did not seem to rise to where it should have: the tempo was slow but Eschenbach did not seem to leave a lot of room to set down phrases and stretch time. The crescendi were marshaled skilfully, although that magical transposition moment, where D-flat becomes C-sharp in the new key, seemed maybe a little rushed.


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Eschenbach and the NSO go almost modernist with Mahler (Washington Post, March 20)
Where most of the transcendent magic occurred in this performance was in the first movement, where the undulating, molasses-slow tempo was stretched and caressed even further. All contributions, down to the many solo moments, were outstanding, with particularly ebullient and solid playing from the horns, who placed their bells in the air at the appointed times with almost military precision. Each time that the "Lebewohl" motif, that incomplete reference to Beethoven's "Les adieux" piano sonata, sounded in the orchestral fabric, it was lovingly stated, down to the very end, where the last syllable was reluctantly, almost silently intoned (in piccolo, plus harp and cellos on flageolet-tone harmonics).

This concert repeats tonight and Saturday night.

19.3.15

Stenz's Mahler 9

available at Amazon
Mahler, Symphony Nos. 9 and 10, Gürzenich-Orchester Köln, M. Stenz
(Oehms, 2014)
One of the things that Markus Stenz did, as Kapellmeister of the Gürzenich-Orchester Köln (succeeding James Conlon in 2003), was to record a complete cycle of Mahler's symphonies with the band that gave the world premieres of two of the composer's symphonies, nos. 3 and 5. The final volume of Stenz's traversal, combining the ninth with the single-movement Adagio of the tenth, appeared last August, coinciding with the end of Stenz's tenure in Cologne. Here in Washington and Baltimore we will be hearing a lot more of Stenz's work, because he has been appointed Principal Guest Conductor of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, beginning next season. We offer these thoughts also by way of a preview of this evening's performance of Mahler's ninth symphony by the National Symphony Orchestra, under Christoph Eschenbach: everyone should take any chance to hear this gorgeous score.

At 78'08" Stenz's interpretation is on the rapid side of recorded timings, but as our resident Mahler expert notes in his wide-ranging survey, long recordings can feel the most energized, and vice-versa. Although commentary tends to focus on the outer movements of this symphony, the contrast with the raucous inner movements is what helps establish the transcendent experience of listening to the slow movements. Scholar Henry-Louis de La Grange described the ninth's second movement as the "most ironic and grotesque" of Mahler's scherzos, with a tempo marking calling for a performance that is etwas täppisch und sehr derb (somewhat ungainly and very coarse). Stenz certainly goes for a broad, almost parodied dance in both the Ländler and the waltz. Theodor Adorno, in his book Mahler: A Musical Physiognomy, wrote that "the Burlesque [third movement] has a reckless gaiety, as if at any moment it might plunge into a bottomless void," and Stenz and his musicians seem bent on bringing out the brutal parody of counterpoint Mahler intended as a jab at his "brothers in Apollo" (meaning the academics and critics who attacked his music).

The finale of this symphony, a slow meditation on the gruppetto figure that first bubbles up in the orchestra in the third movement, is always moving, although here it does feel a bit rushed, not exactly perfunctory but not expansive somehow. I am much more taken by Stenz's handling of the first movement, which is generally my favorite, the key to unlocking the meaning of the symphony. La Grange makes much of Mahler's citation of the "Lebewohl" motif from Beethoven's op. 81a piano sonata ("Les adieux") in this movement: this is the three-note figure of mi-re-do that opens that sonata, over which Beethoven wrote the word "Lebewohl" (Farewell). Mahler uses this motif repeatedly but leaves it incomplete (mi-re), as if he cannot complete the word. The gesture is likely related to some of the things the composer said during this period, when he had recently lost his daughter and learned of how his heart condition was going to impact his normal physical activity: the incompleteness of the motif seems to be related to his unwillingness to bid life adieu just yet (the precise opposite of how the symphony is often interpreted). Mahler harps on the motif through the end of the first movement, where the oboes have the last statement of the mi-re motif (F# and held E), which hangs unresolved, with the final do (D) provided only by the pizzicato strings (the ethereal final note is held by piccolo, plus harp and cellos on flageolet-tone harmonics).

