Concert Reviews | CD Reviews | DVD Reviews | Opera | Early Music | News | Film | Art | Books | Kids

31.3.07

Into Great Silence

Die grosse Stille, directed by Philip Groening


Read Matthew Arnold's Stanzas from the Grande Chartreuse
I have been reading about the German film Die grosse Stille since its release in 2005, mostly because it has won all sorts of European film festival awards. In 1984, director Philip Groening made an official request to the Carthusian monks of the legendary monastery of La Grande Chartreuse, to film a documentary about monastic life there. Since the pace of modern life does not mean much within a cloister, the monks considered the request and ultimately gave their approval -- 16 years later. My friends who live near Grenoble took me to visit La Grande Chartreuse, but you are allowed to visit only the museum, housed in the old monastic buildings, where you can learn about the process of making the Chartreuse liqueur but not actually enter the cloister.

As someone with great admiration for the monastic life (I count myself very lucky to teach music and art history in a school run by a Benedictine abbey), I have been longing to see the movie ever since. It opened on Friday for a brief run at the E Street Cinema, and my favorite Washington Post film reviewer, Desson Thomson, published a lengthy article about it (The Silent Treatment, March 30) in Friday's paper. I have been reading Desson Thomson's reviews since very shortly after I moved to Washington, and I can think of very few movies of which he approved that I have not subsequently liked. Even so, a movie about monastic life, I feared, may not appeal to just anyone. I should never have worried, because Thomson's review expressed perfectly what this movie will likely mean to me:
At first, the silence feels imposing -- practically deafening -- as we watch the documentary "Into Great Silence" and the monks of the Grand Chartreuse monastery praying, reading the Bible or simply sitting in quiet contemplation. But as we become acclimated to this muted atmosphere (we have plenty of time, as the film is nearly three hours long), something extraordinary happens: Our senses sharpen. The whispering of snow outside, the occasional clearing of a throat and -- sweet mercy! -- the clanging of a bell that summons these befrocked Carthusians to prayer reach our ears with a resounding purity. We may not experience their inner glories, but when we hear the monks' Gregorian chants, it's as though we have slipped from our seats into the back pews of Chartreuse.

All movies are about transformation, in a sense, as we focus -- almost reverently -- on the glowing screen before us. But we are accustomed to our emotions being marshaled along with music, snappy editing, special effects. "Into Great Silence" subjects us, instead, to a sort of sensory deprivation -- echoing the ascetic lifestyle of these monks, who are bound to a life of near-silent contemplation aside from weekly conversational breaks. [...] By luring us into their hushed world, filmmaker Philip Groening -- who produced, directed, shot and edited the movie -- subtly provokes us into an active state of observation. We experience the rituals of these men's lives, our heads craned forward and our breath held so we don't disturb their devotions. And as we vicariously participate in their daily rituals, we find ourselves, quite literally, at the ground level of spiritual worship. It's hard to recall a similar documentary that brings viewers so palpably close to that sacred experience. Even such religiously themed commercial successes as "The Passion of the Christ" and "The Chronicles of Narnia," which moved their audiences with special-effects technology and star power, seem brassy and superfluous by comparison.
The entire review merits your attention. My own review will follow shortly, as soon as I have found the opportunity to see the movie for myself.

This Week in MP3

Here is what was at the top of the Ionarts playlist for the week. Click on the link to read a review (if we have published one) or the album picture to buy it through Amazon (if available).

available at Amazon
Grieg, Lieder, Anne Sofie von Otter, Bengt Forsberg (remastered, 2007)

Review
available at Amazon
J. S. Bach, Sonatas and Partitas for Violin Solo, John Holloway (October 10, 2006)
available at Amazon
Beethoven, Concertos 1 /3, M. Pletnev, Russian National Orchestra, C. Gansch (March 13, 2007)


available at Amazon
Haydn, The Creation, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (remastered, 2007)
available at Amazon
Handel, Alexander's Feast, Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (remastered, 2007)
available at Amazon
Frescobaldi / L. Couperin, Keyboard Works, Gustav Leonhardt (2003)

30.3.07

Die Ägyptische Helena - A Feast for the Ears

Die Agyptische Helena - Metropolitan OperaSaturday at 1.30PM, WETA will broadcast Die Ägyptische Helena. Tune in, because - apart from being the only chance to hear vocal music on WETA - it's a truly wonderful Opera that does not deserve the neglect it has long suffered.

The Met cast offers several reasons to tune in on Saturday, but none greater than the spectacular Diana Damrau and Deborah Voigt. The latter sang more than admirably despite having been announced “ill” by Peter Gelb. A speckle on the very first note and slight metallic restriction that loosened as the opera went on were the only notable results of that illness in the first act. An odd, but isolated, metallic buzzing (like a blown tweeter) when she was at her most forceful in the “Zweite Brautnacht, Zaubernacht” opening of act II was the only other moment when her ‘incapacitation’ called attention to itself. Her Helen was still a vocal feat and feast, and to hear her – hopefully – in full health on Saturday (1.30PM) should prove even more rewarding. Sadly not visible on the radio, she now even believably looks the part of "most beautiful woman in the world"!

Her Helen was bettered only by Aithra with her more agile part – brought to life in every way by the German soprano Diana Damrau. With diction as perfect as her natural pronunciation, she also added a theatrical element to her use of language. An actor could not have treated language more appropriately than she. And while this might be a detail lost on all but those who follow the libretto by listening to it, her vocal contribution escaped no one in the house which went (comparatively) wild at curtain call. (Indeed, Ms. Damrau must have momentarily forgotten that she was not the top-billed singer and last to take a bow, because she started to order her colleagues together for the group-bow before realizing that Ms. Voigt and Torsten Kerl (Menelas) had yet to appear. A very cute (and on that night truly forgivable) faux pas.

Read a complete review and general discussion of this opera on WETA's blog. Charles collection of reviews of Helena can be read here.

Do You Notice the Symmetry?

Mandelbrot FractalJames Judd is most gladly seen in the area and the more of him I see, the more I like him. There is something – hard to define – about him that just makes you want to hear him again and again. There’s nothing either fancy or flashy about the Music Director of the NZSO. Instead, there is something ‘fine’, generous in the way he elicits music from the BSO.

Last – Thursday – night, at Strathmore, he presented an “Explorer Series” concert with that orchestra. This last of a series of three such concerts dealt with symmetry in music. “Symmetry and the Golden Rule” were supposed to be explored around Bach’s, Schoenberg’s, and Mozart’s music. If it did not quite work out that way, it certainly was not the orchestra that was at fault here.

The Bach was rumbling, warmhearted, genial – played in a way you don’t much hear anymore these days. Apart from individual trumpet squeaks, the BSO brass was a pleasure to hear in Bach. (After all, you hardly hear Bach by non-period groups these days, and their brass is often not good.) Music lover and astrophysicist Doctor Mario Livio then took over to talk.

His presentation was reasonably short and entertaining, but sadly lacking in substance. He repeated – word for word – his short talk from last year’s season announcement: A bit more was needed. That Bach worked with symmetry and numbers we now know – but how did he do it… and how did Schoenberg? The swirly-swirl of static fractals and nature’s patterns did nothing to enhance Verklärte Nacht.

