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31.1.10

In Brief: Welcome Be Ye, Candlemas Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.
  • Anne Schwanewilms rocks the Strauss. [YouTube]

  • These crazy Leonardo obsessions have to stop: now some scholars want to exhume the Renaissance artist's (presumed) grave in an attempt to reconstruct his face from his skull. Why? To test the batshit theory that the Mona Lisa is a self-portrait of Leonardo as a woman. We already know that Leonardo was homosexual and made at least one androgynous image of an erotic nature, the Angelo incarnato: leave the bones of the dead in peace. [The Times]

  • Joyce DiDonato speaks to Adam Sweeting. [The Telegraph]

  • Forget zealously defending the full length of the Christmas season through the feast of the Baptism of the Lord. If you really want to be traditional, the Christmas season should extend until the fifth Sunday after Epiphany, which puts the last feast of the period at Candlemas, the feast of the Purification on February 2. This medieval understanding of the Christmas season is found in English medieval carols, for example, which often end with references to Candlemas. As my contribution to the traditional side in the War on Candlemas, then, you are urged to attend the special service at St. Paul’s K Street this coming Tuesday (February 2, 6:30 pm). It irks me, as a Catholic and student of the Middle Ages, that the Episcopalians are more faithful to so many of these medieval traditions, but having spent part of a snowy afternoon yesterday listening to the choir and orchestra (!) rehearsing Bruckner’s E Minor Mass (no. 2, the one for 8-part chorus and winds) for this service, I can tell you it will be worth it. [St. Paul’s K Street]

  • Matthew Guerrieri points out that the latest Mel Gibson turd movie, Edge of Darkness, originally had a score composed by John Corigliano -- they actually recorded it and everything, with Leonard Slatkin conducting the London Metropolitan Orchestra. It was then dumped, however, and replaced with the latest rehash of the same musical ideas by Howard Shore. As Corigliano put it, " If I had been asked to score a Mel Gibson action film, I would have refused it." Exactly. [The Faster Times]

  • Anne Midgette analyzes the numbers -- the real numbers -- for sales of classical music recordings. Prepare to be depressed if you still think that the classical Grammys mean anything. [Washington Post]

30.1.10

NSO Pops the Bubbly in January

available at Amazon
Tchaikovsky, Rococo Variations,
M. Maisky, Orpheus CO


available at Amazon
Dvořák, Sy. 8/9, Budapest FO,
I. Fischer
This weekend's concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra capped off one of the ensemble's strongest months of programming in recent memory. January's concerts have featured impressive soloists like Nikolaj Znaider and talented conductors like Michael Stern, in pieces that are not heard all that often. If the execution was not always what one might have hoped, there was still much good music to be heard. At Friday night’s performance of this week's program, Principal Conductor Ivan Fischer seemed utterly relaxed, opening with the Three Dance Episodes from Leonard Bernstein’s On the Town. These jocular, swinging pieces are Bernstein at his best, not overreaching in ambition for longer forms but happy enough just to please with clownish syncopation and jazzy melodic fragments.

The NSO took that idea and ran with it, the low winds murmuring under the bluesy trumpet in Lonely Town: Pas de deux and principal clarinetist Loren Kitt a raucous clarinet solo and easy-going alto sax in Times Square: 1944. At some points, especially the low down and dirty sections of the last movement, one certainly had the impression that someone should have been taking it all off. It was nice to hear music like this not in the context of a gala season opening concert or a Pops program. Continuing in the spirit of a gala program, Mischa Maisky appeared, to play not a grand concerto but two lighter pieces that showcased his rich, Romantically arched style of playing. The tone has bite and edge at times but can evaporate into a silky whisper, not unlike a large, operatic voice, which is what he channeled in an arrangement of Lensky’s aria from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin for chamber orchestra. (You can hear Valery Gergiev conduct the whole thing at the Kennedy Center next month, again as part of this year’s Focus on Russia program.) Maisky filled the gloomy melody with nostalgia, the air heavy with the disaster that we know will befall Lensky.

It may have been wiser to open with the much less satisfying Tchaikovsky piece, the Variations on a Rococo Theme, which Maisky played well but with some of the more intricate finger work, especially near the beginning, not always in tune (a lack of precision that marred his Bach suites at the National Gallery of Art in 2004). The piece generally works better with a lighter-toned player, but Maisky gave gorgeous shape to the slower, melody-rich passages (especially the minor-mode seventh variation), danced with liquid ease high on the A string, and played the cadenza-like opening to the eighth variation brilliantly. Not even your jaded critic could complain about hearing Maisky apply the same oozing technique to another Tchaikovsky selection as an encore, the rueful D minor nocturne.


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, An NSO program to wet the whistle (Washington Post, January 29)
Some of Fischer's best work with his other ensemble, the Budapest Festival Orchestra, at least as heard in recording, has been in music of central European composers like Kodály, Bartók, and Dvořák (Mahler, too, if we go by modern national boundaries). This performance of Dvořák's eighth symphony was one of Fischer's best attempts to recreate that success with the NSO: a malleable, burnished, stylistically (if not technically) note-perfect rendition. The first movement had heroic swagger, and the second had dancing grace, with that little ticking wind motif kept smooth and chime-like. The equally light-footed third movement had a grand sense of surging and receding power, with the many cross-rhythms not drawing attention to themselves but just pulsating beneath the texture, enlivening it. Fischer did not indulge the last movement's softer passages, which always moved ahead, and the lasso gesture he used to unleash the horns' manic outbursts was classic.

This program repeats tonight (January 30, 8 pm), for anyone willing to brave the snow. The next program from the NSO will feature conductor James Gaffigan and pianist Denis Matsuev (February 18 to 20), previewed earlier this week.

29.1.10

À mon chevet: The Catcher in the Rye

book cover
À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.
I had quite a bit of time to kill till ten o'clock, so what I did, I went to the movies at Radio City. It was probably the worst thing I could've done, but it was near, and I couldn't think of anything else.

