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31.1.06

Crazy Baroque Days in Nantes

The Folle Journée de Nantes is an annual January music festival in the Breton city, which has been happening for ten years or so. It is now actually five "crazy days," scheduled this year for January 25 to 29. In the 2006 edition, the focus was on Baroque music, especially the works of Bach, Vivaldi, Händel, and Rameau. The purpose of choosing those great masters was to create a program that would also emphasize the unity of the European nations. An article by Jean-Louis Validire (Nantes s'emballe pour le baroque, January 24) for Le Figaro had a preview (my translation):

"I was convinced that there was a broader audience for classical music," recalls the festival's creator, René Martin, who is also responsible for the piano festival in La Roque d'Anthéron. The 2005 festival, «Beethoven et ses amis», drew 111,604 spectators for 235 concerts that sold about 90% of available tickets. This year more than 120,000 tickets have been prepared, as the way to hear this music just before that Mozart person everyone is celebrating. Two composers were chosen for each of the six countries represented. In no particular order, Telemann and J. S. Bach will represent Germany, Händel and Purcell will be the Englishmen, Couperin and Rameau the Frenchmen, Scarlatti and Vivaldi the Italians. Francisco Antonio de Almeida and Carlos Seixas will represent Portugal. This arbitrary choice excludes, for better or worse, some important names. Marin Marais, who is programmed on only one concert, is one of the forgotten ones, even though we are about to celebrate his 400th birthday.
Fabio Biondi was the biggest name I recognized on the program. That's a good thing to know about Marin Marais, whose music I heard recently at Dumbarton Oaks from gamba player Paolo Pandolfo.

Classical Month in Washington (February)

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Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature that appears on the first of the month. If there are concerts you would like to see included on our schedule, send your suggestions by e-mail (ionarts at gmail dot com). Happy listening!

Thursday, February 2, 7 pm
Bertrand Chamayou, piano
Music by Liszt, Debussy, Chabrier, Ravel
Cosponsored by the International Piano Festival of La Roque d'Anthéron
Rosslyn Spectrum Theater (1611 N. Kent St., Rosslyn, Va.)

Thursday, February 2, 8 pm
Chamber Music of Roger Reynolds (winner of Pulitzer Prize, 1989)
Library of Congress

Thursday, February 2, 7 pm; Friday, February 3, 8 pm; Saturday, February 4, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, with Choral Arts Society, in world premiere of Roberto Sierra's Missa Latina
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Orchestra seats at special discount price of $19.30 in honor of NSO's founding in 1930
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 3)

Friday, February 3, 8 pm (Pre-concert lecture by Robin Rausch, 6:15 pm)
Cuarteto Casals (winner of the Yehudi Menuhin First Prize at the 2000 London International String Quartet Competition)
Music by Arriaga, Mozart, Zemlinsky
Library of Congress

Friday, February 3, 8 pm
Alan Held, bass-baritone, and Kim Pensinger Witman, piano
Wolf Trap
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 5)

Saturday, February 4, 1 pm
Metropolitan Opera National Council Middle Atlantic Regional Auditions
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Saturday, February 4, 1:30 pm
Alfano, Cyrano de Bergerac
Sondra Radvanovsky and Plácido Domingo Antonio Barasorda
Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast

Saturday, February 4, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Günther Herbig
Bruckner's ninth symphony and Mozart's third horn concerto
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 7)

Saturday, February 4, 8 pm
Ahn Trio (music by Kenji Bunch, Michael Nyman, Chick Corea, and David Bowie)
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)

Saturday, February 4, 8 pm
Dawn Upshaw, Kronos Quartet, the Andalucian Dogs
Music by Osvaldo Golijov, including Ayre
Lincoln Center, Rose Theater (New York, N.Y.)
See the review by Allan Kozinn (New York Times, February 6)

Sunday, February 5, 2 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players (Brahms trio, Poulenc sextet, and Beethoven septet)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 9)

Sunday, February 5, 3 pm
The Brilliance of Bach: Chamber Music Majesty (The Musical Offering, the Concerto for Two Harpsichords in C Major and the Triple Concerto for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord)
Washington Bach Consort
Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center (Alexandria, Va.)

Sunday, February 5, 4:30 pm
Contemporary Music Forum
Music by Robert Gibson, Anthony Villa, Matthew Burtner, Mark Kuss, Stephen Paulus
Corcoran Gallery of Art

Sunday, February 5, 5 pm
Verdehr Trio (piano, clarinet, violin)
Phillips Collection [FREE, with price of admission to the museum]
See the review by Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, February 7)

Sunday, February 5, 6:30 pm
Mozart Piano Quartet (all-Mozart program in conjunction with Mozart on the Mall concert series)
National Gallery of Art

Sunday, February 5, 7:30 pm
Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra
Music by Shostakovich and Schubert
Renwick Gallery
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, February 7)

Tuesday, February 7, 12:10 pm
Noontime Cantata: Schau, lieber Gott, wie meine Feind (BWV 153)
Washington Bach Consort
Church of the Epiphany (13th and G Streets NW)
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 8)

Tuesday, February 7, 7:30 pm
Music and Memory: A 70th Birthday Celebration of Nicholas Maw
Solo, chamber, and vocal works performed by students and alumni of the Peabody Conservatory of Music and members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
An die Musik LIVE! (Baltimore, Md.)
See the review by Tim Smith (Baltimore Sun, February 9)

Tuesday, February 7, 8 pm
Alfred Brendel, piano
Kennedy Center Concert Hall (WPAS)
See the double review by Jens F. Laurson and Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 9)

Thursday, February 9, 7:30 pm
Dame Felicity Lott
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (VAS)
See the review by Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, February 11)

Thursday, February 9, 7 pm; Friday, February 10, 1:30 pm; Saturday, February 11, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra with conductor Christoph von Dohnányi and cellist Alban Gerhardt
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 10)

Thursday, February 9, 8 pm; Friday, February 10, 8 pm; Saturday, February 11, 8 pm; Sunday, February 12, 4 pm (with pre-concert lectures by composer and librettist, one hour before each performance)
Andrew Simpson, The Furies [FREE]
Libretto by Sarah B. Ferrario, based on Aeschylus
Directed by Michael Scarola (New York City Opera)
Benjamin T. Rome School of Music, Ward Recital Hall
Catholic University of America
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 13)

Friday, February 10, 7:30 pm (Mt. Vernon Hand Chapel, George Washington University, Mt. Vernon Campus, 2100 Foxhall Rd. NW)
Sunday, February 12, 7:30 pm (Christ Lutheran Church, 8011 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda, Md.)
Friday, February 17, 7:30 pm (Saint George's Episcopal Church, 915 N Oakland Street, Arlington)
Sunday, February 19, 7:30 pm (Christ Lutheran Church, 8011 Old Georgetown Road, Bethesda)
Sergei Rachmaninoff's Aleko (one-act opera written for graduation from the Moscow Conservatory, based on a Alexandre Pushkin's poem The Gypsies)
Opera Bel Cantanti
See the review by Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, February 13)

Friday, February 10, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: A Night in Havana
Cuban-inspired music by Gershwin, Copland, Piazolla
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Tim Smith (Baltimore Sun, February 11)

Friday, February 10, 8 pm; Saturday, February 11, 8 pm; Sunday, February 12, 8 pm
Flower of Passion, Thorn of Despair (chansons by Guillaume Dufay, Gilles Binchois, Robert Morton, Johannes Stahl, Jacques Vide, and others)
Asteria (early music duo, voice and lute)
Dumbarton Oaks (Friends of Music)