It so distracted from the music that it came to the point of sabotaging the performance. How it illustrated anything at all about this music I have not quite figured out yet. Why was I looking at bark for five minutes – only to be torn away again by these patterns? Schoenberg’s monumentally beautiful work deserves – nay: needs all the attention that it can get.

“Power Point is thy enemy” – Mr. Livio presents very well, but the format was flawed. Mozart was enjoyable on its own, though, and not interrupted with projections above it. Symphony No.40 was meaty (no harm) and enjoyable with a certain eagerness. Although it contained a few sloppy moments, they were of the amiable kind, not maddening. A night of wonderful music well played, even if the concert’s raison d’etre misfired.

So you noticed the symmetry?

--

Michael Lodico's review of the same concert can be read here. This program will repeat tonight and tomorrow evening (March 30 and 31, 8 pm) and Sunday afternoon (April 1, 3 pm) at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Baltimore's Bartered Bride

In a week that has seen or will see new productions of Die Walküre and La Fille du Régiment at Washington National Opera and a Cavalleria Rusticana / I Pagliacci (review this weekend) coming to Fairfax from Virginia Opera, only a crazy person would also go to hear the latest production at Baltimore Opera, too. Well, I admit that I have a weakness for Czech opera, and Bedřich Smetana's Prodaná Nevěsta (The Bartered Bride) is a guilty pleasure worth a trip to Charm City (especially since the only time that the opera was mounted by WNO was in 1994). True, it may be described -- viciously -- as just a step or two above musical theater, but the music and story are light, airy fun, the perfect amuse-gueule before the tragic main course awaiting us next month in Janáček's Jenůfa from Washington National Opera.

Bedřich Smetana
Bedřich Smetana (1824-1884)
Created in Prague in 1866 and significantly revised over the following four years, the story of Bartered Bride (libretto by Karel Sabina) is set in a quirky little village in Bohemia. The worst thing that can happen here is that a young girl named Mařenka may not be able to marry the man she loves, Jeník, because her father has signed a contract arranging her marriage to Vašek. Even that misfortune is ultimately avoided, amid much drinking of beer, folk dancing, and a delightful circus. This jolly town is diametrically opposed to what would be its evil sister city, the hateful, claustrophobic Borough of Britten's Peter Grimes. In both villages, everyone knows everyone's business, but the difference is in what they do with that information.

In James McNamara's production for the first-ever performance of this work by Baltimore Opera, the plain, even drab sets (by Rheinhard Heinrich) consist of a wall and houses that expand or contract into the generally barren stage. The entire village is made of the same bland stone, covered with what look like either dead vines or the shadows of unseen trees. The only dash of color in the staging is during the slapstick Act III circus scene, complete with onstage banda, colored lights, flashy costumes, and a dog leaping through hoops. In a clever move, it is also the only time that the Czech language is supplanted by English (and likewise English by Czech in the supertitles, to comic effect), with the Texan twang of the ringmaster (Luke Grooms) and the Baltimore accent ("hon") of the Indian chief (Patrick Toomey). Here is an opera with an actual circus, instead of an opera transformed into a circus, like the American Opera Theater's Acis and Galatea earlier this year.

Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, BOC presents a lovely 'Bride' (Baltimore Sun, March 26)

Sarah Hoover, Wild West Puts Spring In This 'Bride's' Step (Washington Post, March 30)
The singing was good, not least because of the presence of two genuine Czech singers from the roster of the Prague National Theater in the lead roles. Dana Burešová was a playful Mařenka, with slight intonation issues, especially in her low range. Her scene with Vašek, sung by the fine character tenor Doug Jones (almost stealing the show), was particularly well acted. Tenor Valentin Prolat was a little stiff as Jeník, with a dark, thick sound where he needed it but little dramatic or musical subtlety. Bass Gregory Frank was a well-sung caricature as the conniving marriage broker Kecal.

The best contribution from Prague was the National Theater's music director, Oliver von Dohnányi, who drove his orchestra and cast through a pleasingly animated performance, almost always keeping them together. The famous overture, with its restless contrapuntal main theme, was at the edge of too fast for the orchestra, who played heroically. The choral scenes had a full and happy sound, especially the famous Beer chorus ("Beer is a gift from heaven" -- yes, indeed!), although the choreography was stilted and unimaginative. Dancers attempted to enliven those scenes, with mixed success, although the music from the orchestra was always pleasing.

Two performances of The Bartered Bride remain, tonight (March 30, 8:15 pm) and Sunday afternoon (April 1, 3 pm), in the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore. Also, Bartered Bride was the first opera to be made into a film (rather than simply filmed on stage), Die Verkaufte Braut, directed by Max Ophüls in 1932, with Jarmila Novotna in the title role.

BSO Explores the Golden Ratio

Mario Livio

Mario Livio
Last night at Strathmore, Dr. Mario Livio, senior astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute and author of the book The Golden Ratio, joined the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to introduce the performance of the Schönberg tone poem Verklärte Nacht and Mozart's Symphony No. 40. Livio offered the audience concise commentaries on each piece, aided by a massive projection screen over the orchestra with slides to reinforce his talk. Livio led the audience to ponder why something should be considered more beautiful than something else: his answer was symmetry. In particular, our evolutionarily developed sense of fear and attraction, such as the threat in the symmetric face of a lion, or the attraction of the perfect tail of a genetically superior peacock.

Livio then asked the audience to contemplate the aspects of hope and despair found in the Dehmel poem that inspired Verklärte Nacht, the racy poem about a young couple walking in moonlight. The background of the poem, more or less, is that the woman tells the man that she is carrying another man's child. After struggling with this news, the man accepts the child as his own, after which the couple shares an intimate moment. (See Janet Bedell's program notes for more information.) The orchestra then played a brief passage involving turmoil lacking musical symmetry; and later a highly symmetric passage portraying hope.

Now brilliantly adding a visual dimension to the music, Livio, along with Zoltan Levay, compiled a progression of fractals – self-similar geometric constructions like this – that changed along with the form, modulations, and level of symmetry in Schönberg’s early tonal masterpiece. After about ten to fifteen minutes to get used to the format, an awareness of the different intensities of fractals developed. By the last chord of the tone poem, the sound of blissful hope and an image of symmetrical perfection gradually faded out together at the same time. Impressively well planned, this format engaged the audience so that they felt it was their responsibility to listen actively.

Guest conductor, James Judd, also led the orchestra in the Orchestral Suite No. 3 of Bach and the Symphony No. 40 of Mozart. Though a demanding conductor, Judd for the most part constantly pushed the orchestra in terms of tempo and perpetual loudness, which led to ensemble issues that are not the fault of the Baltimore Symphony. The exception to this trend was in the Minuetto: Allegretto of the Mozart Symphony, which was conducted in a stately, slow 1. The wind sections in the final Allegro assai movement were lovely.

This program will repeat tonight and tomorrow evening (March 30 and 31, 8 pm) and Sunday afternoon (April 1, 3 pm), but only at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.

29.3.07

Classical Music on the Radio

Ionarts is on record for thinking that WETA's decision to abandon classical music was, how to put this politely, a mistake. No one was happier than we when the station decided to take advantage of the format change at WGMS to return to classical programming. The need of many people for classical music on the radio -- without commercials -- can be illustrated with a personal example. I teach in a school run by a Benedictine monastery, and the monks complained to me regularly about what had happened to their classical music station. Many of the monks listen to the radio regularly during their contemplative time, while reading and studying. Yes, they could play CDs, but radio programming is so much better suited for this purpose because it requires no conscious thought beyond turning on the radio. When classical music returned to WETA's airwaves, there were some very happy monks in the abbey.

