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30.4.13

Classical Month in Washington (June)

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Classical Month in Washington is a monthly feature. If there are concerts you would like to see included on our schedule, send your suggestions by e-mail (ionarts at gmail dot com). Happy listening!

June 1, 2013 (Sat)
2 pm
Markus Groh, piano
WPAS
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

June 1, 2013 (Sat)
7:30 pm
National Chamber Ensemble
With Carlos Rodriguez, piano
Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, Artisphere (Rosslyn, Va.)

June 1, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With John Adams (conductor) and Jeremy Denk (piano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 1, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic
Wagner 200th Anniversary Celebration
Music Center at Strathmore

June 1, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
Gilbert and Sullivan, The Mikado
New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players
Filene Center at Wolf Trap

June 2, 2013 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Inscape Chamber Orchestra [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

June 4, 2013 (Tue)
7:30 pm
Ballet Across America
Kennedy Center Opera House

June 5, 2013 (Wed)
12:10 pm
Gjermund Larsen Trio [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

June 5, 2013 (Wed)
7:30 pm
Ballet Across America
Kennedy Center Opera House

June 6, 2013 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Augustin Hadelich (violin), Jakub Hrusa (conductor), and Nadezda Serdyuk (mezzo-soprano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 6, 2013 (Thu)
7:30 pm
Ballet Across America
Kennedy Center Opera House

June 6, 2013 (Thu)
8 pm
Faculty Chamber Music Concert [FREE]
National Orchestral Institute
Clarice Smith Center

June 6, 2013 (Thu)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Orff, Carmina Burana
Music Center at Strathmore

June 7, 2013 (Fri)
7 pm
Chamber Music Showcase 1 [FREE]
National Orchestral Institute
Clarice Smith Center

June 7, 2013 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Bergthor Pálsson (baritone) and Edvina Minkštimas (piano)
Embassy Series
Icelandic Ambassador's Residence

June 7, 2013 (Fri)
7:30 pm
Ballet Across America
Kennedy Center Opera House

June 7, 2013 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Augustin Hadelich (violin), Jakub Hrusa (conductor), and Nadezda Serdyuk (mezzo-soprano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 7, 2013 (Fri)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Orff, Carmina Burana
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

June 8, 2013 (Sat)
11 am and 1:30 pm
NSO Teddy Bear Concert
Kennedy Center Family Theater

June 8, 2013 (Sat)
1:30 and 7:30 pm
Ballet Across America
Kennedy Center Opera House

June 8, 2013 (Sat)
7:30 pm
D. J. Sparr, Approaching Ali
Washington National Opera American Opera Initiative
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

June 8, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Augustin Hadelich (violin), Jakub Hrusa (conductor), and Nadezda Serdyuk (mezzo-soprano)
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 8, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Orff, Carmina Burana
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

June 8, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
National Festival Chamber Orchestra
National Orchestral Institute
Clarice Smith Center

June 8, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
National Philharmonic
Orff, Carmina Burana
Music Center at Strathmore

June 9, 2013 (Sun)
1 and 3:30 pm
Washington Ballet [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

June 9, 2013 (Sun)
1:30 pm
Ballet Across America
Kennedy Center Opera House

June 9, 2013 (Sun)
1:30 and 4 pm
NSO Teddy Bear Concert
Kennedy Center Family Theater

June 9, 2013 (Sun)
2 pm
D. J. Sparr, Approaching Ali
Washington National Opera American Opera Initiative
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

June 9, 2013 (Sun)
3 pm
Ang Li, piano [FREE]
Smithsonian American Art Museum

June 9, 2013 (Sun)
3 pm
National Philharmonic
Orff, Carmina Burana
Music Center at Strathmore

June 9, 2013 (Sun)
8 pm
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Orff, Carmina Burana
Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (Baltimore, Md.)

June 9, 2013 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Duo Hoerr/Sigfriddson [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

June 13, 2013 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Matthew Hall, conductor
Music by Dutilleux, Ravel, Vaughan Williams
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 13, 2013 (Thu)
7 pm
Chamber Music Showcase 2 [FREE]
National Orchestral Institute
Clarice Smith Center

June 14, 2013 (Fri)
7:30 pm
American Chamber Players
June Chamber Festival
Kreeger Museum

June 14, 2013 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Matthew Hall, conductor
Music by Dutilleux, Ravel, Vaughan Williams
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 15, 2013 (Sat)
7:30 pm
World Pianist Invitational
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

June 15, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Matthew Hall, conductor
Music by Dutilleux, Ravel, Vaughan Williams
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 15, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
National Festival Orchestra
National Orchestral Institute
Music by Strauss, Tchaikovsky
Clarice Smith Center

June 16, 2013 (Sun)
2 pm
Capitol Symphonic Youth Orchestras
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

June 16, 2013 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Michael Arnowitt, piano [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

June 18, 2013 (Tue)
7:30 pm
American Chamber Players
June Chamber Festival
Kreeger Museum