I came in when the goddam stage show was on. The Rockettes were kicking their heads off, the way they do when they're all in line with their arms around each other's waist. The audience applauded like mad, and some guy behind me kept saying to his wife, "You know what that is? That's precision." He killed me. Then, after the Rockettes, a guy came out in a tuxedo and roller skates on, and started skating under a bunch of little tables, and telling jokes while he did it. He was a very good skater and all, but I couldn't enjoy it much because I kept picturing him practicing to be a guy that roller-skates on the stage. It seemed so stupid. I guess I just wasn't in the right mood. Then, after him, they had this Christmas thing they have at Radio City every year. All these angels start coming out of the boxes and everywhere, guys carrying crucifixes and stuff all over the place, and the whole bunch of them -- thousands of them -- singing "Come All Ye Faithful!" like mad. Big deal. It's supposed to be religious as hell, I know, and very pretty and all, but I can't see anything religious or pretty, for God's sake, about a bunch of actors carrying crucifixes all over the stage. When they were all finished and started going out the boxes again, you could tell they could hardly wait to get a cigarette or something. I saw it with old Sally Hayes the year before, and she kept saying how beautiful it was, the costumes and all. I said old Jesus probably would've puked if He could see it -- all those fancy costumes and all. Sally said I was a sacrilegious atheist. I probably am. The thing Jesus really would've liked would be the guy that plays the kettle drums in the orchestra. I've watched that guy since I was about eight years old. My brother Allie and I, if we were with our parents and all, we used to move our seats and go way down so we could watch him. He's the best drummer I ever saw. He only gets a chance to bang them a couple of times during the whole piece, but he never looks bored when he isn't doing it. Then when he does bang them, he does it so nice and sweet, with this nervous expression on his face. One time we went to Washington with my father, Allie sent him a postcard, but I'll bet he never got it. We weren't too sure how to address it.

-- J. D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye, pp. 137-38
As everyone surely has heard by now, J. D. Salinger died on Wednesday at the age of 91. (The New Yorker, which published some of the last stories he allowed to go public, has put all of them online as a tribute -- for subscribers only, but you should subscribe to the magazine if you do not already.) Just about anyone who has gone to high school in the United States in the last forty years or so has likely been assigned to read his most famous book, The Catcher in the Rye. Most of us ended up loving that book, especially us disaffected, bookish teenagers identifying with its protagonist, the archetypal disaffected, bookish teenager. Salinger lived an unusual life, shunning the fame that he abhorred and refusing to publish anything else at some point in the 60s, a reversal of our current age's abominable, slavish worship of celebrity. As Prof. Robert Thompson, of Syracuse University, so aptly put it in the feature on Salinger for PBS News Hour (video embedded below), "This makes him an unbelievably interesting character, especially in contemporary America. He was going completely against the American grain. Most people would do anything for the attention, the slobbering attention that fame brings. Here's a guy who has fame falling into his lap, and he builds a wall around it. He is the antithesis of American Idol, the antithesis of reality TV." Amen, and may he now have the quiet he seemed to want.

28.1.10

More of Radu Lupu's Twilight Schubert

Radu Lupu:
available at Amazon
Schubert Sonatas


available at Amazon
Beethoven


available at Amazon
Brahms
After an absence of over a decade, Washington Performing Arts Society brought the elusive Romanian pianist Radu Lupu back to Washington last night for an extraordinary recital, this time in the Music Center at Strathmore. In its basic outline -- slightly sloppy and ultimately weird Beethoven followed by equally weird but sublime Schubert -- it was quite similar to Lupu's Shriver Hall recital last year. Where the program differed most delightfully was by opening with Leoš Janáček's In the Mists, an autobiographical work from 1912 loosely describing the composer's sense of being lost as he grew old. With his aspirations frustrated by an unhappy domestic life and a provincial post, he reportedly felt on the edge of being lost in the mists of time. Lupu captured the work's gnomic qualities: a wandering sense of melody, a little perdu, full of modal inflections and folksong-like cantillation. The composer and pianist Thomas Adès wrote quite brilliantly about the work in an essay on Janáček's solo piano music in Janáček Studies, a collection of articles edited by Paul Wingfield:
In Janáček, not a note, not a gesture is rhetorical, is inertly for its own sake; every detail is to play for; every slightest instrumental or harmonic color fires its particular charge into the structure. [...] The greatness of In the Mists lies in its very claustrophobia, an austerity of means affecting every aspect of the music. The solo piano becomes a narrow space with four solid walls (p. 34).
available at Amazon
Janáček Studies
, ed. Paul Wingfield
Lupu gave the B section of the first movement a Debussy-hued wash of color and played the chromatically inflected salon waltz of the second movement as if its once-vivid colors were now a sepia-toned memory in a photograph. The feel of the Janáček seemed to explain Lupu's approach to all of the music on the program, playing it often not entirely in the keys, with extraordinary reserve and careful crafting of the tone and weight of each note. It did not really work for the Beethoven selection, one of the most outwardly oriented sonatas, op. 57 ("Appassionata"), in which Beethoven reacts to his own declining health not by retreating within but by howling to the skies. As in the "Pathétique" sonata, performed on the Baltimore recital, the work revealed some glaring technical shortcomings, as Lupu used a heavy sustaining pedal to gloss over many of the difficult passages (like the "cadenza" at the end of the first movement), often manipulating the tempo as well. It was Beethoven through a Janáček lens, with many facets to enjoy, especially the beautifully modeled and exquisitely voiced second movement, but that paled beside the superior polish of technicians like Maurizio Pollini or Till Fellner.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Pianist Radu Lupu, following a quirky but rewarding path (Washington Post, January 29)

John von Rhein, Radu Lupu returns, but in lackluster form (Chicago Tribune, February 2)

Bryant Manning, Radu Lupu brings Zen-like calm to piano concert (Chicago Sun-Times, February 2)

Lawrence A. Johnson, Lupu’s detached style shorts Schubert’s drama in mixed program (Chicago Classical Review, February 1)

Allan Kozinn, Muscular Moodiness, Paired With Reflection (New York Times, February 3)
Just like the Baltimore recital, which concluded with a magisterial performance of Schubert's great B-flat sonata, with an air of the valedictory about it, this program reached its apogee in the penultimate Schubert piano sonata (A major, D. 959). Recent performances or recordings of this autumnal sonata by Martin Helmchen and Till Fellner have stood out in my memory, and both were shattered by the enigmatic rendition sculpted by Lupu. Melodies like the first movement's main theme, redolent of lonely isolation, were played so quietly, almost as if submerged in thought, and the second movement, an Andantino heavy with regret, seemed murky, its shapes lost in shadow. Lupu took the scherzo at a fairly slow tempo, at least for the marking of Allegro vivace, making for a dance that was more subdued than clownish, with graceful hand-crossings in the trio. With Lupu taking almost no pause between any of the movements, the various memories and associated savoring or regretting seemed to run together in a near-jumble.

Although he has already recorded these late Schubert sonatas -- quite memorably, in fact -- Radu Lupu should consider recording at least the last three sonatas anew, because based on what we have heard in Baltimore and again last night at Strathmore, his interpretation of these rueful pieces these days is worth preserving. In my review of last year's recital, I noted of Lupu that "one could easily mistake his profile at the piano for that of the older Johannes Brahms." How delightful, then, to have some Brahms as an encore, the most restrained, fragile, wistful performance of the A major intermezzo (op. 118, no. 2). None of those dangerously delicious harmonies was indulged, filling the piece with a very Brahmsian feeling of subsumed, frustrated longing.