18.3.15

Honoring Dutilleux, or Not

Henri Dutilleux, the celebrated French composer, died in 2013, so it is natural that at some point his local neighborhood government would commission a plaque to commemorate him at his residence (12, rue Saint-Louis en l’Ile). The possibility of doing so has reopened debate about the composer's connection to the Vichy regime. On Monday, a petition was created to gather signatures in support of Dutilleux, with just as much noise in opposition. Pierre Gervasoni published a long article on the controversy (Henri Dutilleux, « plaqué » par la Mairie de Paris, March 17) in Le Figaro (my translation):
As noted by Danielle Tartakowsky for the Comité d’histoire de la Ville de Paris in 2014: "I must point out some facts about the collaboration with the Vichy regime," she said. "Henri Dutilleux, when he was the singing master at the Opéra de Paris, composed the music for the propaganda film Forces sur le stade (1942)." As described in a reference book on the subject, Les documenteurs des années noires by Jean-Pierre Bertin-Maghit (éditions Nouveau Monde), it is a "propaganda film intended for factory bosses to convince them to build sports fields near the workplaces of their employees." Mme Tartakowsky goes on to state that "the implication of Henri Dutilleux in a political act of collaboration is not otherwise documented," and that "he does not seem, unless it can be proved otherwise, to have directly harmed or pursued the persecuted." As a result, she decided that "this homage was justified" and concluded with a proposal of four lines that might figure on the plaque. [...]

Unlike the Commission d'histoire de la Ville de Paris, we have actually watched Forces sur le stade. What does one see in this 15-minute documentary, initially titled Travail et grand air? More and more insistent images demanding that one exercise one's body through sport. What does one hear? Background music. Solemn (when the doors of the Jean Bouin Stadium open with fanfares from old-fashioned trumpets), playful (when children launch into a variation of Pop Goes the Weasel [Il court, il court, le furet]), and Hollywood-esque (for the end, which superimposes images of laborers at work and sports players in action).
Like most film composers in that period, Dutilleux recorded his music without ever hearing the spoken commentary. By the end of 1944, his score was used as the soundtrack of the Actualités du Comité de Libération du Cinéma Français. Gervasoni firmly rejects the idea that Dutilleux could have been a Pétainiste, citing the interception of his mail, which was censored by the Vichy authorities. He may, furthermore, have been silently reproaching himself all his life for his music appearing, even generically, in Forces sur le stade, including his 1990 commission for the Boston Symphony Orchestra to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, The Shadows of Time (1997), which has at its heart a vocal episode "dedicated to Anne Frank and all the world's children, innocents."

17.3.15

Schiff, Second-to-Last Sonatas

available at Amazon
Schubert, Piano Sonatas, A. Schiff
(ECM, 2015)

available at Amazon
Beethoven, Final Piano Sonatas, A. Schiff
(ECM, 2008)
András Schiff has decided to have a look at the phenomenon of autumnal last works, by playing recitals devoted to the last three piano sonatas of four composers from the Classical period. The first of these concerts in Washington, presented by Washington Performing Arts on Sunday afternoon at Strathmore, inaugurated a series of three, planned over two years. Some music historians and listeners hear a difference in some composers' final three sonatas, especially those of Schubert. Not surprisingly, this program focused on that composer, who wrote his final three piano sonatas in the shadow of the death he knew was waiting for him, by ending with his antepenultimate sonata. (This follows on his last two recitals here, which focused on Bach and Schumann.) While Beethoven's last three sonatas have also played into this idea of a composer's "late style," part of Schiff's programming seemed to show that these groupings of last sonatas are perhaps as arbitrary as any other.

Haydn's C major sonata (no. 60, Hob. XVI:50) sounded much like other Haydn sonatas, and in Schiff's hands that was charming, idiosyncratic, and slightly self-indulgent. The laconic opening theme, played comically with a single finger, received Schiff's typically clipped staccato attack, and the tempo, although plenty fast, bubbled more than rushed. Throughout this piece and its light companion in the same key, Mozart's no. 16 (K. 545, the one that you certainly know), Schiff used the repeats to add fun embellishments. Formal delights, like the false recapitulation, deep in the bass register, in the middle of the Haydn first movement, were pointed out wryly rather than obtrusively -- as in the third movement, where the rondo subject takes these funny wrong turns, getting hung up on surprise harmonic areas. The second movement had the feel of an opera aria, very free rhythmically and with an ultra-delicate touch, even in the octave passages. The Mozart felt equally blithe, late sonata or no, with a development section so short that one could almost describe the piece as a sonatina. Both of these works, which had much in common, made nice openers for the more substantial sonatas that followed them.


Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, Pianist András Schiff is note-perfect at Strathmore concert (Washington Post, March 17)

Anthony Tommasini, Andras Schiff Turns Mischievous at Carnegie Hall (New York Times, March 13)

Jay Nordlinger, A knight in recital (The New Criterion, March 11)

David Gordon Duke, Classical review: Andras Schiff excels with Last Sonatas (Vancouver Sun, March 2)

Mark Swed, András Schiff slyly and expertly plays late sonatas of legends (Los Angeles Times, February 19)

Joshua Kosman, András Schiff review: Pianist’s magnificent sonata display (San Francisco Chronicle, February 16)
As music scholar Charles Rosen has observed, Beethoven intended his three final sonatas (op. 109-111) as "exemplars of great spiritual experience," and op. 109 (E major, composed from 1820 to 1821) remains my favorite of them, because it reveals Beethoven’s adventurous tinkering with sonata form. William Kinderman describes the composer’s “intense interest at this time with parenthetical structures that enclose musical passages within contrasting sections,” and this hiding of themes within other thematic sections, a game of unexpected detours, runs throughout the piece. Schiff's approach, again with plenty of rhythmic freedom, seemed to show a connection forward to the rhapsodies and paraphrases of Liszt, and an attacca transition to the second movement, forceful but not as fast as it could be, blurred the boundaries somewhat. In the theme of the third movement, and in the plainer variations, Schiff's interpretation foundered a bit, in terms of interest, but the more eccentric ones were quite diverting.

Schubert's C minor sonata (no. 19, D. 958) did not play to the same strengths, as Schiff is not really a forza kind of player, reveling most in the first movement's eccentric development section, the whole thing pretty but a little snoozy. This was matched by a gloomy but rather delicate second movement and a Menuetto, with its stops and starts and murky trio, that was on the precious side. Finally, in the fourth movement, the piece came to life in Schiff's hands, the pervasive dotted rhythms devilish and the intricate hand-crossings handled beautifully. For encores, Schiff stuck with Schubert, giving polished renditions of the Ungarische Melodie in B minor, D. 817, and the Impromptu No. 2 in E-flat major, D. 899. (There was a third, I am told: a Beethoven Bagatelle, op. 126, no. 4.)

16.3.15

Dominique Labelle at Dumbarton Oaks


available at Amazon
Moments of Love, D. Labelle, Y. Wyner
(Bridge Records, 2014)
Charles T. Downey, Dominique Labelle masters a subtle style at Dumbarton Oaks (Washington Post, March 17)
Canadian-born soprano Dominique Labelle gave a recital of sometimes frustrating contrasts on Sunday evening at Dumbarton Oaks. Some of her selections, mostly on the second half, showed her voice in its best light, with limpid and floating high notes, while others revealed musical struggles.

Both Labelle and her talented accompanist, the composer Yehudi Wyner, were at their best in Ravel’s enigmatic “Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé.” Here Wyner gave just enough sound to the rustling, often static harmonies of the keyboard part so that Labelle did not have to force her sound. The result was just the right amount of suggestive... [Continue reading]
Dominique Labelle (soprano) and Yehudi Wyner (piano)
Friends of Music
Dumbarton Oaks

SEE ALSO:
Charles T. Downey, Gluck Sells out the Concert Hall (Ionarts, February 3, 2010)

15.3.15

Perchance to Stream: Ides of March 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 the performance of Au Monde, the new opera by Philippe Boesmans and Joël Pommerat, recorded last month at the Opéra Comique in Paris. [France Musique]

  • Watch a performance of Vicente Martín y Soler's 1787 opera L'arbore di Diana, recorded at the Bayerische Theaterakademie. [BR-Klassik]

  • Listen to the performance of Rossini's La Donna del Lago, starring Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Florez, from the Metropolitan Opera. [ORF]