Friday, February 10, 8 pm
Mark Morris Dance Group
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)
See the review by Sarah Kaufman (Washington Post, February 13) and the review by Jean Battey Lewis (Washington Times, February 13)

Friday, February 10, 8 pm (Pre-concert lecture by Karen Moses, 6:15 pm)
Czech Nonet (Novák's Balleti à 9, Mozart's Oboe Quartet, K. 370, and Brahms Serenade in D Major, op. 11, in original version reconstructed by Alan Boustead)
Library of Congress
See the review by Andrew Lindemann Malone (Washington Post, February 13)

Friday, February 10, 8 pm
Brentano String Quartet
Music by Haydn, Ligeti, Beethoven
Corcoran Gallery of Art
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 15)

Saturday, February 11, 1:30 pm
Verdi, La Traviata
Angela Gheorghiu
Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast

Saturday, February 11, 5 pm (with preconcert discussion at 4 pm)
21st-Century Consort, Time and Memory (modern music influenced by Mozart)
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden
See the review by Gail Wein (Washington Post, February 13)

Saturday, February 11, 7:30 pm
Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (Shostakovich and Mozart piano trios)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 14)

Saturday, February 11, 8 pm
Sacred Kaleidoscope (sacred music from Sweden, Russia, Germany, Estonia, Israel, England, and New Zealand) [CANCELLED BECAUSE OF SNOW]
Woodley Ensemble
St. Peter's Catholic Church (312 Second Street SE)

Sunday, February 12, 3 pm
Opera Lafayette with tenor Jean-Paul Fouchécourt, Rameau airs
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (College Park, Md.)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 13)

Sunday, February 12, 3 pm and 7:30 pm
Chatham Baroque (Julie Andrijeski, baroque violin, Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba, and Scott Pauley, theorbo and baroque guitar)
Music of Bach and other Baroque composers
The Mansion at Strathmore

Sunday, February 12, 5 pm
Dudana Mazmanishvili, piano (Georgian-born winner of 2005 Washington International Piano Competition)
Phillips Collection [FREE, with price of admission to the museum]

Sunday, February 12, 5 pm; Sunday, February 19, 5 pm
Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic
Music by Hovhannes, John Williams, Grofe
Bishop Ireton High School (Alexandria, Va.) [2/12]
Church of the Epiphany (13th and G Streets NW) [2/19]

Sunday, February 12, 6 pm
The Conservatory Project: Curtis Institute of Music
Rob Patterson (clarinet), Michael Haas (cello), and Sara Daneshpour (piano) in a performance of works by Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Crumb, and Brahms
Millennium Stage Event [FREE]
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Sunday, February 12, 6:30 pm
Auryn String Quartet, with violinist Hartmut Rhode
Music by Haydn, Bartók, and Dvořák
National Gallery of Art

Monday, February 13, 8 pm
Royal Concertgebouw with Mariss Jansons
Kennedy Center Concert Hall (WPAS)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 15)

Monday, February 13, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with incoming Music Director Marin Alsop (Brahms, Rouse, Dvořák)
Music Center at Strathmore
Same program reviewed by Jens at Meyerhoff Hall last month

Monday, February 13, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra/JCC Chamber Music Series
Mozart’s A Musical Joke (The Village Musicians), Hindemith’s Octet, and Quintet in C minor for Piano and Strings by Vaughan Williams
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

Monday, February 13, 6 pm
The Conservatory Project: Manhattan School of Music
Escher String Quartet
Millennium Stage Event [FREE]
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Tuesday, February 14, 6 pm
The Conservatory Project: Indiana University Jacobs School of Music
Millennium Stage Event [FREE]
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
The Conservatory Project: University of Michigan School of Music
Scenes from The Coronation of Poppea
Millennium Stage Event [FREE]
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Thursday, February 16, 6 pm
The Conservatory Project: Cleveland Institute of Music
Millennium Stage Event [FREE]
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Friday, February 17, 6 pm
The Conservatory Project: New England Conservatory of Music
Millennium Stage Event [FREE]
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Friday, February 17, 8 pm
Peter Schickele -- Louis C. Elson Memorial Lecture
Library of Congress (rescheduled from December 7)
See the comments by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 18)

Friday, February 17, 8 pm; Sunday, February 19, 2 pm
Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro
Virginia Opera
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)
See the review by Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, February 20)

Saturday, February 18, 1 pm and 3:30 pm
NSO Kinderkonzert: Musical Opposites
Kennedy Center Family Theater

Saturday, February 18, 1:30 pm
Verdi, Aida
Andrea Gruber, Olga Borodina, Johan Botha, Juan Pons
Conducted by James Conlon
Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast

Saturday, February 18, 6 pm
The Conservatory Project: Oberlin Conservatory of Music
Millennium Stage Event [FREE]
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Saturday, February 18, 7:30 pm
Countertop Quartet, Modern Voices (music by Michael Harrison, Richard Rice, Terrance Johns, Francis Poulenc, and Maurice Duruflé)
St. Paul’s Church, K Street (2430 K Street NW)

Saturday, February 18, 8 pm
Mozart, Mozart, Mozart
National Philharmonic, with Brian Ganz and Jody Gatwood
The Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, February 20)

Sunday, February 19, 1 pm and 3:30 pm
NSO Ensemble Concert: Connections--Math and Music (ages 9 and up)
Kennedy Center Family Theater

Sunday, February 19, 3 pm; Thursday, February 23, 7:30 pm; Saturday, February 25, 7:30 pm
Puccini, Turandot
Kirov Opera (Valery Gergiev)
Kennedy Center Opera House
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 21)

Sunday, February 19, 5 pm
Ted Christopher, baritone
Phillips Collection [FREE, with price of admission to the museum]

Sunday, February 19, 6:30 pm
Kuijken String Quartet (Mozart's first three Haydn quartets)
National Gallery of Art

Sunday, February 19, 7 pm
Beautiful Music: The Best of Rooms (music by Langlais, Biebl, Messiaen, Nestor, et al.) [FREE]
Catholic University of America Chorus and Chamber Choir
Leo C. Nestor, conductor
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Crypt Church

Monday, February 20, 8 pm; Tuesday, February 21, 8 pm
Osvaldo Golijov, La Pasión Según San Marcos ("The Passion According to St. Mark")
Schola Cantorum de Caracas, Orquesta La Pasión, and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Robert Spano
Lincoln Center, Rose Theater (New York, N.Y.)
See the review by Anthony Tommasini (New York Times, February 21), with a great picture of Anne-Carolyn Bird

Tuesday, February 21, 6 pm; Sunday, February 26, 3 pm
Wagner, Parsifal
Kirov Opera (Valery Gergiev)
Kennedy Center Opera House
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 23)

Tuesday, February 21, 7:30 pm
Washington Musica Viva, Czech Music Series
Music by Martinů, Dvořák, Eben
Embassy of the Czech Republic

Tuesday, February 21, 8 pm
Kuijken String Quartet (Mozart's last three Haydn quartets)
Library of Congress
See the review by Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, February 23)

Tuesday, February 21, 8 pm
Magdalena Kožená, with Les Violons du Roy
Rameau's Suite from Dardanus, opera arias by Gluck and Mozart, Rebel's Les Élémens
Tuesday Evening Concert Series, Old Cabell Hall
University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Va.)
See the review of their concert in Los Angeles by Richard S. Ginell (Los Angeles Times, February 16)

Wednesday, February 22, 7:30 pm
Rachel Barton Pine, violin [FREE]
Make a reservation by phone (202-783-7370) or e-mail (reservations at nmwa dot org)
National Museum of Women in the Arts
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 24)