June 20, 2013 (Thu)
7 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Krzysztof Urbanski (conductor) and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
Music by Grieg, Macmillan (June 20), Saint-Saëns (June 21-22), Lutoslawski
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 21, 2013 (Fri)
7:30 pm
American Chamber Players
June Chamber Festival
Kreeger Museum

June 21, 2013 (Fri)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Krzysztof Urbanski (conductor) and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
Music by Grieg, Macmillan (June 20), Saint-Saëns (June 21-22), Lutoslawski
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 21, 2013 (Fri)
8 pm
Rossini, Il Viaggio a Reims
Wolf Trap Opera
Barns, Wolf Trap

June 21, 2013 (Fri)
8 pm
Newspeak Ensemble
Atlas Center

June 22, 2013 (Sat)
11 am and 1:30 pm
NSO Family Concert
Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf
Kennedy Center Family Theater

June 22, 2013 (Sat)
7:30 pm
Batera Duo (saxophone and piano)
Embassy Series
Embassy of Luxembourg

June 22, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
National Symphony Orchestra
With Krzysztof Urbanski (conductor) and Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
Music by Grieg, Macmillan (June 20), Saint-Saëns (June 21-22), Lutoslawski
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

June 22, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
National Festival Orchestra
National Orchestral Institute
Music by Mozart, Mahler (Symphony No. 6)
Clarice Smith Center

June 23, 2013 (Sun)
3 and 5 pm
National Festival Orchestra [FREE]
Prokofiev, Peter and the Wolf
Clarice Smith Center

June 23, 2013 (Sun)
3 pm
Rossini, Il Viaggio a Reims
Wolf Trap Opera
Barns, Wolf Trap

June 23, 2013 (Sun)
3 pm
Piano Society of Greater Washington [FREE]
Calvary Lutheran Church (Silver Spring, Md.)

June 23, 2013 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Carpe Diem String Quartet [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

June 24, 2013 (Mon)
7:30 pm
IBIS Chamber Music
Iota Club (Arlington, Va.)

June 29, 2013 (Sat)
7 pm
Rossini, Il Viaggio a Reims
Wolf Trap Opera
Barns, Wolf Trap

June 29, 2013 (Sat)
8 pm
National Festival Orchestra
National Orchestral Institute
Music by Adams, Ravel, Schoenberg
Clarice Smith Center

June 30, 2013 (Sun)
6:30 pm
Mendelssohn Piano Trio [FREE]
National Gallery of Art

Jaap van Zweden Directs the NSO

Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden led the National Symphony Orchestra on Saturday evening in a program of Wagenaar, Beethoven, and Tchaikovsky. Van Zweden, who is Music Director of the Dallas Symphony, violently jerked the musical leash of the hundred-plus musical personalities to establish leadership in the beginning of Johan Wagenaar’s Overture to Cyrano de Bergerac. His abusive gestures during the first half of the Wagenaar, resembling the smacking of a lazy mule, put the orchestra on notice to obey. Having begun his career as the youngest concertmaster of the Royal Concertegebouw Orchestra at the age of 19, Van Zweden knows what life is like as an orchestral musician; hence, it was surprising to see him so quickly dominate the ensemble instead of seducing them into his musical world with a lighter, diplomatic touch. Folks may know of Wagenaar only from the large display of his name (with other composers on the wall and balcony) in the Royal Concertgebouw’s Grote Zaal (celebrating its Jubilee this year). The NSO, in their first performance of Wagenaar in the ensemble’s history, embraced the quasi-Tchaikovsky style and brought out the work’s humor.

Swiss pianist Andreas Haefliger joined a reduced ensemble for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1, on a new Steinway that is brassy, yet somewhat thin in tone. Whether the piano arrived with Haefliger or is a new fixture for the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, under Haefliger’s hands, clarity and thus strength were missing from the performance. The outcome of efforts to seemingly create tonal effects similar to a glassy, reflective lake mostly resulted in vague mush. The masturbatory cadenza in the first movement was beyond tangential thematically (particularly the arpeggio exercises) and about five minutes in length. Van Zweden insisted that the orchestra hold back their dynamics in the first two movements, which made the contrastingly bright final movement gripping.


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Jaap van Zweden leads National Symphony Orchestra in up and down program (Washington Post, April 26)
Beyond the thrill of cymbal crashes and clear, virtuosic runs at blistering speed in the final movement, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 offered opportunities for the many new woodwind players to shine. The bittersweet oboe solo that begins the second movement was delicately played by principal Nicholas Stovall, whose soaring tone made up for frumpiness of phrasing that made one yearn for the melodic genius of Philadelphia Orchestra oboist Richard Woodhams, who will likely be performing in the same hall Wednesday evening. Hearing harp-like fingers on strings in the third movement pizzicato tour-de-force was a joy, and Van Zweden’s conducting, more tough than inspiring, swelled the brass to the finish line, leading the full house of thousands to their feet.

