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30.4.06

Classical Month in Washington (May)

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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!

Monday, May 1, 6 pm
Conservatory Project: Juilliard School of Music [FREE]
Cellist Avigail Arad, violinist Augustin Hadelich, and pianist Ang Li
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Monday, May 1, 8 pm
Ann Schein (piano), Jerome Barry (baritone), Peter Sirotin (violin), Claudia Chudacoff (violin), Michael Stepniak (viola), Thomas Kraines (cello)
Music by Schumann and Mozart
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany (Embassy Series)
See the review by Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, May 3)

Tuesday, May 2, 12:10 pm
Noontime Cantata: J. S. Bach, Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest, BWV 194 [FREE]
Members of the Washington Bach Consort
Church of the Epiphany (13th and G Streets NW)

Tuesday, May 2, 6 pm
Conservatory Project: Eastman School of Music [FREE]
Violinist Bin Huang and pianist Xi Zhang (Vivaldi, Beethoven, Paganini, and Kreisler)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Wednesday, May 3, 12:10 pm
Barbara Hollinshead, mezzo soprano, and Howard Bass, lute [FREE]
16th- and 17th-century music for voice and lute
Presented in honor of Master Drawings from the Woodner Collections
National Gallery of Art, West Building Lecture Hall
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, May 5)

Wednesday, May 3, 6 pm
Conservatory Project: Peabody Conservatory of Music [FREE]
Duo Transatlantique—guitarists Maud Laforest and Benjamin Beirs, cellist Go Eun Park, and pianist Eun Jung Shon
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Wednesday, May 3, 7:30 pm
Ahn Trio [FREE]
Shenson Chamber Music Concert Series
National Museum of Women in the Arts
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, May 4)

Thursday, May 4, 8 pm
Fine Arts Quartet
Shostakovich, Quartet No. 1; Bernard Herrmann, Echoes; Mozart, Viola Quintet with Daniel Foster
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
See the review by Gail Wein (Washington Post, May 6)

Friday, May 5, 6 pm
Conservatory Project: Shepherd School of Music at Rice University [FREE]
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Friday, May 5, 7:30 pm
Festa della Voce, Liederabend Concert
Music by Brahms, Wolf, Schumann, Schubert, Wolf, R. Strauss
Corcoran Gallery of Art
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 6)

Friday, May 5, 8 pm
Jacques Ogg, harpsichord [FREE]
Music by D'Anglebert, Muffat, Forqueray, Soler, C. P. E. Bach
Library of Congress
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, May 6)

Friday, May 5, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony: The Lure of the Diva
Emily Pulley (soprano), Lucille Beer (mezzo-soprano), Roger Honeywell (tenor), David Allen Miller (guest conductor)
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, May 8)

Saturday, May 6, pm
Conservatory Project: San Francisco Conservatory of Music [FREE]
Violinists Eunice Kim and Stella Chen, pianist Akimi Fukuhara (Sarasate, Ravel, Kreisler, and Liszt)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Saturday, May 6, 7 pm; May 11, 14, 17, 19, 22, and 27
Mozart, La Clemenza di Tito
Washington National Opera
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 9)

Sunday, May 7, 3 pm
The Splendor of Bach: Cantata Fest (BWV 195, BWV 63, Brandenburg No. 1)
Washington Bach Consort
Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center (Alexandria, Va.)
See the review by Andrew Lindemann Malone (Washington Post, May 9)

Sunday, May 7, 5 pm
Steve Silverman, piano/harpsichord [FREE, with price of admission]
Phillips Collection

Sunday, May 7, 6:30 pm
Steven Honigberg, cellist, and Kathryn Brake, pianist [FREE]
Music by Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Astor Piazzolla, and David Popper
National Gallery of Art

Sunday, May 7, 7:30 pm
Martin Kasik, piano
Music by Chopin and Czech composers
The Mansion at Strathmore

Tuesday, May 9, 7:30 pm
Musicians from Marlboro III [FREE]
Mozart's Adagio and Fugue for String Quartet, K. 546; Schoenberg's op. 4 for String Quartet; and Schumann's Dichterliebe, op. 48
Freer Gallery of Art
See the review by Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, May 11)

Tuesday, May 9, 7:30 pm
Ian Bostridge and Dorothea Roeschmann, with Julius Drake
Vocal Arts Society
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, May 11)

Wednesday, May 10, 12:10 pm
Arco Voce [FREE]
17th- and 18-century music for voice and instruments
National Gallery of Art, East Building Small Auditorium

Wednesday, May 10, 7 pm
Karen Ouzounian (cello) and Víkingur Heiðar Ólafsson (piano)
Music by Beethoven, Debussy, Messiaen, Ligeti, Brahms
Residence of the Ambassador of Iceland

Thursday, May 11, 7 pm; Friday, May 12, 8 pm; Saturday, May 13, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Stravinsky, Symphonies of Wind Instruments (original 1920 version); Mendelssohn, Octet; Chávez, Toccata for Percussion Instruments; Bartók, Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin, Op. 19
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 12)

Thursday, May 11, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony: The "Jazz" of Matisse
James Judd, conductor, and William Wolfram, piano
Bach/Stokowski’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor, Torke’s Bright Blue, Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2, "Age of Anxiety"
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, May 13)

Thursday, May 11, 8 pm
Vitaly Samoshko, piano
Music by Beethoven, Debussy, Rachmaninov, Prokofiev
Embassy of the Republic of Poland (Embassy Series)
See the review by George A. Pieler (Ionarts, May 12)

Friday, May 12, 12 noon
Opera Scenes (Part I) [FREE]
University of Maryland Opera Studio
Arts Club of Washington (2017 I Street NW)

Friday, May 12, 8 pm
Daedalus Quartet
Mendelssohn, String Quartet in D Major, Op. 44, No. 1; Bartók, String Quartet No. 3 (1928); Mozart, String Quintet in E-flat Major, K. 614 (with Roger Tapping on viola)
Corcoran Gallery of Art
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 15)

Friday, May 12, 8 pm (pre-concert presentation by Stephen Soderberg, 6:15 pm)
Morton Subotnick, Until Spring Revisited (solo laptop work in surround sound) [FREE]
Library of Congress

Friday, May 12, 8 pm
China National Symphony Orchestra
Music by Chinese and Russian composers
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Tim Page (Washington Post, May 15)

Friday, May 12, 7:30 pm
Villa-Lobos Trio
Embassy of Austria
See the review by Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, May 15)

Saturday, May 13, 4 pm
Motets in Honor of the Virgin Mary (Palestrina, Britten, Pärt, Rachmaninov, Aichinger)
Members of the Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception
Sponsored by the Ecumenical Society of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Crypt Church

Saturday, May 13, 7 pm; May 15, 18, 21, 24, 26, 30, and June 3
Rossini, L'Italiana in Algeri
With Olga Borodina, Juan Diego Flórez, and Lyubov Petrova
Washington National Opera
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 16)

Saturday, May 13, 8 pm
Woodley Ensemble, Sacred Kaleidoscope
Sacred music from Canada, Indonesia, New Zealand, Sweden
St. Peter's Catholic Church (2nd and C Streets SE)
See the review by Joan Reinthaler (Washington Post, May 15)

Saturday, May 13, 8 pm
National Philharmonic: Mozart's Don Giovanni
Dean Elzinga, Vladimir Shvets, Jane Ohmes, John Aler
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Grace Jean (Washington Post, May 15)

Saturday, May 13, 8 pm
Prince George's Philharmonic
Music by Brahms and Elgar
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center (College Park, Md.)
See the review by Andrew Lindemann Malone (Washington Post, May 15)

Saturday, May 13, 8 pm
Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, with Newman/Adkins/Mermagen Trio
Beethoven's Triple Concerto and Rachmaninov's second symphony
George Mason University Center for the Arts
See the review by Mark Estren (Washington Post, May 15)

Sunday, May 14, 5 pm
Christopher Guzman, piano [FREE, with price of admission]
Phillips Collection
See the review by George Pieler (Ionarts, May 16)

