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29.2.08

Feast of St. Oswald

After observing the anniversary of a famous Leap Day birthday, we should also note the anniversary of a Leap Day passing, that of St. Oswald. A nephew of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Oswald professed as a Benedictine monk during his studies in France, at the monastery of Fleury, where his uncle had also received the habit. Having gained a reputation as a founder and reformer of monasteries, he was raised to the episcopate, first as Bishop of Worcester and then Archbishop of York. St. Oswald did much to improve the state of monastic education, by bringing leading scholars from Fleury and other places to England.

Back in the cathedral of Worcester at the end of his life, he exemplified the Lenten practice of humility by washing the feet of twelve poor men, in imitation of Jesus at the Last Supper, on each day of Lent. In 992, on February 29, after kissing the feet of the twelfth man that day, St. Oswald died, with words of blessing on his lips. He is buried in the priory church of St. Mary in Worcester, which he had helped build.

In non-Leap years, St. Oswald's feast day can be observed on February 28.

Images:
(left) Page from the Ramsey Psalter (detail -- St. Oswald, center left)

(above) St. Oswald of Worcester, stained glass

Happy 52nd Birthday, Rossini


Fifty-two is no age for a composer and so it is little wonder that Rossini - or at least his music - is alive and well. Born on February 29th, 1792, Gioachino Antonio Rossini soon discovered a penchant and talent in culinary appreciation as well as note-churning. The latter he put to use for the creation of almost 40 operas, the former to support his stately appearance.

So much has been written about Rossini, that I would not likely contribute anything new on this special Rossini-day - so instead I list below all that has been written about Rossini on Ionarts over the last few years.

Except, before I do that, I still want to rehash some reasonably well known stories about Rossini, just because they are too good to pass up on - and because they endear the composer to me, despite my recently having been subjected to the whole of "Il Turco in Italia".

There is, of course, the story that when Rossini laid on bed composing and he dropped a sheet of freshly written music, rather than making the effort to climb off the bed and pick it up, he'd simply write the music out, again. Consider this - and that tiny little Rossini's daycare consisted of a pork butchery, where he got to watch the production of sausages - and listen to his music carefully. You can hear both!

The most enduring story about Rossini may well be his admission to having cried only three times in his life: Once after his first opera (La cambiale di matrimonio) had a disastrous premiere. Then again when he heard Paganini play. And finally when he witnessed a truffle-stuffed turkey fall overboard in a picnic boating accident. (Sharp tongues might point out that Rossini would have known all about turkeys, but that's just not a nice thing to say on such a rare birthday.)


Rossini on Ionarts:
(Note how often we have 'outsourced' Rossini duty - coincidence, probably, but an amusing one.)

Opera on DVD: Il Viaggio a Reims

DVD Review, Il Viaggio a Reims
CTD, November 27th, 2007

Ionarts in Siena: Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia


Rossini's Otello, Washington Concert Opera

Otello, WCO
Sonya Harway, May 1st, 2007

Flórez's Breakthrough

Two Comedies of Errors

Il Viaggio a Reims, Kirov Opera, Kennedy Center, Washington

Siege of Baltimore

L'Assedio di Corinta, Baltimore Lyric Opera
CTD, October 16th, 2006

Frolics and Frippery: A Roll in the Hay with Rossini

Le Comte Ory, Wolftrap
Richard K. Fitzgerarld, July 22nd, 2006

Summer Opera 2006: "Barber of Seville" in St. Louis


Il Viaggio a St. Petersburg

Il Viaggio a Reims, Kirov Opera, Mariinksy Theater, St.Petersburg
Oksana Khadarina, May 30th, 2006

Let's Do Silly Things in Algeria


Tancredi: Sounds Good


Summer Opera: La Cenerentola at Wolf Trap

La Cenerentola, Wolf Trap
CTD, August 21st, 2005

Summer Opera: Barber of Seville in Santa Fe

Contemporary Prints for Sale!

Adding to or starting an art collection? The Baltimore Fair for Contemporary Prints & New Editions is a good bet this weekend (11 am to 5 pm, Saturday and Sunday). Established and emerging artists from twelve major contemporary art dealers and presses, including for the first time, student work from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

There will also be work available by yours truly: my recent prints completed here in Baltimore at Loki Press. Admission is $12 for members and $15 for non-members, with weekend passes available.

Shown: The Travelers, lithograph, over mono print, edition of 5, unique 18x16".

28.2.08

Les Journaux

Piccolomini Library, Siena CathedralPeter Greenaway is going to make a series of films animating famous paintings, according to The Guardian (article by Peter Booth on February 15), beginning with Leonardo's Last Supper, using "dramatic lighting, projections and recordings of actors' voices to transform the depiction of the moment Christ announced that one apostle would betray him into something close to a film." Undoubtedly hoping to get some controversy points, Greenaway said it will be "an act of some significance that some people might regard as blasphemous."

Perugia's National Gallery of Umbria is showing an important Pinturicchio exhibit through June 29. Bernardino di Betto, known by the nickname meaning Little Painter, has been, since Vasari, largely seen as second fiddle to Perugino, but this year is the 550th anniversary of Pinturicchio's birth. All of Umbria is getting in on the event, with lots of little museums and churches around the region inviting visitors to follow the painters footsteps around the countryside. Here is what an article by Jean-Jacques Bozonnet (A la poursuite de Pintoricchio, February 21) in Le Monde has to say (my translation):

After Perugia the visitor is invited to go out to Spello, a little town nearby where the exhibit has a second site. The church of Santa Maria contains a chapel sumptuously decorated with frescoes. The scenes with a thousand details, on the walls and ceiling, give a perspective on the the modernity with which Pintoricchio treated colors and light. Fewer than 100 meters away, the church of Sant'Andrea offers another Pinturicchio. The organizers of the exhibit have thus devised a whole itinerary to discover Pinturicchio, from Spoleto to Città di Castello to Trevi. A walk through these undulating and serene landscapes that you can make out in the background of the painter's frescoes.
If you cross over into Tuscany, to make a trip to Siena, Pinturricchio's frescoes in the Piccolomini library (pictured) in Siena Cathedral are memorable.

The Musée d'art moderne de la Ville de Paris is showing a retrospective of the work of Dresden-born artist A. R. Penck (born 1939), through May 12. Le Monde has a slide show of some of his colorful, primitivist paintings, well worth a look.