29.4.13

Rafał Blechacz in Holding Pattern

available at Amazon
Debussy / Szymanowski, Sonata, R. Blechacz
(DG, 2012)
Rafał Blechacz's first visit to Washington, in 2010, confirmed the Polish pianist's gift for the music of Chopin. The jury and audience at the 2005 Chopin Competition in Warsaw were so impressed with his ability to play Chopin that he swept every prize, an achievement so remarkable that the jury decided not to award a second prize. Blechacz's return to Washington, presented by Washington Performing Arts Society in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater on Saturday night, left similar impressions of considerable promise that, with each year that passes since the Warsaw win, hangs over the pianist's head, as of yet unfulfilled.

A Bach partita (no. 3, A minor, BWV 827) sounded quite like the Bach partita Blechacz played in 2010: a mechanical, brash, often clipped Fantasia and Courante, with more velvety, rubato-driven sounds in the Allemande and Sarabande, with some soft and suave voicing and little embellishments added on repeats. It was playing with a lot of facility -- ultra-fast on the last three dances -- that somehow ended up being mostly facile, at times even rushed due to what seemed like nervousness. In a Beethoven sonata (D major, op. 10/3) -- instead of Mozart in 2010 -- Blechacz also went for big contrasts, enjoying dramatic tempos and loud extremes, with a virtuosic edge that felt a lot like competition playing but did not exactly add up to compelling listening, again rushing past important formal moments. After a gloomy slow movement, it was the third movement that pleased most, an easy graceful minuet and especially the dancing left-hand crossings of the trio. The fourth movement, a comedy of Haydnesque fits and starts, was good fun, humorous episodes punctuated by chortles and giggles.


Other Articles:

Robert Battey, Pianist Rafal Blechacz at the Kennedy Center (Washington Post, April 29)

Elijah Ho, Rafal Blechacz digs into Chopin — and more (San Francisco Examiner, April 17)
The Chopin selections were less remarkable than what Blechacz played in 2010: a bombastic, four-square "Military" polonaise, followed by its companion polonaise from op. 40 (no. 2, C minor), with a turbulent, booming left hand that dominated. The third scherzo (C-sharp minor, op. 39) -- the same one played by Maurizio Pollini earlier this month -- was blistering and unyielding, the octaves always massive and solid, but the slow section, with its cascading treble figures, went by too quickly, except for its minor iteration, which was slow and tragic, followed by an astounding technical finish in the coda. Chopin was paired with the music of another Polish composer, Karol Szymanowski, the youthful, brash, unfocused sonata (C minor, op. 8) that Blechacz has also championed on his most recent recording for Deutsche Grammophon. He played this demanding, over-the-top score with great technical accomplishment, a work that is itself about excess, torment, impetuosity on some level, especially the first movement, which is the best part. The second movement has its own tempestuous moments, but the third is a sickly-sweet Menuetto, followed by a fourth movement that is introduced by a slow section redolent of Debussy. The influence of Liszt is felt in the closing Fugue, not a particularly memorable one, it has to be said, but played here with plenty of bluster. A Chopin encore brought out some of Blechacz's playing, the melancholy A minor waltz (op. 34/2) and the briefest of preludes (A major, op. 28/7), a strange way to end a largely puzzling recital.

The next not-to-miss event on the WPAS schedule is a concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra on Wednesday (May 1, 8 pm), with new music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin and violinist Hilary Hahn, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The program combines Korngold's sweet violin concerto and Bruckner's seventh symphony.

28.4.13

In Brief: Cool Spring Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio, online video, and other good things in Blogville and Beyond. (After clicking to an audio or video stream, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast.)


  • The French premiere of Gerald Barry's new opera The Importance of Being Earnest, recorded last month in Nancy, plus a performance of Viktor Ullmann's one-act opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis, recorded in February in Lyon. [France Musique]

  • Watch Marc Minkowski conduct the Orchestre National du Capitole de Toulouse in Wagner's Wesendonck-Lieder, with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter as soloist, and Beethoven's third symphony. [Medici.tv]

  • Andris Nelsons conducts Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin at the Wiener Staatsoper, starring Anna Netrebko and Dmitri Hvorostovsky. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Mariss Jansons conducts the Vienna Philharmonic in Haydn's Symphony No. 88 and Bartók's Miraculous Mandarin, plus Haydn's Symphony No. 94 ("Mit dem Paukenschlag") and Liszt's Les Préludes. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • The Munich Radio Orchestra and Bavarian Radio Chorus perform Verdi's Ernani at the Prinzregententheater, conducted by Friedrich Haider. [BR-Klassik]

  • Christoph Eschenbach was back in Paris last month conducting the Orchestre National de France in a performance of Brahms's German Requiem, with soprano Ruth Ziesak and baritone Matthias Goerne as soloists, plus the Maîtrise de Radio France and Choeur de Radio France. [France Musique]