Thursday, February 23, 7 pm; Friday, February 24, 8 pm; Saturday, February 25, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra with violinist Midori
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 24)

Thursday, February 23, 7 pm; Friday, February 24, 7 pm
Humperdinck, Hansel and Gretel (free, staged, in English)
Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists, Washington National Opera
IDB Cultural Center (1330 New York Avenue NW)
See the review by Tim Page (Washington Post, February 24)

Friday, February 24, 7:30 pm; Saturday, February 25, 7:30 pm
Renaissance Music for an English Cathedral: Weelkes and Tomkins
Chantry
St. Mary Mother of God

Friday, February 24, 8 pm
Joyce Yang, piano (2005 Silver Medalist, Van Cliburn International Competition)
The Barns at Wolf Trap
See the review by Tom Huizenga (Washington Post, February 27)

Friday, February 24, 8:30 pm
Verdi, Requiem
Kirov Opera and Orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev
Kennedy Center Opera House
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 25)

Saturday, February 25, 1:30 pm
Saint-Saëns, Samson et Dalila
Olga Borodina and Plácido Domingo
Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast

Saturday, February 25, 7:30 pm
Left Bank Concert Society (music by George Walker, Curt Cacioppo, George Crumb, Beethoven String Quartet)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 28)

Saturday, February 25, 8 pm
Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade and Saint-Saën's Organ Symphony
National Philharmonic, with organist William Neil
The Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, February 27)

Saturday, February 25, 8 pm
Meredith Monk and Vocal Ensemble: The Impermanence Project
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 26)

Sunday, February 26, 5 pm
Ensō String Quartet
Phillips Collection [FREE, with price of admission to the museum]

Sunday, February 26, 5:30 pm
Vienna Piano Trio
The Helen Coplan Harrison Concert
Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, Md.)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, February 27)

Sunday, February 26, 6:30 pm
Larry Eanet (guitarist) (pianist--sorry, Larry!) and Ensemble
Post-World War I jazz presented in honor of Dada
National Gallery of Art

Sunday, February 26, 7 pm
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Gil Shaham, guest director/violin
The Music Center at Strathmore (WPAS)
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, February 28)

Monday, February 27, 8 pm
Jerusalem Symphony with Leon Botstein, conductor
Martinů, Památník Lidicím (Memorial to Lidice); Copland, Appalachian Spring; Prokofiev, Symphony No. 5 in B-flat major, Op. 100
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, March 1)

Les Frères Capuçon, Shriver Hall

Gautier CapuçonRenaud Capuçon
When Martha Argerich actually performs these days, reviewers tend to fall all over themselves to praise her. I can't blame them, as I would probably trade a significant part of my anatomy to hear her play. In a post last summer, I translated part of a French review of a rare Argerich concert. On this concert at the Festival International de Piano de la Roque d'Anthéron, in southern France, she played Beethoven's Triple Concerto with two young musicians whose names I had heard but not much more. Naturally, when Shriver Hall presented a recital by those two players, violinist Renaud Capuçon and cellist Gautier Capuçon, I felt compelled to make the trip up to Baltimore Sunday afternoon. Sadly, a scheduling mishap meant that Jens was not able to go along, and he still hasn't forgiven me.

I suspected that Argerich's mantle indicated great talent in those upon whose shoulders it rested, and I was not disappointed. The two young Frenchmen are brothers born in Chambéry, the former seat of the Dukes of Savoie up in the French Alps. The program featured four pieces in that rare genre, duets for unaccompanied violin and cello, further organized around the theme of gypsy and general folk music. This is music for the connoisseur, not a single piece that could be called truly popular, and in fact it was the first time that I had heard any of these pieces performed live. As for many in the largely unfilled hall, most of these pieces came as a revelation in the hands of these talented players.

Also on Ionarts:

Kremerata Baltica at Shriver Hall (May 3, 2005)

Takács Quartet and Garrick Ohlsson at Shriver Hall (October 4, 2005)
They began with the Duo for Violin and Cello (1925) by Ervin Schulhoff (1894-1942). This Czech composer, not unlike George Enescu or Ernst Krenek or Bohuslav Martinů, absorbed all kinds of influences in a sort of polystylistic kaleidoscope. Sadly, as both a Jew and a communist, Schulhoff was quickly arrested by the Nazis and sent to die at the Wülzberg camp in Bavaria. He wrote this piece when he was particularly taken with the music of another Ionarts favorite, Leoš Janáček. A folksy, pentatonic melody dominates the first movement and returns in later ones. This dreamy theme is contrasted with fiery gypsy music in the second movement, filled with bends, glissandi, finger pizzicati, and daring spiccato play. All of this technically demanding work was performed with dash and aplomb by the Capuçons, but it was the third movement that really struck me. With mutes on, the violin and cello traded a melancholy melody and a pizzicato accompaniment figure. Cellist Gautier, the younger brother (at 25 or almost, he is five years younger than Renaud), made a gorgeous high sound on the A string of his 1701 Matteo Goffriler. This was a delicate, spectral sound world.

Renaud and Gautier Capuçon, Shriver Hall, January 29, 2006You would have thought that the next piece, Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello (1920-22), would have been out of place in a program of eastern European composers. However, dedicated to the memory of Claude Debussy, this piece is not your father's Ravel, with sounds that we might expect more in Bartók or Stravinsky. In fact, when he was working on this piece, Ravel was closely following the composition and folksong research that Bartók was doing in Hungary. He was also studying the Kodály violin-cello duo, which closed this concert. In the opening allegro, Ravel presents a soft, pastoral folk theme in a sort of overlapping stretto that ends on a calm set of shining triads. Gypsy sounds not unlike what we heard in the Schulhoff invade the second movement, with its pulsating Stravinskian rhythms. Both the sad beauty of the third movement and the exciting drive of the last impressed.

Instead of the scheduled third piece -- Gideon Klein's Duo for Violin and Cello -- the Capuçon brothers substituted a little Ionarts bonbon, Bohuslav Martinů's Duo No. 2 for Violin and Cello, one of the last pieces he composed, in 1958. (He had written one other piece for this combination of instruments, some thirty years before.) These three movements were commissioned by a musicologist in Basel, as a gift for his wife's name day, and they are over pretty quickly but not without much diversion for the ear. Martinů also uses a folklike melody, over a cello drone in the short first movement. The rush to the piece's ecstatic conclusion was exciting to hear.

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Renaud Capuçon and Gautier Capuçon, Face à face (duos for violin and cello), released July 8, 2003
For the final work we returned to Hungary for Zoltan Kodály's Duo for Violin and Cello, op. 7, a much more substantial work. Here again, the Capuçons showed their grasp of the most difficult technical demands and tonal coloring. Renaud excelled on the strong E string passages, over the rumbling figures of the cello in the second movement. Again, it was the musicality of the duo's soft, sustained playing that was the most appealing, but the final, hushed measures of the second movement were unfortunately destroyed by the loud snore of a sleepy member of the audience. An encore of Johan Halvorsen's Passacaille after Handel's Keyboard Suite No. 7 -- unannounced but identified by deduction -- was a tour de force of virtuosic playing. You can hear it yourself as the first track on their 2003 CD, Face à face. It's a jaw-dropper as an encore, with the mesmerizing repetition of the Baroque ostinato and enough divisions and harmonic surprises to make your head spin.