Some Scarlatti

available at Amazon
D.Scarlatti, Complete Sonatas, Vol.X, Pieter Jan-Belder


available at Amazon
D.Scarlatti, Complete Sonatas, Vol.XI, Pieter Jan-Belder


available at Amazon
D.Scarlatti, Complete Sonatas, Vol.XII, Pieter Jan-Belder


available at Amazon
D.Scarlatti, Complete Sonatas (36 CDs), Pieter Jan-Belder

(released February 5, 2008)
Brilliant Classics 93546
Just in time to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Domenico Scarlatti’s death last year, Pieter-Jan Belder finished his cycle of the Scarlatti sonatas on 36 CDs.

What might the target audience for a set of the complete Scarlatti Sonatas, released in 12 batches of three CDs each, look like? Clearly a baroque-enthused music lover with the aim of having listened to each of Scarlatti’s 555 sonatas at least once. Probably married to a wife that would –quite understandably– threaten with divorce proceedings were he (and it would likely be a male – women would find more reasonable ways to spend the money) to show up at home with all 36 discs at once. If it were not so, he would already have come through the door with Sott Ross’ “Scarlatti Cube” when it was re-issued in 2005.

Those who wish to just sample Scarlatti can look to single discs of many other and more famous artists with a selection of the most attractive sonatas, rather than purchase one of these twelve very inexpensive sets in their, unfortunately ungainly looking, double jewel cases.

That the sonatas are arranged in the order of their Kirkpatrick number (the Longo and Pestelli numbers are not given) won’t help the novice as much as it will make life easier for those trying to track down a specific sonata. And herein might lie the main attraction as long as the sonatas come in these space-robbing boxes: Finding and hearing a specific work, and as the answer for completists who want to plug a specific, painfully gaping hole in their collection.

These original recordings by the Brilliant Classics label are a major achievement, but they are hardly alone in the catalog. Apart from the aforementioned Scott Ross survey on Warner, there is Richard Lester on Nimbus (the most complete collection of them to date); like Ross’ and Belder’s, played on harpsichord(s). This set, too, was finished in time for the Scarlatti Semiquincentennial.

Naxos is in the process of issuing the complete cycle played on the piano – with each disc taken by a different soloist. An admirable task that has already produced a few marvels. The Italian Stradivarius label has been working on a complete set, too, which currently stands at volume 10 and volume 11 being planned for later this year. It is centered around the baroque specialist Ottavio Dantone. (This, like the Lester set, will include the sonatas for keyboard and other instruments and have those sonatas written for organ, rather than harpsichord, played on their instrument of intent.)

available at Amazon
D.Scarlatti, Keyboard Sonatas v.I, Pierre Hantai


available at ArkivMusic
D.Scarlatti, Keyboard Sonatas v.II, Pierre Hantai


available at ArkivMusic
D.Scarlatti, Keyboard Sonatas v.III , Pierre Hantai


available at ArkivMusic
D.Scarlatti, Keyboard Sonatas (Naive), Pierre Hantai


available at ArkivMusic
D.Scarlatti, Le Plus Belles Sonatas, Scott Ross

Meanwhile Pierre Hantai has issued one Scarlatti CD on naïve and three volumes of what may or may not be a projected cycle on the Mirare label: Luxuriously beautiful issues and containing some of the finest Scarlatti playing on the harpsichord. If you consider Belder, don’t bother comparing to Hantai. The purpose of the Brilliant budget collection isn’t the same as the French production where the three CDs would coast you nearly as much as the complete Belder box (when caught on sale).

What speaks for Belder? The price and helpful organization of the sonatas would be of little use if the playing were not up to par. Happily it is. Belder, a prize-winning harpsichord player and conductor of Musica Antiphon, plays his two modern copies of a Ruckers and a Giusti harpsichord with panache, fleet fingers, and consummate skill. I’ve not heard Lester, but Belder compares well to Ross – wherever Ross is modestly inspired. I’ve only heard the latest nine CDs in the three volumes – 10 to 12 – here discussed, which were all recorded in the Spring of 2007. That’s a lot of learning, playing, and recording to do – but still nothing compared to the rush with which Scott Ross recorded his entire cycle in a year and a half. Critical ears will inevitably notice Ross having some less felicitous moments, the kind of which I did not hear in Belder. But Ross, at his best, also plays with the kind of affection and in such an affecting way that the best of Belder in these sets cannot compete.

Where the goal is simply to have all the sonatas in very fine readings, Belder can compete with Ross and might beat him simply on price. This only goes for the complete set, available in a space saving paper box, though. Collecting all 12 volumes in the jewel cases would be less pleasing aesthetically and take too much shelf space. Comparison of individual sonatas does not serve Belder terribly well because the ears will cherry-pick from the best performances (piano or harpsichord, I’m agnostic on the issue) when doing so. So Belder’s K520 [L86, P362] in G-major (on the Giusti copy) might come across as dragging heavily when compared to Pletnev (piano, Virgin). Ross’ K491 [L164, P484] and 492 [L14, P443] (both in D-major) are lighter and spikier interpretations, more explosive and dynamic.

But taken on his own, Belder does not give an impression of listlessness. Listen only to K457 [L292, P442]– to mention one out of almost a hundred examples. Calling his playing competent and capable, enjoyable and energetic is decidedly not an attempt of damning with faint praise. Consider this: I first listened to all nine discs in two listening sessions of roughly four and five hours each. The fact that this did not bore me to tears or drive me half insane, but instead became, if anything, more enjoyable as it went on should speak volumes about the quality of Belder’s approach, hampered though it might be from the use of only two different instruments. There are numerous Scarlatti interpretations on the harpsichord over which I prefer Belder: Kirkpatrick (Archiv), Leonhardt, Newman (both Sony/RCA), Rousset (Decca), for example. And even the very highly regarded Kipnis (Angel).

