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

30.9.07

BSO Season Opener


Marin Alsop on Her Vespa, photo by Paul Schraub
Strathmore was the place to be Thursday evening for Marin Alsop’s debut as Music Director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, leading John Adam’s Fearful Symmetries (1988) and Mahler’s Symphony No. 5. Broadcast live on XM Satellite Radio, the performance was framed by an on-stage interview with Adams, who referred to his work a “25-minute ode to boogie,” and Maestra Alsop as the most "physically palpable conductor of American music since Leonard Bernstein" – meaning that she gets it. Adams joked that “a lot of people in my neighborhood don’t know who I am” and further characterized Fearful Symmetries as being minimalist with an “industrial-strength pulse, and symmetric harmony.”

Fearful Symmetries is named after a poem by William Blake (Tyger) and was further characterized by Adams in the program notes as featuring “maddeningly symmetrical four- and eight-bar phrases lined up end to end, each articulated by blazingly obvious harmonic changes and an insistent chugging pulse… It’s clearly an example of what I call my ‘traveling music,’ music that gives the impression of continuous movement over a shifting landscape.” Performing with world-class precision, the BSO, who had taken to the stage smiling, enthralled the audience with well-blended synthesizer sounds and a fierce journey through truly unique textural transformations. A sweet, musical vulnerability was sensed toward the end of the work when it mellows, in addition to the feeling of regret that it was ending.

Other Reviews:

Tim Page, The Beginning of a Beautiful Relationship (Washington Post, September 29)

T. L. Ponick, Pulsating rhythms with BSO (Washington Times, September 29)

Tim Smith, For BSO, it's music, maestra, please (Baltimore Sun, September 28)

Tim Smith, Alsop, BSO generate sparks at Meyerhoff Hall (Critical Mass, September 29)

Chris Kaltenbach, An Ovation for Alsop (Baltimore Sun, September 29)

Anthony Tommasini, A Baton Leads Baltimore Into a New Era (New York Times, October 1)

George Loomis, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra/Alsop, Maryland (Financial Times, October 3)

Barrymore Laurence Scherer, Leading the Baltimore in a New Direction (Wall Street Journal, September 26)
Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 features an extensive transformation from dark/death (mvts. 1 and 2) to light/life/love, etc. (mvts. 3, 4, and 5). The first movement begins with a plaintive statement by solo trumpet soon followed by a jarring tutti boom that demanded the full attention of the audience, whose attention was fully held to the end of the work. The soft, gentle second theme began flexibly with an appreciated hesitation. Alsop restrained the jolly scherzo (mvt. 3) to a tempo on the verge of slow, which led to a wonderful outcome of strength and clarity. Since slower tempi allow room to do more, all entrances were well placed, portamenti enjoyed, the details of the basses heard during the fugue. Excluding one divergence during the brief section for string quartet when the concertmaster unfortunately rushed (beyond flexibility) for a moment into another tempo, the unity of this performance was truly special for an American orchestra.

The Adagietto suffered from a lack of warmth and too much volume, which left the ensemble nowhere to go in terms of dynamics. Additionally, the strings tended to clunk from note to note instead of welding their way through the sublime movement. In fairness, coordination became better toward the end of the movement. The fugue in the final movement suffered from sawdust -- read: strings sawing on individual notes instead of creating musical figures, or groups of notes to make shapes -- and slight coordination issues that were before absent. The descending brass sequences nearing the end were incredible, as was the chorale-like harmonic stability at the very end.

Thus, in terms of quality of playing, the BSO has set the bar very high. Will this quality continue through the entire season, even without the pressures of microphones? (Some of the BSO’s best recent playing was heard during the weekend part of their Dvořák cycle, recorded at the end of last season.) One is eager to encourage the BSO musicians to meet and surpass their potential. We know what you are capable of; don’t let it slip.


Additional Comments by Charles T. Downey:

Marin Alsop had only to walk onto the stage of Meyerhoff Symphony Hall Friday night to receive a standing ovation. Rare have been the evenings with that hall so full for a concert by the Baltimore Symphony in recent years. One can only hope that the honeymoon will be long-lasting for Alsop and Charm City. That this renewal was consecrated over a program of John Adams and Mahler is all the more remarkable. The future looks bright for all of us who want to hear more contemporary music from the area's major ensembles.

Fearful Symmetries provides a good workout for an ensemble, requiring a different sort of sustained virtuosity. In Friday night's performance, the BSO performed with a good sense of shape, guided well by Alsop in color and scope. The only lack was in the ensemble unity, which just never quite gelled, and Alsop's three or four gestures to various corners of the orchestra -- two fingers stabbed at her eyes -- indicated that all parties were not on the same page. The brass section occasionally seemed to be pushing the edge of Alsop's beat, while the most off-kilter pacing came from the synthesizers, placed far away and at the side. If Alsop could forego some of her dancing, crouching act on the podium, her beat might be clearer. Even with minor imperfections, this piece can provide, when you listen with your eyes closed, some beautiful expansive American landscape imagery. With regular workouts like this, the BSO is hopefully headed toward a honed, specialist sensitivity to contemporary music.


Marin Alsop's "Media Juggernaut" at work

Alsop's Mahler 5 added up to about 70 minutes of music, roughly similar to the Rattle and Solti recordings. Even after strenuous moments in the Adams, the brass had apocalyptic strength up to the astounding final measures of the fifth symphony, with very good performances from the principal trumpet and trombone, as well as a generally fine solo horn in the miniature horn concerto of the third movement. The funeral march was steady, if reserved, with pronounced rubato on the openings of phrases. The fast sections were generally frenetic, even manic, and Alsop tended to blast by significant moments like the end of the second movement, where there was little sense of wonder or transcendence. The scherzo had a driven, disjointed feel, contrasting beautifully with the gentler trios. There was plenty of excitement and strong, confident playing, but the Adagietto, in particular, was a disappointment. Alsop never seemed to settle into a comfortable reading and never brought the orchestra down to a true pianissimo. It was not Mahler to remember, but the experience of Mahler 5 live is almost always rewarding.

John Adams will conduct the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra next week (October 4 to 6) in two of his own works and Beethoven's 7th symphony. The next local performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 will be by Het Concertgebouworkest, brought to the Kennedy Center by Washington Performing Arts Society (February 3, 2008). Now that will likely be Mahler to remember.

In Brief: It's Autumn

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.