Looking at the schedule of upcoming concerts at Shriver Hall, we are going to be driving up to Baltimore a lot in the next couple months. The Vienna Piano Trio (February 26, 5:30 pm), Jordi Savall with Hesperion XXI (March 19, 5:30 pm), Krystian Zimerman (April 7, 8 pm), Leon Fleisher (April 8, 8 pm), Fazil Say (April 9, 3 pm), and Angela Hewitt (May 14, 7:30 pm) are all well worth your while.

UPDATE:
The Baltimore Sun allowed 112 words to give their readers a review of this concert. Scroll down to the bottom of the article -- by Tim Smith on January 31, covering several concerts together -- to find it. That is the only other review I have seen.

30.1.06

Viktoria Mullova, Vivaldi with a Baroque Bow

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
A. Vivaldi, Five Violin Concertos (RV 187, 208, 227, 234, 580), Viktoria Mullova, Il Giardino Armonico, Giovanni Antonini, released September 13, 2005 (Onyx 4001)
We have read and heard lots of good things about Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova and were anxious to hear her new recording of five Vivaldi concerti that came out this fall. In spite of the sour grapes comments of Pinchas Zukerman, which had A. C. Douglas crowing earlier this month, the leading historically informed groups have provided excellent laboratories for young musicians to learn about the musical styles of different periods while playing off-the-beaten-path repertory they probably would not be exposed to otherwise. What old-fashioned reactionaries do not understand, many of the best young performers are flocking to, and Mullova is merely coming to it late to take up the challenge. Zukerman cannot have been listening to all that many historically informed performance groups if he arrived at the conclusion that they all sound bad live. My experiences with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, Les Arts Florissants, Musica Alta Ripa, REBEL Ensemble, Violons du Roy, and Opera Lafayette certainly contradict that statement.

So here we have Viktoria Mullova, who since 2000 has been on a sort of Baroque kick, applying an 18th-century bow to the gut strings on her 1723 "Jules Falk" Strad. She teams up with one of Italy's leading historically informed ensembles, Il Giardino Armonico, led by recorder player Giovanni Antonini. (They provided the instrumental part of the Vivaldi aria disc that won Cecilia Bartoli a Grammy in 2001.) Mullova appears to be heading more and more toward the truly baroqueux, the French mot juste for historically informed Baroque performance. Here is how Joanna Wyld puts it in her liner notes for this CD:
Mullova does not generally consult historical sources as a means of justifying her interpretation as 'authentic' but is as faithful as possible to the score in matters of ornamentation and phrasing. Though Mullova intends to research ornamentation in the future, it is worth emphasizing that all of the Baroque era's abundant performance styles could be drawn upon to support any given modern interpretation of this repertoire.
What Mullova needs is a musicological spirit guide, because the ornamentation is essential. She's ready, because she says that the switch to gut strings is "second nature now," as is tuning to A415, but the Baroque bow "alters the quality of sound produced more dramatically than anything else." Ornamentation would mean the complete package. Mullova had a little bit to say about why she went for Baroque in an article (Period Peace, April 2004) by Inge Kjemtrup for Strings:
Mullova says she was drawn to the period-instrument world by the "fantastic, vast repertoire" of early music and her admiration for certain authentic instrument ensembles. "What I really like about great Baroque groups is that they don't follow the rules very much," she says. "There's lots of fantasy, imagination in it. It's very exhilarating." Mullova was particularly impressed with Il Giardino Armonico, a period-instrument band based in Italy that's led by recorder player Giovanni Antonini, a "wonderful musician whom I respect enormously." She jumped at the chance to play with them two years ago and will be recording Vivaldi with them in the near future. But for a violinist schooled in the hard-driving Russian style, performing in the authentic style must require a complete shift in thinking, I suggest. Mullova agrees. "It's like playing a different instrument. I mean, my technique is completely different," she says. "I realized that all the things I learned about intonation when I was a child—like you have to always correct your intonation with the open strings—are completely irrelevant now, because there is no perfect intonation, it doesn't exist. It depends on the tonalities and the harmonies."
One of the high points of this recording is the B minor concerto for four violins, perhaps because Il Giardino Armonico and its three other violin soloists truly make Mullova part of them. This extraordinary piece also fascinated J. S. Bach, who made a famous transcription of it for four harpsichords (A minor, BWV 1065). All musicians know that the best way to understand a piece is to play it for yourself, and that was Bach's way of getting to the bottom of Vivaldi. The other high point is the final set of tracks, the E minor concerto (RV 277, "Il Favorito"), in which Mullova's facility of technique is put to the best use on the very difficult episodes, in spite of a few strained sounds because of the bow.

Some interesting flavors greet the ears in the first concerto on this disc, the "Grosso Mogul" (D major, RV 208), which is not about a wicked ski slope but a reference to the Grand Mughal in India. The second movement's violin solo has a cantillational quality to it in Mullova's hands. Bach worked his way through this concerto as well, altering it significantly as an organ concerto in C major, BWV 594. The agitated D major concerto (RV 234, "L'inquietudine") is truly a "restless" concerto, over so quickly (about six minutes) that you had better not close your ears for a moment. RV 187 rounds out this selection of some of the most technically demanding concerti that Vivaldi wrote for his own instrument.

Of course, some malicious tongue once quipped that Vivaldi wrote the same concerto 500 times, and you can listen to a lot of the Vivaldi concerti before hearing something that really makes you sit up and listen. At the same time, any of his concerti are unlikely to be anything less than pleasant listening. While I was listening to this CD in my office, a colleague heard it as she walked by and asked to borrow it to play as background music for a reception she was hosting. Mullova's playing is top-notch and the whole group makes an exciting, rhythmic, and beautifully recorded sound. It's definitely worth hearing, although $22 for such a short CD, about 55 minutes, is perhaps a little steep.

The Year of the Dog

People born in the Year of the Dog possess the best traits of human nature. They have a deep sense of loyalty, are honest, and inspire other people's confidence because they know how to keep secrets. But Dog People are somewhat selfish, terribly stubborn, and eccentric. They care little for wealth and yet somehow always seem to have money. They can be cold emotionally and sometimes distant at parties. They can find fault with many things and are noted for their sharp tongues. Dog people make good leaders. They are compatible with those born in the Years of the Horse, Tiger, and Rabbit. Happy New Year! Pictured, today's Dim Sum at The Dynasty, Green Brook, NJ. Text borrowed from the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco Web site.

29.1.06

Mozart's Birthday - but a Minetti Quartet(t) Celebration



Minetti QuartettIf, after this week, we have passed the peak of the Mozart inundation/bonanza, it wasn’t half as painful as we thought it might be. Really, it wasn’t painful at all. Sure, there were a few concerts where an unseasonably lot of WAM showed up, but those were mostly minor events we would not have felt guilty skipping one way or the other. The NSO performing a semi-staged Mozart opera would have been a good idea in any given year – and with one lonely La Clemenza di Tito sticking out of the miniscule National Opera’s season, you couldn’t tell that anything special was going on in 2006. When Mitsuko Uchida played all Mozart at Strathmore it was still 2005, unrelated to the Mozart hoopla, and great! When Brendel will squeeze the Mozart Fantasia in C minor, K. 475, and the Rondo in A minor, K. 511, into his recital at the Kennedy Center on February 7th, we would have expected him to do so, anyway.