Yes, more color and more variety might have served Belder well. A more spirited and individual approach to the sonatas would have livened up matters here and there. For that, the Scarlatti aficionado will have to go elsewhere, which he or she might as well. For getting to know more Scarlatti sonatas at a ‘nice-price’, Belder is an obvious choice. Another quibble, though: The liner notes are pathetic (the same two-page fold-out in each set), even for the money-saving Brilliant Classics standards. The layout is as ugly as most of the Brilliant discs were ten years ago (when the series got under way). To make these recordings attractive to a much wider group of potential buyers Brilliant should strongly consider re-issuing the set in twelve or nine slim paper boxes and somewhat spruced-up liner notes. Just like their “Scottish Songs of Haydn” collection, for example.

Volume X includes: K 428-475

Volume XI includes: K 476-519

Volume XII includes: K 520-555


Brilliant Classics 93575, 93576, 93577

27.2.08

Classical Month in Washington (May)

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!

May 1, 2008 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Composer Portrait: Aaron Copland
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 1, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Brentano Quartet
Clarice Smith Center

May 2, 2008 (Fri)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Composer Portrait: Aaron Copland
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 2, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Handel, Tamerlano
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 2, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Penn State School of Music: President's Concert
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

May 2, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
David et Jonathas
American Opera Theater
Davis Hall, Georgetown University

May 2, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia [FREE]
Library of Congress

May 2, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Haydn, The Creation
University of Maryland School of Music
Clarice Smith Center

May 3, 2008 (Sat)
11 am and 1 pm
Teddy Bear Concert
Kennedy Center Family Theater

May 3, 2008 (Sat)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
Composer Portrait: Aaron Copland
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 3, 2008 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Liszt-a-Thon: Paul Leavitt, piano
Church of the Reformation (212 E. Capitol Street NE)

May 3, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
David et Jonathas
American Opera Theater
Davis Hall, Georgetown University

May 3, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Orff, Carmina Burana
Music Center at Strathmore

May 4, 2008 (Sun)
1 and 3 pm
NSO Kinderkonzert: Magical Mozart
Kennedy Center Theater Lab

May 4, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Handel, Tamerlano
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 4, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Liszt-a-Thon: Paul Leavitt, piano
Church of the Reformation (212 E. Capitol Street NE)

May 4, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Piano Society of Greater Washington: Recital [FREE]
Calvary Lutheran Church (Silver Spring, Md.)

May 4, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Itzhak Perlman (violin) and Rohan DeSilva (piano)
WPAS
Music Center at Strathmore

May 4, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Amit Peled, cello [FREE]
Phillips Collection

May 4, 2008 (Sun)
5 pm
Naji Hakim, organ [FREE]
Washington National Cathedral

May 4, 2008 (Sun)
5 pm
David et Jonathas
American Opera Theater
Davis Hall, Georgetown University

May 4, 2008 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Poulenc Trio, with Hyu Nah Yu (soprano) [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

May 4, 2008 (Sun)
8:30 pm
Kennedy Center Spring Gala
Tribute to Hollywood film composers (NSO, John Williams)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 7, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Felicity Lott (soprano) and Graham Johnson (piano)
Vocal Arts Society
Embassy of Austria

May 8, 2008 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Hilary Hahn (violin) and Hila Plitmann (soprano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 8, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Opera Scenes [FREE]
Maryland Opera Studio
Clarice Smith Center

May 9, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Opera Scenes [FREE]
Maryland Opera Studio
Clarice Smith Center

May 9, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Hilary Hahn (violin) and Hila Plitmann (soprano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 9, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
St. Petersburg Quartet, with Michael Tree (viola) [FREE]
Library of Congress

May 10, 2008 (Sat)
11 am and 1 pm
Teddy Bear Concert
Kennedy Center Family Theater

May 10, 2008 (Sat)
6 pm
Emerson String Quartet (Brahms sextets)
Smithsonian Resident Associates
National Museum of Natural History

May 10, 2008 (Sat)
7 pm
Strauss, Elektra
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 10, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Hilary Hahn (violin) and Hila Plitmann (soprano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 10, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Puccini, Madama Butterfly
Baltimore Opera

May 10, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic
With Brian Ganz, piano
Music Center at Strathmore

May 11, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Beth Chandler (flute) and Gabriel Dobner (piano)
Kennedy Center Family Theater

May 11, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Washington Bach Consort
St. Matthew Passion (with Sara Mingardo)
Music Center at Strathmore

May 11, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Raphael Trio [FREE]
Phillips Collection

May 11, 2008 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Ryan Brown, with members of Opera Lafayette [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

May 12, 2008 (Mon)
7 pm
Handel, Tamerlano
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 12, 2008 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Miriam Fried (violin) and Jonathan Biss (piano)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

May 13, 2008 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Strauss, Elektra
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 13, 2008 (Tue)
7:30 pm
eighth blackbird: The Only Moving Thing
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

May 14, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Puccini, Madama Butterfly
Baltimore Opera

May 14, 2008 (Wed)
8 pm
Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra
With Olga Kern, piano
Music Center at Strathmore

May 15, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Strauss, Elektra
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 16, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Parker Quartet/Borromeo Quartet [FREE]
Library of Congress

May 16, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
Puccini, Madama Butterfly
Baltimore Opera

May 17, 2008 (Sat)
10 am (workshop); 2 pm (concert)
Parker Quartet/Borromeo Quartet [FREE]
Library of Congress

May 17, 2008 (Sat)
2 pm
Yuliya Gorenman, piano
WPAS
Sidney Harman Hall

May 17, 2008 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Dmitri Berlinsky (violin) and Elena Baksht (piano)
Embassy Series
Embassy of Austria

May 17, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Thomas Adès, guest conductor
Music Center at Strathmore

May 17, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Puccini, Madama Butterfly
Baltimore Opera

May 18, 2008 (Sun)
1 and 3 pm
NSO Family Concert: All in the Musical Family
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 18, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Strauss, Elektra
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 18, 2008 (Sun)
3 pm
Puccini, Madama Butterfly
Baltimore Opera

May 18, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Alon Goldstein, piano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

May 18, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
John Chen, piano
Amadeus Concerts, Emerging Artist Showcase
St. Luke Catholic Church (McLean, Va.)