  • On November 7, Sotheby's in New York will auction one of the most important Van Gogh landscapes still in a private collection, The Fields (Wheat Fields), from June-July 1890. The estimated sale price will be between $28 million and $35 million. Thanks to Mark for the link! [Artdaily]

  • Those lucky bastards in Los Angeles will have Karita Mattila singing in Jenůfa soon. David Ng published a great interview. [Los Angeles Times]

  • It's good to know that divas are still divas. Angela Gheorghiu gets herself fired from a Lyric Opera of Chicago production because of having to attend those pesky rehearsals. [Deceptively Simple]

  • Meet the person who benefits the most from La Alagna's excesses: her replacement, Elaine Alvarez. [Opera Chic]

  • Monteverdi's Vespers is one of my favorites, too, but it made Oliver Sacks see a special hue of purple. [Musical Perceptions]

  • A pet store in Pennsylvania has this two-headed red slider turtle, with the two heads at opposite ends. Picture included, and it's so cute! [Boing Boing]

29.9.07

La Bohème, B Cast


Arturo Chacón-Cruz (Rodolfo) and Sabina Cvilak (Mimi), La Bohème, Washington National Opera, photo by Karin Cooper
This is a review of the B cast of the new production of La Bohème from Washington National Opera. For an assessment of the A cast, see the Ionarts review of opening night.

Tuesday evening’s interesting production directed by Mariusz Treliński of Puccini’s well-known La Bohème abandoned the spirit of Bohemianism. Set in a modern urban loft large enough to bowl, each character appeared conventionally fashionable and seemingly loaded with money given both the huge video projector and big-screen TV on the set. Also absent was the artistic oppression symbolized by the army breaking up the party at Café Momus at the end of Act II. Although the snare drums were heard, the libretto was altered to represent a fireworks show as the reason for the scene’s break-up, while it seemed like no shock that the huge bill was slyly dumped on Alcindoro (Michael Nansel) by Musetta (Alyson Cambridge) at the end of the party. The amount of pleasure in this production was not balanced by an equal extreme of pain, starvation, and shivering coldness; hence, the production did not match the musical score, which musically slams back and forth between desperation and bliss.

Other Reviews:

Daniel Ginsberg, Second Cast Gives First-Rate Account Of 'La Bohème' (Washington Post, September 21)

David Patrick Stearns, 'La Bohème' goes Sick and the City (Philadelphia Inquirer, September 20)
In an effort to increase the intensity of the orchestra, conductor Emmanuel Villaume’s gestures led to an abundance of speed and volume that not only over-powered the singers but often left them behind. Arturo Chacón-Cruz's upper-register tone as Rodolfo was often forced. Mimi (Sabina Cvilak) had very good stage presence and stability of sound. Their infatuation with each other was most brilliantly expressed when Rodolfo followed Mimi around the set while videotaping her, with the picture projected live on the big screen in black and white. Alyson Cambridge (full disclosure: we went to school together) portrayed a convincingly hedonistic Musetta. As Colline, Günther Groissböck's announcement that he was leaving the loft to pawn his gray and black silk bathrobe (he would have originally pawned his old coat filled with books) near Mimi’s death for funds to purchase medicine had nice depth, though Groissböck’s intonation was less than solid. If they are not Bohemians, what is the point?

Two performances of La Bohème remain at the Kennedy Center Opera House: this evening (September 29, 7 pm) and tomorrow afternoon (September 30, 2 pm). Both are sold out.

À mon chevet: The Satires of Juvenal

available at Amazon
À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
What can I do in Rome? I can't tell lies; if a book
is bad I cannot praise it and beg for a copy; the stars
in their courses mean nothing to me; I'm neither willing nor able
to promise a father's death; I've never studied the innards
of frogs; I leave it to others to carry instructions and presents
to a young bride from a lover; none will get help from me
in a theft; that's why I never appear on a governor's staff;
you'd think I was crippled -- a useless trunk with a paralyzed hand.
Who these days inspires affection except an accomplice --
one whose conscience boils and seethes with unspeakable secrets?

-- Decimus Junius Juvenalis, Satire 3: The Evils of the Big City, trans. Rolfe Humphries
So much of what made Juvenal so angry in the second century has just never gone away. Reading his invective, either in Latin or in this biting translation, is a welcome alternative to the bad news in the papers.

28.9.07

Dip Your Ears, No. 85

Recently I read the following paragraph in Robert R. Reilly's music column in Crisis Magazine:


If you are surprised that I place Beethoven’s older contemporary, Luigi Cherubini (1760-1842), in this category, don’t be. In 1817, Beethoven named Cherubini the greatest living composer, after himself. All of Cherubini’s Masses are inspired, as his Requiem in C minor, which Beethoven thought superior to Mozart’s Requiem.


available at Amazon
Cherubini / Beethoven,
Requiem in C-minor / Elegiac Song
M.Pearlman / Boston Baroque
Telarc
As it so happens, there has been a CD on my desk that I have thought of writing about for which this paragraph might be the perfect introduction. Instead of having come up with it on my own I am left quoting - but gladly. Martin Pearlman and his period performance group Boston Baroque are the United States' finest "HIP" ensemble - to which their Telarc recordings of Vivaldi's Gloria (with Bach's Magnificat) and the superb issue of Bach's Orchestral Suites as well as the Brandenburg Concertos testify.

One of their most recent CDs combines the greatest and the second greatest (now no longer living) composers: Beethoven and the Italo-Frenchman Cherubini. Cherubini is presented with the Requiem that Reilly mentions - as well as the short Marche funèbre. The Requiem, which was performed at Beethoven's memorial service, did not just impress the composer from Bonn. Schubert thought it "without equal" and Martin Pearlman notes that Berlioz stated (perhaps as much in admiration as in complaint) that it had gained a virtual monopoly over memorial concerts in France.

available at Amazon

Boston Baroque - Brandenburg Concertos

available at Amazon

Boston Baroque - Orchestral Suites


available at Amazon

Boston Baroque - Gloria / Magnificat


Cherubini's opera Lodoïska served as a model for Fidelio - and marked the highpoint of his career in the last decade of the 18th century. After a bout with depression, his operas out of favor with the public and his opera company disbanded, Cherubini disappeared from the musical scene - until commissions for sacred music rekindled his interest in composing. He caught a 'second wind' and composed his famous masses, the two Requiems and other, more modestly scaled religious works. The commission for the Requiem in C minor was the erstwhile highpoint of this second career that he rode out as director of the Paris Conservatoire until 1842.

Amid the revolutionary and restorational business in France the bodies (and heads, presumably) of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were first found and brought to the crypt at St.Denis - and then, after Napoleon's final exit from the world stage, Louis XVIII was able to plan a proper memorial service for his predecessor whose rule had been so considerably and violently shortened. It was that occasion that Cherubini had been commissioned to write his Requiem for.