All that inconspicuous Mozart left the two-concert Mozart celebration at the Austrian Embassy (presented by the Embassy Series) one of the more notable Mozart-at-250 events. It featured the young Austrian Minetti Quartett… and even they dedicated only a part of their play-time to Mozart, the lion's share of the program going to Schubert. Two early, Sammartini-influenced quartets, K. 156 (134b) and K. 157, came first. They are neither the greatest of his works nor gems among his quartets, they show no influence of the already written and published quartets of Haydn, but they are improvements over the ‘Divertimenti’ Quartets that came a year earlier, in 1772. But what they positively bring to an evening of Mozart celebration is carefree beauty and boundless joy that isn’t reined in by the determination to make a great gesture or profound statement full of looming ‘meaning’.

Minetti Quartett - official PhotoFor those reasons it is all the better to hear the 17-year-old composer’s work played with unburdened freshness, by a quartet that is nearer to him in age than would be most. Instead of killing the works with undue polish, the Minetti Quartett worked their way through them with just the right amount of a light touch. Lest anyone think that “without undue polish” is code for “flawed and out of tune” (for which it usually is code), these four musicians who, as a quartet, have already established themselves in Austria as ‘the next big thing’, were as flawless as desirable in a live performance. Their exhaustion from a long trip and limited time to practice were not noticeable to the ear. Even hearing them in minor works, one is inclined to take out shares on their future stardom. One thing that struck in particular – or rather: what remarkably didn’t strike me – was that no one player stood out of this group as a superior or lesser member. I’ve heard plenty of young string quartets in the last few years and usually you can hear pretty quickly that the viola is perhaps above and beyond the rest or that the second violinist doesn’t match the first. Not so here. Maria Ehmer (first violin), Anna Knopp (second violin), Markus Huber (viola), and Leonhard Roczek (cello) played as a collective, counted supreme balancing among their assets, and succeeded not on individual ability (though plenty endowed in that field, too) but as a group.

The E-flat major String Quartet, D87 (formerly known as quartet no. 10, op. 125, #1) of Schubert continues the Mozart’s level of classical beauty, here touched up with a Romantic and denser feel. Lovely it is and surprisingly mature – only the Andante might have done well in a tighter version. The finale (Allegro) seemed just made for rummaging around in like four puppies, which is what the Minetti Quartett did… if with fleet fingers rather than big paws.

available at Amazon
F.Schubert, Complete Songs, G.Johnson et al.
Hyperion

UK | DE | FR
The beginning of the D810 was a little thin sounding – but a stave or two into that supreme quartet Mlle. Ehmer & Co made up for it with extraordinary élan. Like the “Trout” Quintet, “Death and the Maiden” gets its name from one of Schubert’s songs that stood model for one of the inner movements – in this case the second, the Andante con moto. Unlike the quintet, where the song is nearly as well known as the chamber work based on it, the song “Der Tod und das Mädchen” (D531) is more obscure. If the 209th birthday of Schubert on January 31st is not sufficient motivation or excuse to indulge in the monumental Schubert song collection on Hyperion (now out in a chronologically ordered box), do seek out volume 11 of the original series. A single disc of Brigitte Fassbänder singing songs relating to death. Not only will you find on it one of the finest renderings of “Der Tod und das Mädchen,” it’s altogether one of the best volumes among 40 already exquisite CDs.

available at Amazon
F.Schubert, Songs of Death, B. Fassbänder / G. Johnson
Hyperion

UK | DE | FR
At the Austrian Embassy, meanwhile, the Minetti Quartett followed a good first movement with a dreamlike, grabbing performance of the second. Such beautiful pianissimos; suddenly such seamless swells. The dedication of young hearts in the music elevated the performance far, far above the few individual flaws coming from the exquisitely delicate violins or that one moment in the movement's climax where things threatened to fly apart. The third and fourth movement were not much less convincing. More than worthy for Mozart’s birthday party and one of the finest chamber performances I’ve heard as part of the Embassy Series so far.


Other Reviews:

Music Reviews: Minetti String Quartet (Washington Post, January 30)
Too bad that the Austrian’s Presidency of the European Union occupied the back room though – it wrought havoc on the recently improving receptions at the Austrian Embassy. But what could have possibly necessitated that the wine was served in plastic cups and poured from Tupperware pitchers (I shudder at the very memory), I can’t imagine. But that surprising lapse in taste on the part of the Austrian hosts was quickly forgotten with that special musical performance in the ears still, and the teeth sunk into the parting gift of a Mozart-Kugel.

Addendum: The Minetti Quartet would go on to record a superb, absolutely joyous Haydn disc.

Philidor's Tom Jones in Lausanne

Also on Ionarts:

Monteverdi's Orfeo, Jean-Claude Malgoire (November 6, 2004)
Jean-Claude Malgoire is at it again, reviving an unknown opera at the Opéra de Lausanne, in Switzerland. This time, it's François-André Danican Philidor's Tom Jones (1776), with a libretto derived from Henry Fielding's novel The History of Tom Jones, an opera that was actually premiered in Lausanne. An article by Jean-Louis Validire (Tom Jones réapparaît à Lausanne, January 23) for Le Figaro tells us what it was like (my translation):
It was actually in March 1776 that Philidor's opéra-comique was premiered, in this Swiss town that was actually less austere than Calvinist Geneva. Voltaire made frequent visits between 1755 and 1758, the theatrical life there was intense, and Zaïre was applauded. Taking his lead from the spirit of commemoration around Mozart's birthday, Eric Vigié, the director of the Opéra de Lausanne, with this programming to wanted to give an idea of the town's artistic activity in the Europe of the late 18th century. Mozart passed through Lausanne when he was ten years old, ten years before the premiere of Tom Jones. Those are two events that represent more than a minor coincidence, as shown in the exhibit En passant par Lausanne [Passing through Lausanne], organized by the town's theaters, which shows the cultural panorama of a society at the turn of the Enlightenment.

No one is more qualified than Jean-Claude Malgoire to bring Philidor back to life. On Friday he again showed his familiarity and closeness to the colors and subtlety of a composer sometimes better known as a talented chess player than for his music. The heir to a compositional dynasty, son of Louis XIV's librarian, François-André Danican Philidor was also the brother of Anne Danican Philidor, oboist in La Grande Écurie and founder of the Concert spirituel. It was through chess that he became known to the world, while visiting the Café Régence in Paris, which opened the doors of the society that was not yet called intellectual. Diderot mentions him in Le Neveu de Rameau. If the musician has long been eclipsed, the chess master, who died unbeaten at the age of 69 in 1795 and was the author of a reference work, L'Analyse des échecs, remains a respected theorist of the game.
In the pit, Malgoire is directing a group of young orchestral musicians, the Sinfonietta of Lausanne. This opera has been revived only once in modern France, at the Opéra-Comique in 1979 under the baton of Jean-Pierre Wallez. In the libretto there is nothing of the moral satire of English society found in Fielding's novel, only the central story of the orphan Tom Jones and the girl next door, Sophie Western.

See also the article (Tom Jones ou la naissance de l’opérette, January 27) by Jérôme-Alexandre Nielsberg for L'Humanité. Another article (Tiède Tom Jones, January 25) by Jacques Schmitt for ResMusica.com has some pictures.

Classical Week in Washington (1/29)

Classical Week in Washington is a weekly feature that appears on Sundays, at the same time as my Classical Music Agenda for DCist. If there are concerts that you would like to see included on our schedule, send your suggestions by e-mail (ionarts at gmail dot com). Plan your winter concert schedule with our 2006 Concert Preview and Classical Month in Washington (February), or your opera listening with our Opera Preview 2006.