May 18, 2008 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Great Noise Ensemble [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

May 18, 2008 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

May 18, 2008 (Sun)
7:30 pm
John Adams, El Niño
Choral Arts Society of Washington
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 20, 2008 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Handel, Tamerlano
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 21, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Sasha Cooke, mezzo-soprano [FREE]
National Museum of Women in the Arts

May 21, 2008 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Strauss, Elektra
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 22, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Handel, Tamerlano
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 24, 2008 (Sat)
7 pm
Strauss, Elektra
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 25, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Washington International Competition for Piano [FREE]
Friday Morning Music Club
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

May 25, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
Cavalleria Rusticana (concert version)
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 25, 2008 (Sun)
2 pm
National Memorial Day Choral Festival
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 25, 2008 (Sun)
4 pm
Alessio Bax, piano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

May 27, 2008 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Strauss, Elektra
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 27, 2008 (Tue)
8 pm
Richmond Symphony Orchestra: 50th Anniversary Concert
With Christopher O'Riley, piano
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 29, 2008 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
All-Sibelius program (Vladimir Ashkenazy, guest conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 29, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
VSA Arts International Young Soloists Concert
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

May 29, 2008 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Quatuor Ébène
La Maison Française

May 29, 2008 (Thu)
8 pm
Pacifica Quartet [FREE]
Tribute to Elliott Carter
Library of Congress

May 30, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Cavalleria Rusticana (concert version)
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

May 30, 2008 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Trio Mediaeval and Cantus
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

May 30, 2008 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
All-Sibelius program (Vladimir Ashkenazy, guest conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 31, 2008 (Sat)
7:30 pm
I Fagiolini (vocal ensemble)
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

May 31, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
All-Sibelius program (Vladimir Ashkenazy, guest conductor)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

May 31, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
Inon Barnatan (piano), Liza Ferschtman (violin), Alisa Weilerstein (cello) [FREE]
All-Schubert program
Library of Congress

May 31, 2008 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic
With Cho-Liang Lin, violin
Music Center at Strathmore

Ionarts at Large: Adés’ "Asyla" and Haydn with the Munich Philharmonic

On January 30th, the Munich audience was exposed to Thomas Adés’ Asyla for the very first time. The work should have been of more immediate appeal to the younger generation that was to be expected at the next day’s Young People’s Concert (same program) – but for the stubbornly conservative audience in Subscription cycle A, Adés’ work was difficultly digested fare.

The music director of the Cologne Opera and the Gürzenich Orchestra Markus Stenz did the only right thing in introducing Asyla to the united, gray, front of skeptics who noticed with some suspicion from the program notes that the composer of the work in question was not yet dead.

Stanz described the work – and he did so with pleasant, sly humor, lowering the audience’s guard. Wisely he didn’t pretend that Asyla was necessarily going to be loved, and instead calmly pointed out that it might take some effort to appreciate it. He expressed his hope and recommendation that the audience enjoy it – which he, to much chuckling, accompanied with gestures that said: “…of sorts, …maybe, …I guess – or not, we’ll see”.

(Only describing the third movement [after the rambunctious first, and the short lamento of the second] as “the best way of turning the Philharmonic hall into a techno club” was answered with anticipating groans.)

He may not have won all, or even the majority of ears over (rather an impossible task with a crowd ready to walk out on MacMillan and even Shostakovich) but he did much to open minds to the possibility of gaining from the exposure to Asyla, a work so aptly and ambivalently named to mean both, refuge/safe haven and insane asyla (the modern day plural of which is more commonly given as “asylums”).

That third movement, with its stuttering, energy-accumulating, headshaking, bemused, and quiet ways has a notion of dancing itself to total exhaustion. (Le Sacre is calling!) When it enters the felt fourth and last movement (which appeals with a beauty that is somehow askew) there truly is a refuge-like feeling.

It is a piece that naturally benefits from live performance (Simon Rattle’s recording is the only comparison) and it was by all accounts played well and with commitment and finally met with very polite applause.

For Haydn’s Symphony No.22 – “The Philosopher” – half the orchestra got to go home early. (I should have liked to hear No.21 – a darling symphony - even more, but it suffers greatly from its lack of a nickname.) The first movement horn and cor anglais parts were played from opposite sides of the orchestra, swapping back and forth their very civil arguments. The whole thing had a somewhat heavy, with some good will you might say: a generous and full, sound.


Like the more famous “Military” Symphony, No.100, it was full of energy and engagement no less impressive than the all-Mozart concert under Thomas Hengelbrock just a few months earlier. Explosive and dainty in turns, flutes chirping and timpani pounding, the fourth-to-last ‘London Symphony’ was nicely varied and full of contrast and then very gratefully received by the audience. A fine achievement for the Munich Philharmonic, the town's orchestra most in danger of ‘glutting’ its sound through an overly one-sided dose of the heavy romantics.

James Galway @ Kennedy Center

James Galway, flutistMonday's night's recital by James Galway, sponsored by Washington Performing Arts Society in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, was an event for flutists. So, as with Galway's last appearance in Washington, with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2006, it was the rare concert that could lure favorite flutist Mrs. Ionarts out on a Monday night. Microphone in hand, Galway narrated the evening with easy charm, first asking all of the flutists in the audience to raise their hands (they were legion, young and old) and then relating anecdotes and bits of trivia. He described his program as a survey of all the pieces that just about all flutists play and struggle with, adding that the "first half is the roast beef, with the second half all desserts."

Far and away, the most beautiful sounds came in the first half, especially the opening work, the Poulenc flute sonata. In his remarks, Galway picked up on the fact that Poulenc was living in the Hôtel Majestic at Cannes when he composed this piece, launching into an entertaining but dubious reconstruction of how the music might be related to life in a hotel. This overlooked the most important local connection, that Poulenc dedicated this melodic and harmonically lush sonata à la mémoire de Madame Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge, the great patroness of contemporary music and of the Library of Congress's music programs. Galway lent his still lovely tone, soft and sultry, effortlessly floating, and discouraged the tentative applause after the first movement with a funny grimace. The third movement was a playful romp, in which those 68-year-old hands displayed remarkable fluidity.

Although it seems in some way counterintuitive, the opening of the Prokofiev flute sonata in D major, op. 94, has a harmonic palette in common with the Poulenc and thus provided an ideal segue. In the first movement, the riffs up to high A in the pedal point before the recapitulation meshed perfectly with the similar piano licks, and Galway's rendition of the last, ultra-high statement of the main theme was a breath-takingly pure, silvery sliver. The second movement, more in the grotesquerie style of Prokofiev, was taken perhaps too fast for Allegretto, although the breezy, jazz-nuanced trio struck a charming contrast. In the third movement, as in parts of the Poulenc, Galway used his broad, slightly woody low range to sultry effect. The unfortunate truth about this sonata, however, is that its fourth movement is kind of a dud. Galway may have done better to end the first half with the Poulenc instead.

Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, Toot Sweet: At the Kennedy Center, Flutist James Galway's Easy-Listening Virtuosity (Washington Post, February 27)

Deb Lamberton, MP3: Classical Conversation with James Galway (WETA-FM)
The dessert half of the program was a mixed bag, an attempt to combine 45 minutes of mostly pieces that might serve well as encores and pass them off as more substantial fare. Bazzini's La Ronde des Lutins, borrowed from Jascha Heifetz's encore list, provided an impressive display for a breath-powered instrument, buzzing staccato chromatic scales and all. While Saint-Saëns Air de Ballet d'Ascanio was a welcome discovery, if you like a sweet melody couched in harmonic filth, Godard's Suite de Trois Morceaux, op. 116, sounded like etudes, replete with technical challenges with few other rewards for listeners. The high point was Cécile Chaminade's Concertino, op. 107, confronted by all advanced flutists for its numerous technical challenges, which Galway played with considerable sparkle.

Although Jeanne Galway, the flutist's second wife, headed up the concert billing with her husband, she was trotted out for only one piece, a rather run-of-the-mill Rigoletto Fantasy for two flutes by Franz and Karl Doppler. All of your favorite tunes are there, Bella figlia dell'amore, La donna è mobile, Caro nome. Three encores satisfied the Galway fans, beginning with an arrangement of Mozart's Rondo alla Turca for two flutes, which brought back Lady Galway. No one would be happy if the Golden Flute did not play Danny Boy, as he did without piano as his NSO encore in 2006, a piece Galway described as "like a prayer." Indeed, no Oirish oye was left dry in the house. Henry Mancini's Speedy Gonzalez was the final nightcap, sending off the flutist and her husband to relieve the babysitter.

The next recital sponsored by WPAS will feature violinist Joshua Bell and pianist Jeremy Denk (March 3, 8 pm), in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

26.2.08

Kristian Bezuidenhout @ Dumbarton Oaks

Kristian BezuidenhoutSunday evening, fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout presented a charming program of Classical works in the elegant Music Room of Georgetown’s Dumbarton Oaks (you can listen to him play on NPR). The foremost fortepianist of his generation, the native South African (b. 1979) soared through his studies at the Eastman School of Music and secured an astonishing First Prize and Audience Prize at the 2001 Bruges Fortepiano Competition. His Mozart concerti performances with the Orchestra of the 18th century at Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw a few years back had people predicting greatness. For this concert on the Friends of Music subscription series, Bezuidenhout offered a balanced program of Mozart, Haydn, and Georg Benda (1722-1795).

Following an intimate rendition of Mozart’s Sonata in F Major, KV 533/494, Bezuidenhout informally made known to the audience that the composer’s sonatas were “only for amateur girls in the salons.” Mozart apparently reserved his concertos, fantasties, and variations for public performance, the latter two often improvised on the spot. Cleverly, Mozart’s deep Fantasie in C Minor, KV 475, was next on the program. Highly improvisatory in approach, Bezuidenhout added fermatas to the first note of the opening octave figures, throwing them drastically out of tempo, though adding an undeniably large dose of fantasy. Surely the performer has an argument for this approach, likely stemming from the footnote in the Bärenreiter edition stating: “Bar 1: the slurring follows the text of the first edition (Artaria, Vienna, 1785); in his handwritten thematic catalogue, Mozart begins the slur from the second note.” Bezuidenhout took the opportunity to ornament on repeats, while creating great contrasts between Adagio and Allegro sections – possibly too much.

The basic approach to this work is to play it proportionally, like a Renaissance building, i.e., with all sections in the same tempo with correlating relationships. For example, the Allegro section is double the tempo of the opening Adagio (4/4); the Andantino section (3/4) is a proportion of the base tempo, etc. It is difficult to argue with Bezuidenhout’s free approach in this work, as he framed its performance as an improvised fantasy, not as a balanced structure. However, the musical skeleton these tempo relationships can create adds strength to the work as a whole; Bezuidenhout’s performance seemed somewhat fragmented, and the tumult of the Più allegro section lacked bite.

Haydn’s Variations in F minor (“Un piccolo Divertimento,” Hob. XVII:6) was very conversational, relaxed, and clear, while variations with the moderator (mute) demanded the audience to listen closely. Georg Benda’s perky Sonata in A minor reminded one of the works of C.P.E. Bach, though much more fun. Mozart’s Variations in G Major on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint” (KV 455) featured phrases that melted away and natural playing by a performer who humbly presents music before himself.

Disappointingly, Bezuidenhout’s only other American performance in 2008 will be a single engagement in New York this December. By contrast, his full European and Asian docket includes a tour with violinist Viktoria Mullova, the complete Beethoven Concertos with Frans Brüggen and the Orchestra of the 18th Century at the Concertgebouw, and a tour of China with that orchestra. We hope to see him back in the Washington area soon.

The next concert on the Friends of Music series at Dumbarton Oaks will feature the Fine Arts Quartet and Brazilian pianist Christina Ortiz (March 9 and 10, 8 pm).

Life After Takács – Roger Tapping’s Washington Recital

Roger Tapping is a known quantity among chamber music aficionados in Washington – especially those who have followed the Takács Quartet’s performances when he was on violist-duty for that formidable group. Since leaving the Takács Quartet in 2005 to spend more time with his family, Roger Tapping has continuously shown up in performances with (often very young) quartets at the Corcoran Gallery and Bethesda Music Society where he performed all of Mozart’s String Quintets with the JupiterParkerDaedalus, and Auryn Quartets. Last January he joined the Klavier Trio Amsterdam for the Fauré Piano Quartet.

available at Amazon Beethoven, String Quartets op.18,
Takács Quartet
Decca

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon Beethoven, String Quartets opp.59, 74,
Takács Quartet
Decca

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon Beethoven, The Late String Quartets,
Takács Quartet
Decca

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon Bartók, The String Quartets,
Takács Quartet (II)
Decca

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon Korngold / Schoenberg, Sextet / Verklärte Nacht,
Raphael Ensemble
Hyperion

UK | DE | FR

available at Amazon Dvořák, Quintet, Sextet,
Raphael Ensemble
Hyperion

UK | DE | FR
Retiring from playing in a professional chamber group must be tantamount to enjoying a new life. Instead of being on tour four, five weeks at a time, Tapping – who had previously served in the Raphael Ensemble and the Allegri Quartet – is now away from home for only a few days at a time. This not only means that Tapping can enjoy family life and focus more on teaching at the New England Conservatory but also that he can observe other string quartets he performs with from a detached point of view. Being one step removed, the intricacies of quartet–life become “sociologically interesting”: to see how four young players approach musical problems or react to new music; to observe how veteran groups resolve their differences in as many different – and the same – ways as, for example, married couples might approach theirs.