Far removed from his career in opera, the Requiem is a genuinely sacred work; not a sacred opera (as Verdi's Requiem is usually referred to). It features orchestra, organ, and a four part choir - but no soloists. It is an altogether more subtle work than Mozart's Requiem, less catchy perhaps - but no less easy on the ears. Whereas the latter manages to elude the accusation of cheap (if terribly effective) gloom-and-doom effects only by virtue of Mozart's sheer genius, Cherubini's take on the Requiem is more celebratory. It is an elating and moving work, not one that strives eagerly to express infinite sadness in music. And it is up to the little touches to give view to Cherubini's greatness - like the gentle rise of the uplifting last phrase in the Dies Irae: Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem. Amen. (Holy Lord Jesus, grant them rest. Amen.) It's not thundered out in macabre or self-satisfied triumphalism but it lifts the mourning and dark grief of the preceding 18 strophes into the warm, hopeful and confident light that must be eternal rest.

The fine, detailed, impeccable but never sterile choir of the Boston Baroque does its part in making this moment - as any other moment on this recording - very special, indeed. They also help Beethoven's short Elegiac Song op. 118 to such a felt performance as if bent on making those five, six minutes alone worth the purchase of the CD. They succeed, as it were: "Gently as thou has lived, have you brought (life) to an end - too holy for sorrow! May no eye shed tears for the heavenly spirit's return home."

Not all of Beethoven's lesser known works are neglected masterpieces - and to be a masterpiece, the Elegiac Song may simply not be substantial enough. But it's a beautiful and calm work, it is thematically related, and it brings Beethoven wonderfully together with Cherubini - a connection all too easily overlooked, otherwise. The concluding orchestral Marche funèbre, just slighly shorter than the Beethoven work is a pleasant filler that actually reminds me a bit of the Mozart Requiem - if not exactly of what makes it great. It works like a theatrical and pleasant, if not moving, postlude to the rather more heavenly Requiem. And while Reilly is actually speaking of Cherubini's Coronation Mass when he says that "it is hard to overstate the magnificence of this Mass", the same applies to the Requiem, too.

27.9.07

J.M.W. Turner @ the National Gallery

Joseph Mallord William Turner is the kind of painter who will have you saying, no mas, you win! He had magnificent talent. I’ve been saving that phrase since seeing the Hopper and Rembrandt exhibits in the past few weeks. You could also call him a natural talent, whatever that may mean.

Turner began by making watercolor drawings for architects and then enrolled in the Royal Academy of Art. He was 15 when he had his first show there, no small feat. He exhibited his work in many venues, eventually opening his own gallery in his 20s. Someone once asked him how he had accomplished so much and he replied, “hard work.”


He is the Shakespeare of landscape.
-- Lord Tennyson

Hard work, indeed: I can imagine him, every waking moment, sketching if not painting. He was also quite accomplished at self-promotion and had a very successful career, making his fortune in the strong market for large scale historical paintings, many depicting Britain's past naval power. The Battle of Trafalgar, shown above, is his most grand with its dominating presence and wonderful billowing sails. Interestingly, most of his wealth was derived through the print market (engravings), which the British had mastered: many can be bought today for reasonable prices.

A new exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, J.M.W. Turner, is a broad sampling of the painter's career, totaling 70 paintings and 70 watercolors, many on loan from the Tate Gallery in London. Included are the dreamy mythological scenes, architectural compositions, and the work of Turner’s that I enjoy most, his late Impressionist paintings and watercolors. Several times I mistakenly thought, what is a Monet doing in this show? or is that a Manet? The influence Turner had on so many artists, up to and including Mark Rothko and to this day, is astounding. If you're a painter, you've studied Turner. His contemporaries didn’t catch on to what he was doing: they saw his paintings, especially the later work, as unfinished. What he was doing was fundamentally changing the process of painting, redefining how paint was applied to canvas or the wash to his studies.


Some highlights are, of course, the many watercolors, ten of which are various studies for the Burning of the House of Lords and Commons, which he witnessed in October 1834. They hang in a small gallery alongside two versions of the painting. Four Biblically inspired paintings, hung side by side, that will not only put the fear in you but most surely inspired Albert Pinkham Ryder’s paintings. Certainly a painting in the last gallery, Sunrise With Sea Monsters, did. The swirling vortex of black birds in The Evening of the Deluge reminded me of The Wizard of Oz, oh my...

J.M.W. Turner is a rare gem of an exhibit that took several years of planning and negotiation to assemble. It will be at the National Gallery of Art, in Washington, from October 1 to January 6. The exhibit then travels to Dallas and then to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. My Flickr site has many more photos and details of my visit.

John Adams John Adams John Adams

For the inaugural installment of Composers in Conversation, a new series that brings living composers to speak to audiences about their music, John Adams appeared last night at Baltimore Theater Project. In an hour-long conversation with Marin Alsop, he spoke about his admiration for Beethoven, whose seventh symphony he will conduct at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's concerts next week, as well as Mahler, whose fifth symphony Marin Alsop will conduct this week.

What Adams hears in Beethoven is the same love of rhythmic drive that is so important in American music, especially jazz, and has had such an influence on his own works. The problem Adams identified in serial music by the followers of Webern is that "rhythm was atomized" and, although such music "has for some reason become very prestigious," it does not generally appeal to American audiences. In response to a later question, both Alsop and Adams admitted that they had never felt any attraction to the music of one such composer, Hans Werner Henze.

Adams and Alsop also spoke about the battle between composition and conducting in Mahler's life. Adams also travels a lot to serve as guest conductor with different orchestras, and he finds it difficult to switch gears and come back to a piece abandoned at its midpoint. After eight years of intense composition of exclusively large-scale pieces -- two operas (A Flowering Tree and Doctor Atomic), the semi-staged oratorio El Niño, and several major orchestral works -- he admits he is exhausted. Seeking to scale back and focus on smaller things to get back his energy, he is presently at work on a second chamber symphony (to be called Son of Chamber Symphony, he joked) and a new piano piece commissioned by Emanuel Ax.

The question period ended with a charming interchange with a young composer in the audience, who wanted to know if Adams has any plans to write music for children. Adams rightly identified the composers who have written the best music for children -- Bach, Schumann, Bartók, Britten -- all of whom were able to take their greatest ideas and compress them brilliantly into a format that children could play. He sardonically suggested that he could not imagine any of those challenging, serialist composers mentioned earlier being able to do that with their music. It is a telling point, and one wonders equally if Adams will be able to make minimalism relevant to child musicians.

As previewed at Ionarts, Marin Alsop and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will perform Adams's Fearful Symmetries and Mahler's fifth symphony this weekend, beginning tonight at Strathmore and Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Meyerhoff Hall in Baltimore. Next week, John Adams will conduct his own My Father Knew Charles Ives and The Wound-Dresser, with baritone Sanford Sylvan, as well as Beethoven's seventh symphony (October 4 to 6).