The next concert in the WPAS classical series will feature cellist Alisa Weilerstein and pianist Inon Barnatan (February 6, 8 pm) at the 6th and I Historic Synagogue.

27.1.10

Denis Matsuev

available at Amazon
Carnegie Hall Concert (Schumann, Liszt, Prokofiev), D. Matsuev

(released on October 20, 2009)
RCA Red Seal 8697291462 | 78'35"
Piano virtuoso Denis Matsuev, winner of the 11th International Tchaikovsky Competition, will come to Washington next month, for an appearance with the National Symphony Orchestra (February 18 to 20). The program, conducted by James Gaffigan, is somewhat of a snore for my taste, except for the chance to hear Lera Auerbach's Requiem for Icarus. Still, it is clear from the writing of many critics that Matsuev is a contender, and I had better take the chance to hear him play after missing his last local appearance, with the National Philharmonic of Russia at George Mason last spring. (He will play the Rachmaninoff second concerto, timed to coincide with the release of his new recording of the third piano concerto and the Paganini Rhapsody, with Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra, next month.)

Matsuev's recital at Carnegie Hall in November 2007, captured for RCA in this high-quality live recording, demonstrated the Russian pianist's extraordinary technical prowess and his dramatic propensity as a showman. Writing about Matsuev's 2006 recital at the Terrace Theater, Jens singled out his excessive on-stage gyrations, and there is a similar sense of ostentatious self-display in the interpretative choices, too. The little miniatures of the opening work, Schumann's Kinderszenen, are heavily manipulated, as if spun to give each movement its own sheen, a disruptively incisive process intended to reveal new facets. The same is true of Matsuev's readings of Liszt's B minor sonata and Prokofiev's seventh sonata, but the effect is less noticeable because the technical demands are so much greater. The results do not seem to have proceeded from the question "What are these pieces trying to tell me?" but from "What can I, Denis Matsuev, say about these pieces that will set off this performance as unique"? Very impressive pianism, to be sure, but less technically proficient versions, played with less of a personal stamp and a less erratic sense of rhythmic pulse (another of Matsuev's tics), have pleased more.

While Steve Smith in a rather rapturous review in the New York Times, which is quoted in the liner notes, listed five encores played at this recital, a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody and a Rachmaninoff prelude do not make it to disc (the mention of a Stravinsky encore in Marina Gaykovich's liner essay must be an error). Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. 1 was also cut from the main program in the recording.

Denis Matsuev will perform Rachmaninoff's second piano concerto with the National Symphony Orchestra on February 18 to 20. The following day (!), Matsuev will play another recital at Carnegie Hall (February 21, 8 pm), this time featuring Tchaikovsky's Seasons and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

26.1.10

Monumenta Flandrica

available at Amazon
Masses of Flemish Masters,
Tallis Scholars

(re-released on October 13, 2009)
Gimell CDGIM 211 | 149'24"
The polyphonic Mass is one of the heights of European culture, in many ways the musical equivalent of the Gothic cathedral in architecture. For Renaissance composers, it was the symphony of the age, the grandest genre possible for displaying compositional prowess and technical mastery. Studying Renaissance music as a graduate student in the last decade of the previous century, I spent many hours listening to as many recordings of these pieces as I could get my hands on. We were so lucky at that time not to have our only way to experience these pieces be singing them ourselves, as musicology students of previous eras had had to do. Having sung plenty of these Masses, I can say that it is a fine way to appreciate the structure, too, but to have the now-classic recordings of groups like the Tallis Scholars to accompany score study is a luxury.

The five settings of the Latin Mass compiled on this new 2-CD set were recorded by the Tallis Scholars between 1989 and 1997. If you did not acquire them for your collection when they came out, because like me you were a starving graduate student who spent a lot of time at the music library's listening stations, you can now have them together at a heavily discounted price ($20 for two discs). The group is still actively recording, of course, but one has the sense listening to their older recordings that this was their golden age. Isaac's Missa De Apostolis (recorded in 1991) is an absolute gem, in a recording that would be difficult to better: the alternatim setting with fluid, rhythmically free chant performances that provides a pleasing counterpart to the measured polyphony. Lassus's Missa Osculetur me (recorded in 1989), for eight voices in cori spezzati, is stunningly beautiful, with a Dona nobis pacem that absolutely stops time still.

The most remarkable piece of music on the disc, though is Antoine Brumel's Missa Et ecce terrae motus (recorded in 1991). Huge crescendos (at the end of the Kyrie, but also other places) are created by amassing sound in short repeated phrases, piling up all twelve voices over time, presumably to depict the Easter day earthquake that accompanied the Resurrection (listen for Mark Padmore in the tenor section). The repetition in the work, rippling through several parts and turning back on itself, cries out for comparison to minimalist techniques in much later music. Cipriano de Rore's Missa Praeter rerum seriem still has a beautiful, if occasionally too muscly sound (recorded in 1994: Paul Agnew can be heard in the tenor section). The only (slight) disappointment is Ockeghem's Missa Au travail suis, based on his own partsong, sometimes attributed to an otherwise unknown Barbignant. Recorded in 1997, this recording is least pleasing in the many bicinia, where reduction to two voices exposes some individual weaknesses (and the balance issues heard from the group in recent outings stand out).

25.1.10

The Wanderer Program


Pianist Jeremy Denk
Pianist Jeremy Denk’s last-minute program change, trading Book One of Ligeti’s Etudes for American composer Charles Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 1, radically altered the expectations for his Saturday afternoon recital at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, sponsored by Washington Performing Arts Society. Denk first gave a nuanced interpretation of Bach’s inventive Toccata in D major, BWV 912, achieving a masterful level of expressiveness through a light touch, individual voicing, and exacting dynamic control, without egregious affectations of tempo often heard from non-specialists on the piano. With the audience in the palm of his hand following the Bach, Denk reinforced his detailed program notes on the Ives with verbal remarks and the playing of first-movement themes: the tune Where Is My Wandering Boy and the hymn Lebanon (the text begins “I was a wandering sheep, I did not love the fold…”).

Written between 1909 and 1916, Ives’s Piano Sonata No. 1 comprises five movements based upon the story of a late 19th-century Connecticut farming family, whose son has gone off to “sow his wild oats.” The second and fourth movements are raucous scherzos depicting the boy discovering life off the farm, while the other movements encapsulate his anxious, prayerful parents back home. An utterly American work, the scherzos include manic ragtime material along with a less than innocent version of Bringing in the Sheaves (the first lines are “Sowing in the morning…Sowing in the noontime…”). The final movement becomes a virtuosic jumble of everything left in unresolved wonderment.