Monday, January 30, 7:30 pm
James Conlon, in conversation with Joe Banno, about operas on Shakespeare
Words on Will lecture series
Folger Shakespeare Library (201 E. Capitol Street SE)

Tuesday, January 31, 7:30 pm
Calder Quartet (WPAS)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Thursday, February 2, 7 pm
Bertrand Chamayou, piano
Music by Liszt, Debussy, Chabrier, Ravel
Cosponsored by the International Piano Festival of La Roque d'Anthéron
Rosslyn Spectrum Theater (1611 N. Kent St., Rosslyn, Va.)

Thursday, February 2, 8 pm
Chamber Music of Roger Reynolds (winner of Pulitzer Prize, 1989)
Library of Congress

Thursday, February 2, 7 pm; Friday, February 3, 8 pm; Saturday, February 4, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra, with Choral Arts Society, in world premiere of Roberto Sierra's Missa Latina
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Friday, February 3, 8 pm (Pre-concert lecture by Robin Rausch, 6:15 pm)
Cuarteto Casals (winner of the Yehudi Menuhin First Prize at the 2000 London International String Quartet Competition)
Music by Arriaga, Mozart, Zemlinsky
Library of Congress

Friday, February 3, 8 pm
Alan Held, bass-baritone, and Kim Pensinger Witman, piano
Wolf Trap

Saturday, February 4, 1 pm
Metropolitan Opera National Council Middle Atlantic Regional Auditions
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Saturday, February 4, 1:30 pm
Alfano, Cyrano de Bergerac
Sondra Radvanovsky and Plácido Domingo Antonio Barasorda
Metropolitan Opera Radio Broadcast

Saturday, February 4, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with guest conductor Günther Herbig
Bruckner's ninth symphony and Mozart's third horn concerto
Music Center at Strathmore

Saturday, February 4, 8 pm
Ahn Trio (music by Kenji Bunch, Michael Nyman, Chick Corea, and David Bowie)
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)

Saturday, February 4, 8 pm
Dawn Upshaw, Kronos Quartet, the Andalucian Dogs
Music by Osvaldo Golijov, including Ayre
Lincoln Center, Rose Theater (New York, N.Y.)

Sunday, February 5, 2 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players (Brahms trio, Poulenc sextet, and Beethoven septet)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Sunday, February 5, 3 pm
The Brilliance of Bach: Chamber Music Majesty (The Musical Offering, the Concerto for Two Harpsichords in C Major and the Triple Concerto for Flute, Violin and Harpsichord)
Washington Bach Consort
Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center (Alexandria, Va.)

Sunday, February 5, 4:30 pm
Contemporary Music Forum
Music by Robert Gibson, Anthony Villa, Matthew Burtner, Mark Kuss, Stephen Paulus
Corcoran Gallery of Art

Sunday, February 5, 5 pm
Verdehr Trio (piano, clarinet, violin)
Phillips Collection [FREE, with price of admission to the museum]

Sunday, February 5, 6:30 pm
Mozart Piano Quartet (all-Mozart program in conjunction with Mozart on the Mall concert series)
National Gallery of Art

——» Go to the previous schedule, for the week of January 22.

28.1.06

Mozart Celebrated in Salzburg

It saddens me often how much better the Arts section of the New York Times is than the Style section of the Washington Post. The name says it all. The Style folks do the best they can with the space they are given, and it is sometimes good. However, far too often, the Style page is afflicted with what I call the NPR effect, spending precious columns on trash on television and popular music. What Style does is fine, but could we please have a section for the arts? The arts, I say, and not pop ephemera.

This comes up because I was struck this afternoon, while my car was having its oil changed and I sat reading the papers in a café, by an article (In Salzburg, a Warm Birthday Party on a Cold Night, January 28) by James R. Oestreich in the New York Times. As you might expect, there was really great music making in Salzburg last night, with Riccardo Muti conducting the Vienna Philharmonic at the Salzburg Festspielhaus (see the Web site's slide show, too). The impressive list of guest artists included Cecilia Bartoli (replacing an indisposed Renée Fleming at the last minute), Thomas Hampson, Mitsuko Uchida, Gidon Kremer, and Yuri Bashmet. The paragraphs that set me off were the following (emphasis added):

Mr. Muti ended the evening with the final chorus from "Die Zauberflöte," with the orchestra joined by the Vienna Singverein: a satisfying close to an event a considerable cut above the typical all-star extravaganza. The concert was broadcast around the world on radio. It was also televised in most of the civilized world, which evidently no longer includes the United States. It was not picked up by Channel 13, PBS or — to the knowledge of its director, Brian Large — any other American outlet: a slight made all the more remarkable by the expected presence of two noted American singers, Ms. Fleming and Mr. Hampson.
That's right, I am not the only one to lament that, once again, PBS has let us down. One commenter on my anti-NPR/PBS post got upset with what I wrote, but here is the same idea published in the New York Times. By the way, the same day there was another concert in Salzburg, in the Mozarteum, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt leading the Vienna Philharmonic in Mozart's Symphony No. 40, and Pierre-Laurent Aimard playing with three members of the Vienna Phil for the G minor piano quartet. It doesn't get much better than that. Take a look at James Oestreich's bloglike Salzburg Journal for more information.

Dip Your Ears, No. 51 (Virgin Radamisto)

available at Amazon
G.F.Handel, Radamisto,
A.Curtis / Il Complesso Barocco
Virgin Classics

You have to be thick into Handel to really care whether you are listening to the first 1720 version of Radamisto or the second 1720 version. But then you probably have to care lots about Handel to be likely to acquire either version and may thus appreciate Anthony Hicks’s detailed notes in the latest (and second) recording of this opera by Alan Curtis and his team who chose—unlike Nicholas McGegan in a currently unavailable Harmonia Mundi recording—the latter. (Don’t ask me which edition Horst-Tanu Margraf recorded for Berlin Classics… perhaps the third, 1727, version?)

Right now it’s the only Radamisto game in town, though, and if you want to hear arias like Quando mai, spietata sorte or Dolce bene di quest’alma, you might as well make a bee-line for the Virgin recording where Curtis’s Il Complesso Barocco again proves to be among the finest groups for Handel; this recording coming close on the heels of the previously reviewed Rodelinda from the same forces (with different singers). Radamisto may not be as adept as Rodelinda at keeping your continued interest, nor do the soloists Joyce DiDonato, Maite Beaumont, Zachary Stains, Laura Cherici, Patrizia Ciofi, and Carlo Lepore necessarily outdo Kermes, Davislim, Lemieux, and Mijanović—but the Handelians among us should lap this up with delight. Another wonderful proof from Virgin that high-quality opera recordings are still very much alive and coming at us in rapid succession.

Low Flying

27.1.06

Eavesdropping on Our Knees: Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Theophilus Mozart, 1756 - 2006

This appreciation of Mozart has been adapted for Ionarts from an article by Robert R. Reilly for a past issue of Crisis Magazine.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born two hundred and fifty years ago this month. In 1991, the bicentennial of his death was the occasion for massive Mozart festivals and grand recording projects, as well as reappraisals of his genius and meaning. Fifteen years later, the reappraisals continue. Unfortunately, they often tell us more about ourselves than they do about Mozart. Here is an assessment from the highly praised biography of Mozart, Mozart: A Life, by Maynard Solomon: "[Mozart] was put on earth, it seems, not merely to provide an anodyne to sorrow and an antidote to loss, but to trouble our rest, to remind us that all is not well, that neither the center nor the perimeter can hold, that things are not what they seem to be, that masquerade and reality may well be interchangeable, that love is frail, life transient, faith unstable" (p. 509). Really? I would have thought that description, but for its first part, fit for almost any 20th-century artist of angst. But for Mozart? Perhaps this is another attempt to help us understand Mozart by making him more like us. There have been a range of such attempts, many of them centering around the bicentennial, most of them concluding that we can relate to Mozart because he was really a modern neurotic man.