  • Enrico Onofri conducts the Kammerorchester Basel in a performance of Handel's opera Poro, Rè dell'Indie at the Theater Basel last summer, with Franco Fagioli, Sonia Prina, Kristina Hammarström, Veronica Cangemi, and others. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Philippe Jordan conducts the Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Paris in a concert at the Opéra Bastille, including Strauss's Ein Heldenleben and Beethoven's Triple Concerto, with violinist Veronika Eberle, cellist Danjulo Ishizaka, and pianist Martin Helmchen. [France Musique]

  • From the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, a performance of Haydn's oratorio The Seasons, with Philippe Herreweghe conducting the Orchestre des Champs-Elysées and Collegium Vocale Gent, plus soloists Christina Landshamer, Werner Güra, and Florian Boesch. [France Musique]

  • Quartets by Mozart, Hindemith, Brahms, and Debussy, as performed by the Quatuor Arcanto in the Auditorium du Louvre. [France Musique]

  • From a concert recorded at Cadogan Hall in London in February, violinist Janine Jansen conducts the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields in two violin concertos by Mozart and Bartók's Divertimento for Strings. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Cornelius Meister conducts the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien in Bruckner's ninth symphony, Shoichi Yabuta's Anima, and Korngold's violin concerto, with Renaud Capuçon as soloist. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Cellist Raphaël Pidoux joins the Quatuor Girard for a program of chamber music by Luigi Boccherini (two string quintets, one quartet) in the Auditorium du Musée d’Orsay last month. [France Musique]

  • A tribute to John Eliot Gardiner for his 70th birthday, with excerpts of his recent recordings of music by Bach, including of the motets. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Pascal Rophé conducts the Orchestre du Conservatoire de Paris in a concert of music by Schoenberg and Stravinsky, with pianist François-Frédéric Guy as soloist, plus speaker William Nadylam and the Choeur de l'Orchestre de Paris and the Choeur de l'Armée Française, at the Cité de la Musique. [France Musique]

  • An unusual concert by flutist Veronika Blachuta and organist István Mátyás, with music by Humperdinck, Bach, Mozart, and others. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Listen to a recital by pianist Igor Levit earlier this month at the Wigmore Hall in London, with music by Bach, Schubert, Prokofiev, and Liszt. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • A recital by violinist Chi Li and pianist Jonathan Fournel, with music by Beethoven, Ysaÿe, and Bazzini. [France Musique]

  • Listen to André Messager's opera Fortunio, conducted in Lyon by John Eliot Gardiner in 1987. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

27.4.13

Dip Your Ears, No. 135 (Medtner, Unsweetened)


available at Amazon
N.Medtner / S.Rachmaninoff, Piano Concertos Nos.2 & 4, Floods of Spring,
Y.Sudbin / North Carolina Sym. / G.Llewellyn
BIS SACD

Yevgeny Sudbin is one of the very few pianists about whose recordings I get excited, no matter what repertoire he tackles. His Scriabin (see Dip Your Ears, No.86) and his Scarlatti have set a standard so high, that even very good Beethoven concertos (with the equally standard-setting Osmo Vänskä, no less) seemed to disappoint. His Medtner recordings are a bit older, the First Concerto coupled with Tchaikovsky’ First is from 2007—the Second Concert coupled with Rachmaninoff’s Fourth is from 2009. The first recording helped put the OSESP on the map in non-Brazilian repertoire, the second is attractive beyond the primary Medtner because it’s one of the more rarified readings of the Rachmaninoff Fourth (alongside Hough and Michelangeli).

Not all is perfect with this release: The sound is just a little muted, which is rare with BIS recordings… the amiably performing North Carolina Symphony—as good as that and no more—supports what turns into a Yevgeny Sudbin and Backup Combo show of Medtner’s wonderful Second Piano Concerto. But how good is Medtner’s concerto? Without hyperbole every bit as engaging and entertaining as Rachmaninoff’s!

There is a reason Medtner has his share of pianist- advocates: Marc-André Hamelin, Nikolai Demidenko, Hamish Milne, and as of late the terrific Polina Leschenko (“Forgotten Melodies” on Avanti Classic). Medtner is lucky to have them… and he is especially lucky to have Sudbin (he throws his piano-transcription of Floods of Spring in, as an encore), whose sensitive pianism responds instinctively to all the challenges and emotive states: with sweet discretion one second, audacity and bravado the next… untempted all along to milk the music for more than it can give. That’s how they must be played, to avoid romantic soup… and then what sweet rewards are in stock for us!

Christine Brewer vs. Pollen



Charles T. Downey, For Christine Brewer, a rare miss at Kennedy Center Terrace Theater
Washington Post, April 27, 2013

available at Amazon
Strauss, Four Last Songs (inter alia), C. Brewer, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, D. Runnicles
(Telarc, 2006)
Christine Brewer does not play it safe in programming, which means that not every recital by the lauded American singer will be a winner. She is one of the most exciting dramatic sopranos in the music of Wagner and Strauss, but she has excelled in everything from Gluck to contemporary song. Her recital of Iberian and American songs on Thursday night, presented by Vocal Arts D.C. at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (rescheduled from October, when it was canceled because of Hurricane Sandy), was one of the rare misses.