Though the occasional, wistful pangs of nostalgia for the Takács days still occur, Tapping – who recently spoke to me about his current activities and plans – seems to quite enjoy his newfound peace and the ability to moonlight with great chamber groups, both young and established. For example the Pražák Quartet which Tapping attested to feeling immediately comfortable with – perhaps because their wonderful balance of vigor and warmth is, at least to my ears, related to the playing of the Takács.

For the future we can expect lots of Mozart, Brahms, and Beethoven Quintets with Tapping and a host of fine string quartets but also the Beethoven String Trios, the type of chamber music formation that Tapping generally considers the ‘scariest’ to play because they offer no place to hide. Beethoven’s op.9, specifically, he described as particularly honest, unsentimental exponents thereof – in short: “The real thing”. (In so elucidating these works – works that I have hitherto not responded to with much enthusiasm – Tapping makes me want to seek out the Leopold Trio’s recordings that he recommends.)

Roger Tapping also plans on doing more viola recitals – such as will take place this Friday, the 29th at La Maison Française (7.30PM) where Tapping and pianist Judith Gordon will present a diverse program of Bach (a Gamba Sonata) , Fauré (Après un rêve), Hindemith (Sonata for solo iola), Schumann (Adagio & Allegro op.70), and Shostakovich (Sonata op.147). These recitals (and concerts) are an aspect of a non-chamber violist’s life he finds most pleasing, not the least because getting to play the melody for more than just two bars at a time is a completely new experience.

After talking about his present and future plans, I could not help harking back once more on his time in previous chamber groups. With the Raphael Ensemble from 1983 until 1990 he played alongside composer/performer Sally Beamish and participated in highly regarded recordings on Hyperion, including the BrahmsDvořák, and KorngoldSextets. With the Allegri Quartet he got to play next to the Pablo Casals student Bruno Schrecker who Tapping recalls fondly as the best bass line player he’d met. With this longest continually performing of British string quartets he played from 1990 until 1995 when, seeking a clean break in his private life, he auditioned for the Takács Quartet who needed to fill the violist’s seat after Gábor Omai had passed away.

He joined Károly Schranz, András Fejér, and Edward Dusinberre (who had himself just become a Takácsi 18 months before Tapping’s arrival), and contributed what was doubtlessly a golden age for the quartet, culminating in CD surveys of the complete Bartók and Beethoven quartets. They are widely considered first choices among modern digital recordings of either. Tapping mentions both when asked about his favorite recordings from that time. When he recently put on the Beethoven (which he had not listened to for a while, in part to avoid overt nostalgia) to see how his group had solved certain problems back then, he found himself “pleasantly surprised” how, despite the continuous development and evolution of how the Quartet approached these works, very nicely the Beethoven still held up. When pressed to chose between them, though, he points to the Bartók as their proudest achievement. (I’m not surprised: I fell in love with that recording nearly four years ago and that love has never ceased.)

The finest way to enjoy Mr. Tapping’s art, short of attending his recitals and concerts in the region, is through his recordings with the Takács Quartet and Raphael Ensemble. On the right I have listed some of my favorites in which he participates – none of which I would want to be without.



The recital at La Maison Française will be recorded by WETA and broadcast later in the year.

Alban Berg Quartet, Adieu

We had to miss the Washington stop of the Alban Berg Quartet's farewell tour, at the Library of Congress on Friday night. It was more than a consolation to be able to hear the Takács Quartet at the Corcoran instead that night, as well as to know that on Sunday evening the Alban Berg Quartet would be appearing at Shriver Hall in Baltimore (after an absence of almost 30 years). While this solution did mean not having to choose between the two quartets, the programs offered by the Alban Berg Quartet in the two venues were not identical: there was Haydn and Berg in both places, but different pieces, and the group played Beethoven at the LOC and Schubert at Shriver Hall.

The quartet lost its founding violist, Thomas Kakuska, to cancer in 2005. Kakuska had hoped that the quartet would continue after his death, even nominating a student, Isabel Charisius, to succeed him. Regrettably, the loss has ultimately led to the unraveling of the group, which cellist Valentin Erben has described as "a big rupture in our hearts." This is a loss for listeners who loved the subtlety, warmth, and lyricism of their style of playing, but their legacy will be preserved in an extraordinary range of excellent recordings. Still, fans of chamber music were obliged to turn out in force to hear their final series of concerts, and if attending both of them in Washington and Baltimore had been possible, I would have done it.

The solemn Introduzione to Haydn's op. 51, Die sieben letzten Worte unseres Erlösers am Kreuze, was a model of true intonation and clarity of ensemble attack from the first note, with no period of settling into the room's acoustic. Haydn composed the score for a Good Friday service in the church of Santa Cueva in Cádiz, Spain, later adapting the orchestral version for string quartet, adding the introductory movement heard here and a conclusion. Here it introduced not the suffering and death of Jesus but, incongruously, Alban Berg's gorgeous Lyrische Suite, which we have heard from the Quatuor Diotima in 2006 and a Musicians from Marlboro concert in 2005. Instead of Christ's seven last words, it was Berg's six "latent opera" scenes on his adulterous affair with Hanna Fuchs-Robettin. The quartet gave a masterful performance of their namesake's work, ranging from the multiparty chattering of the first movement to the subtle quotation from Tristan und Isolde in the last movement.