Sunday, May 14, 6:30 pm
Joseph Schwartz, pianist [FREE]
Music by Chopin, Debussy, and Schubert
National Gallery of Art

Sunday, May 14, 7:30 pm
Angela Hewitt, piano
Music by Rameau, Bach, Brahms
The Mity Clarke Gann Memorial Concert
Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins (Baltimore, Md.)
See the review by Jens F. Laurson and Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, May 17)

Wednesday, May 17, 12:10 pm
Stephen Ackert, harpsichord [FREE]
Music by Gabrieli, Scarlatti, and anonymous 16th-century Italian composers
National Gallery of Art, West Building Lecture Hall
See the review by George Pieler (Ionarts, May 19)

Wednesday, May 17, 8 pm
Maurizio Pollini, piano
The Music Center at Strathmore (WPAS)
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 19)

Wednesday, May 17, 8 pm
Haydn Trio Eisenstadt
Embassy of Austria
See the review by Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, May 19)

Thursday, May 18, 8pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, with conductor Roberto Minczuk and cellist Ilya Finkelshteyn
Music by Barber, Haydn, and Beethoven
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
See the review by Daniel Ginsberg (Washington Post, May 20)

Friday, May 19, 12 noon
Opera Scenes (Part II) [FREE]
University of Maryland Opera Studio
Arts Club of Washington (2017 I Street NW)

Friday, May 19, 7:30 pm
John Paul, harpsichord
Music from 18th-century France
The Mansion at Strathmore

Friday, May 19, 8 pm (pre-concert presentation by Susan Clermont, 6:15 pm)
Cho-Liang Lin (violin) and André-Michel Schub (piano) [FREE]
Mozart sonatas, Walton's Sonata for Violin and Piano (1950), and world premiere of a sonata by Bright Sheng
Library of Congress
See the review by George A. Pieler (Ionarts, May 20)

Friday, May 19, 8 pm; Saturday, May 20, 8 pm
Sarah Wolfson (soprano), Alexander Kaimbacher (tenor), Jerome Barry (baritone), George Peachey (piano)
Austrian and American operetta
Embassy of Austria (Embassy Series)

Friday, May 19, 7:30 pm; Saturday, May 20, 8:15 pm
Palestrina Choir: Música Sacra Farewell Concert
Spanish and Latin-American sacred music Palestrina, Missa Brevis and favorite motets
Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle (Friday)
St. Rita’s Catholic Church, Alexandria (Saturday)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, May 20)

Saturday, May 20, 2 pm
Wonny Song, piano (WPAS)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 22)

Saturday, May 20, 3 pm
On Stage with Washington National Opera: American Opera [FREE]
Members of Washington Opera's Domingo-Cafritz Young Artists Program
For more information, call (202) 448-3412
Renwick Gallery, Grand Salon
See the review by George A. Pieler (Ionarts, May 28)

Saturday, May 20, time unknown
WPAS Annual Gala and Auction
Lang Lang, piano
Program TBA
Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center

Saturday, May 20, 8 pm
The Red Priest’s Vespers: Known and Less Known Masterworks by Vivaldi
Chantry and American Bach Sinfonia
Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church (Bethesda, Md.)
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, May 23)

Saturday, May 20, 8 pm
National Philharmonic: All Tchaikovsky
Carter Brey, cello
Music Center at Strathmore
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, May 22)

Saturday, May 20, 8 pm; Sunday, May 21, 2 pm
Haydn's La Canterina and Donizetti's Le Convenienze Teatrali
Directed by David Toulson
Opera Theatre of Northern Virginia
Thomas Jefferson Community Theater (Alexandria, Va.)

Sunday, May 21, 4 pm
Benjamin Britten, War Requiem
Cathedral Choral Society, with Marina Shaguch (soprano), Robin Leggate (tenor), Marcus Brück (baritone)
Washington National Cathedral
See the review by George A. Pieler (Ionarts, May 24)

Sunday, May 21, 5 pm
Contemporary Music Forum [FREE, with price of admission]
Phillips Collection
See the review by Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, May 23)

Sunday, May 21, 5 pm
Choral Arts Society of Washington, 40th Anniversary Celebration
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
See the review by Tim Page (Washington Post, May 23)

Sunday, May 21, 6:30 pm
National Gallery Orchestra, with Vladimir Lande, guest conductor, and James Bryla, clarinetist [FREE]
Music by Debussy and other composers
National Gallery of Art

Monday, May 22, 7:30 pm
Benjamin Britten, Turn of the Screw (fully staged)
Anne Dreyer, Jeffrey Lentz, Lorin Maazel
Fortas Chamber Music Series and the Chateauville Foundation
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 25)

Monday, May 22, 7:30 pm
François Lazarevitch and the Musicians of Saint-Julien
Program of French Baroque music
La Maison Française
See the review by Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, May 24)
See the review by George A. Pieler (Ionarts, May 25)

Monday, May 22, 8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra/JCC Chamber Music Series
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

Tuesday, May 23, 12:10 pm
Suspicious Cheese Lords [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany (1317 G Street NW)
See the review from A Cappella News (May 26)

Tuesday, May 23, 7:30 pm
Washington Musica Viva
Music of Bach, Fauré, and Bloch
Dennis and Phillip Ratner Museum (Bethesda, Md.)
See the review by George A. Pieler (Ionarts, May 27)

Wednesday, May 24, 12:10 pm
Piffaro [FREE]
16th- and 17th-century music for wind instruments
National Gallery of Art, West Building Lecture Hall

Wednesday, May 24, 7:30 pm
Renaud Déjardin (cello) and Márta Godény (piano)
La Maison Française
See the review by Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, May 26)

Thursday, May 25, 8 pm; Friday, May 26, 8 pm; Saturday, May 27, 11 am (Casual Concert, without Shostakovich)
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: The Maestro and the Masterpiece
With violinist Julia Fischer and (supposedly) Yuri Temirkanov
Weber's Euryanthe Overture, Beethoven's Violin Concerto, and Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
See the review by Jens F. Laurson (Ionarts, May 26)

Friday, May 26, 8 pm; Saturday, May 27, 8 pm
Solomiya Ivakhiv (violin) and Roman Rabinovich (piano)
Embassy of Ukraine (Embassy Series)

Saturday, May 27, 2 pm
Bartók String Quartet
Bartók, Quartet No. 5 (1934); Mozart, Quartet in G major, K. 387
Library of Congress

Saturday, May 27, 8 pm
Klavier Trio Amsterdam
Mendelssohn, Trio in D Minor, op. 49; Joan Berkhemer, Trio in one movement (2000); Dmitri Shostakovitch, Trio, op. 67
The Lyceum (Alexandria, Va.)

Sunday, May 28, 5 pm
Yuliya Gorenman, piano [FREE, with price of admission]
Phillips Collection
See the review by Joe Banno (Washington Post, May 30)

Tuesday, May 30, 7:30 pm
Klavier Trio Amsterdam
Mozart, Trio in B, KV 502; Mendelssohn, Trio in d minor, op. 49; Ravel, Trio in A
La Maison Française

Wednesday, May 31, 12:10 pm
Ars Lyrica [FREE]
Music for voice and instruments by Dietrich Buxtehude, Giulio Caccini, Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville, and Monteverdi
National Gallery of Art, West Building Lecture Hall

Classical Week in Washington (4/30)

Last week | Next week

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 concert schedule farther ahead with our Classical Month in Washington (May).