When the format change was announced, I offered a starry-eyed, pie-in-the-sky list of suggested programming. Almost none of it features in the playlist yet, but things cannot turn around immediately. However, take as an example what I heard on WBJC last night during the car trip back home from hearing Smetana's The Bartered Bride at Baltimore Opera (review planned for tomorrow). The first half of the hour was as follows (with information taken from the evening's playlist published online):

  • Ludwig van Beethoven, Fidelio Overture, op. 72, played by the Bamberg Symphony under the baton of Eugen Jochum (RCA/BMG 61212)--a pretty standard work that could be found regularly on either station
  • The commentator, Reed Hessler, then linked the style of Beethoven with one of his sources of inspiration, the strongly contrasted and emotionally charged music of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, by playing Mikhail Pletnev's excellent 2001 recording of the fourth CPE Bach sonata, WQ 52 (DG/Archiv 459614)
  • The hour was rounded off with Elgar's Dream Children, op. 43 (Teldec 92374), with Andrew Davis leading the BBC Symphony Orchestra
That exceptionally fine sequence of music, a mixture of the mainstream with music farther off the beaten path, led into the regular Wednesday night program Live at the Concertgebouw (11 pm to 1 am), hosted by Hans Haffmans, the next best thing to living in Amsterdam. The broadcasts feature the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, of course, but some weeks you will hear Collegium Vocale Gent, the Radio Filharmonisch Orkest Holland, the Orchestra of the 18th Century, the Rotterdam Philharmonic, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and many other visiting orchestras and chamber ensembles. Last night's concert was recorded in 2003 (I think), with Neeme Jarvi conducting the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. The program opened with Liadov's tone poem The Enchanted Lake, op. 62, followed by Alphonus Diepenbrock's Hymne an die Nacht (1899), with soprano Linda Mabbs. The second half was a complete performance of Rachmaninoff's second symphony.

This year, for the first time, the program has been extended to run 52 weeks out of the year. Feast your eyes on the programming scheduled for Live at the Concertgebouw over the next several months. WETA, Radio Netherlands distributes Live at the Concertgebouw through an American partner, WCLV/Seaway Productions. Stations wishing to broadcast the show can contact WCLV directly for broadcast details.

Holy Week at the National Shrine

Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate ConceptionIf you are in Washington and looking for some liturgies to attend during Holy Week, with historical music, you should consider the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (4th Street and Michigan Avenue NE), a short walk from the Brookland/CUA Metro stop (Red Line). The professional chamber choir, of which I am a member, will be performing the following repertoire during the high liturgies.

PALM SUNDAY (April 1, 12 noon)
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, celebrant
Thomas Weelkes, Hosanna to the Son of David
Felice Anerio, Christus factus est
Tomás Luis de Victoria, Vere languores nostros

HOLY THURSDAY (April 5, 5:30 pm)
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, celebrant
Roland de Lassus, Gustate et videte
Juan de Lienas, Coenantibus autem illis
Michalenagelo Grancini, Suspirat anima mea and Dulcis Christe
Robert Powell, Anima Christi
David Hurd, Love Bade Me Welcome
Maurice Duruflé, Tantum ergo and Ubi caritas
William Byrd, Ave verum corpus
Giovanni da Palestrina, Sicut cervus
João Rebola, Panis angelicus

GOOD FRIDAY (April 6, 2:30 pm)
Monsignor Walter Rossi, celebrant
Gregorio Allegri, Miserere mei
Palestrina, Stabat mater and Super flumina Babylonis
Victoria, O vos omnes
Giovanni Nanino, Adoramus te Christe
Antonio Lotti, Crucifixus à 8
Carlo Gesualdo, Tenebrae factae sunt

EASTER VIGIL (April 7, 8 pm)
Archbishop Pietro Sambi, Apostolic Nuncio to the United States, celebrant

EASTER DAY (April 8, 12 noon)
Archbishop Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, celebrant

28.3.07

DVD: La Fille du Régiment

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Donizetti, La Fille du Régiment, Patrizia Ciofi, Juan Diego Flórez, Teatro Carlo Felice, Riccardo Frizza (released on October 10, 2006)
We've been on a Juan Diego Flórez kick recently, at least since reviewing the recording he made of Rossini's Matilde di Shabran. This DVD of Donizetti's La Fille du Régiment is the latest Flórez to cross my desk, and its release has been timed to coincide with the tenor's triumphant appearances in this opera around the world. In January, it was Flórez with Natalie Dessay in a new Covent Garden production of the opera directed by Laurent Pelly, which Tim Ashley called in his review for The Guardian "a truly outstanding night at Covent Garden, the like of which we haven't seen in ages." In The Independent, Edward Seckerson said it was "one of the happiest nights the Royal Opera has fielded since I don't know when." (See many other reviews here.)

Then Flórez sang the role at La Scala and, as covered by Opera Chic in Milan, gave the first encore during a staged opera since Toscanini banned the practice for reasons of dramatic continuity. (Opera Chic even has sound files.) In an interview with Patrick Cole for Bloomberg News, Flórez recalls that evening: "So after the aria, the applause was very, very long, and people were shouting 'bis, bis', just as I had expected and they didn't stop. So I did the encore. The next day, I saw in the newspapers that no one had made an encore since 1933. I didn't know that!"



Juan Diego Flórez, Ah! mes amis (Genoa, 2005)

Before either of those performances there was this production at the Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa, created by Emilio Sagi for the Teatro Comunale di Bologna. It was recorded live in 2005 and released this past fall. The performance is most valuable for capturing Flórez at his best in this role. The most famous aria, Ah! mes amis in Act I, has those nine infamous high C's just about as perfect as they could be, all lined up and pure. The crowd went wild, shouting "Bis, bis," and Flórez sang the second part of the aria (Pour mon âme) a second time, just as flawlessly. If that is not enough, he also sings an excellent high D in the Act II romance Pour me rapprocher de Marie. It is a stellar performance, which he has been recreating in other theaters.



Juan Diego Flórez, Encore (!) of Pour mon âme (Genoa, 2005)

The rest of the cast is also fine. Soprano Patrizia Ciofi gives very good renditions of Marie's regimental song and Il faut partir, the beautiful aria at the end of Act I. Ciofi's contribution to the Act II comic trio Le jour naissait dans le bocage is hilarious, too, as she sings so horribly out of tune (Marie chafes at being civilized in the Marquise's home) that it's just ghastly. The video relies too heavily on closeups, which does none of the singers any favors: Flórez with his cheesy mustache and especially Ciofi with her bizarre grimaces and crooked smile. Nicola Ulivieri and Francesca Franci are also good as Sulpice and La Marquise de Berkenfield, respectively.

The production, which updates the action from the Napoleonic Wars to the liberation of France by the American Army at the end of World War II, does not make much sense but does not detract from one's enjoyment. I am screening it right now for one of my classes, whom I will chaperone to the dress rehearsal of this opera on Thursday night. The production has required some explaining, but not too much. In a supplemental disc, which the class will likely also enjoy, Patrizia Ciofi narrates her role, and we see footage of the rehearsals, often seamlessly joined to the same scene in the DVD.