W. A. MozartMozart has been enfolded in the modern perspective by transforming him into a proto-Romantic, if not a revolutionary. This has been done in a popular, vulgar way and also through modern scholarship. The first was accomplished by Milos Forman's very popular but perverse film adaptation of Peter Schaeffer's brilliant play, Amadeus. In the play, Mozart's infantilization serves a legitimate dramatic purpose in firing Salieri's anger at God: how dare God assign to an idiot savant, Mozart, greater musical powers than He did to an obedient and faithful servant, Salieri? The more ridiculous Mozart is made to appear, the more dramatic the question of God's providence becomes. In his film, Forman shifts the focus from Salieri to Mozart, whom we are invited to see, not within the context of Salieri's relationship with God, but as a misunderstood genius who transcended the conventions of his time. This is stylistically conveyed by having Mozart alone act as if he were thrown from the 20th century back into the 18th. The message was clear on a large poster in the foyer of the movie theater in which I saw the film: "Mozart -- the first punk rocker." Indeed, the spasmodic gestures, the bug-eyed looks, the gyrations and hand movements of actor Tom Hulce were unique to the punk rock youth of the 1980s. This trivialization served no dramatic purpose but was understandably popular for its implicit message: Mozart, just a punk rocker ahead of his time.

The more sophisticated way of revolutionizing Mozart is to psychoanalyze him and his works with the diagnosis: "an obsessional, anal-fixated, paranoiac personality." This is actually a compliment. It shows Mozart as out of tune with his times, and therefore ahead of them. Several years ago in the New York Times Arts section, music professor Richard Taruskin said that for radical critic Rose Rosengard Subotnik, "Mozart is the first composer who suffers as we do from the malaise of modernity." She finds evidence in Mozart's last three symphonies of a unique "critical world view" and a mind under stress from the pressures of constructing a personal reality outside of social norms. Likewise, fellow radical critic Susan McClary suggests that the piano soloist in the Piano Concerto in G Major (K. 453) is "blatantly sacrificed to the overpowering requirements of social convention," just like Mozart supposedly was. This is a Mozart for the end of the 20th century: a modern, alienated man like us.

But Mozart was not like us. We cannot understand him by assimilating him into our own times -- by pretending that he was a premonition of what we now are. This kind of temporal provincialism requires either denigrating Mozart as a punk rocker or as anal-fixated. We should not look forward in history to understand him, but backward, not because he was a product of his times, but because he wasn't. In fact, if anything, we should look to prehistory, to the preternatural for some grasp of his genius.

All the models through which the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st are trying to grasp the meaning of Mozart are flawed with our own failings. Mozart was not a deviant or a revolutionary. He went beyond the musical conventions of his time without changing them. Unlike Beethoven, he worked within the formulas of harmonic development and motivic usage that he received. Mozart expressed his artistic credo in a letter in 1781, in which he wrote that "passions, violent or not, may never be expressed to the point of revulsion, that even in the most frightening situation music must never offend the ear but must even then offer enjoyment, i.e., music must always remain music." Through an inspired level of basic material, Mozart brought the received forms to their greatest level of perfection. Never trite or even predictable, he had originality without overstatement. But perhaps as much could have been said of Haydn.

Mozart has something else, something close to ineffable that is nonetheless expressed in his music. Every culture tells of a golden age from which man fell. Almost every culture tells of some path to its restoration. Within Western culture, the story of Eden contains an account of man's preternatural powers, taken from him at the Fall. Mozart is our musical Eden. Somehow, in his musical ability, he escaped the stamp of original sin and sings with purity of the first days. Aaron Copland expressed it this way: "Mozart . . . tapped once against the source from which all music flows, expressing himself with a spontaneity and refinement and breathtaking rightness that has never since been duplicated."

But as a fallen man in every other way, Mozart also expresses the depth of loss. This is the sadness of his perfection. Even Mozart's galant music can provoke longings that belie its sparkle and lightness. The delight it induces ironically produces a sense of loss that the imperfect feels when faced with the perfect. As someone once put it, "his lightness is infinitely grave." But loss is not despair. Karl Barth pointed out that, at the end of Mozart's last opera, The Magic Flute, we hear "The rays of the sun drive out the night." This is not a facile happy ending. It is rather Mozart's supernal connection with something essential in existence itself. Barth, like Copland after him, speculated that Mozart's "'sound' . . . is in fact the primal sound of music absolutely." Primal, ontological. In other words, this very preternatural quality of Mozart's music, which occasions a sense of loss in hearing it, also points to a recovery from that loss. Yes, as Mr. Solomon would have it, Mozart reminds us that "all is not well." But Mozart's music is a sign that it will be. The existence of Mozart's music is almost a promise that the loss is not irretrievable. The world to which it refers and out of which it comes really does exist. True happiness exists; true love exists; so does complete joy -- but not here. As it preceded us, it will follow us. The sense of loss behind is also a sense of hope ahead. This is why Mozart's mention of death as man's true best friend is not morbid. Death is our means to completion.

Though he died while writing the Requiem at nearly thirty-six years of age, two hundred and five years ago, a sense of completion also exists in respect to Mozart's work. It is hard to believe that there could have been more. The question as to why he died so young is always superseded by: How could he have existed at all? How could you ask more of a miracle? Miracle is the exact word used by Goethe and by other agnostics and unbelievers in reference to Mozart while he was alive and shortly after he died. The Voltairean encyclopedist Friedrich Melchior von Grimm, who heard Mozart in Paris in 1763, said of the seven-year-old prodigy, "I truly fear that this child will turn my head if I hear him again; he has shown me how difficult it is to preserve one's sanity in the face of a miracle."

Karl Barth, who accepted the sanity of the miracle, had perhaps the most beautiful thing to say in his "Letter of Thanks to Mozart": "I have only a hazy feeling about the music played there where you now dwell. I once formulated my surmise about that as follows: whether the angels play only Bach in praising God I am not quite sure; I am sure, however, that en famille they play Mozart and that then also is the Lord God especially delighted to listen to them."

We are mere mortals eavesdropping.

The Abduction from the Opera House

Robert R. Reilly, a one time Pasha Selim in New York (vis-à-vis Faye Robinson), did Ionarts the honor of reviewing last night's Abduction performance of the National Symphony Orchestra.

From left to right: Casey-Cabot, Clement, Lee, Baker, Short


Additional Commentary by Jens F. Laurson:


The Abduction from the Seraglio is a lovable but silly opera, and no one should expect less than silly when going to a performance, be it in the opera house or semi-staged as it was at the National Symphony Orchestra’s performance this Thursday (to be repeated today, Friday and tomorrow, Saturday, at 8PM). If you are fine with a healthy amount of slapstick, you’ll be served well by the NSO’s production and TV anchor Sam Donaldson as TV anchor Pasha Selim.