Monday, May 1, 6 pm
Conservatory Project: Juilliard School of Music [FREE]
Cellist Avigail Arad, violinist Augustin Hadelich, and pianist Ang Li
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Monday, May 1, 8 pm
Ann Schein (piano), Jerome Barry (baritone), Peter Sirotin (violin), Claudia Chudacoff (violin), Michael Stepniak (viola), Thomas Kraines (cello)
Music by Schumann and Mozart
Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany (Embassy Series)

Tuesday, May 2, 12:10 pm
Noontime Cantata: J. S. Bach, Höchsterwünschtes Freudenfest, BWV 194 [FREE]
Members of the Washington Bach Consort
Church of the Epiphany (13th and G Streets NW)

Tuesday, May 2, 6 pm
Conservatory Project: Eastman School of Music [FREE]
Violinist Bin Huang and pianist Xi Zhang (Vivaldi, Beethoven, Paganini, and Kreisler)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Wednesday, May 3, 12:10 pm
Barbara Hollinshead, mezzo soprano, and Howard Bass, lute [FREE]
16th- and 17th-century music for voice and lute
Presented in honor of Master Drawings from the Woodner Collections
National Gallery of Art, West Building Lecture Hall

Wednesday, May 3, 6 pm
Conservatory Project: Peabody Conservatory of Music [FREE]
Duo Transatlantique—guitarists Maud Laforest and Benjamin Beirs, cellist Go Eun Park, and pianist Eun Jung Shon
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Wednesday, May 3, 7:30 pm
Ahn Trio [FREE]
Shenson Chamber Music Concert Series
National Museum of Women in the Arts

Thursday, May 4, 8 pm
Fine Arts Quartet
Shostakovich, Quartet No. 1; Bernard Herrmann, Echoes; Mozart, Viola Quintet with Daniel Foster
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center

Friday, May 5, 6 pm
Conservatory Project: Shepherd School of Music at Rice University [FREE]
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Friday, May 5, 7:30 pm
Festa della Voce, Liederabend Concert
Music by Brahms, Wolf, Schumann, Schubert, Wolf, R. Strauss
Corcoran Gallery of Art

Friday, May 5, 8 pm
Jacques Ogg, harpsichord [FREE]
Music by D'Anglebert, Muffat, Forqueray, Soler, C. P. E. Bach
Library of Congress

Friday, May 5, 8 pm
Baltimore Symphony: The Lure of the Diva
Emily Pulley (soprano), Lucille Beer (mezzo-soprano), Roger Honeywell (tenor), David Allen Miller (guest conductor)
Music Center at Strathmore

Saturday, May 6, pm
Conservatory Project: San Francisco Conservatory of Music [FREE]
Violinists Eunice Kim and Stella Chen, pianist Akimi Fukuhara (Sarasate, Ravel, Kreisler, and Liszt)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Saturday, May 6, 7 pm; May 11, 14, 17, 19, 22, and 27
Mozart, La Clemenza di Tito
Washington National Opera

Sunday, May 7, 3 pm
The Splendor of Bach: Cantata Fest (BWV 195, BWV 63, Brandenburg No. 1)
Washington Bach Consort
Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center (Alexandria, Va.)

Sunday, May 7, 5 pm
Steve Silverman, piano/harpsichord [FREE, with price of admission]
Phillips Collection

Sunday, May 7, 6:30 pm
Steven Honigberg, cellist, and Kathryn Brake, pianist [FREE]
Music by Brahms, Chopin, Debussy, Mendelssohn, Astor Piazzolla, and David Popper
National Gallery of Art

Sunday, May 7, 7:30 pm
Martin Kasik, piano
Music by Chopin and Czech composers
The Mansion at Strathmore

29.4.06

Baltacigil on Boyle - and Bach to the Rescue

Efe BaltacigilThe storm that blew young Turkish cellist Efe Baltacigil onto North American stages happened in January 2005 in Philadelphia, and it didn’t so much blow him on there but keep everyone away from it: with most of the orchestra stuck somewhere in the snow, the lone cellist and scheduled soloist Emanuel Ax hastily rehearsed for a few minutes and went on stage to entertain those audience members who had braved the weather. The result was an enthusiastically received Beethoven F major sonata, op. 5, no. 1. The same work opened WPAS’s concert at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater on Tuesday – co-presented by the Young Concert Artists Series.

A great future the young man will have (and in fact already has as the associate principal cellist of the Philadelphia Orchestra), but his appearances bear the expectations of hearing something special. It is questionable if he can live up to that at every recital; last Tuesday he could not. The Beethoven, for example, was well played – but lacked any palpable excitement. His partner in crime, pianist Anna Polonsky, made up for some of that here with engaged playing, but she looked more zestful than she sounded: extremes acted out with the body, not always on the Steinway in front of her. Wonderful mezzo-forte and up, she played boldly and didn’t hold back (although a little less wild after the Beethoven). Holding back would not have been necessary, anyway, given Mr. Baltacigil’s rich, voluminous sound. More expressiveness in the soft passages, more subtle shades of piano and pianissimo are on my wishlist for her playing.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, Baltacigil Soars On Wings of Faure (Washington Post, April 27)
After the Beethoven it was on to a piece by the Philadelphia composer Benjamin C. S. Boyle (did I mention “disgustingly young” Philadelphia composer Benhamin C. S. Boyle? I would hate to abandon even a bad tradition… [read previous reviews of his work here and here]) for whose works Ionarts has a propensity of seeking concerts to go to. Composed in Paris last year, the Sonata for Cello and Piano was made for this occasion and specifically around Efe Baltacigil’s playing. It would be folly to claim that that was discernable, but it was obvious that the cellist took to the piece with gusto, cherished it and its three differing movements. Starting with a pizzicato element that suggests a jazzy flavor, the first movement (“Fantasia” - Poco Allegretto, molto liberamente) quickly changes course and becomes a free-wheelin’, double-stoppin’, roughly six-minute-long work that manages to sound novel and conventional at the same time. It doesn’t deny its 2005 date, but even conservative ears will find it listenable. The pro-Baltacigil partisan crowd in the Terrace Theater loved it. A plain, plaintive middle movement (Lento doloroso) followed, with one short peak of energy in an otherwise limp dramatic arch, haunted, saddened… perhaps because it lost its destination? We arrive at the third, final, shortest movement (Allegro molto energico e espressivo) anyway, and “energico” it is indeed. It was here that Baltacigil/Polonsky created a fair amount of ruckus, much to the benefit of the pleasant sonata. Probably shy of the best of Boyle’s work, it is only an example of the depth of this composer: so-so Boyle still sounds better than many a composer's – dead or alive – better works and we hope for more.

After intermission it was Fauré’s Papillon and Chopin’s sonata in G minor. Very lovely, flighty butterfly, that Fauré… but still not particularly convincing as far as the cellist was concerned. In the Chopin he showed us what we knew already: he has fleet fingers, total engagement with the music in front of him, a big tone, a near flawless technique. But his cello never sings, never just plays on its own (only a hint of that in the Largo); it is always pushed, pulled, beaten, driven. That can make for terribly exciting music (I suggest DSCH for a fitting match), but it can also make for listening fatigue, for a subsiding of interest after a while. (This “I’m here, all the time” way of playing may have suited the wide-eyed Boyle sonata best of those four works.) Efe Baltacigil obviously knows how to play the cello – now if he can also be played by the cello on occasion, we will deal with a musician as good as some of the reviews already suggest.

Good thing I did not leave right away (or more precisely: not fast enough), because the proof of much greater capability came hidden in the encore. Not the Gershwin arrangement, although that was nice, too, but the Bach: the Prelude from the C minor Suite (BWV 1011) was magnificent. Finally he let the cello sing. It goes to show that Bach can turn a recital one way or the other: Khachatryan’s Bach left a bad aftertaste following a very fine recital, here Bach was the brilliant finishing touch for a unremarkable recital. So ist das Leben.

Baltimore Symphony, Meet John Adams

Baltimore Symphony, Carlos Kalmar, Meyerhoff Hall, April 28, 2006After Dutilleux's Correspondances with the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, Ionarts went to Baltimore in the pursuit of new music. In this case, it was the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's performance of John Adams's On the Transmigration of Souls at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. It is the most celebrated work of music written to commemorate the victims of the September 11 attacks, having won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 2003, as well as a 2005 Grammy for the recording made by the New York Philharmonic. David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony recently performed the work at Carnegie Hall (review by Bernard Holland), and as the fifth anniversary of the attacks approaches, audience and critical reaction to Adams's piece -- so powerful at its first performance, by all reports -- is evolving. So, I was glad to get a chance at last to hear the work in a live performance.