Decca B0007620-09



Juan Diego Flórez sang in The Barber of Seville at the Met this month (I heard it via Sirius) -- Lawrence Brownlee will replace him in the April/May performances. Americans will have to wait until next season, when Dessay and Flórez are scheduled to sing La Fille du Régiment again, at the Met in April 2008.

Washington National Opera has decided to mount La Fille du Régiment this season, in the production shown in this DVD (although the packaging, showing two actors in Napoleonic costumes, has not indicated that) and with the same conductor, Riccardo Frizza. It will be without Flórez, however, who last appeared in Washington in L'Italiana in Algeri last season. WNO has mounted Fille twice before, in 1986 and 1993, and the original idea may have been to bring this production to Washington with Flórez. Flórez will be singing Tonio this month, but at the Vienna Staatsoper (opening on March 31, the same as Washington's opening night, through April 28). It looks like Vienna won out. If Flórez were in the WNO cast, one can be sure that all, or at least some, of the performances would be sold out, which is not the case right now.

Take a Friend to the Orchestra Month

Next month will be the third year for Take a Friend to the Orchestra Month, a yearly celebration inaugurated by blogger Drew McManus at Adaptistration. The idea is that average people throughout the country invite friends who don't regularly participate in live classical music events to attend a performance. If you want to take part, let Drew know: he usually mentions some of the experiences people have.



Here is a list of appropriate concerts in the Washington and Baltimore area during the month of April. The Ionarts staff has marked our recommendations for what we think the most satisfying events will be:

NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
April 5 to 7 (Thu, Fri, Sat)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
With Leonard Slatkin conducting and pianist Yundi Li

**
"Very pleasing Ravel selection, plus the fireworks of Yundi Li, although the the first Liszt piano concerto may not be great for beginners"
April 19 to 21 (Thu, Fri, Sat)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
With Jiří Bĕlohlávek conducting and violinist Christian Tetzlaff

***
"An exciting selection of Czech music, both famous and intriguingly obscure, as well as a Mozart concerto, by Christian Tetzlaff, perhaps not flashy enough for the average concert-goer"


BALTIMORE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
April 1, 3 pm ("Symmetry and the Golden Ratio")
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
With conductor James Judd and author Mario Livio
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

***
"Bach's third Orchestral Suite, Schoenberg's Verklärte Nacht, and Mozart's famous Symphony No. 40 -- the perfect program for the neophyte, provided that Mario Livio does not speak for too long"
April 12, 13, 15 (Thu, Fri, Sun)
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
With Yan Pascal Tortelier (conductor) and Horacio Gutiérrez (piano)
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

**
"Beethoven's Emperor Concerto and pieces by Berlioz and Vaughan Williams make this a pretty Romantic program"

Also April 14 (Sat) at Strathmore Music Center (North Bethesda)
April 20 to 22 (Fri, Sat, Sun)
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
Vivaldi, Four Seasons, and Piazzolla, Four Seasons of Buenos Aires

***
"This is a program guaranteed to please any new listener -- the Vivaldi classic and the tango sounds of Piazzolla"

Also April 19 (Thu) at Strathmore Music Center (North Bethesda)
April 26, 2 pm ("Young and Brilliant")
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
With Michael Christie and Orion Weiss

*
"Young conductor and pianist mean reduced ticket prices ($20 and $30), and interesting selections by Copland and Schubert, with the Ravel piano concerto"
Continue reading this article.
OTHER ORCHESTRAS
April 1 (Sun, 4 pm)
J. S. Bach, St. John Passion
Washington National Cathedral Combined Choirs and Baroque Orchestra
Washington National Cathedral
**
"Top of the line... but too long, too choral, and too monotonous (I can't believe I have to say that...) for the neophyte"

April 1 (Sun, 5 pm)
Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic
Music by Britten, Offenbach, Kazik
Schlesinger Concert Hall (Alexandria, Va.)
*

April 7 (Sat, 8 pm)
National Philharmonic: Mendelssohn's Elijah
Music Center at Strathmore
*
"Kids of ages 7 to 17 get a free ticket when with an adult paying full price."

April 21 (Sat, 8 pm)
Fairfax Symphony Orchestra
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)
*

April 22 (Sun, 1 pm)
1 pm
American Youth Philharmonic
George Mason Center for the Arts
*

April 28 (Sat, 8 pm)
National Philharmonic with Soovin Kim (violin)
Music Center at Strathmore
**
"A pleasing program for the neophyte, including Rossini's Barber of Seville overture, Mendelssohn's violin concerto, and Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. Kids of ages 7 to 17 get a free ticket when with an adult paying full price, too."


CHAMBER ORCHESTRAS
April 1 (Sun, 3 pm)
Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, with Leonard Slatkin
Music by Mozart, Schumann, Warlock, Ginastera
George Washington Masonic National Memorial (Alexandria, Va.)
*

April 15 (Sun, 3 pm)
Concertante [FREE]
National Academy of Sciences (2100 C Street NW)
**
"This is really a chamber music concert, but with a larger group, it squeaks by for consideration: Richard Strauss’s Capriccio Suite, Arnold Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night, and Johannes Brahms’ String Sextet. Excellent programming, too -- introduction to music would be necessary, so go with a friend who can explain what to look for!"

April 22 (Sun, 5 pm)
Inscape Chamber Orchestra
Episcopal Church of the Redeemer (Bethesda, Md.)
**
"The program is called Vienna Redux, and the music by Debussy, Mahler, Schoenberg, Strauss may be a bit much for a true newcomer. If you think your guest has what it takes, this should be good."

April 24 (Tue, 8 pm)
Fessenden Ensemble
Music by Bartók, Elgar
St. Columba's Episcopal Church
*
"Bartók, although much loved at Ionarts, is almost guaranteed to turn off an untrained ear"

April 27 (Fri, 8 pm)
Australian Chamber Orchestra, with Pieter Wispelway, cello
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
***
"This is a very pleasing program, which will be well performed."


EARLY MUSIC
April 19 (Thu, 7:30 pm)
El Camino de Santiago
La Fenice, with Jean Tubéry and Arianna Savall
La Maison Française
**

April 29 (Sun, 6:30 pm)
Academy of Ancient Music [FREE]
Music by J. S. Bach, Handel, and Telemann
National Gallery of Art
**
"Catch this group on its latest U.S. tour. Now under the direction of harpsichordist Richard Egarr. Not to be missed, but watch out for the harpsichord. Believe it or not... virgin ears don't like it much!"

27.3.07

Classical Month in Washington (June)

Last month | Next month

Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature. 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!