In proper hands, Ives’s sonata should not be a difficult sell for an audience, given its thrilling level of pianism: before his lucrative career as an insurance executive, Ives studied composition formally with Horatio Parker, a student of Rheinberger. Fortunately, every note Denk touches on the piano is beautiful, and thus the wandering, turn-on-a-dime mood swings from dreamy descending motifs to chaotic splashes were executed by Denk with complete analytical, technical, and emotional authority. Passion and enthusiasm can be contagious: by going the extra mile to personally share his love of this work beyond just playing the piano, Denk elicited the audience's trust in his unexpected programming change, for which most later thanked him.


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Pianist Jeremy Denk at the Terrace Theater (Washington Post, January 25)
The second half of the program was weakened by Berlioz’s “March to the Scaffold,” from Symphonie fantastique and Meyerbeer’s Réminiscences de "Robert le Diable", both in arrangements by Liszt, which came across as a heroic, yet tiring encore following the Ives. (The Ivesian added non-chord tone added in the final chord of the Meyerbeer might have been an admission by Denk that he too was a bit bored by the selections.) Schuman’s collection of eighteen small pieces known as the Davidsbündlertänze, op. 6 showed off Denk’s skill at evoking shifting characters. The encore, presented almost like Denk’s own mischievous, attention-deficit-disorder improvisation à la Ives, was actually the “Alcotts” movement from Ives’s Concord Sonata, which hammers themes from Beethoven’s fifth symphony, Here Comes the Bride, and Chopin’s Fantasy-Impromptu among others.

The next piano recital presented by Washington Performing Arts Society will feature Radu Lupu, this Wednesday (January 27, 8 pm) in the Music Center at Strathmore.

Between Cities, Let's Print!

I've been back and forth on the train between Baltimore and New York City several times in the past few weeks, seeing much but unfortunately not having the time to post about it here. Since I've been producing prints on a regular basis (they make meaningful Valentine's Day gifts!) and preparing to get back into the print shop soon, a few exhibits stand out.

Zhang Huan, in Neither Coming Nor Going at Pace Gallery in Chelsea, takes woodcuts literally, with his large images carved into assembled planks of wood: very powerful, very direct.


Woodcuts Now, at the Baltimore Museum of Art, features a selection of large-scale woodcuts, like the Bosman pictured. A real nice Alison Saar is also included: the grouping is up through March 28.


While at the BMA, I took this picture of Ashley Bickerton's work HI and e-mailed it to him at his studio in Bali (we're BFFs on FB). He replied that he hadn't seen it in 20 years and had no idea where it was. He also said, "It literally is just 'HI' and is a big 'F You' to minimalism."

What surely will be a print enthusiast's heaven, The Baltimore Fair for Contemporary Prints & New Editions at the BMA, Saturday, March 27 & Sunday, March 28 and up in Philadelphia, Philagrafika 2010, is billed as an international festival that celebrates the role of the print as a vital force in contemporary art (from January 29 through April 11, throughout Philadelphia). Showcasing the work of more than 300 artists at 88 area art institutions, surely there will be something for everyone. I've been looking forward to this event.

Beethoven Quartet Cycle

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Read my review published today on the Washington Post Web site:

available at Amazon
Elliott Carter, String Quartets 2-4, Pacifica Quartet


available at Amazon
Quartets 1/5
Charles T. Downey, Pacifica leads off Candelight Beethoven cycle
Washington Post, January 25, 2010
On Saturday night the Candlelight Concert Society began a complete cycle of Beethoven’s string quartets at Howard Community College’s Smith Theater in Columbia, Maryland. In this series each concert will feature a different ensemble, and the talented Pacifica Quartet, which has already presented a complete Beethoven cycle by itself elsewhere, set a high standard for the foursomes that follow.

With playing that favored subtlety over raw power, the Pacifica’s sound rarely felt forced in, for instance, the playful handling of op. 18, no. 6, from Beethoven’s early period. The air of restraint, especially the narrow, elegant ribbon of first violinist Simin Ganatra’s tone, was broken only in the gutsy off-beat accents of the scherzo and the emotional polarities of the alternately gloomy and restless last movement, “La Malinconia.” Some tempo choices seemed over-ambitious, like the fast movements of op. 74, from the composer’s middle period, in which short notes in running passages were occasionally blurred or dropped. [Continue reading]
Beethoven, String Quartet Cycle I
Pacifica Quartet
Candlelight Concert Society

Quartet in B-flat Major (op. 18, no. 6, “La Malinconia”)
Quartet in E-flat Major (op. 74, “Harp”)
Quartet in F Major (op. 135)

Previously:
Freer Gallery of Art in 2005, Kreeger Museum in 2008, recordings of Carter quartets

24.1.10

Classical Month in Washington (April)

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!

April 1, 2010 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra (with Iván Fischer, conductor)
Bach, B Minor Mass
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

April 1, 2010 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Gershwin, Porgy and Bess
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

April 1, 2010 (Thu)
8 pm
Mandala of the Four Directions (April Fool's program by Erik Spangler)
MICA (Baltimore, Md.)

April 2, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra (with Iván Fischer, conductor)
Bach, B Minor Mass
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

April 3, 2010 (Sat)
7 pm
Gershwin, Porgy and Bess
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

April 3, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
Julia Fischer Joseph Lin, violin
Bach, Partitas 1-3
WPAS
6th and I Historic Synagogue

April 3, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra (with Iván Fischer, conductor)
Bach, B Minor Mass
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

April 3, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
Ariel String Quartet
Candlelight Concert Society
Smith Theater, Howard Community College (Columbia, Md.)

April 3, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
Schleswig-Holstein Festival Orchestra
With Lang Lang, piano
George Mason University Center for the Arts

April 4, 2010 (Sun)
4 pm
Ricardo Morales, clarinet [FREE]
Phillips Collection

April 6, 2010 (Tue)
12:10 pm
Noontime Cantata Series: Barmherziges Herze der ewigen Liebe, BWV 185 [FREE]
Washington Bach Consort
Church of the Epiphany

April 7, 2010 (Wed)
12:10 pm
Mary Elizabeth Williams, soprano [FREE]
St. John's Lafayette Square

April 8, 2010 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (with Hannu Lintu, conductor)
Music by Sibelius, Rautavaara, Beethoven
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

April 9, 2010 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Patricia Racette, soprano (with Craig Terry, piano)
Vocal Arts Society
Embassy of Austria

April 9, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
Juilliard Quartet [FREE]
Library of Congress

April 9, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (with Hannu Lintu, conductor)
Music by Sibelius, Rautavaara, Beethoven
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

April 9, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
A Musical Banquet: Songs for Lute, Voice, and Viol
Folger Consort
Folger Shakespeare Library

April 9, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
Steve Mackey, Slide (with eighth blackbird)
Clarice Smith Center

April 10, 2010 (Sat)
2 pm
America Sings in the Nation's Capital [FREE]
With Patricia Racette, soprano
Vocal Arts Society
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

April 10, 2010 (Sat)
5 and 8 pm
A Musical Banquet: Songs for Lute, Voice, and Viol
Folger Consort
Folger Shakespeare Library

April 10, 2010 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Paulo Steinberg, piano
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

April 10, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (with Hannu Lintu, conductor)
Music by Sibelius, Rautavaara, Beethoven
Music Center at Strathmore

April 10, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
Miró String Quartet
Music by Mendelssohn, Tudor Dominik Maican
Dumbarton Concerts

April 10, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
Del Sol String Quartet
Music by Bartók, Zhou Long, Gabriela Lena Frank
Candlelight Concert Society
Smith Theater, Howard Community College (Columbia, Md.)