Part of the problem was that Brewer was suffering from pollen allergies, and her voice sounded a little raspy and disconnected between registers. The music on the Iberian half was sometimes disappointing, with the lushly chromatic songs of Catalan composers Federico Mompou and Fernando Obradors as notable exceptions.
[Continue reading]
Christine Brewer, soprano
Vocal Arts D.C.
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

PREVIOUSLY:
2011 | 2010 | 2005

26.4.13

Evgeny Kissin's Op. 111

available at Amazon
Liszt, Études d'exécution transcendante (inter alia), E. Kissin


available at Amazon
Schubert / Brahms / Bach / Liszt / Gluck, E. Kissin


Previous Reviews:
2011 | NSO, 2009 | 2009
2007 | 2005
Among living pianists, Evgeny Kissin is in a separate category, someone whose technical acumen and musical approach are near-infallible. We have not missed a single local performance by this most celebrated Russian pianist in the history of Ionarts, and we were not going to miss his latest recital, presented by Washington Performing Arts Society on Wednesday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. WPAS's new leader, Jenny Bilfield, introduced the concert by speaking of her admiration for Kissin, so we may still hope that a biennial recital from Kissin will continue as perhaps our favorite Washington music tradition. As my concert companion for this performance said of Kissin's accomplishment afterward, "What other cosmos did he come from?" In one of the most memorable Kissin performances to date, this concert was centered on an extraordinary reading of Beethoven's final sonata, op. 111, a piece that for me can be ruined by an average or even merely good performance. Kissin's first take on this most daunting vision of a sonata not only utterly convinced me, bringing me to an emotional brink by Kissin's desperate grasp for infinity in the variations, but made me think again about a piece about which I thought I had fixed opinions.

Before the sublime, however, was the mundane as Kissin chose to pair op. 111 -- the farewell to the sonata, as Thomas Mann's Dr. Kretzschmar once put it -- with a sonata that sounded like the genre's elementary beginning. Haydn wrote the sonata in E-flat major (Hob. XVI:49) in the summer of 1790 for his friend Maria Anna von Genzinger, the wife of his employer's physician, who lived in Vienna. It is more difficult to play than the sonatas Haydn wrote for amateurs, but for Kissin it was child's play, a trifle that he dispatched dutifully. He gave it many nuances of phrases and a generally crisp articulation (almost no sustaining pedal), playful in the outer movements without ever becoming broadly comic and with immaculate Rococo twists and cascades toward the end of the first movement. The second movement, the heart of the piece, Kissin made wholly unaffected, earnest, cantabile, tender but with no need for distortion, even in the left-hand crossings. It was capped off by a gentle menuetto, not too fast but with a sense of propulsion, like the rest marvelously polished and contained. One could justifiably have been bored to tears, but I was not, largely because the way the piece purled by, as if streaming forth from a very elegant music box, was so charming. Kissin's capacity for understatement was evident with sections like the closing theme of the first movement (measure 52), a brief moment where he composer seems to lose his train of thought, snared by a momentary step into the harmonic thicket of the subdominant when he is trying to get to the dominant (a gesture Haydn returns to in the development and recapitulation).

If Kissin's goal was to make as stark a contrast as possible with what he was going to do with op. 111, he succeeded. The Beethoven opened with a fierceness in the first movement's menacing fugue subject, at times lost in a wild rumpus of notes. Kissin took the tempos as fast and wild and literal as he could, the bass booming and swirls of notes in the center section. The Arietta was simple, soft, almost but not quite unbearably slow -- as András Schiff pointed out in his lecture on this sonata, is this movement marked "Molto Adagio" or "Adagio, molto semplice"? -- with diverting little wisps of countermelody in the minor phrase of the first variation. Neither the second nor third variation crossed the line from jaunty into "boogie-woogie" -- again, I am with Schiff on this point, that hearing such jazzy overtones in these variations is a "banality." Schiff sees the last movement as being a "Gratias" moment, all about gratitude and thanksgiving, and that seemed to be where Kissin was aiming, at a brush with the divine, in the formless exclamations and wandering triplets drunk with starlight in the fourth variation. The trill section, where a trill has to be maintained as constantly as possible while all sorts of other things happen at the same time, was absolutely magical and serene. Recent performances of the piece immediately sank in my estimation -- Till Fellner in 2010 less so than Simone Dinnerstein in 2009.


Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Pianist Evgeny Kissin offers Viennese classicism at Kennedy Center recital (Washington Post, April 26) [3 encores]

Michael Guerrieri, Personality, proficiency from pianist Kissin (Boston Globe, April 23) [5 encores]

Lawrence Budmen, Kissin closes Kravis classical season in supreme artistic style (South Florida Classical Review, April 17) [no encores]
A quartet of Schubert impromptus (two each from the D. 899 and D. 935 sets) brought Kissin back down to earth, music that inspired a simple tunefulness and evanescent calm in his playing. The F minor impromptu (D. 935, no. 1) had effortless hand crossings and transparent serenity, the G-flat major (D. 899, no. 3) a natural stretch to the rubato, perhaps bordering on empty facility at times. The gorgeous B-flat major (D. 935, no. 3) was a radiant, breathing wisp of a thing, and the loopy, wandering excesses of the A-flat major (D. 899, no. 4) were disorienting. Liszt's twelfth Hungarian Rhapsody (C-sharp minor, S 244) was a sort of pre-encore, the only moment of pure theater in an otherwise cerebral, poetically minded program, a frenzy of pianistic showmanship that whipped the crowd into a huge ovation. Kissin was ultimately coaxed into playing three actual encores: a "Mélodie" from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, arranged by Sgambati, for the slow aria; Liszt's tenth transcendental etude for more fireworks; and Liszt's orchestral transcription of Schubert's song Die Forelle to tie the threads together. The sense that Kissin had more encores ready -- including some Chopin, which I always hope to hear from this pianist -- was left unfulfilled. What were the last two encores Kissin played in Boston, just a couple days earlier? Chopin's D minor prelude from op. 28 and Beethoven’s Rage Over a Lost Penny. How sad that Kissin, who had agreed to sign CDs after the performance, did not get to those.

WPAS's extraordinary April continues with a recital by pianist Rafał Blechacz tomorrow (April 27, 7:30 pm), in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

25.4.13

Briefly Noted: Vinikour's Rameau

available at Amazon
J.-P. Rameau, Complete Harpischord Works, J. Vinikour
(2 CDs)
(released on June 26, 2012)
DSL-92154 | 156'44"
The harpsichord played by Christophe Rousset in a concert at the Library of Congress earlier this month was built by Thomas and Barbara Wolf in 2005. It is a copy of a 1707 instrument created in Paris by Nicolas Dumont (hidden in an estate's granary, where it survived the French revolution), commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, where it now resides. Anyone enchanted by its sound at the Library of Congress can hear it again on this recent release of the complete harpsichord oeuvre of Jean-Philippe Rameau, recorded by Jory Vinikour. Our ears have been generally delighted by our contact with Vinikour, especially his fine recording of the Handel suites from a few years ago. His new complete Rameau disc is in the same category, one to add to our list of highly esteemed Rameau recordings. This disc even had the rare distinction, for a harpsichord recording, of being nominated for a Grammy this year, an honor it did ultimately receive (not that anyone should care about the Grammy Awards). In general, Vinikour plays with pleasing variety, never satisfied with purely mechanical grind or simple repetition, making diverting changes in registration, ornamentation, and phrasing on the repeats. Dances have an infectious rhythmic impulse, like the brilliant sparkle of the gigue of the A minor suite (Premier Livre) and the gigues en rondeau of the E minor suite (Pièces de clavecin), while character pieces are often quirky vignettes (the chirpy Rappel des oiseaux and the manic, herky-jerky La Poule). The harpsichord has all sorts of surprises in it, drawn out by Vinikour (the tour de force of Balbastre's arrangement of the overture to Rameau's Pigmalion is the most striking example) much more than Rousset, who intentionally kept the palette limited when he played it.

24.4.13

Crunch Time for Missing Children


The Scoping Report on Missing and Abducted Children 2011 states the following: “Children who go missing are at risk of harm. When a child goes missing, there is something wrong, often quite seriously, in that child’s life. The reasons behind missing incidents are varied, where children go missing as a consequence of specific, distinct circumstances. The serious problem of missing and abducted children is a broad, complex and challenging issue. It tends to be poorly defined, lacking in accurate statistics, and is subject to an array of responses at local, national and international levels. At the same time, there is a pressing and urgent concern for improving responses to cases of missing and abducted children. Being missing from home or a place of residence not only entails several inherent risks for children and young people, but is also a cause and consequence of other grave concerns in any child’s life.”

The FBI cites a 2002 federal study on missing children according to which a heartening 99.8 percent of children reported missing “were located or returned home alive. The remaining 0.2 percent either did not return home or were not found. The study estimated that most of missing children cases involved runaways from juvenile facilities and that only an estimated 0.0068 percent were true kidnappings by a stranger. The primary conclusion of the study was that child abductions perpetrated by strangers rarely occur. However, when they do occur, the results can be tragic.”