Guest conductor Carlos Kalmar led the amassed performing forces, with the Concert Artists of the Baltimore Symphonic Chorale and the large Peabody Children's Chorus in the choir stands behind and in the side balconies on either side of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Kalmar's first gesture was to cue the prerecorded tape prepared by Mark Grey. At first, all we hear are the sounds of a normal city's song, busy streets, sirens, and the click of people's shoes as they walk down the sidewalk. Soon, a boy's voice begins the piece's first ostinato, repeating the word "Missing," followed by a litany of victims' names. These "concrete" sounds are then interwoven with the wash of performed sound, beginning with women's voices on an "oo" vowel and gentle string chords. Much of the piece unfolds with the effect of Klangfarbenmelodie, a pulsating mass of sound out of which harmonic colors surge and recede, not unlike what you see when staring at a stained glass window.

available at Amazon
John Adams, On the Transmigration of Souls (2002), New York Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel (released on August 31, 2004)
Adams insisted that he was not trying to make a narrative of the events we all remember from that terrible day. He describes Transmigration as a "memory space," a template of sound on which we may map our own grief and commemoration. The opening is generally soft until we hear what sounds like people descending stairs on the tape, which does seem to signal a change from the normal September morning (the children's chorus's pulsed harmonies, repeated over and over, "It / was / a / beau / ti / ful / day") to the chaos of the attack. There are extremely low notes (the curved shapes of both contrabassoon and contrabass clarinet are visible over the orchestra) that rumble under polished string chords, until the first loud section begins, big orchestral waves of sound, with all the percussion mallets hammering and thwacking. In the loudest passage, the work descends into total cacophony, with the chorus shrieking over massive brass swells. This dissolves into the final section, with melting sounds in the high strings and pings of metallic sound from the celesta and other instruments like drops of water. It brings us back to the low notes and the simple recitation of names, which end the work.

John Adams, b. 1947, composerThis weekend is also the opening of the new movie Flight 93, a dramatization of the fourth September 11 flight that crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Some of the criticism of the film derives from the proximity in time to the disaster and the perception that the movie's creators are trying to profit from it. What this shows is that September 11 is not quite "history" yet in our minds. Americans are still looking for someone to punish for the attacks. Adams composed On the Transmigration of Souls in a comparatively short time, within a year of the attacks, and it is possible that, as the years pass, its nature as an occasional work will become more and more apparent. I was certainly moved by this performance, but Transmigration has some of its seams showing. It has a certain journalistic topicality about it, not unlike Picasso's Guernica, close in time to the attack itself as a media event. However, it no longer packs the original punch to the guts that was felt at the premiere, and a certain slapped-together quality prevails at times.

This performance was very good, well coordinated by Kalmar, who marshalled his shining array of forces with panache. However, the BSO opted to append to the work a sloppy performance of Mozart's ever-present motet Ave verum corpus, K. 618. The lack of any pause did not allow the audience to appreciate the impact of Adams's piece: indeed, many in the audience sat stubbornly in their seats as I walked out, convinced that there was still some piece by Mozart left on the program. This was a bad decision for many reasons, not the least because it joined something liturgical to music that Adams wanted specifically to be aliturgical. "I want to avoid words like 'requiem' or 'memorial' when describing this piece," he has said, "because they too easily suggest conventions that this piece doesn't share." (At the same time, the image he has used to describe his conception of the piece is "one of those old, majestic cathedrals in France or Italy," as if a Roman Catholic cathedral does not "suggest conventions" as much as or more than the word requiem.) To make the incongruity worse, Kalmar's beat was all over the place and what should be a simple, homophonic musical statement -- albeit one that does not graft well to the Adams, from which it could not be more different -- was marred by a lack of unity in rhythm and diction from the large choral forces.

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R. Vaughan Williams, Serenade to Music, Five Mystical Songs, Fantasia on Christmas Carols, Flos Campi, Sixteen Soloists, Thomas Allen, Nobuko Imai, Corydon Singers, English Chamber Orchestra, Matthew Best
There was a first half, too, beginning with Schubert's Symphony No. 3 in D Major, D. 200, a happy-go-lucky bonbon from the prolific 18-year-old Viennese assistant teacher. It was 1815, Haydn had been dead for only six years, and Beethoven would soon embark on a series of daring, enigmatic works that musicologists would later refer to collectively as his late period. The young Schubert could not have known then that he had only 13 years left to live, and he seemed to be able to produce endless amounts of music, much of it quite good. Kalmar and the orchestra did not always connect in this work either, although it was a pleasant enough performance. The first movement had a sensitively drawn slow introduction and heavy-handed Allegro con brio section, not always quite together, particularly at the second theme, where the accompanimental figures in the strings did not line up with the winds. The second-movement Allegretto felt a little Andante, charming but a little underinflated. I was often distracted by Kalmar's full-body conducting, at times all jangling elbows like the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, flopping from side to side, his poofy mane of gray hair shaking with each stab and slash. The BSO put together a nice, calm Menuetto, with chippy wind solos in the trio, and an impressively fast finale, almost cracking apart but overall a great accomplishment.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, BSO impressive in Adams' sobering 9/11 piece (Baltimore Sun, April 29)
The orchestra's reduced numbers during the Schubert got reinforcements for the second piece, Vaughan Williams's Serenade to Music, composed in 1938 to celebrate the anniversary of conductor Sir Henry J. Wood, the man who gave us the Proms at Royal Albert Hall. It's a gorgeous piece, also written for a specific occasion, but with text (drawn from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice) that gives it life beyond its original performance. I couldn't understand most of the text as sung by the Peabody Singers (hmmmm-hmmm, music, hmm-hmm-hmm, harmony), although the louder consonants (S, K, T) came across as clear as day. I didn't really care, because Kalmar's sculpting of the music was most effective, grand sweeps of sound and gesture that he elicited from orchestra and chorus.

You can hear this program one more time, tomorrow (April 30, 3 pm) at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. (The BSO will not be bringing this concert to Strathmore.) If you don't want to go all the way to Baltimore and only want to hear the Vaughan Williams, you could go instead to hear the concert by the Metropolitan Chorus at the Schlesinger Concert Hall in Alexandria at the same time (April 30, 3 pm). You would get violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg playing the Tchaikovsky D major concerto with the Alexandria Symphony in the bargain.

28.4.06

Il Matrimonio Segreto, University of Maryland Opera Studio

The cast of Il Matrimonio Segreto, University of Maryland Opera Studio, photo by Laura MertensDomenico Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto (Vienna, 1792) is an opera buffa -- it's meant to be fun. The University of Maryland Opera Studio's new production, now playing at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, which updates the story to a 1960s Amalfi Coast villa -- sort of -- insists that this is a fun opera. We have an orange Vespa, it says, and a dancing quartet of beauticians -- isn't that fun? There is a swimming pool on stage -- so fun! Long after I had gotten the point, it kept insisting in the wide-nostriled, bloodshot-eyed manner of the amphetamine addict. Yes, I get it, director Nick Olcott wants to leave no doubt: "Gee, opera is fun" (actual quotation).

Other Reviews:

Daniel Ginsberg, At Clarice Smith Center, It's Fun, Fun, Fun With Cimarosa (Washington Post, April 24)

Stephan Varga, Opera for the students (University of Maryland Diamondback, April 17)
It is not that I am against fun, but subtlety can be nice, too. Do we really need the whole host of supernumeraries, outnumbering the singing cast actually in the libretto? Massimo (bartender), Efficienza and Diligenzia (dueling secretaries), Rapido (chauffeur), Arrogante (imperious butler who at one point tangos with a mop), Sopra and Sotta (upstairs and downstairs maids), and so on. Buffo, si, ma non troppo, per piacere! Despite this production's constant attempts to hit me over the head, I found it charming and, yes, a rollicking good time. Musically, Cimarosa was among the first to benefit from the advances that Mozart had made in the genre. If this opera's ensembles and arias never reach the heights of the best of Mozart's work, Mozart's stamp is certainly audible. For example, the trio sung by Elisetta, Carolina, and Fidalma in Act I, scene 4 ("Signora sorellina") is a great number. A lot of the fun in this opera rests on the mutual jealousy and hatred of the two sisters, between whom their busybody widowed aunt interposes herself. As Carolina, Brooke Evers was generally good, vocally small at times and slightly strained in the upper range. Kari Marie Sorenson, as Elisetta, brought a light soprano sound and Italian diction with a slightly American tinge. Jennifer Matthews was a dark-toned Fidalma, powerful underneath the two lighter sopranos.

