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24.10.07

Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra @ LOC

This Auditorium for Chamber Music is the Gift of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, 1925
This Auditorium for Chamber Music is the Gift of Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, 1925
It has taken until this week for Ionarts to review a concert on the Library of Congress series, although I would have liked to attend the concert by the Moscow Sretensky Chorus last month. While the venue's winter-spring schedule is full, with 21 events we hope to review, the fall is a little sparse (I count 8 worth attending). True, there are three string quartets on the roster before Christmas: the Quatuor Ysaÿe (November 16), the Jerusalem Quartet (December 8) -- both admired by Ionarts in the past -- and the Formosa Quartet (December 14). Even better, the lineup of top historically informed performance ensembles continues this season, with Café Zimmermann and Céline Frisch (November 3), followed by Concerto Copenhagen (February 1), Ensemble Matheus and Jennifer Larmore (February 9), Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante (April 16), and John Holloway, Jaap ter Linden, and Lars Ulrik Mortensen (April 17). The total of 29 concerts is a marked improvement over last season's 21 review-worthy concerts, but other than the great early music lineup, there are fewer must-see concerts on their schedule. Today also happens to bring the disturbing news that the Library has lost track of an alarming portion of its vast collection.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra (Washington Post, October 24)

John Terauds, Czech orchestra falls flat on first Canadian tour (Toronto Star, October 16)
What finally drew me to the Library was Monday night's concert by the Czech Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. The score of musicians, playing without a conductor, got a rough start on the opening work, Antonio Rosetti's Sinfonia in G Minor. This was a welcome discovery from the ensemble's homeland (it turns out that Rosetti was born in Bohemia as Franz Anton Rössler), with fast and sinuous outer movements that often reminded me of Mozart's 25th symphony. The third movement has a charmingly rustic Fresco B section, featuring the fine playing of the group's principal oboist, Jana Brožková. She also appeared as soloist in Alessandro Marcello's D minor oboe concerto on the second half, with grace, accuracy, and bubbling embellishments.

Mozart Violin Concerti:
available at Amazon
Leonidas Kavakos


available at Amazon
Christian Tetzlaff
The rest of the program consisted of much more mainstream Classical repertoire, none the less welcome for it. Young violinist Barbora Kolářová, not coincidentally a student of the CPCO's concertmaster and director, Pavel Prantl, had an amiable outing in Mozart's third violin concerto. She played well, but her tone was nondescript, making the performance come off as a little polite, capable certainly but hardly memorable. The CPCO's playing was the best in the final selection, Haydn's 8th symphony (G major, "Le Soir"), especially in the brisk and perky first movement with noteworthy solos by flutist Jiři Valek, as well as the windswept encore, the fourth movement of Mozart's 29th symphony. All of this promise was overwhelmed by decidedly unpolished playing from the ensemble overall, including far too common intonation issues and missed notes, splats in the horns, and sometimes dolorous E string playing from concertmaster Pavel Prantl in the Haydn. This was not a concert that lived up to the group's reputation.

You are advised not to miss the upcoming concert at the Library of Congress by Café Zimmermann and harpsichordist Céline Frisch (November 3).

5 comments:

Garth Trinkl said...

Charles, I notice that you give an (eye) to this Saturday's late afternoon concert by the 21st Century Consort, at the Smithsonian American Arts Museum at Gallery Place, performing works by Charles Ives, Jessica Krash, David Behrman, Shulamit Ran, John Cage, and Daniel Kellogg. (We will be attending.) [You give today's
St. George's Chapel Choir 15 minute concert at the NGA (3:00 p.m.–3:15 p.m.) a similar (eye).]

And yet, last week, you didn't even list on ionarts -- if I recall correctly -- the Library of Congress's San Francisco Del Sol String Quartet concert featuring works by Grawemeyer Award-winner American composer Chinary Ung, Kui Dong, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Peter Sculthorpe.

Both Cambodian-born Chinary Ung and Peter Sculthorpe (Australia's leading composer) are pretty big fish in my neck of Washington, and I was wondering why you appear to be favoring the 21st Century Consort's roster of composers. (I'd be just as curious to hear Kui Dong and Gabriela Lena Frank, as Jessica Krash and Daniel Kellogg).