Other Articles:

Tim Smith, Austria's Alban Berg Quartet bids a fond farewell (Baltimore Sun, February 26)

Anne Midgette, Alban Berg Quartet's Passionate and Bittersweet Farewell (Washington Post, February 25)

Andrew Clements, Alban Berg Quartet (The Guardian, February 16)

Hugo Shirley, Alban Berg Quartet (Musical Criticism, February 15)

Emma Pomfret, The stormy, intimate life of the string quartet (The Times, February 8)
The Berg highlighted the distinguishing quality of the quartet's Viennese sound, an all-around sweetness of tone eschewing the stridency one sometimes hears, dramatically, from American quartets. The hushed intimacy of the second movement, with the singing first violin of Günter Pichler and the tender duet of second violin and viola, gave way to the eerie sul ponticello effects and insectoid pizzicati of the third movement, again more atmospheric than drawing attention to themselves. Full dynamics were not really sustained until the feverish fourth movement and jabbing, angular sounds of the furious fifth movement.

The Shriver audience got the better end of the deal in terms of Berg, hearing the suite instead of the op. 3 string quartet. While the LOC patrons heard Beethoven's Heiliger Dankgesang quartet, it was another twilight piece, Schubert's final string quartet (D major, D. 887), that concluded the Shriver concert. Clearly, thoughts of illness and death hang heavily over the group's final concerts. The anguish of the first movement's opposition of major and minor chords (used so memorably by Woody Allen in his movie Crimes and Misdemeanors) was played as if under the surface, with the first theme hushed over a neurotically suppresed tremolo.

The second movement's cello solo playing by Valentin Erben was suave and introspective, perhaps evoking the sleeping Schubert awakened by terrors of his impending death. The Schubert, most of all, revealed some of the cracks in the technical polish of the veteran quartet, with some intonation issues, especially in the first violin, and less than flawless accuracy of execution. While fatigue must also be playing a part in the decision to retire, the Alban Berg Quartet's final performance in Baltimore, all in all, ends their career at an impressive height of accomplishment.

The next concert at Shriver Hall promises to be one of the best of the season, a recital by pioneering French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard (March 16, 5:30 pm). The program is announced as selections from Bach's Art of Fugue (Contrapunctus I-XI), Schoenberg's Five Piano Pieces, op. 23, and Beethoven's op. 110 sonata. We would not miss it for the world.

25.2.08

21st Century Consort: Swan and Stone

21st Century ConsortThe 21st Century Consort offered its latest program of recent music on Saturday evening at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Called Swan and Stone, this concert was centered on the theme of magical transformations, but instead of Baroque music (as on a similar program by Tafelmusik earlier this month), it brought together examples of 20th-century music. This is the other hat worn by Christopher Kendall, who also co-directs the Folger Consort and spends significant time in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, in addition to teaching duties at the University of Michigan. As with any group like this that takes chances on recent music by new composers, not everything presented by the 21st Century Consort is necessarily a hit, but it is always of interest. The group has recently announced that an archive of recordings from its long concert history, featuring an impressive array of new music, is in the process of being deposited at the library of the University of Maryland for public consultation.

One of the best reasons to attend a concert by the 21st Century Consort is the chance to hear some of the best musicians in the National Symphony Orchestra in a chamber setting. The program opened with Elizabeth Adkins (the NSO's Associate Concertmaster) and David Hardy (principal cellist) in a duet, The Swan, by Lawrence Moss, a composer who teaches at the University of Maryland. The piece was inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke's poem Der Schwan, heard by the composer at the memorial service for Christopher Kendall's mother (it was found at her bedside after she died). The violin and the cello, both played with sensitivity, were often in the same range, speaking in close counterpoint, with plaintive harmonics and a subtle quotation from Swing Low, Sweet Chariot. The rest of the program was focused on vocal repertoire, beginning with a work conceived for children, Jon Deak's The Ugly Duckling. It casts the title animal as a gangly double-bass (played with dry humor by Rick Barber) against a narrator who takes many of the other voices (the versatile soprano Carmen Pelton). After a first part of only those two musicians, the second part brings in a string quartet, playing mostly in a tonal style.

Other Reviews:

Pianist Soheil Nasseri: Local Boy Does Pretty Good (Washington Post, February 25 -- scroll down to the final paragraph)
Of much greater interest was the substantial work that made up the second half, TreeStone by Stephen Albert, premiered in partial form by the 21st Century Consort in 1984. The text, divided between a soprano (Carmen Pelton, now in a less comic guise) and a tenor (the raspy but effective Randal Rushing), is drawn from the Tristan and Iseult episodes in James Joyce's enigmatic novel Finnegans Wake. The large instrumental forces, effectively a small chamber orchestra of thirteen players, with the wind players covering more than one instrument, must limit the number of performances. Albert, who died tragically young a few years after he won the 1985 Pulitzer Prize, mirrored the combination of idioms in Joyce's text, interweaving harsh dissonance, ethereal metallic conjurations, and folk and popular song idioms. The result is a musical tapestry as complex as Joyce's text (well, maybe not that complex).

The final concert by the 21st Century Consort this season is called The Sound of Light (April 5, 5 pm), at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It is offered in conjunction with the museum's upcoming exhibit Color as Field: American Painting, 1950–1975 and includes the world premiere of James Primosch’s Dark the Star.

Red Priest @ Dumbarton

available at Amazon
Vivaldi, Four Seasons, Red Priest
(2003)
Dorian DOR-90317
The English ensemble Red Priest, the backup group for eclectic recorder virtuoso Piers Adams, is known for making flashy adaptations of concerti by Vivaldi (whence their name) and other Italian Baroque composers for their chamber ensemble of recorder, violin, cello, and harpsichord. Much of their last recording, of Vivaldi's most famous set of concerti, Le Stagioni, hovers at the edge of tastelessness in its extravagant rewriting of Vivaldi's score. The group's dramatic impulsiveness may be justified by the sonnets that describe the narrative of each concerto, and if any style of music invites embellishment and adaptation, it is the Baroque.

Sure, I could probably live with the atonal bird calls, the weaving drunkard bends and slides, the added folk chromatic inflections, but are the bagpipe drone starting-up sound and the the pirate shout of "Hai!" in the third movement of La Primavera really necessary? Is there any reason to insert a quote of My Country, 'Tis of Thee before the final ritornello of the first movement of L'Autunno? The dripping rain of the middle movement of L'Inverno turned into a calypso? For a lesson in how to bring out every dramatic possibility of The Four Seasons without resorting to bathos and buffoonery, listen to Concerto Italiano's recording instead.