  • Music of Charpentier and Handel performed by Le Concert Spirituel, conducted by Hervé Niquet, recorded at the Philharmonie de Paris. [France Musique]

  • Egils Silins and Adrianne Pieczonka star in Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, recorded at the Royal Opera in London, under the baton of Andris Nelsons. [Radio Clásica]

  • John O'Donnell leads the Ensemble Gombert in a program of Renaissance polyphony, composed by Brumel, Josquin, Obrecht, and others, recorded at the Xavier College Chapel in Melbourne. [ABC Classic]

  • The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin performs at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. [Avro Klassiek]

  • From the Barbican Hall, the BBC Symphony Orchestra performs Bartok's Duke Bluebeard's Castle, starring Michelle DeYoung and Gabor Bretz, plus music by Schnelzer and Ravel. [BBC3]

  • Herbert Blomstedt leads the Vienna Philharmonic in Haydn's "Clock" symphony and Beethoven's "Eroica." [RTBF]

  • Listen to music of Purcell and Locke performed by the English Concert and conductor Harry Bicket, with soprano Rosemary Joshua and mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, recorded at the Wigmore Hall in London. [BBC3]

  • Zubin Mehta conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in music of Ligeti, Marx, and Bruckner's ninth symphony. [ORF | Part 2]

  • Listen to the recital by pianist Yevgeny Sudbin, performing music by Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin, Scriabin, and Saint-Saëns in Lyon. [France Musique]

  • From the Salle Bourgie in Montreal, Ensemble Caprice performs two Bach cantatas, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit and Lass, Fürstin, lass noch einen Strahl. [Radio Clásica]
  • Semyon Bychkov leads a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic, with violist Maté Szücs and cellist Bruno Delepelaire, in music by Strauss and Schubert. [RTBF]

  • Paul Agnew leads singers from Les Arts Florissants in Monteverdi's seventh book of madrigals, recorded last year in Prague. [ORF]

  • From the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, Arvo Volmer leads the Orchestre National de Belgique and pianist Alexei Volodin, in the world premiere of Erkki-Sven Tüür's Le poids des vies non vécues, Beethoven's third piano concerto, and Nielsen's fourth symphony. [RTBF]

  • Gustavo Dudamel conducts the Berlin Staatskapelle, with pinaist Daniel Barenboim, with music by Brahms and Chopin. [France Musique]

  • Giovanni Antonini leads Il Giardino Armonico in music by Fontana, Merula, Schmelzer, Telemann, Vivaldi, and Biber. [RTBF]

  • The London Philharmonic, under conductor Andrew Manze, performs Elgar's Introduction and Allegro, Ireland's piano concerto (with Piers Lane as soloist), and Walton's first symphony. [BBC3]

  • Music by Fauré, Mozart, and Messiaen performed by the Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne and the Maîtrise de Radio France. [France Musique]

  • Angélique Kidjo sings Philip Glass's Ifè: Three Yoruba Songs with the Bruckner Orchester Linz and conductor Dennis Russell Davies, plus music by Zemlinsky and Gershwin. [ORF]

  • Simon Standage and Agata Sapiecha lead Collegium Musicum 90 and Il Tempo in music of C.P.E. Bach and Telemann. [RTBF]
  • William Christie presents the young singers of his Le Jardin des Voix program with Les Arts Florissants, in a concert recorded earlier this month in Melbourne. [ABC Classic]

  • From Brangwyn Hall in Swansea, the BBC National Orchestra of Wales plays Shostakovich's tenth symphony and Tchaikovsky's piano concerto with Nikolai Demidenko as soloist, under conductor Thomas Søndergård. [BBC3]

  • Semyon Bychkov leads the Munich Philharmonic in music by Dvorak and Richard Strauss, recorded last year in Bonn. [ORF]

  • A recital by pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet with music by Beethoven, Debussy, and Ravel in Lyon's Salle Rameau. [France Musique]

  • Thomas Hengelbrock leads the NDR Sinfonieorchester in Mahler's first symphony, plus Sofia Gubaidulina's violin concerto Offertorium, with Patricia Kopatchinskaja as soloist, recorded last month in Vienna. [ORF]

  • Music of Beethoven and Stravinsky with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Norwegian Soloists Choir, and pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. [RTBF]