April 10, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
Steve Mackey, Slide (with eighth blackbird)
Clarice Smith Center

April 11, 2010 (Sun)
2 pm
A Musical Banquet: Songs for Lute, Voice, and Viol
Folger Consort
Folger Shakespeare Library

April 11, 2010 (Sun)
4 pm
Thomas Pandolfi, piano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

April 11, 2010 (Sun)
5 pm
City Choir of Washington
Handel, Dixit Dominus, Organ concertos
National Presbyterian Church

April 11, 2010 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Del Sol String Quartet [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

April 11, 2010 (Sun)
7 pm
Adaskin String Trio and Pedja Mužijević (piano)
Music by Berkeley, Françaix, Beethoven, Dvořák
Dumbarton Oaks

April 11, 2010 (Sun)
7:30 pm
Judith Ingolfsson, violin
Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington (Rockville, Md.)

April 12, 2010 (Mon)
8 pm
Adaskin String Trio and Pedja Mužijević (piano)
Music by Berkeley, Françaix, Beethoven, Dvořák
Dumbarton Oaks

April 13, 2010 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Romeo and Julia Koren
Music by Monteverdi and others (staged)
Mansion at Strathmore

April 13, 2010 (Tue)
8 pm
Fessenden Ensemble
Music by Mozart, Persichetti, Reinecke
St. Columba's Episcopal Church

April 14, 2010 (Wed)
8 pm
Henschel Quartet [FREE]
Library of Congress

April 15, 2010 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Music by Respighi, Rodrigo, Nielsen
Music Center at Strathmore

April 16, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
Takács String Quartet with Joyce Yang (piano)
WPAS
Music Center at Strathmore

April 16, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
Giselle
Moscow Festival Ballet
George Mason University Center for the Arts

April 16, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
Alexander Quartet and Afiara Quartet [FREE]
Music by Martinů, Shostakovich, and others
Library of Congress

April 17, 2010 (Sat)
2 pm
Alexander Quartet, lecture-concert [FREE]
Beethoven, op. 130
Library of Congress

April 17, 2010 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Frank Proto, Shadowboxer
Maryland Opera Studio
Clarice Smith Center

April 17, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Music by Respighi, Rodrigo, Nielsen
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

April 17, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
Axelrod String Quartet
Renwick Gallery

April 17, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
Coppélia
Moscow Festival Ballet
George Mason University Center for the Arts

April 17, 2010 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic
With Soovin Kim (violin) and Arianna Zukerman (soprano)
Music by Mozart, Bruch, Mahler
Music Center at Strathmore

April 18, 2010 (Sun)
3 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Music by Respighi, Rodrigo, Nielsen
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

April 18, 2010 (Sun)
3 pm
National Philharmonic
With Soovin Kim (violin) and Arianna Zukerman (soprano)
Music by Mozart, Bruch, Mahler
Music Center at Strathmore

April 18, 2010 (Sun)
4 pm
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
With Julian Rachlin, violin
George Mason University Center for the Arts

April 18, 2010 (Sun)
4 pm
Duo Transatlantique, guitar duo [FREE]
Phillips Collection

April 18, 2010 (Sun)
4 pm
British Choirs Concert
Washington National Cathedral

April 18, 2010 (Sun)
6 pm
Frank Proto, Shadowboxer
Maryland Opera Studio
Clarice Smith Center

April 18, 2010 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Virginia Virtuosi [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

April 18, 2010 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Axelrod String Quartet
Renwick Gallery

April 19, 2010 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Diotima String Quartet
Music by Gérard Pesson, François Sarhan, Leoš Janáček
La Maison Francaise

April 21, 2010 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Jennifer Holbrook and Aundi Marie Moore, sopranos [FREE]
With R. Timothy McReynolds, piano
Vocal Arts Society, Discovery Series
Friendship Heights Village Center

April 21, 2010 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Marietta Simpson, mezzo-soprano
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

April 21, 2010 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Sofja Gülbadamova, piano [FREE]
National Museum of Women in the Arts

April 21, 2010 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Frank Proto, Shadowboxer
Maryland Opera Studio
Clarice Smith Center

April 21, 2010 (Wed)
8 pm
Mitsuko Uchida, piano
Music by Mozart and Schumann
WPAS
Music Center at Strathmore

April 23, 2010 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Meri Siirala, soprano
Embassy Series
Residence of the Finnish Ambassador

April 23, 2010 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Falla and Flamenco: El Corregidor y la Molinera
Post-Classical Ensemble
Harman Center for the Arts

April 23, 2010 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Frank Proto, Shadowboxer
Maryland Opera Studio
Clarice Smith Center

April 23, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
Gershwin, Porgy and Bess
Virginia Opera
George Mason University Center for the Arts

April 24, 2010 (Sat)
11 am
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra: Carnival of the Animals
With Bob Brown Puppets
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

April 24, 2010 (Sat)
7 pm
Mozart, Marriage of Figaro
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

April 24, 2010 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Cantate Chamber Singers
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

April 25, 2010 (Sun)
2 pm
Kennedy Center Chamber Players
Music by Dutilleux, Ravel, Dvořák
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

April 25, 2010 (Sun)
2 pm
Gershwin, Porgy and Bess
Virginia Opera
George Mason University Center for the Arts

April 25, 2010 (Sun)
3 pm
Frank Proto, Shadowboxer
Maryland Opera Studio
Clarice Smith Center

April 25, 2010 (Sun)
4 pm
Ivan Ilić, piano [FREE]
Phillips Collection

April 25, 2010 (Sun)
4 pm
Quartet New Generation (recorder quartet)
Châteauville Foundation

April 25, 2010 (Sun)
4:30 pm
Theatre of Imagination: Opera Scenes
CUA School of Music, Ward Recital Hall

April 25, 2010 (Sun)
5 pm
Inscape Chamber Orchestra
Pergolesi, La Serva Padrona (semi-staged)
Episcopal Church of the Redeemer (Bethesda, Md.)