The production, though, before the charm assault wears the critics' defenses down by the end of the nearly three-hour long program (two intermissions account for some of that length), raises a few questions. It seems, in all, an odd compromise between fully staged opera and a concert performance. The right third of the stage was reserved for the opera’s action that also spread out in front of the orchestra and into the hall via a walkway. The orchestra itself was seated in an aqua-colored enclosure to the left, their chairs and music stands wrapped in cloth of the same color. The singers acted the opera out and appeared in costume – if not exactly elaborate ones. There were no supertitles but the Power Point™-like projections onto a screen above the orchestra gave spunky summaries of what the singers were singing about. The ample dialogue was in English, adapted and rewritten for this performance by librettist Richard Sparks. All this added up to a questionable hybrid. The insistence on dialogue in English assured that the producers wanted the audience to understand the funny bits. But the music’s text was left alone, perhaps for fear of meddling too much with Mozart. But since we all know that virtually no one understands a lick of what the singers mumble about in some foreign language and given that no supertitles were provided, the music is for all practical purposes expected to stand on its own, to be absolute music. It’s Mozart’s music and it manages fairly well. But then why bother hamming it up with that English-language play in between? It thus becomes a high-quality variétés performance, although perhaps with wide appeal.

Leonard Slatkin led an indistinct, somewhat heavy, but well-playing NSO. He also partook a little in the fun-’n’-games in what was probably the wittiest scene. Ordered by Kevin Short’s Osmin to meddle around stage left, the NSO took its own cue, starting to play before Slatkin could race back to the podium to resume pretending to conduct. Said Osmin was one of the highlights of the performance - at least after some vocal posturing in his first appearance. The other one was JiYoung Lee’s Blonde. A clean and big voice, she had audible fun with her role. Size was not Jennifer Casey Cabot’s problem – but she never seemed to warm to her role of Constanze and, although singing well, never made much of an impression. Trills in her first aria were merely a wider sort of vibrato. Richard Clement’s Belmonte was underpowered and not the most pleasing voice, either, but handled himself well and efficiently. His “Wer ein Liebchen hat gefunden” enchanted. Robert Baker’s Pedrillo (Baker was reviewed on Ionarts as Baron Jacobi in Democracy) had a fair performance. He will have been entertaining to most in the sparse audience; I found his interpretation of “Pedrillo as Will to Blonde’s Grace” less funny. The “Ach Belmonte! Ach mein Leben!” quartet that closes Act Two was excellent, but the opera's penultimate number, the Vaudeville “Nie werd’ ich deine Huld verkennen,” seemed a bit rushed and all too jolly. Not of the same quality as the Gardiner recording offered when I replayed that part five times at Gramercy Park last summer. The overture was accompanied with a faux-naïve cartoon by director Douglas Fitch that will have passed as cute with most. Sam Donaldson's enthusiastic Pasha, performed via video feed live from the green room behind stage (perhaps to make him look like the newscaster we know him as? But then the direction should have zoomed out a little to let us see the big desk behind which he was sitting) and came out for the last scene. Washington loves its celebrity appearances – and after Supreme Court Justices in Die Fledermaus, this seemed the logical extension. We now await Wolfowitz as Alberich in the upcoming Rheingold.

Altogether the concert was a jollier affair than dissecting its parts may make it sound like, I could have imagined Mozart served better (perhaps with a concert performance of Cosí), but for those who know what to expect, this will do.
Thursday night, the NSO, soloists, and the Master Chorale of Washington, under Leonard Slatkin, offered a 250th birthday salute to Mozart. These forces gave a semi-staged performance of The Abduction from the Seraglio, the first of three performances held not in the Opera House, but in the Concert Hall of the Kennedy Center. Abduction is perhaps Mozart’s most effervescent opera. It put him on the map in Vienna in 1782 and was, according to some sources, his most popular opera while he was alive. Thursday night was not the champagne evening it could have been, but neither was it flat beer. It was a good-hearted, if sometimes silly effort under less than ideal circumstances.

The setting inevitably imparted a kind of “we can do it in the barn” atmosphere to the proceedings, not entirely inappropriate to the spirit of a Singspiel. Stage left served as the platform for most of the action, while the orchestra was seated stage right. Over it was placed a screen on which was projected various cartoon drawings, a few supertitles, aria summaries, and oddest of all, Sam Donaldson, who had been advertised as playing the role of Pasha Selim -- the longest non-singing role in opera -- but who appeared on video -- perhaps to make those accustomed to seeing him on TV more comfortable. The overture was illustrated by some cartoons that looked like Edward Gorey works from a bad day in grade school. I cannot give a thoroughly honest account of them because, of all things, I shut my eyes in order to listen to the music.

Anyway, the cartoons served as fair warning that Abduction would be interpreted broadly and with some slapstick. And this was the case. Two seats in front of me were seated a father and his son, probably not more than eight years old. I liked seeing this and wished that my own son were with me, as it appeared the production would be largely aimed at his age level.

I can point out a number of minor faults with the production’s attitude – minor, because, after all, this is a light-hearted comedy. The new English language libretto for the spoken dialogue -- the singing was in the original German -- is forgivably and forgettably sophomoric. The solecisms – such as Korean soprano JiYoung Lee (Blonde) telling Osmin, “I am not a slave; I’m a free-born Korean girl” – may get a cheap chuckle, but it transgresses the necessary conventions of comedy. Letting us know that they know that this is funny does not add to the fun. It deflates it. The fiction makes it fun. Maintain the fiction. Too often, the singers were, figuratively speaking, sticking their heads out from behind the scrim to wink at us in a knowing way about something we already knew.

Vocally, the star of the evening was bass Kevin Short as Osmin. While that is a well-deserved compliment to him, it also may be less than flattering to the other principals who certainly had the opportunity to cover themselves with glory in the wonderful opportunities their roles afforded them. Short also excelled in his characterization of Osmin, as opposed to the “opera acting” that passes for acting in opera.

For perspective, I should say that no one was really less than adequate. JiYoung as Blonde was more than that with her rich, syrupy voice, though her Korean accent made a few words of the English dialogue difficult to grasp. She also had some fun with her role.


available at Amazon
W.G.Mozart, Die Entführung aus dem Serail,
Krips / WPh / Popp, Gedda, Rothenberger, Unger, Frics
EMI




Other Reviews:

Daniel Ginsberg, 'Abduction': Taken With a Grain of Salt (Washington Post, January 27)

Charles T. Downey, K. 384 (DCist, January 28)

Tim Smith, Charms of Mozart's 'Abduction' brought to light (Baltimore Sun, January 31)
Tenor Richard Clement as Belmonte started with a slight rasp in his voice that soon disappeared in some lovely lyrical singing, but his voice was simply too small to carry this role convincingly. When faced with soprano Jennifer Casey Cabot as Constanze, he was swamped. Cabot has a big voice, easily reaching the upper registers with plenty of power. She can project it into every cranny of the hall. The problem is that her vibrato tended to swallow her performance and give a kind of sameness to her singing. One’s enjoyment of her performance was in part determined by one’s tolerance of vibrato, which in my case was not very wide. Tenor Robert Baker as Pedrillo had a strong first half but seemed to lose some steam in parts of the second.

The unevenness in vocal powers made the ensemble singing in the gentler moments the highlight of the evening, aside from Short's performance. That is because, piano or pianissimo, all singers are equal, at least when they are as talented as this group. The quartet at the end of Act Two was a particularly lovely example.

Slatkin and the NSO may not have been the last word in élan, but their support throughout the evening was more than fine. If the tempos were somewhat leisurely, the lyrical moments were given tender loving care. I did not hear one misstep in the orchestra.

Sam Donaldson finally showed up in person on stage to condemn the lovers to death mid-point in Act Three. I had begun to speculate that he would take a live curtain call after what seemed like a canned performance, which would have been something new. I will not comment on his performance as I am prejudiced. I knew Pasha Selim. I played Pasha Selim (with members of the Metropolitan Opera Studio in a production back in 1973). Sam is no Pasha Selim. Nonetheless as a celebrity gimmick, it kept one’s attention.