June 1, 2007 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Donizetti, L'Elisir d'Amore
Opera Bel Cantanti
Randolph Road Theater (Silver Spring, Md.)
Review -- Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, May 29)

June 1, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Bernadene Blaha, piano
Alexander Tselyakov, piano
Embassy Series
Embassy of Canada

June 1, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Gilbert and Sullivan, The Mikado
New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players
Filene Center at Wolf Trap

June 1, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Bobby McFerrin and Kit Armstrong
Music Center at Strathmore

June 2, 2007 (Sat)
6 pm
National Symphony Orchestra Prelude [FREE]
Music by Bach, Brahms, Stravinsky
Kennedy Center, Millennium Stage

June 2, 2007 (Sat)
7 pm
Verdi, Macbeth
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, May 14)

June 2, 2007 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Songs of War and Peace
Washington Men's Camerata, with Maryland State Boys' Choir
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

June 2, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, with cellist Zuill Bailey
Gala 50th Anniversary Concert
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)

June 2, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic: Bach's B Minor Mass
With Rosa Lamoreaux, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Petillo
Music Center at Strathmore

June 2, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Bobby McFerrin and Kit Armstrong
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

June 2, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Gilbert and Sullivan, The Mikado
New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players
Filene Center at Wolf Trap

June 3, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
American Youth Philharmonic Orchestra
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)

June 3, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Donizetti, L'Elisir d'Amore
Opera Bel Cantanti
Randolph Road Theater (Silver Spring, Md.)

June 3, 2007 (Sun)
4 pm
Philadelphia Orchestra
WPAS
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 5)

June 3, 2007 (Sun)
6 pm
Robert Grogan, organ [FREE]
Summer Organ Recital Series
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

June 3, 2007 (Sun)
6:30 pm
National Gallery Orchestra [FREE]
Music by J. S. Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms
National Gallery of Art

June 3, 2007 (Sun)
7 pm
Keyboard Conversations with Jeffrey Siegel: On Wings of Song
George Mason University Center for the Arts (Fairfax, Va.)

June 6, 2007 (Wed)
12:10 pm
Ney Salgado, piano [FREE]
Music by Chopin, Liszt, Mozart, Ravel, Schubert, and Villa-Lobos
National Gallery of Art (East Building Auditorium)

June 6, 2007 (Wed)
6 pm
Duo46 (violin-guitar duo) [FREE]
Kennedy Center Millennium Stage

June 6, 2007 (Wed)
7 pm
NPR's From the Top
Music Center at Strathmore

June 6, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Suzanne Farrell Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House
Review -- Sarah Kaufman (Washington Post, June 8)

June 6, 2007 (Wed)
8 pm
Wiesner-Hessová Duo
Embassy Series
Embassy of the Czech Republic

June 7, 2007 (Thu)
6 pm
NSO Youth Fellows [FREE]
Kennedy Center Millennium Stage

June 7, 2007 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Adamo, Four Angels; Mahler, First Symphony
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 9)

June 7, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Jessica Krash, piano
Mansion at Strathmore
Review -- Andrew Lindemann Malone (Washington Post, June 9)

June 7, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Suzanne Farrell Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

June 7, 2007 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Marin Alsop, Alisa Weilerstein
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, June 8)

June 8, 2007 (Fri)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Adamo, Four Angels; Mahler, First Symphony
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 8, 2007 (Fri)
7:30 pm
American Chamber Players
June Chamber Festival 1
Kreeger Museum

June 8, 2007 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Suzanne Farrell Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

June 8, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Marin Alsop, Alisa Weilerstein
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

June 9, 2007 (Sat)
1:30 and 7:30 pm pm
Suzanne Farrell Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

June 9, 2007 (Sat)
6 pm
National Symphony Orchestra Prelude [FREE]
Kennedy Center, Millennium Stage

June 9, 2007 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Congressional Chorus: 20th Anniversary Concert
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

June 9, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Adamo, Four Angels; Mahler, First Symphony
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 9, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Marin Alsop, Alisa Weilerstein
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

June 9, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
João Bettencourt da Cãmara, piano
Embassy Series
Portuguese Ambassador's Residence

June 10, 2007 (Sun)
1:30 and 7:30 pm pm
Suzanne Farrell Ballet
Kennedy Center Opera House

June 10, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Marin Alsop, Alisa Weilerstein
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

June 10, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Washington Musica Viva (with jazz group Chaise Lounge)
Atlas Performing Arts Center

June 10, 2007 (Sun)
6 pm
Richard K. Fitzgerald, organ [FREE]
Summer Organ Recital Series
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

June 11, 2007 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Sayaka Shoji, violin
Arts Club of Washington
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 13)

June 12, 2007 (Tue)
7:30 pm
American Chamber Players
June Chamber Festival 2
Kreeger Museum
Review -- Cecelia Porter (Washington Post, June 14)

June 13, 2007 (Wed)
12:10 pm
Hartmut Rohde (viola) and Mykola Suk (piano) [FREE]
Music by Bloch, Hindemith and other German composers
National Gallery of Art (West Building Lecture Hall)

June 14, 2007 (Thu)
7 pm
Paulina Pfeiffer, soprano
With Inese Klotina, piano
Corcoran Gallery of Art

June 14, 2007 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Brahms, Korngold (violin concerto)
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

June 15, 2007 (Fri)
6 pm
Ana Milosavljevic, violin [FREE]
Kennedy Center, Millennium Stage

June 15, 2007 (Fri)
7:30 pm
American Chamber Players
June Chamber Festival 3
Kreeger Museum

June 15, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Katryna Tan, harp
Embassy Series
Embassy of Singapore

June 15, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Brahms, Korngold (violin concerto)
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

June 16, 2007 (Sat)
6 pm
National Conducting Institute [FREE]
Millennium Stage
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 16, 2007 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Mark Adamo, Little Women
Summer Opera Theater Company
Hartke Theater, Catholic University
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, June 19)

June 16, 2007 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Washington National Cathedral Choirs: Baroque Classics
Carillon prelude begins at 7 pm
Washington National Cathedral

June 16, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Brahms, Korngold (violin concerto)
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, June 18)

June 16, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Katryna Tan, harp
Embassy Series
Embassy of Singapore

June 17, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Brahms, Korngold (violin concerto)
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

June 17, 2007 (Sun)
5 pm
Alan Morrison, organ [FREE]
Washington National Cathedral

June 17, 2007 (Sun)
5 pm
Rami Bar-Niv, piano
Music by Chopin, Gershwin, Bar-Niv, Liszt
Harl Pianos (Alexandria, Va.)

June 17, 2007 (Sun)
6 pm
Ronald Stolk, organ [FREE]
Summer Organ Recital Series
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

June 17, 2007 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Boris Krajný (piano) and Derek Katz (lecturer) [FREE]
Music by Czech composers, with commentary
National Gallery of Art (East Building Auditorium)

June 17, 2007 (Sun)
7:30 pm
JCCGW Symphony Orchestra, with cellist Amit Peled
Includes Shostakovich cello concerto
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

June 19, 2007 (Tue)
7:30 pm
United States Marine Corps Band [FREE]
Washington National Cathedral

June 20, 2007 (Wed)
12:10 pm
Vilmos Szabadi (violin) and Balázs Szokolay (piano) [FREE]
Music by Bartók and other Hungarian composers
National Gallery of Art (West Building Lecture Hall)

June 20, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Mark Adamo, Little Women
Summer Opera Theater Company
Hartke Theater, Catholic University

June 21, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
O Rosa Bella: A Medieval Italian Summer [FREE]
Hesperus
Washington National Cathedral
Review -- Joe Banno (Washington Post, June 23)

June 22, 2007 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Cathedral Choral Society with National Symphony Orchestra
Chichester Psalms
Washington National Cathedral
Review -- Andrew Lindemann Malone (Washington Post, June 25)