April 25, 2010 (Sun)
6 pm
Emerson String Quartet
Music by Barber, Dillon, Beethoven
National Museum of Natural History

April 25, 2010 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Paratore Brothers, piano duo [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

April 26, 2010 (Mon)
7 pm
Mozart, Marriage of Figaro
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

April 26, 2010 (Mon)
7:30 pm
Escher String Quartet
Music by Bartók, Brahms, Beethoven
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

April 27, 2010 (Tue)
7 pm
What Makes It Great? (lecture by Rob Kapilow)
Stravinsky, L'histoire du soldat (with Peabody Chamber Players)
WPAS
Smithsonian (TBA)

April 27, 2010 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Christopher Maltman, baritone (and Graham Johnson, piano)
Vocal Arts Society
Embassy of Austria

April 27, 2010 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Bella Hristova, violin
Young Concert Artists
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

April 27, 2010 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Mozart, Marriage of Figaro
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

April 29, 2010 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Hans Graf (conductor) and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

April 29, 2010 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Biava Quartet and Friends
Music of Milhaud, Ravel, Alkan
Pro Musica Hebraica
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

April 29, 2010 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Mozart, Marriage of Figaro
Washington National Opera
Kennedy Center Opera House

April 29, 2010 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (with Gil Shaham, violin)
Music by Leshnoff, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff
Music Center at Strathmore

April 30, 2010 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Great Noise Ensemble
CUA School of Music, Ward Recital Hall

April 30, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Hans Graf (conductor) and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

April 30, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (with Gil Shaham, violin)
Music by Leshnoff, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

April 30, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
University of Maryland Symphony
Music by Beethoven, Berlioz
Clarice Smith Center

April 30, 2010 (Fri)
8 pm
Jack Quartet [FREE]
Music by Pintscher, Xenakis, and others
Library of Congress

In Brief: The Pope Tweets Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to good things in Blogville and Beyond.
  • Shootout to end the Wings-Wild shootout on January 21, finally goes in Detroit's favor, in spite of Mike Leggo's officiating. [YouTube]

  • French films are down in popularity with audiences around the world: recent figures say that ticket sales declined by 22% last year. What were the top 10 highest-selling movies from France in the first decade of the 21st century? After a couple that sold at the 20 million mark -- Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain (2000) and La Marche de l'empereur (2004) -- the rest of the decade was pretty dismal for sales, although the films from no. 5 down I really liked. [Le Monde]

  • All I can say about this photo is, "Whoa!" It is a phenomenon called "hair ice," and it's news to me. [Boing Boing]

  • In Defense of Music Critics. [The Detritus Review]

  • Fryderyk Chopin was born two hundred years ago this year. You are going to be listening to a lot of his music all year long, so you may as well start now. Here is an embedded track of Maryla Jonas playing one of the mazurkas, op. 68, no. 3. It's technically simple enough that I have taught it to many intermediate students, but what is so hard to capture is the wistful sense of Heimweh. Lovely performance, with some background on the performer. [Waggish]

  • You may remember my review of Matt Haimovitz's Figment program last fall, which I found problematic. It is always good to read another perspective, in this case on a more recent performance of the program, this time with some Baroque music thrown in (an excellent idea), in Seattle. [The Gathering Note]

  • Once classical music gets in on some new trend, it must be on its last legs of popularity. Once the Vatican gets to it, it must be a fossil. R.I.P. Twitter. [National Catholic Register]

23.1.10

'Dark Is Life and Death': NSO's Leaden 'Lied'


"Wenn der Kummer naht, Liegen wüst die Gärten der Seele,
Welkt hin und stirbt die Freude, der Gesang.
Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod.
"

[When misery draws near, the gardens of the soul lie barren,
Joy withers and dies, and song.
Dark is life, and so is death.]

(Ruin of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de l'Assomption, Port-au-Prince, Haiti)
The concerts by the National Symphony Orchestra this week featured the return of Mahler's symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde, for the first time since November 2003. That last performance, with Leonard Slatkin conducting tenor Donald Litaker and baritone Thomas Hampson, was reviewed by Friend of Ionarts Daniel Ginsberg, and it was more satisfying than this attempt under Principal Conductor Iván Fischer, at least as heard at the second performance last night. The piece is not performed all that often, partly because not only do you need an expert conductor with a palette of many colors and a profound understanding of the score: you also need two excellent singers who can sing with the subtlety of a Lied recital singer -- clear but not exaggerated diction, characterization without overemoting -- and occasionally wallop the room with a wall of sound.

Unfortunately, Fischer did not have all of those qualities in either of his vocalists. Really fine tenors for this kind of music are a rarity these days, and Stig Andersen, who appeared in the Royal Danish Opera's Ring cycle, sounded too diffuse, too swallowed to carry well in the room. As selected by Mahler, from the translations of translations of Chinese poems in Hans Bethge's Die chinesische Flöte, the tenor is cast as a sort of itinerant minstrel, singing of the pleasures of wine in the face of a life full of sorrows. What Klaus Florian Vogt's voice had was broad, lusty, even artless breadth, and Andersen seemed too contained, too small to be all that carried away in his drunkenness.
available at Amazon
Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, K. F. Vogt, C. Gerhaher, OS de Montréal, K. Nagano

(released on August 18, 2009)
Sony Classical 88697508212 | 61'28"
While Andersen's gestures seemed to indicate that he had the right interpretative idea, a rough-hewn swagger, he hid not have the vocal power to back it up. When he did try to force the sound larger, his voice came close to cracking, as in some of the high notes in Von der Jugend, although he had held enough back to sound strong on the heroic conclusion of Der Trunkene im Frühling. That his rhythm was not all that sure and his eyes were glued nervously to the score did not help either.

Fischer's mezzo, Christianne Stotijn, sang exactly as expected on the basis of her recording of Mahler's second symphony with Bernard Haitink (see my preview article): a relatively small voice, with some warmth that came across when there was not much orchestra to compete with, and a pleasing, dramatic stage presence. She brought evocative colors to the opening of Der Einsame im Herbst, for example, over the plaintive oboe solo and murmuring strings, and sang with a strikingly dramatic stillness (she is a good actress, more engaging because she sang from memory), steeped in sorrow, at the opening of Der Abschied and in the monologue of the second part ("Er stieg vom Pferd"). When a soaring line was needed, however, as at the end of Der Einsame im Herbst and in the wild, trampling horses section of Von der Schönheit, she was mostly covered by the orchestra.