Tragic, indeed. Which makes the following events all the more dramatic: After a domestic altercation on the evening of April 1st, two underage siblings went missing near Munich, after being sent out of the house by their mother, to look for berries in the forest. In said forest, the boy and his younger sister eventually happened upon a cannibalistic witch. Those are rare in the local forests, but are known to pop up on occasion of a staging of Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera. Twice, this year, because earlier in the season, the Bavarian State Opera gave its old, sepia-tinted Herbert List production of Hänsel & Gretel (from 1965!) one last hurrah, and now brought a new one onto the stage.


available at Amazon E.Humperdinck, Hanse & Gretel,
V.Jurowski / Met
C.Schäfer, A.Coote, P.Langridge et al.
EMI DVD



New? Well, not that new. Munich has actually brought in the 1998 Richard Jones production from the Welsh Opera—a hand-me-down from the Lyric Chicago and MET, available for everyone to see in an outstanding performance on DVD with Christine Schäfer, Alice Coote, Philip Langridge, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski. Most people who will see the Munich shows won’t have seen previous productions in Wales or the US, and experiencing this fabulously, morbidly fun production live, is a whole different ballgame than watching it on the screen. Certainly Hanna-Elisabeth Müller (a nicely pronouncing, fleet Gretel), Tara Erraught (a stentorian Hänsel), and Rainer Trost (as a very wicked witch) were in splendid form, acting and singing their way through Humperdinck’s second-best opera.

It’s a children’s opera, by which people mean an opera that patrons like to bring their children to—mostly because the kids know the story, also because the music is pretty, and perhaps mostly because other patrons can’t complain about the youngsters’ presence. I, for one, love seeing kids in an opera house: An evening of honest reaction to the show is about to commence, with no pretend-guffawing to seem clever, no pseudo-behaved, misplaced reverent silence; hopefully some un-cynical, earnest rapture. A bit of a pulse, amid the formaldehyde.

That said, Richard Jones’ production is not overtly concerned with catering to (parents who bring their) kids. When the scrim to Act III goes down, it continues the would-be culinary theme with the large painted plate on it, plus fork and knife, and a smear of raspberry juice? A frowning, mildly disapproving groan is emitted by a few elderly ladies in front of me. Really? You bring your grandchild to an opera about two starving children being trapped and caged with an eye to cannibalizing slaughter. An opera where the happy end is an old woman being burnt alive… but a bit of implied blood on a plate offends your sensibilities?

They should have saved their gasps for the third act proper. Maybe the bone saws on the wall in the witch’s kitchen. Or the ready-bake children’s corpses lined up like mummified nibbles. Or when the shemale witch of this production opens the fridge to briefly reveal contents that Jeffrey Dahmer would have been proud of: A nice touch from stage and costume designer John Macfarlane. (I don’t remember that being part of the Met production, though.) The part that offends me the most—far more than child-eating witches ever could—is the food-fight, though: perhaps my protestant roots coming to the fore, and those ingrained lessons on the immorality of wastage.

Apart from standouts Trost and Müller, the glittering-glamorous South African Dew Fairy Golda Schultz delighted. Father Peter, scrawny-looking Alejandro Mareo-Buhrmester, convinced after a few minutes of warming up. Janina Baechle successfully made her character Mother Gertrud look a harridan, but was prone to a burnt-out, shrill tone that would have been suitable for the witch just as well. The orchestra, in a faultless but routine performance administrated by Tomáš Hanus, covered the singers all too often, undercutting the few occasions where the pronunciation was clear enough to follow the text. Then again, the orchestral parts of this opera are so beautiful, there’s little harm in hearing them loudly.

Low marks only for the absence of supertitles and for the increasingly pretentious, idiotic programs of the Bavarian State Opera and their flavor-of-the-day graphic stylists whose aren’t-we-awfully-clever-design this time consisted of wrapping them in parchment paper, nicely rustling all the way through the performance.


Pictures below courtesy Bavarian State Opera, © Wilfried Hösl

23.4.13

Bavouzet Returns, Phillips Collection



Charles T. Downey, Pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet: Technical mastery in need of a little heart
Washington Post, April 23, 2013

available at Amazon
Debussy, Complete Works for Piano, J.-E. Bavouzet
(Chandos, 2012)
No one should have any doubts about the virtuosity of Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. The French pianist has amassed an extensive number of recordings on the Chandos label, including complete sets of Beethoven’s sonatas (ongoing) and the piano music of Debussy, both featured in a meaty recital on Sunday afternoon at the Phillips Collection. In concert, Bavouzet showed that he can play very rapidly and very loudly; whether his playing can engage the listener beyond the amazement it often inspires is another matter.
[Continue reading]
Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, piano
Music by Beethoven, Debussy
Phillips Collection

SEE ALSO:
Jens F. Laurson, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet Floats Ravel but Sinks Beethoven (Ionarts, January 23, 2006)

Tim Page, A Soft Touch Brings out the Best in Pianist Bavouzet (Washington Post, January 23, 2006)

22.4.13

The Writing on the Wall



Charles T. Downey, A valiant ‘Belshazzar’ at Freer Gallery
Washington Post, April 22, 2013

available at Amazon
Handel, Belshazzar, A. Rolfe Johnson, A. Auger, English Concert, T. Pinnock

[Review of Jacobs DVD]
Cyrus the Great has been admired by many people, from the ancient Hebrews to the Greeks to Thomas Jefferson. When Cyrus conquered the Babylonians, he freed many enslaved people and returned the cultural objects stolen from them. The Cyrus Cylinder, made to commemorate these events, is on display at the Sackler Gallery, on loan from the British Museum. At the Freer Gallery of Art on Saturday night, the Gallery Voices and the Smithsonian Concerto Grosso performed selections from Handel’s oratorio “Belshazzar,” which recounts the demise of the Babylonians, based primarily on the biblical Book of Daniel.
[Continue reading]
Handel, Belshazzar
Libretto by Charles Jennens
The Gallery Voices and Smithsonian Concerto Grosso
Freer Gallery of Art

21.4.13

In Brief: Boston Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio, online video, and other good things in Blogville and Beyond. (After clicking to an audio or video stream, press the "Play" button to start the broadcast.)