26.9.07

Lamentations by María Cristina Kiehr

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Lamentazioni per la Settimana Santa, María Cristina Kiehr, Concerto Soave, Jean-Marc Aymes
(May 8, 2007)
The Lamentations of Jeremiah are liturgically proper to the Triduum, when the Church bewails the execution of Jesus as Jeremiah did the destruction of Jerusalem. The book represented the summa of literary lament, echoed by Dante in his account of the death of Beatrice, for example, in La vita nuova. The text is a highly stylized set of poems, four of which are abecedarian in structure, meaning the initial letters of the 22 verses are in alphabetical sequence. In the Latin translation used by the Catholic Church, the Hebrew letters starting each verse were preserved in transliterated form (aleph, beth, etc.). These exotic words intrigued composers who set the Lamentations to music, first as chant and later in polyphony, inspiring lengthy melismas and unusual harmonic colors. This new disc from Concerto Soave is a meltingly beautiful and musicologically fascinating survey of late 16th- and early 17th-century monodic settings of the Lamentations, featuring the mellifluous and seamless voice of María Cristina Kiehr.

The disc is split into three parts, one for each of the traditional days of the Triduum. Each day features selections from Lamentations settings by a range of composers, some better known (Carissimi, Frescobaldi, Palestrina) than others (Kapsberger, Marcorelli, and some anonymous composers), as well as an instrumental toccata to provide diversion within each day. The excellent continuo accompaniment combines viola da gamba, harp, archlute, lirone, and an odd hybrid instrument called the claviorganum. The unusual tuning of the latter makes quite an aural impression in some of the instrumental selections. In most cases, a complete recording of each composer's Lamentations set would be worthwhile. Taken together, the disc represents a severely telescoped trilogy of the Triduum Tenebrae services, with a focus on the opera/oratorio type of monody that was dominant in the late Renaissance and early Baroque periods.

Kiehr's searing rendition of the refrain that always concludes the Lamentations readings at Tenebrae ("Jerusalem, Jerusalem, convertere ad dominum deum tuum") in the second Carissimi selection could compel the hardest heart to conversion, if not to Jesus then at least to Kiehr's voice. The concise but informative liner essay is by Barbara Nestola, a brilliant younger scholar at the Centre de Musique Baroque de Versailles. The only drawback is the translations, which do not correspond to the Latin text of the Vulgate. The English text has been lifted directly from the King James Bible, which was made directly from the Hebrew texts and at many points is not at all what the singer is singing. This is an issue especially because these composers were all principally concerned with setting the words carefully and with an appropriate affect. This is probably not to everyone's taste, especially at this high price, but for those who like the music of this period, it is a worthy choice.

Harmonia Mundi HMC 901952

25.9.07

Washington Concert Opera: I Puritani

I Puritani:
available at Amazon
Sutherland/ Pavarotti


available at Amazon
Callas/di Stefano
Washington Concert Opera presented the first half of their new season on Sunday night at an admirably full Lisner Auditorium. Rather than a more typical rarity, it was one of the gems of the bel canto repertoire, Vincenzo Bellini's late opera I Puritani, or as Anna Netrebko memorably put it, "crap." Don't get me wrong -- no one should ever mistake I Puritani for a dramatic masterpiece, but it does have some of the best, most polished, and most demanding music to come from Bellini's pen before his life was cut short. It is an odd choice for WCO, since productions of this opera are hardly rare: last season at the Met, this past summer at Opera Theater of St. Louis, Baltimore Opera in 2004, and even Washington National Opera in 2000.

Other Reviews:

Tom Huizenga, Chamber Opera's 'I Puritani': An Unadulterated Pleasure (Washington Post, September 25)

Tim Smith, Opera's memorable 'I Puritani' (Baltimore Sun, September 25)


Washington Concert Opera:

Rossini, Otello (May 1, 2007)

Handel, Orlando (November 11, 2006)

Rossini, Tancredi (April 6, 2006)

Puccini, Il Tabarro / Mascagni, Cavalleria rusticana (November 1, 2005)

Verdi, Luisa Miller (June 9, 2005)

Massenet, Esclarmonde (April 9, 2005)
All of those stagings are not due to the allure of the absurd libretto by Carlo Pepoli, derived from Sir Walter Scott's 1816 novel Old Mortality. Seeing it staged does little to make the love story of a mentally unstable Puritan girl and a Stuart-royalist cavalier any more plausible, although on a musical basis alone the mad scenes are impossible to distinguish from any other scene in the opera. (By the same token, there is little separating the witches of Macbeth musically from the chorus of puritans.) No, what has brought listeners back to this opera ever since its premiere, in 1835 at the Théâtre Italien in Paris, is the demanding roles of Elvira and especially Arturo. Once again, conductor Antony Walker, the leader of Australia's adventurous Pinchgut Opera and since 2006 also the music director of Pittsburgh Opera, brought together a cast of powerful and beautiful voices for an extraordinary evening of music.

The outstanding cast not only sang all of Bellini's outrageous high notes and impossibly difficult fioriture, they did so with panache and elegance. Soprano Sarah Coburn was a slender, blonde vision in an amber gown, with a gorgeous coloratura technique, floating pure and piercing high notes over full textures. Her thrilling performance of Qui la voce and the other demanding arias of this role is a reminder of how bel canto arias, especially the cabalette, should be delivered. Unlike Anna Netrebko's visually pleasing but musically sloppy performance at the Met last season, Coburn had the technique to make every note in each run heard clearly, not just a smear of five or six per octave. True, Coburn's Italian vowels crept toward American pronunciation, and her tone could become a little warbly and precious at times, but overall this was a stunning performance.

Tenor Lawrence Brownlee (reviewed at Ionarts recently in recital and in a previous outing with WCO) continues to pile up awards for his extraordinary voice and gave an equally impressive rendition of Arturo. The role has an extremely difficult beginning, entering the stage with challenging music, and ends the evening with a duet featuring one of the highest notes ever written for a tenor. Only a small côterie of the best singers are able even to hit that high F (the one written on the top line of the treble clef staff), let alone make it sound relatively good, and Brownlee is firmly in that group. Arturo sings it more or less at the moment when the Puritans are about to execute him, so if the voice sounds a little panicky, that just adds to the drama of the moment. Most tenors usually sound like they are going to die (listen to the clip embedded below -- even Pavarotti goes into a beautiful falsetto, although many tenors remain in a mixed to full voice). Some know-it-all knucklehead in the audience had to yell "Bravo!" and start clapping before the orchestra had even stopped playing. In the future, we will know that you understand that note was high, sir, only if you start applauding immediately after it is sung.