Of the men, only Kyle Hastings (Count Robinson) disappointed slightly, although with his blond hair and brightly colored suits, regularly changed (costumes by Timm Burrow), and his entrance on the orange Vespa, he certainly cut the figure of a playboy. As Geronimo, Darren Perry was vocally strong and appropriately funny, although I couldn't figure out why a 1960s Italian businessman kept listening to an iPod. (The character is supposed to be hard of hearing: I guess it was a hearing aid.) However, the best singing of the evening came from tenor Tanner Knight as Paolino, with a ringing sound and fine Italian. He is supposed to be Geronimo's young employee, and in this production Knight appeared to be channeling any number of the nerds played by Rick Moranis, an American geek lost in Capri.

Il Matrimonio Segreto, University of Maryland Opera Studio, April 25, 2006Recitative is the backbone of 18th-century opera, and it is a mystery to me why opera directors feel they have to package it in gimmicks. Gérard Mortier did this to Mozart's Marriage of Figaro in Salzburg -- and last month in Paris, to extensive booing. Last summer, in Santa Fe's Barber of Seville, the recitative player was far too involved in the action. The most important added role in this production was played by Jeffery Watson, who was Massimo the bartender. Watson also served as recitativisto at the poolside baby grand -- white, of course -- which was quite a performance, lacing Cimarosa's score with all sorts of modern references. The modern instrument is the least of my complaints, since this character largely got in the way of the action, all without being actually able to say anything. By the second act, I really wished he would stop his wild, mute gesticulations and just play the piano. I felt the same way about the staging of the overture (choreography by Autumn Mist Belk). Perhaps I am alone in this, but I am capable of listening to an overture for a few minutes without anything to divert my eyes. Next, we will have a 24-hour news channel-style ticker at the bottom of the stage, with sports scores. Is Cimarosa's music really so flimsy?

Don't get the wrong idea. It will be worth your time to hear this rarely performed opera, in the capable hands of conductor Ryan Brown (leading the University of Maryland Symphony Orchestra), and to see Daniel Conway's ingenious set. Performances of Il Matrimonio Segreto continue this evening (April 29, 7:30 pm), and Sunday afternoon (April 30, 3 pm). Tickets are $20 for the general public and only $7 for students. If you plan to take a child to this opera, be aware that the story is basically a sex farce, and that Nick Olcott's production has the bartender end up with the masseur. You wouldn't be prepared to explain that to your 8-year-old if you had only read the libretto.

Conducting without a Pulse: Rostropovich Survives, Dvořák Doesn't

Mstislav Rostropovich 'conducting'What better to open a concert with than an overture to… oneself!? Good thing that Leonard Bernstein composed just such a thing for Mstislav Rostropovich in the form of the jolly, brash, multimedial, tacky Slava! (A Political Overture). It goes to the credit of Maestro Rostropovich that he could conduct the whole thing without blushing – not even when the orchestra members have to shout an adulatory “Slava!” at him. (I think this was supposed to be performed to him, not by him… and originally it was his dog's name, not Mstislav’s own, that was yelled out. Back when it was still a joke.) Churchillian-sounding faux-political speeches interpolated with totalitarian crowds cheering are played from the speakers while the orchestra runs empty loops for a while. All that is not necessarily saying that Slava! isn’t fun to listen to… it is. Much in the way that your funny, slightly trashy, crude cousin from down-south is. You just wouldn’t want him telling those jokes in good company.

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B. Britten, Sea Interludes, Young Person's Guide..., Andrew Davis, BBC SO
The contrast could not have been greater to the polished, sophisticated Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes. While the NSO’s rendition under Rostropovich’s mechanical baton left everyone safely in the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall, rather than taking them out to sea, it’s such great music that Britten gave us, it was still gratifying to hear. The fourth interlude was played the best, although I would not have given it the title “Storm” in this particular interpretation.

The work that many potential audience members stayed away for was Dutilleux’s Correspondances, a short song cycle of originally four, now five, songs to very different texts. Henri Dutilleux is France’s Elliot Carter, almost as old, almost as active. He is more accessible than most Carter… or at least less inaccessible. More or less tonal (but not enough for conservative audiences to care), he has moments of great orchestral, ethereal beauty, like in the third and added fourth movements based on short Rainer Maria Rilke poems. The treatment of the voice, however, is modernist-unoriginal and made sure that the works’ appeal was not to broad. The second part starts out beautifully, too. That movement is (not a big surprise, this) titled “A Slava et Galina” and based on a letter of Solshenitzyn thanking Rostropovich and wife (Galina Vishnevskaya) profusely for their self-sacrificing help. At least it isn’t dedicated to the former cellist: it’s dedicated to Dawn Upshaw (and Simon Rattle), the singer with the NSO in this run of concerts. She sang expertly, as one would expect, with her character-rich and strong voice, solid in all its vast reaches: a joy, more or less no matter what she sings.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, For the NSO, a Night With Fine Old Friends (Washington Post, April 28)

Charles T. Downey, DCist Goes to the Symphony (DCist, April 28)
To keep the audience members in their seats until the end (Britten and Dutilleux are not acceptable Washington fare), Dvořák’s 8th Symphony was programmed. Possibly as good as the overplayed “From the New World,” it is a work that is easy on the ears, occasionally grandiose, rightly popular with concert-goers. Until tonight, that was. Listening to what Rostropovich did with this work was puzzling. Literally and metaphorically speaking, he turned it into the longest Dvořák symphony I ever had to sit through. Plodding along at insufferably slow speeds, he made sure that musical lines disappeared and that any sense of rhythm here or heroism there were fastidiously excised; emotional subtleties plowed under. The brass fanfare opening the last movement smacked of tin, the following strings sounded better. But the orchestra should not be blamed for this. (Except that they should not only not have looked at Rostropovich, they should have outright ignored his instructions.) Anyone to attend today, Friday, or tomorrow, Saturday, at 8PM will come away with a greater appreciation for Leonard Slatkin.

27.4.06

Itzhak Perlman: A Star Flickering, Not Shining

Itzhak Perlman & Pinchas ZukermanHighly anticipated, sold out with filled seats spilling over onto the stage, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman showed up at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall for their WPAS-presented duo-recital. They opened with Bach’s (or is it?) Sonata for Two Violins and Keyboard in G, BWV 1037. Thick textures made Bach appear as Barber for a while, and the mediocre, uninspired pianism of accompanist Rohan De Silva (he plunked down one plump chord after another, never developed a line, failed to do anything imaginative to the basic instructions Bach gives in the score) didn’t help much, either. Still, this apocryphal work is lovely enough a piece for two violins that need to come up with repertoire.

Other Reviews:

Cecelia Porter, Perlman and Zukerman: Double the Pleasure (Washington Post, April 26)

Jeremy Eichler, Itzhak Perlman and Pinchas Zukerman at Avery Fisher: The Stars, the Strings, the Bravos (New York Times, April 27)
If here, or at other points in this recital, it seemed that Itzhak Perlman might be resting on his laurels (but what laurels they are!), with a technique that is deteriorating, a widening vibrato, declining accuracy, that impression was blown away by seven impromptu Bartók pieces from the 44 Duos for Two Violins that he and Zukerman threw into the mix. They were announced with that dry, warm humor that can instantly charm a crowd of 2,500. Starting with the Teasing Song (“because maybe we’ll play more after that, maybe we won’t…”), Perlman then introduced with “This is one of my favorites” the Limping Dance, followed by Sorrow, Prelude & Canon (great precision, wonderful folksy touch in the Canon combined with an irresistible beat), then “one of Bartók’s ‘Greatest Hits’,” the Serbian Dance, the Arabian Dance, and Ardelina (?)