Red PriestRed Priest returned to Washington on Saturday night for a sold-out concert at Dumbarton Church in Georgetown, featuring the program from their forthcoming recording, Pirates of the Baroque. One might wonder why on earth Ionarts would feel compelled to attend, but it is my business to know about Baroque performance groups, going to concerts so you don't have to (you can thank me later). If there is anything that Red Priest's approach to Baroque music tells us -- yes, they did perform in red and black pirates' costumes -- it is that one is not to take them seriously. What they do, by their own admission, is not about resurrecting great art (the program notes more or less suggest that the reason to listen to this music is because "the majority of composers" lived "boozy, philandering, extravagantly bohemian lives, intent on maximising their profits through, if necessary, dubious means") and it is certainly not about historically informed performance (Piers Adams' "musicological" justification for the Pirates of the Caribbean adaptation of Vivaldi's Tempesta di Mare concerto was that "the composer is dead").

Other Reviews:

Joan Reinthaler, Red Priest (Washington Post, February 25)
The idea behind the program is flimsy, at best, combining the idea of musical piracy (composers stealing music from others) and music about pirates and the sea. The music consisted of Red Priest's typically glitzed up arrangements of some familiar Baroque chestnuts, some NPR folk music pablum, and a few unusual pieces of genuine interest. The gavotte with variations by Robert Mackintosh (1745-1807) is a charming work, in spite of the performance's out-of-tune multiple stops. The English Nightingale by Jacob Van Eyck (1590-1657) featured the stunning virtuosity of Adams, walking from the back of the audience with his sopranino recorder. Adams can play, to be sure, and he seems to have taken his stage gyrations from Ian Anderson. With Giuseppe Tartini's Senti Lo Mare and a tambourin by Jean-Marie Leclair, Red Priest almost seemed to take itself seriously, at which point uncomfortable questions would have to be raised, about what other reasons might make one want to listen to Baroque music. Other than the debased degeneracy of its composers, of course.

The next concert on the Dumbarton Concerts series will feature the Amelia Piano Trio (March 15, 8 pm).

24.2.08

Takács Quartet @ Corcoran

Takács Quartet, photo by Lin Wang

The second installment of the Washington concert appearances by Ionarts favorite the Takács Quartet, following a beautiful concert at Wolf Trap last October, was at the Corcoran Gallery of Art on Friday night. It was a closely matched program (the same one they played at Carnegie Hall the night before), intended really to be Part 2 to the Wolf Trap concert, but offered as a benefit concert on behalf of the Corcoran's Musical Evening Series.

The group opened with a Haydn quartet (op. 74, no. 2), following up on op. 74, no. 1, at Wolf Trap. Their Haydn this time was jolly, reflected in the sunny, sharp tone of Edward Dusinberre's first violin. The group set the tempo of the first movement (Vivace) one notch too fast, catching the viola a little unawares, at its solo moment transitioning to the second theme (an issue resolved in the repeat of the exposition). The second movement, a graceful theme with variations set at just the right pace, featured lovely, pensive solo playing from the two remaining Hungarian founding members of the quartet, cellist András Fejér and second violinist Károly Schranz. The third and fourth movements returned to the light-hearted mood, with a cheery menuetto and a finale in the spirit of a country reel.

Takács Quartet:
available at Amazon
Haydn (op. 76)


available at Amazon
Bartók


available at Amazon
Brahms, op. 51
In the modern slot (instead of Janáček's second quartet at Wolf Trap), it was Béla Bartók's fifth quartet. The 20th century was dominated by three great sets of string quartets -- six by Bartók (1909-1939), fifteen by Shostakovich (1938-1974), and five (so far) by Elliott Carter (1951-1995). Hopefully, the Takács will one day give a complete performance of Bartók's cycle of six string quartets here in Washington, as their interpretations of his quartets, live and in recording, remain the most illuminating. Yes, we have heard them play no. 2 and no. 3 in recent years at the Corcoran, but not enough to justify you calling us greedy for wanting more.

In no. 5 once again, it was the quartet's unity that impressed as it rocketed through the vast palette of colors -- folk songs hummed in the night, a perverse tango, barbaric yapping, machine-gun unisons, in the first movement alone. Forms crystallized beautifully, like the chiasmic return of the pure and sad folk recitative in the first violin that opens and closes the second movement. The lopsided Bulgarian dance of the third movement contrasted with the insect and frog calls growing to an angry buzz in the fourth. The fifth movement, opening starkly and driving furiously to its end, capped an extraordinary performance.

Other Reviews:

Tom Huizenga, Takács Quartet (Washington Post, February 25)

Dean Bevan, Takács Quartet’s communication leads to sensitive performance (Lawrence (Kans.) Journal-World, February 19)
Washington is enjoying a surfeit of the Brahms quartets this season, driving Anne Midgette at the Post to distraction, with a complete cycle from the Emerson Quartet and now an almost-complete one from the Takács. After op. 51, no. 1, at Wolf Trap it was time for op. 51, no. 2, with similar results. The first movement opened at a restrained tempo but seemed overall flexible, the push and pull creating a sense of introspection, which continued into the ardent, sustained second movement. Having heard this performance side by side with the Emerson Quartet last month, I think that the Emerson owns the third movement, with a cool, gloomy minuetto, while the Takács' rendition was a little scattered, especially the trio, which was at the edge of control. However, the Takács gave a much more satisfyingly gutsy performance of the fourth movement, holding back the tempo slightly (it is marked Allegro non assai) and digging into the score with weight. "After that light program," as Edward Dusinberre put it, it was time for a little Shostakovich encore, the delightfully acidic Polka from The Golden Age, no less welcome because it had also been the encore at Wolf Trap in October.

The closest that the Takács Quartet's third program -- with Haydn's op. 74, no. 3, and the third Brahms quartet -- will get to Washington is the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society (April 28, 8 pm), which also includes the Franck Piano Quintet with Jean-Yves Thibaudet. Road trip, anyone? The next, equally anticipated concert at the Corcoran features the Jupiter Quartet (March 28, 8 pm).