The High F from Credeasi Misera sung by a selection of nine tenors

Brownlee's voice was consistently suave and accurate, forming an exceptionally fine mixture with Coburn and the other voices in the great quartet A te, o cara. The two leads were beautifully supported by the exceptional bass of David Pittsinger (Sir Giorgio), all velvety smoothness, and the blustery, stentorian baritone of Stephen Powell as Sir Riccardo. What a nice surprise to hear mezzo-soprano Magdalena Wór, who has impressed Ionarts before in recital and as a young artist with Washington National Opera. Her coffee-dark voice and elegant stage presence were an embarrassment of riches in the small role of Enrichetta. The orchestra put together by Walker had some fine moments, especially from the horn and trombone sections in Suoni la tromba, and gave an excellent stormy introduction to Act III. The chorus, however, sounded underpowered on the male side and under-rehearsed in general, missing an entrance or two. Another blemish was that the hideous electronic organ was back, stray notes and all, for the hymn scene at the opening of Act I.

While you will have to wait until April 13, 2008, for the next performance of Washington Concert Opera, it is another Rossini rarity, Bianca e Falliero, with Vivica Genaux, Anna Christy, and Teddy Tahu Rhodes. Until then, you will have to content yourself with hearing Antony Walker at the helm of Choral Arts Society for an Evening of Russian Music with powerhouse soprano Alessandra Marc (October 28, 7:30 pm) and Lawrence Brownlee's recital at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (March 1, 8 pm).

24.9.07

The Maestra Begins: Mahler and Adams

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Mahler 5, Berlin Philharmonic, S. Rattle
(November 5, 2002)

Online Score:
Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 5
Later this week, Marin Alsop will officially become the first woman to take the helm of a major American orchestra, when she officially becomes music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. A noted champion of contemporary music, particularly by American composers, Maestra Alsop has come into her new job with a full head of steam, putting together a more exciting program of concerts for this season than we have seen from either of the Washington-Baltimore area's major orchestras in years. On September 27 at Strathmore and September 28 at the Meyerhoff in Baltimore (also September 29 and 30), she will lead the BSO in a program that combines Fearful Symmetries by John Adams with Mahler's Fifth Symphony. Those who attend one of her four opening weekend appearances will be witnessing history in the making.

Mahler 5 was reviewed last by Ionarts this summer, in a performance in Florence by Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin, and Jens heard it played by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2004. A recent addition to the bewildering host of recordings of Mahler 5 is Simon Rattle's live recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, made five years ago this month, in 2002. Jens has already lumped Rattle's live Mahler 8 with its famous Solti counterpart, and this Mahler 5 has a lot of Solti in it, too. Most of that similarity is in the choice of tempi, and Rattle's "Live Five" times out with an eerie closeness to Solti's. By contrast to the forthright Solti, Rattle tends to favor the arch understatement of the softer passages, which makes for some enjoyable subtleties in this reading. It has not become a favorite version for multiple and regular listening.

available at Amazon
Mahler 5, Tonhalle Orchester Zurich, G. Solti
(remastered September 3, 2007)
Mahler's fifth symphony was a signature piece for Sir Georg Solti, and he recorded it twice with the Chicago Symphony, once in the studio and once live. While there is some beautiful playing on this remastered disc, with the Tonhalle Orchester Zurich, the allure of this live recording is that Solti made it only a few weeks before his death in 1997. This driven, rough-and-ready recording serves as a kind of epitaph, released to coincide with the tenth anniversary of Solti's passing. The reading of the Scherzo has many interesting ideas, but the execution does not always represent those ideas as well as it could. Sadly, this is true of many sections of this performance, which comes off as close to the surface, gut-wrenching, and honest, if hardly finished and sometimes with epic lack of polish. For Solti fans or anyone moved by the thought of Solti conducting the Adagietto shortly before he was indeed lost to the world, this could be compelling, if not essential, listening.

Movement Timings, Mahler 5
Conductor12345Total
Solti12:2314:4416:429:5814:4968:36
Rattle13:0414:2416:569:3315:0269:07
Bernstein14:3115:0319:0011:1215:0174:47

available at Amazon
Mahler 5, Wiener Philharmoniker, L. Bernstein
(remastered February 7, 2007)
Count on Bernstein for the most dramatic rendition of this score, in which he exploits the solid solo playing and monolithic granite block sound of the Vienna Philharmonic to produce a vivid, almost Hollywood film music rendition of Mahler 5. It's a mind-blowing game of contrasts, with rubato aplenty and every phrase and section mined for its own significance (especially in the funeral march), sometimes to the detriment of the overall sweep of each movement. Occasionally, too, not all sections of the orchestra are with Bernstein in each of his idiosyncratic expansions or compressions of tempo. The Adagietto is slowed almost excruciatingly, but Bernstein chooses a conclusion that seems at odds with the source of this movement, Mahler's own song Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. One gets the wistful sense of the text through much of the movement, but the ending, treating that final crescendo as a roar up to a full-throated howl, seems to say not so much "I am lost to the world" as "Holy shit! I'm dying here!" For all its peculiarities, this recording is always full of surprises. Certainly, at $8.97 right now at Amazon, this is a good time to add this disc to your collection if you do not already own it.

available at Amazon
John Adams, Fearful Symmetries and The Wound-Dresser, Orchestra of St. Luke's, John Adams
(October 20, 1989)
In his notes on Fearful Symmetries, John Adams writes that he conceived this piece while at the American Academy in Rome, shortly after the premiere of his opera Nixon in China. The title is taken from a line in William Blake's poem The Tiger, from Songs of Innocence and Experience. Apparently not inspired by the possible mystical meanings of that line -- how exactly would one frame a tiger's fearful symmetry, anyway? -- Adams created music that is, in his words, "almost maddeningly symmetrical." Divided into fastidiously regular phrases, the music is characterized by "blazingly obvious harmonic changes and an insistent chugging pulse." The style is common enough in the Adams canon that the composer himself labels it "traveling music," intended to evoke the motion of a long voyage. Adams admits that the landscape whizzing by is not countryside but an urban scene, and a large city on a grid is another example of fearful symmetry.

My guess is that to make this work share the stage with a monumental piece like Mahler 5 will set up an unfavorable comparison, to say the least. There are some passages in Mahler 5 that have superficial similarities with the bubbling sound of minimalism, for example, in the bustling sections of the scherzo. The goal of the program is surely to make us hear more sounds in common.

Happy Birthday, Rembrandt!


Two more exhibits of note in NYC at the moment both happen to be at the Met, and both are worth the trip uptown in their own right.

The first all-inclusive celebration of Dutch painting from the museum's own collection -- for Rembrandt’s 400th birthday, he’s holding up quite well -- is fittingly titled The Age of Rembrandt: Dutch Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Thankfully they invited the renowned party painter, Frans Hals, to join in the celebration with several works. I always want a drink after viewing one of his feisty compositions.