More than welcome diversion, it was during these short pieces that Perlman was at his very best; much better than in the routine Mozart Duo for Violin and Viola, K. 423. It is nice, as anything by Mozart, but doesn’t strike as particularly inspired music; the violist Mozart may have given the two instruments equal material, but none of it of particularly interesting nature. Admittedly a random association, the Adagio had me think of freshly neutered dogs (and how little fun they must have).

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Bartók / Shostakovich / Prokofiev, 44 Duos / Violin Duets / Sonata for 2 Violins, Zukerman/Perlman/Sanders

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W. A. Mozart, J. M. Leclair, Violin Duos, Zukerman/Perlman
After the intermission, Jean-Marie Leclair’s 1730 Sonata in F Major for Two Violins was more pleasing: its distinctly Four Seasons-like opening Allegro assai was counterpoint-heavy yet possessed a light gait; it ended with a very lovely Gigue. Concluding was what looked like the slightest piece on the program but was most pleasing among the ‘scheduled’ works, perhaps only because it was played better than the rest. The Suite in G Minor for Two Violins and Piano by Moritz Moszkowski (a minor minor composer) is as lovely a piece of music as one can expect for the less-than-bulging repertoire for two violins. It’s adaptable, too: a few weeks ago I heard it scored for bassoon and oboe. The second movement (Allegro moderato) rekindled kind memories of the woodwind (per)version. Perlman found very gentle moments, the finale (Molto vivace) was ebullient and a pleasing affair to everyone in the audience. Even Mr. De Silva woke up a little and played with some life.

Throughout the concert (as for the last 30 years) Zukerman may have been playing second fiddle, but being (in) Perlman’s shadow as he was, his playing had a sharper outline than the image casting it. Not with the same big tone, his sound is clearer, leaner, more accurate. It hurts a little to hear someone – Perlman – known foremost for a dazzling technique to play at a lesser level than their reputation deserves; if he didn’t please broad audiences so much with what he does, perhaps he might like to take more time per recital and play them in smaller venues. That he can play phenomenally well, still, was proven (if ironically) in the Bartók and the encores, six duets for violin and piano by Shostakovich (“…everyone is doing Shostakovich, why should we… …be the exception”). Jewels that made the concert-going experience well worth it.

Jane Jacobs (1916 - 2006)

From George A. Pieler comes this appreciation of Jane Jacobs, writer, thinker, urban planner, and author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Jane Jacobs

Other Articles on Jane Jacobs:

Douglas Martin, Jane Jacobs, Social Critic Who Redefined and Championed Cities, Is Dead at 89 (New York Times, April 26)

Mary Rourke, Jane Jacobs, 89; Urban Theorist, Community Activist Who Fought Lower Manhattan Freeway Plan (LA Times, April 26)

Hillel Italie, 'Cities' author Jane Jacobs dies at 89 (AP via Boston.com, April 26)

Matthew Grace (Ed.), Jacobs' Legacy (New York Observer - The Real Estate, April 26)

Inga Saffron, A visionary author saw how cities work (Philadephia Inquirer, April 26)

Adam Bernstein, Jane Jacobs, 89; Writer, Activist Spoke Out Against Urban Renewal (Washington Post, April 26)
Jane Jacobs, the great and original thinker about urban planning and urban (and suburban!) design, died today in Toronto at age 89. Her writings, for more than four decades, had a lot to tell us about urban and cultural life in D.C. if we care to listen. She also coined more than a few concepts that are now commonplace in discourse on cities, planning, and modern life: the notion that ‘eyes on the street’ from local merchants and residents were key to crime control and civility; the critical importance of integrating living, working, shopping, and cultural activities into each sector of the city in a ‘walkable way’ rather than using the zoning bludgeon to rigidly and irrationally segregate our daily activities away from each other; and the postmodern critique of urban planning per se, at least in her objection to the idea of self-appointed bureaucratic experts telling us what’s good for us, without at least paying attention to what traditional patterns of daily life, movement, and commerce tell us about what people want most from city life.

For D.C., Jacobs’s work means the Kennedy Center is a no-no (‘concrete plaza’ remote from everything else, with constricted access by car or on foot — no wonder it’s hard to dine and enjoy the symphony etc. in a relaxed manner); the 7th Street corridor redevelopment (if a recent walk there is any indication) is pretty good, with shops, residences, the MCI Center, and art galleries all interacting to keep the street lively. Washington, with its low densities and linking of traditional neighborhoods like Georgetown, Capitol Hill, and Brookland, could easily embody the principles of Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities. That it seldom does is no doubt a function of politics, D.C.’s strict height limitations, the legacy of segregation, and an overlay of the Central Planning approach to developing and redeveloping urban blocks which is hard to escape.

Jane Jacobs, as most of her obituaries note, could never be typecast as left-vs.-right (politically) or planner-vs.-libertarian (in urban design). The New Urbanists tried to claim her but she kept her distance; same with the Smart Growth crowd. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Jacobs on the occasion of her receipt of the Vincent Scully Prize from the National Building Museum in 2000 and know she will be missed: but her work will not, as it’s likely to influence how we live for many, many years to come. Let’s hope she gets a look the next time a new cultural center or arts venue is proposed for the D.C. area. Baltimore, too.

Piotr Anderszewski at the NGA

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Bach/Beethoven/Webern, English Suite/Piano Sonata op. 110/Variations op. 27 , Anderszewski

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K. Szymanowski, Piano Sonata No. 3, Métopes, Masques, Anderszewski
The draw of the renowned pianist Piotr Anderszewski and perfect weather last Sunday somewhat balanced attendance at the National Gallery of Art’s free concert: the house was full for all but a few seats, none had to sit outside the West Garden Court. On the program were promising items: Mozart’s Fantasia and Sonata in C minor (K. 475 and 457, respectively) played, as they often are, in tandem with the Fantasy serving as a grand overture to the sonata that is barely longer. Beethoven’s Six Bagatelles, op. 126, and J. S. Bach’s sixth English Suite, BWV 811, followed.

Anderszewski has a way of playing so naturally, so unburdened, that it makes you question what could possibly be special about him or any other particular pianist… why anyone might be considered better than another, or what it is that makes us think one good, another less so. Well, what is special about this Hungarian/Polish artist is precisely that ability to appear unmannered and matter-of-fact that one cannot think of the music any other way while played, as containing any ideology or aesthetic statement. It simply is. And that’s what he did in the excellent Fantasia and, playing as at least as well, in the sonata which, however, is musically less interesting to these ears. Adjusting for the acoustics, he took care to provide a pedal-easy, light touch without being kept from ringing out those low bass notes when the Fantasy called for it. It’s easy to hear Beethoven on the horizon in that work (in the way Mozart shifts gears from fast to slow or subtle to bold); it’s surprising how that spirit is all but missing in the contemporaneous (1785), more conventional sonata.

The Beethoven bagatelles from 1823 hark back to earlier works for solo piano, far less challenging or daunting than any of the preceding late sonatas (op. 111 was finished in early 1822). They are a most welcome contrast to the overarching, fierce-looking God of music, his often gloom and meaning-infused late works that bear an unbearable, intimidating greatness. The step from the Mozart Fantasia to these Bagatelles is a notably smaller one than one would have expected comparing the two composers’ piano sonatas. Played with just enough brio to be joyful, enough restraint to be audible, it was a gladly heard appetizer to the English Suite.

Here, again, the program provided more contrast on paper than in sound: these suites, at least No. 6, are a work that – when played on the piano – sounds appreciably less like Bach… fuller, less concerned with counterpoint or playing one line against the other. (Coincidentally or not, the pianist does not have to cross his hands, playing it.) On a modern grand and in the West Garden Court acoustic, it sounded warm; warmer than it already does. Only in the Sarabande avec double does ‘typical’ Bach break through, it was followed by sensual, meditative Gavottes and the playful finishing Gigue. Anderszewski’s notes reminded of supple, purple grapes, not little pebbles. Then again, short of rolling a harpsichord into the West Garden Court, that’s about the only way it can sound. His nimble playing having been excellent, I don’t suppose anyone in the audience had any complaints about this highly competent performance of a most pleasing recital.