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Fischer, NSO mine the beauty in 'Das Lied von der Erde' (Washington Post, January 22)
The orchestra played well in the Mahler, sometimes exceedingly well, especially in the epic final song, Der Abschied, weighted heavily to the murky bass colors of Mahler's large orchestra, deployed so sparingly. The orchestral interlude between the two sections of this song was magnificent, but much of the rest of the piece, perhaps out of concern for the singers, seemed a little four-square in Fischer's hands, not so much in each particular song or section, but in how it did not flow throughout with easy fluidity. The opening work on the announced program, Mozart's 38th symphony (D major, K. 504, "Prague"), had a similar politeness about it: a solid earthiness to the Adagio introduction followed by a clearly etched Allegro, an Andante that seemed a little stolid and plodding, the third movement presto but not even near the edge of control. (Stage lights that kept flickering on and off above the orchestra, due to some sort of malfunction, may have been to blame for the distraction.)

The concert began, however, in quite a memorable way, with a speech by the Haitian Ambassador, Raymond Joseph, thanking the National Symphony Orchestra and the Kennedy Center for devoting this concert and its proceeds to the cause of aid to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. In memory of the victims, Fischer led a hushed performance of the movement from Bach’s third orchestral suite, known as the Air on the G String. It began as a whisper, at a walking tempo that did not indulge in any soupy rubato, creating a moment of quietly rueful introspection. If you want to take part in the NSO's drive to raise money for this cause, you can still contribute through their Web site to the American Red Cross Haitian Relief Effort.

This concert, without the Bach work, will be repeated this evening (January 23, 8 pm) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

22.1.10

Stockhausen Listens from Orbit

Style masthead

Read my review published today on the Washington Post Web site:

Charles T. Downey, Stockhausen's Zodiac in Baltimore
Washington Post, January 22, 2010

Mobtown Modern, the alt-classical contemporary music series based in Baltimore, gave its latest concert at Metro Gallery on Wednesday night. It featured a politely transgressive adaptation of Karlheinz Stockhausen's "Tierkreis" by Hybrid Groove Project, otherwise known as saxophonist Brian Sacawa and composer Erik Spangler, who also curate the series. Stockhausen, the imperious modernist who once claimed to have come from the star Sirius and presumably has been in astral orbit somewhere since his death in 2007, was surely none too pleased.

Behind tables piled high with computers, instruments and musical toys, the performers created an ersatz setting for Stockhausen's 12 melodies of the zodiac, accompanied by dreamlike still and video images contributed by Jon Bevers. Recorded noise, beat tracks and looped melodic snippets recorded on the spot were knitted together as introductions and backdrops for each section, linking the sections and extending them to roughly an hour. The singsong style of many passages was perhaps a tribute to the piece's simple origins, as melodies to be played on specially created music boxes. [Continue reading]
available at Amazon
Stockhausen, Tierkreis, S. Roller, M. Riessler, W. Fernow, M. Kiedaisch, M. Svoboda
Karlheinz Stockhausen, Tierkreis
Adapted as Zodiacrobatic, by Hybrid Groove Project
Mobtown Modern
Metro Gallery (Baltimore, Md.)

Tierkreis is subtitled "12 Melodies of the Star Signs," and the version for a melody and/or chordal instrument, from 1974/75, was taken from Stockhausen's initial version for music boxes, as part of a stage work. In this version, Brian Sacawa played all kinds of saxophones (soprano, alto, tenor, baritone), toy piano, electric guitar (memorably), and some percussion, while Erik Spangler played primarily the melodica, with surprising turns at the theremin, soprano recorder, violin, percussion, and turntables.

Each melody orbits around pitch center, which rises chromatically through the series from Aquarius to Capricorn, and each melody has a different tempo. If you are curious, Stockhausen's birthday -- August 22, 1928 -- put him on the cusp of Leo and Virgo. As notated, the intended length of the work was only about a half-hour, and in the Hybrid Groove Project version some of them were repeated several times. You can follow the development of the Zodiacrobatic project (as I did, preparing for this review) by going back into Brian Sacawa's Twitter feed.


Pisces, Aries, Taurus, Gemini:


Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra:


Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius:

21.1.10

Song of the Earth

available at Amazon
Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, K. F. Vogt, C. Gerhaher, OS de Montréal, K. Nagano

(released on August 18, 2009)
Sony Classical 88697508212 | 61'28"

available at Amazon
Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, S. Skelton, T. Hampson, San Francisco Symphony, M. Tilson Thomas

(released on September 9, 2008)
SFSO 821936-0019-2 | 63'20"

available at Amazon
Mahler, Symphony No. 2, M. Persson, C. Stotijn, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, B. Haitink

(released on November 17, 2009)
CSO-Resound CSOR 901 914 | 82'02"
The remarkable January programming of the National Symphony Orchestra continues this week with concerts under the direction of Principal Conductor Iván Fischer (January 21 to 23). Mozart's 38th symphony ("Prague") will stand by itself on a rather insubstantial first half, but the second half will be given to a masterpiece, Mahler's symphonic song cycle Das Lied von der Erde. In response to his grief over the loss of his daughter and the anxiety about his own failing health, Mahler was moved and fascinated by the translations of translations of Chinese poems in Hans Bethge's Die chinesische Flöte (that site does not include translations of Mahler's German texts). He set these texts, celebrations of wine and drunkenness, expressions of sadness and loss, with an elemental folk-music melodic and harmonic palette, springing from pentatonic cells reminiscent of Chinese (or other folk) music.

For historical background on Das Lied von der Erde, which Mahler began out of anxiety about the finality of composing a ninth symphony, we direct you to the fine essay by Henry-Louis de la Grange. In preparation, I have been listening to two recent recordings, which are probably not the best option because they both cast the dialogue for two voices with a tenor and baritone, while Fischer will have a mezzo-soprano and tenor -- Mahler seems not to indicate a preference for mezzo-soprano or baritone. (For the definitive word on recordings of the cycle, as with all things Mahler, we direct you to Jens's survey of recordings of Das Lied: Part 1 and Part 2.) Jens, of course, is right on the money to single out Kent Nagano's recording of the piece as "stupendous" (a word not used lightly, to be sure), in spite of a rather artless (appropriately enough) performance by tenor Klaus Florian Vogt. Nagano's tempi have a pleasing fluidity, and the calibration of balances is poised and widely varied.

The sound captured in the San Francisco Symphony's recordings on its private label is of exceptionally high quality, especially for a live recording (from September 2007), although as a hybrid SACD on the costly side (but with very attractive packaging and booklet, with an essay by Michael Steinberg). Tilson Thomas has a more overtly emotional take on Mahler, by comparison to the restraint of Nagano, but his soloists are not as good. Thomas Hampson's voice pleases my ear more than some other critics, and his affected way the sound can be produced does not bother me too much, but tenor Stuart Skelton is a weak link. Fischer will have Stig Andersen, who was featured in the Royal Danish Opera's Ring cycle, but I have yet to hear him. The voice of Fischer's mezzo, Christianne Stotijn, has been in my ears thanks to the new Chicago Symphony Orchestra recording of Mahler's second symphony, on the CSO's private label, conducted by Bernard Haitink, who has done a lot to further the young Dutch singer's career. (Hopefully Stotijn was having an off night when she sang Das Lied, again with Haitink, at a London Symphony Orchestra concert reviewed by Mark Berry.) Her Urlicht, while not exactly that of a time-altering earth mother, is warm and maternal.