Of the 228 masterworks in this exhibit there are many Rembrandt portraits, still lifes, and figurative compositions, 20 in all and several Vermeers, including Allegory of the Catholic Faith (shown above, at right). A very unusual image for him, it is thought to be a commission for a Catholic patron. The tapestry in the foreground is almost pointillist.


There are many events that coincide with this show, lectures, films, gallery talks, and programs for students. The depth of the Met’s collection never ceases to amaze me. I loved the two hand-carved frames on the Nicholas Maes portraits. Maes was a student of Rembrant's, and I'm searching for a picture.

The second must-see show is the Muriel Kallis Steinberg Newman Collection. In addition to having a very long name, with a painter's eye she collected some of the best abstract and contemporary art of her generation.

Rothko’s #3 is superb, and there is an excellent Hans Hoffman Mecca and a gorgeous (I’m running out of adjectives) Philip Guston simply titled Painting.

Jackson Pollack’s #28, is a solid work, but he was obviously impatient when stretching it, which humanizes the man of mystery. Purple Mekle Lippis happens to be one of the best Jules Olitskis I’ve seen. I’ll even say that about Kenneth Nolan’s October. I stay at a B+B in Vermont, when visiting my daughter at college, that used to be his home and studio. Very impressive studio space in a converted barn.

Included in the collection are drawings by de Kooning, Gorky, and a Philip Guston from 1951.

Mark Barry (www.markbarryportfolio.com) is an artist living and working near Baltimore.

23.9.07

Singers Taking up the Mantle

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Cecilia Bartoli, Maria, Orchestra 'La Scintilla', Adam Fischer
(to be released October 16, 2007)

available at Amazon
Juan Diego Flórez, Arias for Rubini, Orchestra 'La Scintilla', Adam Fischer
(September 10, 2007)
Put me in the favorable column when it comes to Cecilia Bartoli and her last album, Opera Proibita. Perhaps taking a cue from Renée Fleming and her Homage CD (that's a joke -- this has apparently been Bartoli's obsession for over ten years), La Bartoli's new disc, Maria, is dedicated to repertory associated with the first great diva of the 19th century, Maria Malibran, who was born in 1808. Bartoli recently gave a concert in Lucca's Teatro del Giglio, the 400-seat house where La Malibran once sang. The CD is made with autograph scores owned by Malibran and the accompaniment of the La Scintilla Orchestra on period instruments. Jean-Louis Validire has a review of the program, devoted to the content of the CD (Cecilia Bartoli dans la voix d'une légende, September 17), for Le Figaro (my translation):
Cecilia Bartoli has a way of sharing her passions. Basically every two years, she invites us, to our great pleasure, on a new voyage down unknown paths or others we thought we knew but that she illuminates with a new light. After Vivaldi, Gluck, Salieri, whom no one can still be unaware of why he is never performed, today she is bringing La Malibran back to life after, two years ago, revealing the period when opera was forbidden by Vatican authorities.
Not much yet on the exact track list, but a rather unusual rendition of Casta Diva is the last track on this album. Each concert of Bartoli's European tour will be accompanied by a traveling exhibit of Malibran artifacts, mostly from Bartoli's collection, displayed in a bus. The Maria Malibran tour is scheduled for cities around Europe through December, including the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris (December 14 and 16). No word yet on whether she is arranging dates for North America, bus or no bus. Amazon has a promotional video excerpt, including a few excerpts from the CD over footage of Bartoli enthusing about Malibran, visiting Malibran's grave, and so on. An interview with Bartoli on German TV is embedded below.

Bartoli is not alone in this self-association with singers of previous eras. Besides the above-mentioned Fleming Homage and Andreas Scholl's Senesino, Juan Diego Flórez is also bringing out a new CD of arias associated with the early 19th-century tenor Giovanni Battista Rubini.


Cecilia Bartoli interviewed on Crescendo

In Brief

LinksHere is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.

  • Mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato is making a recording of Handel's Alcina with Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco. If you loved her recording of Floridante, with the same team, as much as we did, you will share my excitement. Joyce has been writing an absolutely absorbing account of the recording session in Italy. [Yankee Diva]

  • Alex Ross has received a real, honest-to-God, copy of his new book. Chapeau! [The Rest Is Noise]

  • Gerard Mortier appears to have taken leave of his senses and programmed the most daring opening season for his new tenure at New York City Opera, in 2009. The first year alone will bring New Yorkers Ian Bostridge in Death in Venice, The Rake's Progress, Einstein on the Beach, Saint François d'Assise d'Assise, and Nixon in China. Holy. Fucking. Shit. Will the company take a huge bath with Mortier, or will it become the most exciting opera destination in North America? [New York Sun]

  • What singers do to prepare for operatic roles is astounding -- when they really prepare, that is. To wit, read how Anne-Carolyn Bird is working on learning Susanna for her upcoming debut. [The Concert]

  • The Department of Homeland Security, ever vigilant in the face of the growing Elgar threat, has prevented musicologist Nalini Ghuman, a professor at Mills College but a British citizen, from re-entering the United States. Other musicologists are raising questions about why her residency has not been renewed. Her name is suspiciously "furrin." [Dial "M" for Musicology]

  • The Met kicks off its fall season with a blockbuster performance of Lucia di Lammermoor on Monday night. Leon Dominguez has been dreaming about the sound of the glass harmonica in the mad scene. Needless to say, it is Natalie Dessay, and I will have my Sirius Stiletto recording while I listen. [Sieglinde's Diaries]

  • William Christie and Les Arts Florissants will perform Stefano Landi's Il Sant'Alessio at Lincoln Center, on October 29 and 30. Will one of the those dates fit into my schedule? They need to work out a way to bring these performances to Washington. [Playbill Arts]

  • Best Maria Callas tribute. Anywhere. [Vilaine Fille]

22.9.07

Margarete Babinsky Plays Egon Wellesz

Egon WelleszThe Austrian Cultural Forum hosted an impressive evening of piano works by Egon Wellesz (1885-1974) at the Austrian Embassy on Thursday night (again, reviewed exclusively by Ionarts). A counterpoint student of Schoenberg's from 1905 to 1906, Wellesz wrote the first biography of Schoenberg in 1920. The program notes characterized Wellesz as “half Jewish, half Hungarian, and wholly Austrian,” though one might consider Wellesz a bit English as well after spending the last thirty-six years of his life in Oxford. Austrian pianist Margarete Babinsky performed on the Embassy’s fantastic Bösendorfer.

Wellesz’s inviting piano works may be loosely categorized in two ways: strict and improvisatory. The four-movement Eklogen, op. 11, features materials from both categories. In particular, the first movement, Nänie, which began with dark, ppp roving chords and a rhythmic pattern heard in a variety of evolving contexts – Wellesz’s aversion to repetition turns each work into a compelling journey that always confronts new territory. Movement four, titled Epilog, contains a tune surrounded by light-textured chord clusters reminiscent in color of Debussy. Always tonal and ever Romantic, the twenty-three different movements from eight opus numbers comprising Thursday’s performance offered the audience a welcoming introduction to Wellesz’s style.