26.4.06

Ensemble Doulce Mémoire, La Maison Française

Available at Amazon:
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"L'Harmonie du Monde" -- Music from the Time of Leonardo da Vinci, Ensemble Doulce Mémoire
(2004)

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Doulce Mémoire, Ensemble Doulce Mémoire
(2005)

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Du Caurroy: Les Meslanges, Ensemble Doulce Mémoire
(2006)
I first heard the French early music group Ensemble Doulce Mémoire when they did a live radio broadcast for Cordes Sensibles -- a show that is no longer on the air -- on France Musiques in 2003 and played a concert in the extraordinarily beautiful Salon d'Hercule of the Château de Versailles. I could have heard them -- but did not -- when they gave their first concert at the embassy of France in Washington, La Maison Française, in 2001. It was shortly after Roland Celette arrived here to take up the post of cultural attaché, as he told us with obvious affection in his introductory remarks. The group was back in Washington on Monday evening, with a program at least partially similar to the one I heard in Versailles three years ago, combining dance pieces by Michael Praetorious with songs by Pierre Guédron.

Hieronymous Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, right panel (Hell), detail, Prado, MadridDenis Raisin Dadre, who directs Ensemble Doulce Mémoire, is a recorder player and has focused his group around music arranged for wind instruments. He and three colleagues processed onto the stage holding shawms -- the reedy predecessor of the oboe -- of various sizes. There was a large table at one side of the auditorium's small stage that held the rest of their arsenal, a matched set of recorders and a matched set of dulcians, the buzzy ancestor of the bassoon. Now, as anyone familiar with Hieronymous Bosch's triptych The Garden of Earthly Delights (c. 1505) knows, Renaissance wind instruments have a special place among the instruments of torture in hell. Such an association is certainly valid, given the sound these instruments have sometimes been recorded making. In the hands of Ensemble Doulce Mémoire, however, even the otherwise unruly dulcian and shawm sound quite beautiful. They were given light and pulsating accompaniment in this concert by Pascale Boquet (lute and Renaissance guitar) and Bruno Caillat (percussion).

The first half of the program was primarily French music, combining dance pieces by Michael Praetorius (plus one piece in the Pierre Attaignant collection) with airs, in the French multimetric style of the turn of the 17th century, by Pierre Guédron and a couple of other composers. In the second half, they turned to Italian music of roughly the same period, to symbolize the marriage of Henri IV, King of France, to Maria de' Medici. This is also the theme of the group's 2005 self-titled CD, and several of the pieces in this concert are recorded there. The instrumental pieces were all rhythmically vivid, skillfully ornamented, toe-tapping fun. Instead of the five singers I heard in Versailles, the vocal parts in this concert were performed by soprano Véronique Bourin. (The wind players did join in on the refrain of the anonymous Trop penser me fait amour, even in parts at times.) In the first couple airs, Bourin's voice was slightly shaky, especially at the top of her range, but as she gained confidence, a clear, pretty, although light sound emerged that was well suited to this repertory.

Ensemble Doulce Mémoire and Il Ballarino, La Maison Française, April 24, 2006
The function of this music was to divert noble ears, and the dance that was its expected counterpart here was presented by two members of a group from Florence that takes its name from Fabritio Caroso's treatise on Renaissance dance, Il Ballarino (1581). The musicians played a diverse selection of dance types, and it was beautiful to see dance steps based on Italian Renaissance choreographies that went with that music. (The experience of hearing this style of music without the accompanying movement can draw attention to the music's simplicity and leave you unsatisfied, as I discovered at another concert in Versailles. This is the difference with later Baroque dance music like Bach's: the pulse of the dance is still there, but the interest of the music is much greater.) The airs are everything expected of court music: light, sometimes scurrilous poetry -- not to say doggerel, but arcadian in subject -- matched perfectly to delicate and eminently singable melodies. (Here are a few sound files: have a listen.) Particularly fine examples included Guédron's A la fin ce berger (where Bourin really started to sound good) and the final piece of the program, Giovanni Gastoldi's L'Innamorato.

Other Reviews:

Jeffrey Gantz, Measure for measure (Boston Phoenix, April 26)
Ensemble Doulce Mémoire is on a concert tour of the United States right now. They were in New York this evening and will give one more concert, this Friday, in San Diego. Upcoming concerts at La Maison Française include violist Antoine Tamestit and cellist Alexis Desharmes in a free concert of contemporary (mostly) Hungarian music (this Friday, April 28, 7:30 pm), François Lazarevitch and the Musicians of Saint-Julien playing French Baroque music (Monday, May 22, 7:30 pm), and cellist Renaud Déjardin -- who was one of the six finalists in the Rostropovich Cello Competition in Paris last November -- and pianist Marta Godeny (Wednesday, May 24, 7:30 pm).

A G by Any Other Name

This is a follow-up post to Jens's survey review of recordings of the Goldberg Variations.

Other Reviews:

Richard Scheinin, Harpsichordist thrills despite plastic quills (San Jose Mercury News, March 12)

Melinda Bargreen, Recital reinvents beauty of Bach (Seattle Times, March 13)

Anne Midgette, More Variety for 'Goldberg': In 1600's Style, With Quills (New York Times, March 21)
In a recent post (Decoding the Goldberg Variations, March 7), I wrote about Prof. Bradley Lehman's theory about a "squiggle" on the title page of J. S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier. He believes that this mark, long thought to be merely a doodle of the kind found everywhere in musical manuscripts, is the key to the composer's special tuning system. In January, Prof. Lehman released recordings he has made of Bach's music on harpsichords and organs tuned to this special system. Lehman's theory really got my attention because Richard Egarr released a recording last month, in which he plays the Goldberg Variations and the Goldberg Canons using Lehman's tuning system on his harpsichord. He played the work in a few cities in the United States, too, although I was not able to hear him. The Seattle Times critic noted that Egarr's harpischord, now fitted with seagull quills to pluck its strings, "either has remarkable properties of reverberation, or profited from placement in the acoustical 'sweet spot' on the Town Hall stage," noting about the tuning only that "it also was tuned unusually low."

Credit goes traditionally to Pythagoras for determining the ratios that produce pure intervals. As repeated by any number of medieval music theorists, if you sound a string of length X and then divide string X in half and sound it (ratio of 2:1), for example, you will have produced a sound an octave higher. The intervals that make up the tonal scale -- fourths, fifths, thirds, seconds -- can all be explained by such mathematical ratios. This has given rise to misguided defenses of tonality as a "natural" musical system. The fact is that the actual tuning systems used during most of the common practice period and indeed today are as unnatural and artificial as can be. We encounter a serious problem when tuning an instrument with a broad range, like a harpsichord or other keyboard instrument. The fact is that if you tune the notes on a harpsichord all as perfect fifths (3:2 ratio) -- usually starting on F-C, C-G, G-D, D-A, A-E, E-B, B-F#, F#-C#, C#-G#, G#-D#, D# to A#, A# to E#(F) -- the last note of that circle of fifths is not at all the same note as the first note, which it should be. That is what was called the wolf fifth: if you tuned that A# in Pythagorean intervals, the fifth with E-sharp (or sometimes G#-E-flat) would be several cents sharp. Several key signatures on the keyboard are, as a result, unplayable.

There have been several tuning solutions, all of which involve slightly mistuning, or tempering, various intervals flat at the keyboard, so that there are none of those perfect mathematical intervals (except usually for octaves), but the notes all sound more or less good and you can play in any key. Some have been more successful than others. Scholars have argued back and forth over just what tuning system Bach had in mind when he compiled The Well-Tempered Clavier: since he brought together in each volume a prelude and fugue in each of the major and minor keys of the chromatic scale, he clearly had in mind a tempered system that would make all of the keys sound good. But tempered where and by how much? No one knew, and Bach left no indication.