The NSO will play this program beginning this evening (January 21 to 23). In response to the desperate need for aid to help the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, the NSO has pledged the proceeds from the Friday performance of this program (January 22, 8 pm) to the Haiti Relief and Development Fund of the American Red Cross. A special Haitian-themed performance will be given on the Millennium Stage at 6 pm that evening, and to open the program, on Friday night only, Fischer will conduct the movement from Bach’s third orchestral suite known as the Air on the G String.

20.1.10

Vivica Genaux's Fireworks

available at Amazon
Pyrotechnics: Vivaldi, Opera Arias, V. Genaux, Europa Galante, F. Biondi

(released on December 8, 2009)
Virgin Classics 694573 0 2
75'42"
In a recent interview, Alaska-born mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux admitted that she has always had "a knack for melismas." An understatement, to be sure, but it captures the pleasure of listening to her new disc of Vivaldi arias, some of the most daunting, virtuosic challenges ever conceived for the human voice. The thrill of singing this music, Genaux says, is "like driving a race car at fast speeds on the highway," and indeed the sense of peril comes through every time one hears Genaux reach the end of a rolling roulade of notes and seize a breath. Genaux's manner of singing all those notes so fast and so accurately, involving a rapid fluctuation of her lips, may look strange, but it is hard to argue with the results.

Although not all of the selections on this CD are arias created for castrati, many qualities of Genaux's unusual voice -- a quasi-male tone in the chest voice, a burred edge to the sound, endless breath support, and the ability to punch high notes -- make Genaux a more credible stand-in for that (happily) lost voice type than Cecilia Bartoli, whose castrato album (heard but not reviewed at Ionarts) was smothered under an unavoidable blanket of publicity at its release. As heard in Genaux's contribution to that remarkable recording of Vivaldi's Atenaide, where she sang the castrato role of the Emperor Teodosio, the technique for fast passage work is unparalleled, making the fast arias and the ornamented parts of the slow ones breath-taking listening. The disc also reunites Genaux with Fabio Biondi and his period-instrument ensemble Europa Galante, after a memorable collaboration on Vivaldi's Bajazet, and the instrumental playing is poised, richly varied, and at times sensuously distracting from the voice (as in the final track, with the flutes of Sin nel placido soggiorno, from an unknown opera).

Your next opportunity to hear Vivica Genaux in person will be the spring performance of Washington Concert Opera, not Baroque opera but her other specialty, the bel canto repertory, in this case the title role of Rossini's La Cenerentola (May 9, 6 pm), at Lisner Auditorium.

19.1.10

Monteverdi Vespers of 1610 in 2010, Part 2

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Read my review published today on the Washington Post Web site:

Monteverdi, 1610 Vespers:
available at Amazon
Kammerchor Stuttgart / Bernius


available at Amazon
La Capella Reial / Savall


available at Amazon
Taverner Consort / Parrott
Charles T. Downey, High and low notes in ARTEK and Piffaro’s performance of Monteverdi’s ‘Vespers’
Washington Post, January 19, 2010
In honor of the 400th anniversary of the publication of Claudio Monteverdi's "Vespers of the Blessed Virgin," the National Gallery of Art hosted a performance on Sunday night of most of the music now known as the "1610 Vespers." It was the second concert in as many weeks to feature this baroque masterpiece, but a capacity crowd filled the West Garden Court.

This was a higher-octane version than the Folger Consort's performance of the work at the Washington National Cathedral the previous weekend. The museum's venue is smaller, if no less echo-prone, and was filled by a larger instrumental ensemble of more than 20 players, a combination of the ARTEK and Piffaro bands. Lute, guitar, cittern, theorbo, lirone, harp, organ and harpsichord provided a myriad of colors, more lavish than strictly necessary, to the continuo harmonies. Among the soloists, standout playing came from cornettist Michael Collver and paired violinists Enrico Gatti and Vita Wallace. [Continue reading]
Monteverdi, Vespro della Beata Vergine
ARTEK, Piffaro, and National Gallery of Art Vocal Ensemble
National Gallery of Art

available at Amazon
Jeffrey Kurtzman, The Monteverdi Vespers of 1610: Music, Context, Performance
From the Department of Too Involved for a Newspaper Review: as Jeffrey Kurtzman has written about at some length, the "1610 Vespers" does not really exist, meaning that what is most often performed (as in both version reviewed this month) is a selection and adaptation. The title page of the 1610 publication reads, in Latin, Cantus sanctissimae virginis, or "Song of the Most Holy Virgin," which then continues by describing the various parts of the publication, a Mass for six voices, many pieces for a sung Vespers service (some with alternate options), and some sacred concert pieces, which do not really fit into Vespers but could be used to ornament its celebration on important feast days.

As such the piece may not have received a premiere performance, as no evidence exists about it, although the speculation centers on the basilica of Santa Barbara in Mantua. Some musical and liturgical details -- the form of the hymn melody paraphrased in Monteverdi's setting of Ave maris stella, the instrumental version of the litany (Sonata sopra Sancta Maria), and the trinitarian text of Duo seraphim -- suggest the Gonzaga ducal chapel's practice as the background for the music.

18.1.10

Free Tickets for Anne Schwanewilms Recital

available at Amazon
Strauss, The Complete Songs, Vol. 2, A. Schwanewilms, R. Vignoles
German soprano Anne Schwanewilms is scheduled to give a recital later this month, with pianist Malcolm Martineau, at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (January 30, 7:30 pm). The program, sponsored by the Vocal Arts Society, combines two of the singer's specialties, songs by Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler. Schwanewilms may be most familiar to American readers from her Marschallin in Chicago or from an incident in 2004, when she replaced Deborah Voigt in the title role of a production of Ariadne auf Naxos (Voigt had been fired for being too heavy for a little black dress that was part of her costuming). However, as one can tell from the audio embedded below (from a performance in Madrid), Schwanewilms is definitely more than just a pretty face, and her Strauss is not to be missed.

So, Ionarts readers, we inform you that Vocal Arts Society is offering some free tickets to this recital, available as long as the supply lasts. All you have to do to claim one for yourself is to contact Vocal Arts Society by phone (202-365-9064) or by e-mail (wowears at vocalartssociety dot org). Please do your part to fill the house for this remarkable singer.


Anne Schwanewilms singing "Es gibt ein Reich" from Strauss's Ariadne