June 22, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Volpone
Wolf Trap Opera
The Barns at Wolf Trap
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, June 25)

June 23, 2007 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Daniel Rodriguez, tenor [FREE]
Carillon prelude at 7 pm
Washington National Cathedral

June 24, 2007 (Sun)
2 pm
Volpone
Wolf Trap Opera
The Barns at Wolf Trap

June 24, 2007 (Sun)
2:30 pm
Mark Adamo, Little Women
Summer Opera Theater Company
Hartke Theater, Catholic University

June 24, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Gay Men's Chorus with D.C. Different Drummers
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 24, 2007 (Sun)
5 pm
S. Wayne Foster, organ [FREE]
Washington National Cathedral

June 24, 2007 (Sun)
6 pm
Peter Latona, organ [FREE]
Summer Organ Recital Series
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

June 24, 2007 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Elena Letnanova (piano) [FREE]
Music by Slovakian composers
National Gallery of Art

June 26, 2007 (Tue)
6:30 pm
Washington ChuShan Chinese Opera Institute
Embassy of the People’s Republic of China (2300 Connecticut Avenue NW)

June 26, 2007 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Troping the Light Fantastic [FREE]
21st Century Consort
Washington National Cathedral
Review -- Robert Battey (Washington Post, June 28)

June 27, 2007 (Wed)
12:10 pm
Elisabeth von Magnus (mezzo-soprano) [FREE]
Music by Austrian composers
National Gallery of Art (West Building Lecture Hall)
Review -- Joe Banno (Washington Post, July 2)

June 27, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Woodley Ensemble [FREE]
Washington National Cathedral

June 28, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Miles Hoffman and J. Reilly Lewis [FREE]
J. S. Bach, viola da gamba sonatas
Washington National Cathedral

June 28, 2007 (Thu)
8:15 pm
National Symphony Orchestra: Bizet's Carmen
With Denyce Graves and Simon O'Neill
Wolf Trap
Review -- Ronni Reich (Washington Post, June 30)

June 29, 2007 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Turtle Island String Quartet
Washington National Cathedral
Review -- Robert Battey (Washington Post, July 2)

June 29, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Volpone
Wolf Trap Opera
The Barns at Wolf Trap

Music as Propaganda in Washington and New York

This week I have had the chance to see two propaganda concerts in the span of three days – which, as an eager proponent of more cultural diplomacy (which is the name for propaganda if ‘your guys’ are doing it), I embrace wholeheartedly. In principle, at least.

Ideally, cultural diplomacy brings people of diverse background, opinions, and cultures together on presumably neutral, common ground. Art – classical music – for example.

The United States was no slouch at this during the Cold War. Duke Ellington, Van Cliburn, and Co. were out there to convince peoples around the world that the US was not a ruthless, soulless capitalist, slave-holding, baby-eating monster. Well, at least not only that. Since then, the US seems to have forgotten the benefits of this policy that cost a comparatively paltry $1 billion annually – especially when compared to certain policies that cost up to $200 million per day and have done significantly less to improve the image of the United States abroad.

No Nation had perfected the art of cultural diplomacy quite as the Soviet Union. In late 1989, the Afghan blood not yet dry on Russian bayonets, they sent the Red Army Choir to the Kennedy Center who, accompanied by standing ovations, left a tear-soaked audience behind. They sang at the White House and on David Letterman – and the press suggested that Gorbachev might as well retire all his career diplomats, as long as these singers were around. Doing “God Bless America” as an encore, surreal as it might have been, was a touch of genius.


Russian National Philharmonic Orchestra

Russian Propaganda at the Kennedy Center

available at Amazon
Olga Kern, Rachmaninov Transcriptions, Corelli Variations

available at Amazon
Olga Kern, Rachmaninov/Balakirev, Sonata No. 2/Islamey

available at Amazon
Beethoven, PCs #1 & 3, Pletnev/RNO

available at Amazon
Tchaikovsky, Symphonic Poems, Pletnev/RNO

available at Amazon
Rachmaninov/Prokofiev, PCs #3, Pletnev/RNO

available at Amazon
Rachmaninov, Sy #2, Pletnev/RNO

It is safe to assume that the successor-state to the Soviet Union – Russia – is not lacking much in this skill, either. And, indeed, after having dropped the ball for a few years after the fall of the Soviet Empire, Russia now puts some of its new riches toward cultural diplomacy, again. Its ballet companies tour the world’s capitals (currency having been the primary reason once, but losing more and more of its importance), its orchestras the world. At the heart of this mission is the National Philharmonic Orchestra of Russia (NPOR), an orchestra stamped out of the ground by Vladimir Putin for Vladimir Spivakov (close to former Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi, violin teacher to Putin's kids, friend of the Putin family and of course ‘politically reliable’) after the Mikhail Pletnev-founded Russian National Orchestra (RNO) refused to lose its independence from the state to become the Russian National Philharmonic Orchestra (RNPO). (For more on the Moscow orchestra politics read George Loomis’ 2003 IHT article.) Its job is to spread the wonders of fine Russian culture (of which there are a great many, of course) and perhaps detract attention from Russia spiraling from a ‘totalitarian-light’ kleptocracy toward a 21st century variety of fascism.

The RNPO tours with some of the finest Russian soloists and takes a good crack at their mission. This time they brought Olga Kern to the Kennedy Center – and she may well have detracted successfully from energy extortion, journalist assassinations, Chechnya, et al... but unfortunately she also detracted from Rachmaninov, whose second Piano Concerto she played. Technically gifted and with some very fine recordings (Harmonia Mundi) under her (short) belt, this excessively beautiful blonde did nothing to further Rachmaninov’s cause among the connoisseurs in the audience. Her opening chords were very nicely organized around a steady crescendo, but there was no sense of portamento; the chords were plunked down separately (as is lamentably often the case) for effect, and then exaggerated with little extra delays. The slow movement was percussive and devoid of any legato, robbing “R2” of its integrity for the sake of a little hollow splash. The most interesting aspect of the final movement was the intricate muscle-work on her toned, exposed shoulders. The Piano – a Yamaha – sounded bearably bright in the upper register but seemed to ‘burp’ in the very lowest: not an advertisement for the craft of the Japanese makers.

The preceding Festival Overture op.96 by Dmitry Shostakovich is, fittingly, a propaganda work written to commemorate the 37th anniversary of the Revolution (it was part of a deal for DSCH to re-ingratiate himself with the party). It’s one of my least favorite works by Shostakovich: A trite, pompous, never-altering 8-minute all-out fake orgasm that might impress at first, but is, at best, a musical Potemkin’s Village. DSCH’s infinitely superior propaganda work, the genuinely great Fifth Symphony was – not surprisingly – on the second half of this program... but by then these ears had had enough and moved on to hear Wagner next door. The NPOR plays well but far from great – with “Russian subtlety” as a friend put it mischievously. It does not hold a candle to Pletnev’s (unpolitical) RNO which, tellingly, made Beethoven the featured composer of 2006 (it was 'supposed' to be the Shostakovich's year).