Babinsky performed the entire program -- including two encores -- with score. By not parroting the works, Babinsky appeared to achieve a higher level of focus and accuracy as a vessel transferring Wellesz’s music to the audience. The program notes included a quote from Babinsky that indicates the noble placement of the performer in the shadow of composer:

Technique is the tool to be used to awaken life in the music, and one can only achieve optimum results with a perfect tool. But in the end, it is all to do with the musical expression of a work; the interpreter should never believe himself or herself to be more clever than the composer.
The Egon-Wellesz-Fonds of the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna has more information about Wellesz's work.

Classical Month in Washington (December)

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!

December 1, 2007 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Bellini, I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Opera Bel Cantanti
Randolph Road Theater (Silver Spring, Md.)

December 1, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Han-Na Chang (cello, Elgar concerto) and Saint-Saëns Organ Symphony
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, November 30)

December 1, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Tim Smith (Baltimore Sun, December 1)

December 2, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Vienna Boys Choir
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Grace Jean (Washington Post, December 4)

December 2, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Bellini, I Capuleti e i Montecchi
Opera Bel Cantanti
Randolph Road Theater (Silver Spring, Md.)

December 2, 2007 (Sun)
4 pm
Marcolivia Duo, piano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

December 2, 2007 (Sun)
5:30 pm
Ben Heppner, tenor
Shriver Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, December 4)

December 2, 2007 (Sun)
6:30 pm
University of Maryland Opera Studio [FREE]
John Musto, Later the Same Evening
National Gallery of Art
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, November 20)

December 2, 2007 (Sun)
7:30 pm
A Rococo Noël
Opera Lafayette (with Four Nations Ensemble and Julie Boulianne)
La Maison Française
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, December 4)

December 2, 2007 (Sun)
8 pm
JCCGW Symphony Orchestra
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington

December 3, 2007 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Konrad Jarnot (baritone) and Alexander Schmalcz (piano)
Vocal Arts Society
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, December 6)

December 3, 2007 (Mon)
8 pm
Jethro Tull
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, December 5)

December 4, 2007 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Noontime Cantata: Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich, BWV 150 [FREE]
Washington Bach Consort (Neil Weston, organ)
Church of the Epiphany (1317 G Street NW)

December 4, 2007 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio and Miami String Quartet
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Robert Battey (Washington Post, December 6)

December 4, 2007 (Tue)
8 pm
Alex Ross, lecture and book signing
Evolution Contemporary Music Series
An die Musik LIVE (Baltimore, Md.)

December 5, 2007 (Wed)
8 pm
Turtle Island String Quartet: Solstice Celebration
Music Center at Strathmore

December 6, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Tchaikovsky, The Queen of Spades
Kirov Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, December 13)

December 6, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Suspicious Cheese Lords
Residence of the Swiss Ambassador (2900 Cathedral Avenue NW)

December 6, 2007 (Thu)
8 pm
Philadelphia Orchestra
WPAS
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, December 9)

December 7, 2007 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Christmas Concert for Charity [FREE]
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

December 7, 2007 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Handel, M-Word
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

December 7, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Kathleen Battle (soprano) and Cyrus Chestnut (piano)
WPAS
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Andrew Lindemann Malone (Washington Post, December 10)

December 7, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Handel, M-Word
American Opera Theater
Georgetown University, Davis Arts Center
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, December 10)

December 7, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Washington Bach Consort: Christmas Oratorio
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Mark J. Estren (Washington Post, December 10)

December 7, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
King's Singers: Joy to the World
George Mason University Center for the Arts

December 8, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Handel, M-Word
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

December 8, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
A Child’s Christmas in Wales
Dylan Thomas classic with music by Peter Warlock, Chinary Ung, George Crumb
21st Century Consort
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Review -- Joe Banno (Washington Post, December 10)

December 8, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Jerusalem Quartet [FREE]
Library of Congress

December 8, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Alain Planès, piano
Music by Haydn, Schubert, Debussy, Janáček
An die Musik LIVE! (Baltimore, Md.)

December 8, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Benefit Concert: Renée Fleming
Baltimore Opera
Review -- Tim Smith (Baltimore Sun, December 10)

December 8, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Handel, M-Word
American Opera Theater
Georgetown University, Davis Arts Center

December 8, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Handel, M-Word
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Music Center at Strathmore

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
2 pm
Messiah Sing-Along
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
4 3 pm
Alain Planès, piano
FAES
Congregation Beth-El (Bethesda, Md.)
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, December 11)

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Verdi, Otello
Kirov Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, December 14)

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Britten, A Boy Was Born and St. Nicholas
Cantate Chamber Singers
St. Paul's Lutheran Church (4900 Connecticut Avenue NW)

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
4 pm
Ivan Ilić, piano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
4 pm
Piano Society of Greater Washington: Recital
Calvary Lutheran Church (Silver Spring, Md.)

[POSTPONED TO DECEMBER 16]

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
4:30 pm
Dugg McDonough, Ordinary People [FREE]
Maryland Opera Studio (New Opera Reading)
Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center
[POSTPONED TO FEBRUARY 2008]

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
5 pm
Marcos Granados (flute), Lauren Skuce (soprano), Oren Fader (guitar)
Embassy Series
Residence of the Venezuelan Ambassador (2443 Massachusetts Avenue NW)

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
5:30 pm
Yefim Bronfman, piano
Shriver Hall (Baltimore, Md.)
Review -- Tim Smith (Baltimore Sun, December 11)

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
6 pm
Emerson String Quartet
Music by Beethoven, Bright Sheng, Brahms
Smithsonian Resident Associates
National Museum of Natural History
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, December 15)

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
6:30 pm
National Gallery Orchestra [FREE]
All-Grieg program (Norwegian Christmas)
National Gallery of Art

December 9, 2007 (Sun)
8 pm
Pomerium (Creator of the Stars: Christmas Music from the Old World)
Friends of Music
Dumbarton Oaks

December 10, 2007 (Mon)
8 pm
Pomerium (Creator of the Stars: Christmas Music from the Old World)
Friends of Music
Dumbarton Oaks

December 11, 2007 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Jacob Clark, piano [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany (1317 G Street NW)

December 11, 2007 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Tchaikovsky, The Queen of Spades
Kirov Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

December 12, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Verdi, Otello
Kirov Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

December 12, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Second Shepherds' Play
Folger Consort (nightly, through December 30)
Folger Shakespeare Library
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, December 18)