Am I correct in imaging that the Del Sol Quartet didn't make your eight ionarts-worthy Library of Congress Fall programs?
(There is wiggle room for you, since one concert has now been cancelled.)

Thank you.

Charles T. Downey said...

First of all, the happiest news of my week was that the Mark O'Connor/Rosanne Cash concert at the LOC was canceled. Wahoo!

As for the Del Sol Quartet, guilty as charged. Mostly, I avoided that concert because it would have meant listening to a didgeridoo for an intolerable duration. Nothing against the instrument in its own context but there are limits.

For the record, the Post also declined to cover that concert (I think). Were you there? Was the house overflowing?

Garth Trinkl said...

If the Washington Post did, in fact, decline to cover the concert, it indicates to me that the Washington Post's critical standards are declining. Hey, does anyone know whether Tim Page was there!

I had tickets and made it as far as Metro Center where I met my musical colleague Andras en route to the pre-concert discussion. However, the Blue and Orange lines were shut down and I had promised my wife that I would meet her at Capitol South at 7:30. I hesitated to call her and redirect her to Union Station...

In short, Andras headed to Union Station with my two tickets and I was forced into retreat homeward into the rainstorm. I deeply regret missing the concert.

The next day, my mother told me that she had heard the Del Sol in the San Francisco Bay Area and that she thought that they were one of the best young string quartets she'd heard in ages.

And how do you know that the didgeridoo was going to be performed for an intolerable duration? Some people have the same adversion to the recorder, harpsichord, or voice (or to twentieth century classical music), don't they?

*

Enjoy your Friday and weekend. And thank you for your reviews and hard work.

Charles T. Downey said...

Some people have the same aversion to the recorder, harpsichord, or voice (or to twentieth century classical music), don't they?

Certainly they do, but no one should expect them to sit through a concert featuring what they do not like either. As for me and the didgeridoo, intolerable duration kicks in at about five minutes.

I hope to hear the Del Sol Quartet another time, but this was just not to be. As for whether to list the concert in our schedule or not, that comes down to a judgment call. I make no claim for the schedule to be complete, and sometimes I draw the line where others would not.

If you find a review of this concert, or if a reader who was there wants to write a comment about it, I would be happy to read an opinion about it.

Charles Amirkhanian said...

Hi D.C. Friends, I have produced several concerts with Del Sol and timed my annual visit to your city to meet with NEA and LOC staff around this concert. It was, for me, the highlight of the concert year so far and one of the best string quartet concerts I've ever attended.

Del Sol indeed is one of the most exciting of the younger chamber ensembles going in the U.S. Their programming follows nobody else's formula but regularly delivers amazing combinations and revelations. And their extraordinary playing and dedication was evident to the 3/4ths house that attended, with apparently no publicity in the local press. Hearing this music on Strads was exceptionally rewarding and the hall, as you know, is acoustically one of the best in the U.S. for this type of ensemble.

The highlight for me was the incredibly artful presentation of Peter Sculthorpe's Quartet No. 16 in five movements, four with didjeridu in this version made especially for Del Sol by the composer. It was premiered last March at the Other Minds Festival that I produce in San Francisco annually. Stephen Kent is, in every sense, a match for the best string quartet players anywhere. His sensitivity and expression impressed Sculthorpe so much that he is recommending Kent as a substitute for Australian players when needed. I share your wariness of the didj but Kent has good didjudgment, so you needn't have shied away.

The works of Gabriela Frank and Kui Dong, two extraordinarily talented women, were transcendent. Chinary Ung's new work, commissioned by the LOC, was a triumph of the imagination--he called on the players to sing and whistle precisely notated pitches and rhythms while they played something completely different on their instruments. And the result I found electrifying.

I commend the producer of the series for bringing something a bit more West Coast than the usual fare to this hallowed venue and I am sorry to have missed meeting all of you. I know you would have been pleasantly surprised.

Warm regards,
Charles Amirkhanian
Artistic Director
Other Minds, San Francisco