Squiggle by J. S. Bach, photo by Bradley Lehman
Or did he? The squiggle, shown above as captured by Prof. Lehman, may be more than a random series of loops. In fact, there is quite clearly what anyone would agree is a letter C on the first loop. Lehman suggests that we are intended to begin at that loop, turning the squiggle upside down. The first five loops each have two loops inside, meaning to tune the first five fifths (F-C, C-G, G-D, D-A, A-E) flat by 2/12 comma. The next three are empty loops, so you tune those fifths (E-B, B-F#, F#-C#) perfect. The last three have one loop, so you tune those fifths (C#-G#, G#-D#, D#-A#) flat by 1/12 comma. That adds up to 13/12 comma, enough to remove the wolf fifth. Prof. Lehman's Web site is much more detailed.

It's an ingenious explanation, but with no other evidence to support it, it remains at best hypothetical. The only other real criterion for proof that Lehman offers is that Bach's music sounds good when instruments are tuned to this system. In fairness to that point, as Prof. Lehman wrote to me, it is best not to judge only by Egarr's Goldberg Variations recording, since all the pieces are in the same key. In fairness, I have also listened to the music examples Lehman has made available on his site. Particularly mind-blowing is Bach's little harmonic labyrinth, BWV 591, which starts in C major and takes the player through all of the keys.

Presumably, if the point of compiling The Well-Tempered Clavier was to show that his personal tuning system was the best one, then he may have composed some of the pieces to bring out combinations of wolf notes. If you played the piece in some other system, it would sound bad. At the same time, if that were Bach's intention, I am hard pressed to believe that he would not have been more explicit about the system he favored. For me to accept this as anything more than a very interesting theory -- which it certainly is -- I would require some written mention of the system by Bach or a colleague, family member, or student. If he indeed advocated such a tuning system, there would have to be a mention of it somewhere, in a letter or elsewhere on another manuscript piece of music. I am quite sure that Prof. Lehman is poring through libraries around the world in his spare time looking for just that. I hope that he finds it.

[Added remarks: At Prof. Lehman's request, I have gone over his article and supporting Web posts again. I did not read anything that convinced me any further, but I will be more specific about some of the evidence that he supplies. I am convinced by Lehman's argument that J. S. Bach had a special tuning system. His son C. P. E. Bach, one of whose jobs was to tune his father's harpsichord at Leipzig, seemed to know about it. I am also convinced that Bach's system, which he apparently had in mind when he created The Well-Tempered Clavier, is probably not equal tuning. In the treatise Lehman cites, C. P. E. Bach describes a tuning system in which most, but not all, of the 5ths are narrowed slightly. Prof. Lehman may see his "eight or nine of twelve" in C. P. E.'s "most," but it is still not specific evidence of what Lehman sees in the title page squiggle. He is convinced, once again, that the strongest evidence is the C. P. E. Bach's music also "sounds right" when an instrument is tuned to the Lehman system. I stand by my statements above, that there is not sufficient evidentiary information to accept Prof. Lehman's assertion that the squiggle means what he surmises it does. I still think it is an interesting hypothesis, but only a hypothesis.]

As for whether I am interested in hearing Lehman or Egarr play Bach's music using this tuning, I certainly am. I am not as convinced as they are that Bach's music sounds the best in this system, and even if I were, that judgment is so subjective that it cannot be accepted as evidential. I could easily be convinced that the squiggle means something, because it does appear to have a pattern and that added C is not something that looks completely random to me. However, before we can be sure that Bach meant it to mean something and just how to decode it, we would need something else. I do intend to tune my harpsichord to Prof. Lehman's specifications. I may eventually agree that the tuning system makes Bach's music sound good.


J. S. Bach, Goldberg Variations, Céline Frisch (released on August 17, 2004)
Just about anyone can make room on one's CD shelf for more than one recording of the Goldberg Variations. The one I have been listening to the longest is the Glenn Gould 1955 recording, which is still in many ways the best, at least in terms of virtuosity of playing. It is quite simply astounding. (In my opinion, Gould's 1981 recording is inferior. I do not have it in my collection.) Murray Perahia's 2000 recording is also quite good. However, as far as owning a definitive recording, it must be harpsichord. In terms of harpsichord recordings, the choice in my opinion comes down to Richard Egarr and Céline Frisch. Both are on excellent harpsichords, have very good sound, and are encyclopedically complete (with the Goldberg Canons), although only the Frisch has a version of the folksongs used in the Quodlibet. As I wrote above, the tuning theory is interesting but, by itself, not enough to tilt the scale to Egarr's recording. Musically, Egarr's interpretation is leisurely, clocking in at a languorous 90:25, and perhaps a bit dry.

The Frisch recording is also a very musicological CD, planned by Jean-Paul Combet, the French musicologist (to be specific, he did graduate work in musicology, not a doctorate, before going to Sciences-Po) and now the head of the Alpha Productions recording label. (Alpha has a number of of interesting projects and recordings in their catalogue, including a recording of the Bach cello suites in which Bruno Cocset recorded each suite on a different instrument best suited to that piece. I would like to listen to that one of these days.) There is a good interview with Jean-Paul Combet by Hannah Krooz. At a total length of 77:52, Frisch's recording has all of the repeats but is much more vital and exciting listening than Egarr's.

Frisch's playing is the most sparkling in terms of virtuosity, combined with the soundest musical choices, in my opinion. A lot of players take each movement at wildly different tempi, which destroys Bach's carefully planned crescendo of rhythm. By contrast, Frisch's pulse mostly remains the same from movement to movement, and almost every movement struck me as at a near-perfect tempo. In some movements, the rhythmic plan is interrupted for Bach to use a different style, like Variation 7, which is marked in some of the sources as al tempo di Giga. Frisch's Variation 7 is a delightful gigue. That driving pulse is lost, only at moments, in Variation 29, which is still very exciting. Her Quodlibet is a tender reading, in which there is nothing raucous and the notes are caressed. The final statement of the Aria is about 20 seconds longer than the initial one, to my ears pregnant with nostalgia for the cycle's beginning. (By comparison, Masaaki Suzuki's playing is very exciting listening, especially in some of the variations, crisp, enervated -- at a fleet 73:17 -- with flashy embellishments, but not as intellectually organized, I find.) The Frisch CD's version of the canons is arranged for the six string players of Café Zimmermann. The two folksongs used in the Quodlibet are sung, in idiosyncratic fashion, by countertenor Dominique Visse.

I have enjoyed listening to several (but not all, yet) of the recordings covered in Jens's review. The first Pierre Hantaï recording (at 77:26) has very nice embellishments and some really exciting parts, but I still like Frisch better. Two other more recent recordings on piano mentioned by Jens are of interest. Lifschitz's live recording (79:01) -- made at a graduation recital -- has some terrific playing but is too self-indulgent for my taste. The aria is too slow, he distorts some of the rhythmic relationships, and the Variation 7 (gigue) is as close to a dirge as I can imagine. However, at the piano, where the hand-crossing problem is so pronounced in the 2-manual variations, Lifschitz's Variation 8 is quite remarkable.

Keith Jarrett reportedly plays the harpsichord regularly, although the sound of his Goldberg recording, on a harpsichord, does not seem to indicate that. It's the shortest recording, at 61:39, only because Jarrett plays mostly without repeats. The aria is about as boringly slow as one can get, worse even than Gould's pedantic 1981 reading. The harpsichord's sound is not as pretty as Frisch, Hantaï, or Egarr and truly reminds me of Thomas Beecham's famous quip about the harpsichord, that it sounds like "two skeletons copulating on a galvanized tin roof." Good harpsichords recorded well do not sound like that. The tempi are quite reserved, the touch is monochromatic, although when he does take the repeats he adds interesting (if not particularly Baroque, which is OK) embellishments. All the same, I would have expected more freeness from a player with a primarily jazz background. Jarrett's reading is very much wedded to Bach's score in a somewhat disappointing way.