North German Radio Symphony Orchestra

Hanseatic Propaganda at Carnegie Hall

Hamburger Elbphilharmonie
The North German Broadcasting Company (NDR) had different goals for its North American (only New York, actually) outreach – perhaps less nefarious, if no less calculating. With their primary instrument, the North German Radio Symphony Orchestra (NDRSO), they are here to promote (raise visibility & funds) their new Private-Public-Partnership undertaking of building a new symphony hall in Hamburg... the imposing, but fittingly impressive “Elbe Philharmonic Hall”.

A glossy, oversized, lavishly illustrated catalogue accompanied their first (of two) Carnegie Hall concerts on Monday, March 27th, showing the plans for this Herzog & de Meuron (Tate Modern, London – de Young Museum, San Francisco – Olympic Stadium, Beijing) developed complex – and giving a history of the city, the NDR, and Music Director Christoph von Dohnányi. The building, sitting on the late 19th century, dark-red brick storage houses in the former industrial port district, looks like it is straight out of a futuristic version of The Lord of the Rings; a tower of light, a ship sailing some 115 feet above the ground.

Hamburger ElbphilharmonieTheir program, true to their cause, was “all-Hamburgian”. That’s not too difficult if your native sons include Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy and Johannes Brahms and it’s even easier if you include – only natural for a city shaped by its traders and merchants – those who have made Hamburg a center of their work or life: Georg Philipp Telemann, C.P.E. Bach, Gustav Mahler, György Ligeti, Alfred Schnittke, Sofia Gubaidulina, et al..

Having originally scheduled my NDR experience for Tuesday, I fully expected the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto to be performed. A very fine performance, surely, under Vadim Repin, but still the same old, if ever-beautiful, concerto. What a delight and joy to be presented with the whacky, wild, and wondrous Forth Violin concerto by Alfred Schnittke, instead! The musical Gods seemed to have smiled upon me, even if many audience members more likely grid their teeth. They should not have, because this concerto, even if its fourth movement is probably a little too long for its own good, is music to smile about and laugh at... it’s entertainment in the best sense. It toys with beauty and the listeners’ expectations before it irreverently pulls the rug out from underneath them. It’s a creative and unique collage of styles; it is part serene, part surreal. There were moments where I fully expected soloist Repin to crack a smile mid-playing. Schnittke in general and this work in particular, is ill served by being taken too seriously. We don’t need an extra furrow in our brow as we might with the all-capital-letters “serious” music of Liszt or late Beethoven.

Bells toll the first movement in – whereupon the violin enters in faked harmony before it all goes to hell, crunching and cats wailing... tricking the listener and making him fear the worst before reemerging as sweet and lyrical. The second movement (Vivo) has a ridiculously frantic climax and lots of big-hearted cacophony with a broad smile; a far cry from the bone-dry, thin-lipped intellectual modernism of a Boulez or Ferneyhough. Who can refuse to love the harpsichord in the third movement where it supports one of the hauntingly beautiful melodies in the solo violin and strings before it slowly slips away to turn sour in a deliciously subversive – or coy – way. A bit quieter, perhaps even with serious moments, the fourth movement loses some of the edge, even as it winks at the listener, courtesy of the prepared piano.

The other highlight of the concert was a rich and saturated rendition of Brahms’ First Symphony. From the first timpani strokes onward, this was captivating playing. Cut from one cloth, and a luscious cloth, at that. Confident – just like Brahms must have labored hard on making it sound – with shimmering backdrops to serve the melodies and minimal thematic material. But even amid this generous sound there was at every point an attention to detail displayed that other orchestras might give in an opening or final chord, but few places else. With the focus audibly being on more than just getting the notes right and playing in unison (largely a given, with the NDRSO), this was enough to elicit rave ovations from most of the Carnegie audience. The Mendelssohn Ruy Blas Overture, op.95, had already shown that this orchestra is something to be proud of... an oiled machine with a lean, expressive, sinuous string section; a band that is technically so assured and in control that it automatically hones in on elements like detail, tone, feeling, color.

Today they will perform the aforementioned Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, Mahler's First Symphony, and Ligeti's Lontano. On Wednesday they will perform Beethoven's Eroica as part of the United Nation's 50th anniversary celebration of the 1957 Treaty of Rome.

Auryn Quartett, Finishing Up at FAES

Not only the audience, but also the performers wanted to thank the organizer behind the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences concert series, presenting her with a basket of flowers. Over the course of the last three Sunday afternoons at Bethesda's Congregation Beth El, the Cologne-based Auryn Quartett has presented a complete cycle of the Britten string quartets, as well as a complete cycle of the Mozart string quintets, with violist Roger Tapping. For an exceptionally reasonable ticket price, FAES presents many good concerts and, not infrequently, excellent ones like these.

For their final program, the group left the other late Mozart quintet, in D major, K. 593. It has an unusual first movement, in which a sphnixian, harmonically adventurous Larghetto section frames the Allegro. Mozart was experimenting at this point in his career with how far he could push tonal structures, and the Adagio also has a section in which extended harmonies give an almost modern character. The Auryn Quartett and Tapping played the Menuetto tenderly, with the odd pizzicato Trio made to stand out. They also allowed the weird finale theme -- "corrected" in the manuscript by hands other than Mozart's, changes that were not undone until musicologist Ernst Hess's 1960-61 article -- to ramble away to its slightly nutty conclusion.

Auryn Quartett:

available at Amazon
Britten Quartets 2 /3 (1996)
The three concerts allowed the Britten quartets to unfold in the order in which they were composed. The second, played last week, is usually my favorite, but the third, op. 94 (a twilight work, related closely to Britten's final opera, the disturbing Death in Venice), is often in competition for the honor. In this strong rendition, notes rose up from the dissonant texture of the first movement (Duets), seemingly unrelated until they came together in the concluding, glassy cluster. The slow, dissonant third movement, played here with trance-like poise even when cellist Andreas Arndt made his instrument meow like a cat, is the most uncompromising movement in all three Britten quartets. This difficult quality is reinforced by the short, vigorous fourth movement, where the viola shrieks of Steuart Eaton recalled Shostakovich. It was good to see most copies of the Auryn Quartett's Britten quartets CD get bought up at intermission: the group converted some listeners to the Britten quartets.

Auryn Quartett / FAES:

Part One | Part Two
Inevitably, the Mozart cycle had to end, too, and the group elected to close with the C major quintet, K. 515. Even in the cheerfully played first-movement Allegro, there was a wistful air to this great work, the companion of my favorite quintet, K. 516, played on the first concert. The Andante movement features a prominent solo role for the first viola, played with a tuneful, long line by Steuart Eaton. The meandering Menuetto theme and its chromatic Trio counterpart, which oscillates back and forth, received a gentle performance. The reason to close the cycle with this quintet became evident with the last movement, which has such a chipper theme. Taken at an impressively brisk tempo, well played and bursting with energy, it was precisely the right way to end this exemplary series of concerts. After words of thanks from cellist Andreas Arndt, we were given one last bit of Mozart, the slow movement from the E-flat quintet, K. 614. In their first performance of it, the previous Sunday, the piece seemed slightly empty, but this time it made a sweet, profound epilogue.

One concert remains on this season's schedule from FAES, an all-Beethoven recital by cellist Amit Peled and pianist Alon Goldstein (April 15, 4 pm). For next year's season, FAES has decided to scale back the number of concerts, but there are some very exciting events planned. In the fall/winter, pianists Richard Goode (October 14, 4 pm) and Alain Planès (December 9, 3 pm) will give recitals, which are both events to be marked on the calendar now.