  • Peter Dijkstra leads a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion with the Bavarian Radio Chorus, the Regensburger Domspatzen, and Concerto Köln. [BR-Klassik]

  • The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra performs music of Handel, recorded at Elisabeth Murdoch Hall in Melbourne. [ABC Classic]

  • Thomas Soltani leads the Ensemble Stravaganza in François Couperin's Quatre concerts royaux, recorded last January at the Wiener Konzerthaus. [ORF]

  • A recital by pianist Philippe Bianconi, with music by Chopin and Debussy. [RTBF]

  • Eivind Gullberg Jensen conducts the Orchestre de chambre de Lausanne in music by Mozart, Rosetti, and Beethoven. [France Musique]

  • From the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées in Paris, the Ensemble Nevermind performs music by Bach, Louis-Gabriel Guillemain, and Telemann, plus an improvisation by the group's harpischordist, Jean Rondeau. [France Musique]

  • The BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales performs a concert for International Women's Day, with music by Boulanger, Holmès, Chaminade, Tailleferre, and Bonis, recorded in Cardiff with conductor Jessica Cottis. [BBC3]

  • Dirk Kaftan leads the Graz Philharmonic Orchestra and the Graz Opera Chorus in music by Enescu, plus Strauss Lieder with soprano Gal James, in a concert recorded last year at the Graz Opera. [ORF]

  • The Altenberg Trio Wien, the Minetti Quartett, and other musicians perform chamber music by Haydn, Poulenc, Ravel, and Chausson, recorded in 2014 at the Schloss Weinzierl. [ORF]

  • The Ensemble Orchestral Contemporain, with violist Christophe Desjardin, perform at the Présences Festival. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a recording of Karl Goldmark's opera Die Königin von Saba, starring Klara Takacs, recorded at the Hungarian State Opera in Budapest, with Adam Fischer at the podium. [ORF]

14.3.15

More Bookstores Disappearing Even in Paris

The fates may have spared the Delamain bookstore last year, but official data suggest that bookstores in Paris are undergoing a mass extinction. The city government of Paris requested the Atelier Parisien d'Urbanisme to present its findings on how businesses changed in the city between 2011 and 2014, and the decrease in bookstores not only continued but accelerated. Cassandre Dupuis reports (Paris a perdu 83 librairies depuis 2011, March 13) for Le Figaro (my translation):
The census took account of more than 62,000 businesses in the capital, a spectacular density by comparison to London and other large cities in the provinces. At the heart of this increase, though, the evolution is full of contrasts. One notes a certain stagnation of leisure businesses. According to the report, the decrease in bookstores, newspaper stands, and photography businesses is even higher than the preceding period of 2007 to 2011. In effect, the number of bookstores has fallen by ten percent, with the closing of 83 stores.

This large decrease is explained in part by the impact of online sales, the report explains, even if it is difficult to evaluate the real influence of the Internet. The location of these bookstores is also an important factor, and all Parisian arrondissements are not affected in the same way. The 5th and 6th arrondissements still benefit from a special protection.
The map printed with the article shows 675 bookstores that remained in business, 81 newly created, and 164 gone out of business. Happily, a bright cluster of bookstores still shines in the Latin Quarter.

13.3.15

More of Suzuki's Mozart


Charles T. Downey, No signs of dissent in BSO at Strathmore
Washington Post, March 14
Just as the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra was preparing to announce its 100th- anniversary season earlier this week, its musicians were publicly complaining about morale. Whatever the problems behind the scenes, however, they were not apparent in the orchestra’s exceptionally beautiful all-Mozart concert this week at the Music Center at Strathmore.

Guest conductor Masaaki Suzuki recently finished a complete Bach cantata recording with Bach Collegium Japan... [Continue reading]
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and University of Maryland Concert Choir
With Masaaki Suzuki (conductor) and Augustin Hadelich (violin)
Music by Mozart
Music Center at Strathmore

SEE ALSO:
Tim Smith, BSO offers exquisite all-Mozart program with elegant guest artists (Baltimore Sun, March 13)

Charles T. Downey, Briefly Noted: Suzuki's Requiem (Ionarts, January 22)

Augustin Hadelich, Cadenzas for Mozart, K. 219 (.PDF file)