December 13, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Mariusz Kwiecień (baritone) and Howard Watkins (piano)
Vocal Arts Society
Embassy of Austria
Review -- Ronni Reich (Washington Post, December 15)

December 14, 2007 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Tchaikovsky, The Queen of Spades
Kirov Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

December 14, 2007 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Wael Farouk, piano
Embassy Series
Residence of the Egyptian Ambassador (2301 Massachusetts Avenue NW)

December 14, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Formosa Quartet [FREE]
Stradivari Anniversary Concert
Library of Congress
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, December 16)

December 15, 2007 (Sat)
1 pm
Washington Chorus: Music for Christmas
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

December 15, 2007 (Sat)
2 pm
Gabriela Montero, piano
WPAS
Sidney Harman Hall
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, December 17)

December 15, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Chantry: A Royal Renaissance Christmas
Tallis, Missa Puer natus est; Byrd, Propers for Christmas Day
St. Paul's K Street

December 16, 2007 (Sun)
1 pm
Master Chorale of Washington: Christmas Candlelight Concert
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Joe Banno (Washington Post, December 19)

December 16, 2007 (Sun)
2 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Tim Page (Washington Post, December 18)

December 16, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Verdi, Otello
Kirov Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

December 16, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Recital, Piano Society of Greater Washington [FREE]
Calvary Lutheran Church (Silver Spring, Md.)

December 16, 2007 (Sun)
3:30 pm
Community Carol Sing
Capitol City Symphony and Congressional Chorus
Atlas Arts Center

December 16, 2007 (Sun)
4 pm
Haskell Small, piano [FREE]
Musica Callada (music by Federico Mompou)
Phillips Collection
Review -- Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, December 18)

December 16, 2007 (Sun)
6 pm
Chantry: A Royal Renaissance Christmas
Tallis, Missa Puer natus est; Byrd, Propers for Christmas Day
St. Bernadette (Silver Spring, Md.)

December 16, 2007 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Leipzig Quartet [FREE]
Beethoven's Birthday
Embassy Series
National Gallery of Art
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, December 19)

December 17, 2007 (Mon)
7 pm
Choral Arts Society of Washington: Christmas Music
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Stephen Brookes (Washington Post, December 20)

December 17, 2007 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Bishop Hilarion Alfeyev, Christmas Oratorio [FREE]
WORLD PREMIERE
Russian Ministry of Defense Symphony Orchestra
Choir of the National Tretyakov Art Gallery
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception

December 18, 2007 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Epiphany Choir: Christmas Concert [FREE]
Church of the Epiphany (1317 G Street NW)

December 18, 2007 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Jennifer Stumm (viola) and Finghin Collins (piano)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Michael Lodico (Ionarts, December 21)

December 19, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble
Bach, Brandenburg Concertos
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Review -- Charles T. Downey (Ionarts, December 21)

December 19, 2007 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Suspicious Cheese Lords
With Constance Whiteside, harp
St. Paul's Lutheran Church (4900 Connecticut Avenue NE)

December 20, 2007 (Thu)
7 pm
Handel, M-Word
National Symphony Orchestra
Kennedy Center Concert Hall
Review -- Tim Page (Washington Post, December 21)

December 20, 2007 (Thu)
7:30 pm
St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble
Bach, Brandenburg Concertos
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

December 21, 2007 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Washington Chorus
Music Center at Strathmore

December 21, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
A Baroque Christmas
City Choir of Washington
Rachel M. Schlesinger Center for the Arts (Alexandria, Va.)

December 21, 2007 (Fri)
8 pm
Handel, M-Word
National Symphony Orchestra
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

December 22, 2007 (Sat)
1 pm
Washington Chorus: Music for Christmas
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

December 22, 2007 (Sat)
2 and 4 pm
Choral Arts Society of Washington: Family Christmas Concert
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

December 22, 2007 (Sat)
4 pm
Master Chorale of Washington: Christmas Candlelight Concert
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

December 22, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Handel, M-Word
National Symphony Orchestra
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

December 22, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Handel, M-Word
National Philharmonic
Music Center at Strathmore
Review -- Joe Banno (Washington Post, December 25)

December 23, 2007 (Sun)
1 pm
Handel, M-Word
National Symphony Orchestra
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

December 23, 2007 (Sun)
3 pm
Handel, M-Word
National Philharmonic
Music Center at Strathmore

December 23, 2007 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Chris Brubeck's Triple Play [FREE]
Jazz and holiday favorites
National Gallery of Art

December 23, 2007 (Sun)
7 pm
Choral Arts Society of Washington: Christmas Music
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

December 24, 2007 (Mon)
1 pm
Choral Arts Society of Washington: Christmas Music
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

December 29, 2007 (Sat)
8 pm
Salute to Vienna
Strauss Symphony of America
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

December 30, 2007 (Sun)
6:30 pm
National Gallery Orchestra [FREE]
New Year's Concert, with guest conductor José Serebrier
National Gallery of Art

December 31, 2007 (Mon)
8:30 pm
New Year's Eve at the Kennedy Center
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Paul O'Dette's Bach

Available at Amazon:
available at Amazon
Bach, Lute Works, vol. 1, Paul O'Dette
(released August 14, 2007)


Online Score:
Bach Lute Works, BWV 995-1000
Ionarts had the good fortune to hear lutenist Paul O'Dette in concert earlier this year at the National Gallery of Art. A new recording of Lully's Thésée, under his direction at the Boston Early Music Festival, has also been under review recently. As the Director of Early Music at Eastman, he is one of the leading figures of the American early music scene, which by comparison to the flowering of historically informed performance (HIP) ensembles in Europe could be described as moribund. O'Dette brings a veteran's experience, therefore, to this new recording of the complete works for lute by J. S. Bach (many of them are arrangements of his own pieces for solo violin and cello). Its first installment is welcome, particularly since there is not a favorite complete recording on my shelf featuring Baroque lute (the various discs made by Hopkinson Smith are all good), although there are several adaptations by excellent guitarists.

Bach's pronounced tendency toward encyclopedic completism probably led to his composition of a significant body of works intended, apparently, for the lute. As O'Dette's excellent liner notes summarize, scholars have pointed out that Bach had an affinity for the lute, although his manner of composition for it indicates that he conceived the music in a non-idiomatic way. It is likely that he composed while seated at the Lautenwerk he designed, a keyboard instrument with gut strings that imitated the sound of the lute. In any case, he notated these pieces not in lute tablature but as if they were to be played at a keyboard. This requires some creative adaptation, such as transposing BWV 1011 (adapted in G minor from the C minor cello suite) up a step to A minor (a solution suggested by Hopkinson Smith). It is all recorded in clear and warm sound on the 13-course lute built by New York-based luthier Andrew Rutherford, after an 18th-century instrument by Sebastian Schelle.

Harmonia Mundi HMU 907438