Chantry Premieres New Edition of Allegri's "Miserere"


Gregorio Allegri (1582-1652)
Chantry offered audiences in D.C. and Silver Spring a program called “Holy Week in Renaissance Rome,” an uplifting evening of early music for unaccompanied voices. The focal point of the concert was the director David Taylor's own edition of Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere mei, Deus, a version of Psalm 50 that has been performed in the Sistine Chapel for Tenebrae (the dark, funeral-like services in Holy Week) for centuries since its composition in 1638. During a period that the Catholic Church was expanding beyond the extensive use of chant, the fresh polyphonic work for double-choir was so highly regarded – in part for its memorable high C – that under threat of excommunication, all were barred from copying or distributing the score to anyone. Interestingly, Mozart at the age of fourteen, after hearing the Sistine Chapel services, was able to memorize and then dictate the score for publication in England in 1771, though he left out the prized secret embellishments of the second choir.

The background of the mystery, secrecy, and fame surrounding the work was thoroughly explained to the audience in the eight full pages of single-spaced small-point program notes that could easily take twenty minutes to peruse. Additionally, instead of just verbal program notes, an extensive “show and tell” was held, with the conductor having the choir sing the “high-arching” first phrase of the piece in the following ways, each prefaced by Taylor. His point was that for the famous high B or C – notably heard by Mendelssohn in a performance in his day – to be included, the entire piece must be transposed up in its entirety, instead of just a small section.

Although a noble effort at “achieving a performance that reproduces the music just as it was sung by the Papal Choir in Allegri’s own time or two centuries that follow” as stated in the program notes, the concert was indeed far from the ideal of authenticity. Perhaps a more authentic experience for the audience could have been gained by trimming the dry technical side of the presentation, while inviting the audience to close their eyes and imagine they were indeed experiencing the work in the context of a Triduum liturgy in the splendor of the Sistine Chapel, with the profound liturgical events leading up to the singing of the Miserere by castrati, and all of the spiritual dimensions involved therein.

The plainsong and other works on the program by Palestrina, Gesualdo, Lassus, and Victoria were generally well done. The stamina of the singers to sing such a full program with such control was admirable and inspiring. Though a general lack of audible consonants led to incomprehensible diction, the Gregorian chant mostly sounded like a bland string of eighth-notes with the text taking a backseat, and the polyphony yearned to be freed from being busily conducted in smaller note values. It was a remarkable evening for listeners -- musically, intellectually, and emotionally -- to prepare for Holy Week.

Chantry will close its season with a complete performance of the monumental 10-voice Great Service by William Byrd (April 28, 8 pm), at St. Paul's K Street.

26.3.07

From Uchida With Love: Mozart in New York

Mitsuko Uchida & Sir Colin DavisAlthough classical radio in Washington has brought about an unexpected Haydn-renaissance on the airwaves (those 20-minute symphonies must make for very convenient programming), it’s still a joy to hear them in concert. Haydn (and Mozart) unclog the musical arteries (of the listener and the performers) and it is to the detriment of any symphony orchestra that neglects that part of the repertoire and leaves it to specialist- or chamber-orchestras.

The New York Philharmonic not only had both, Haydn (Symphony No. 85 “La Reine”) and Mozart (Piano Concerto No. 19, KV 459) on their program this week (March 22nd, 23rd, and 24th), but also programmed Schubert’s 4th Symphony – as if to show why the standard classical repertoire is so important. You can’t do Schubert justice if you can’t play Haydn reasonably well.



available at Amazon
"London Symphonies"
v.1
Davis
available at Amazon
"London Symphonies"
v.2
Davis
available at Amazon
"London Symphonies"

Böhm
available at Amazon
"London Symphonies" v.1
Beecham
available at Amazon
"London Symphonies" v.2
Beecham

True, even Sir Colin Davis (his recordings of the "London Symphonies" are among the finest, easily ranked alongside those of Karl Böhm and Sir Thomas Beecham) won’t turn the New York Philharmonic into a Haydn orchestra over the course of a week: Symphony No. 85 in B-flat Major was not particularly light-footed or spritely. But neither was it ever leaden. It had momentum, energy, and was – perhaps not inappropriately given the (then) massive Orchestre de la Loge Olympique it was composed for – imbued with plenty ‘settled dignity’. Not trying to knock your socks off… just pleasure and delightful as Haydn almost invariably is.

Schubert’s Fourth Symphony had the mass of the orchestra well applied, with that ease that had made the Haydn sound good breathing life into the symphony which itself sounds like the meaty continuation of the Haydn/Mozart tradition. Under Davis – here as elsewhere – everything sounded proper and in place; everything was above criticism. Enjoyment – of a very ‘safe’ and ad usum delphini kind - is virtually guaranteed with him. He gently elicits quality… he does not dig or squeeze it out of the orchestra. He takes what he can get from the players (which is plenty, in any case), but perhaps not more.

The highlight and heart of the concert, bookended by these two symphonies, was Mitsuko Uchida’s performance of the F-Major Piano Concerto. Lighter, still, than the Haydn, this playful and bubbly gem was played neither ‘dry and classical’, nor in any way romantically. Notes and rhythm were displayed, not color and tone – and it gently convinced - which is the art of Uchida in this repertoire. The leisurely Allegretto and the invigorating Allegro assai enjoyed the same attention and her delicate, diaphanous sound.


On Wednesday, March 28th, Sir Colin Davis will lead the New York Philharmonic in a concert with Mitsuko Uchida and Radu Lupu before the latter tackles the Mozart concerto No. 27 in a series of three concerts March 29th to 31st.

Quiz Time

QuizAn irresistible quiz from Soho the Dog--

1. Name an opera you love for the libretto, even though you don't particularly like the music.

Michael Nyman's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is such a great story, and the music is pretty good.

2. Name a piece you wish Glenn Gould had played.

Ives, Concord Sonata

3. If you had to choose: Charles Ives or Carl Ruggles?

See above. Bite me, Ruggles, you racist bastard.

4. Name a piece you're glad Glenn Gould never played.

Debussy, Etudes (well, at least I've never heard it)

5. What's your favorite unlikely solo passage in the repertoire?

The siren in George Antheil's Ballet mécanique

6. What's a Euro-trash high-concept opera production you'd love to see? (No Mortier-haters get to duck this one, either—be creative.)

Salome merged with Real Housewives of Orange County

7. Name an instance of non-standard concert dress you wish you hadn't seen.

Well, Sumi Jo wore three different gowns, which I guess are standard concert dress, at her recital last summer. Each one was more outrageous than the last: Jens desribed one as "half pastel Papagena, half tie-dye taffeta explosion."

8. What aging rock-and-roll star do you wish had tried composing large-scale chorus and orchestra works instead of Paul McCartney?

Brian May (and Queen).

9. If you had to choose: Carl Nielsen or Jean Sibelius?

Sibelius, as Opera Chic would say in that trendy slang of hers, is teh kicka$$ bomb, fer real.

10. If it was scientifically proven that Beethoven's 9th Symphony caused irreversible brain damage, would you still listen to it?

Yes, I would ignore the warning labels and then sue the recording company that sold me the CD.

Other responses:
Opera Chic | Joshua Kosman | Jessica Duchen | Alex Ross