  • Andris Nelsons leads the Berlin Philharmonic in Shostakovich's sixth symphony, a Mozart symphony (K. 319), and Wagner's overture to Tannhäuser. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • At a concert recorded last December, the Ensemble Micrologus performs Adam de la Halle's Le jeu de Robin et Marion, in the Holmens Kirke in Copenhagen. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Watch Santtu-Matias Rouvali conduct the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in music by Sibelius and Saariaho, with soprano Anu Komsi as soloist. [Cité de la Musique Live]

  • An all-Brahms concert -- the Tragic Overture, the fourth symphony, and the double concerto (with Baiba Skride and Daniel Müller–Schott) -- from the Orchestre National de France and conducted by Claus-Peter Flor, at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. [France Musique]

  • A performance of Berlioz's Béatrice et Bénedict at the Theater an der Wien, with the Arnold Schoenberg Chor and ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien conducted by Leo Hussain. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Bass-baritone Bryn Terfel and pianist Llyr Williams perform Schubert, Schumann, Ibert, and others, recorded at the Verbier Festival in 2011. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Watch Kent Nagano conduct the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal in the overture to William Tell's William Tell, Bruckner's sixth symphony, and Beethoven's third piano concerto with soloist Till Fellner. [Medici.tv]

  • Diego Fasolis leads I Barocchisti, the Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera, and soloists in Antonio Caldara's Psalms and Magnificat for the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, recorded last October at the Chiesa del Collegio Papio in Ascona. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • Some chamber music by Brahms, with violist Tabea Zimmermann, mezzo-soprano Yvonne Naef, pianist Silke Avenhaus, and the Quatuor Armida. [France Musique]

  • David Robertson was in Munich leading the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Britten's Sinfonia da requiem, Stravinsky's Symphony in Three Movements, and Beethoven's fifth piano concerto with Yefim Bronfman as soloist. [BR-Klassik]

  • An interesting program of music by Debussy and Scriabin conducted by Louis Langrée, with the Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, the Choeur Symphonique de Namur, and pianist Severin von Eckardstein. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • David Zinman conducts the Orchestre National de France in Sibelius's violin concerto, with soloist Alina Pogostkina, and Dvořák's sixth symphony at the Théâtre du Châtelet. [France Musique]

  • Violinist Baiba Skride and pianist Lauma Skride perform music by Schubert, Bartók, Brahms, and Beethoven recorded in Graz. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • From the Auditorium du Louvre, chamber music by Mozart, Fauré, and Brahms with pianist Martin Helmchen and friends. [France Musique]

  • A Mendelssohn string quartet and Berg's Lyric Suite, performed by the Quatuor Voce. [France Musique]

  • Louis Langrée and Kazuki Yamada take turns conducting the Orchestre de Chambre de Paris in music by Stravinsky, Shostakovich, Debussy, and Poulenc at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées. [France Musique]

  • A recital by pianist Igor Levit at the Wigmore Hall in London, with music by Schubert, Bach, Prokofiev, and others. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • At the Opéra Comique, a concert of music by Leopold Mozart and the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart led by Ton Koopman, with the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France. [France Musique]

  • H. K. Gruber leads the BBC Philharmonic, Dirigent in music by James MacMillan, Bernstein, Gruber, and Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings with Ian Bostridge as soloist. [Österreichischer Rundfunk]

  • A concert of music by Beethoven, featuring pianist François-Frédéric Guy and friends. [France Musique]

  • Watch a triple-bill of ballets choreographed by Benjamin Millepied for the Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève. [ARTE Live Web]

20.4.13

Dip Your Ears, No. 134 (The Lovely Hill)

available at Amazon
Alfred Hill,
SQ4ts 10 & 11, “Life” Quintet
Dominion Quartet / R.Mapp
Naxos 8.572844

Here’s chamber music you didn’t know you love: From Australian Alfred Hill (1869-1960), whose string quartets led Robert Reilly to call him “the Australian Dvořák.” That’s perhaps giving their earnest melodiousness a little too much credit, but the excellent if not revelatory 10th and 11th (of 17) string quartets included on this disc, passionately performed by the Dominion Quartet, reveal where Reilly got the idea. The concluding Piano Quintet “Life” and its choral finale (“Gloria in excelsis Deo”), doesn’t live up to the earthy late-romantic quartets: Performed with aching sincerity by the octet of singers, work and performance alike fall short of its ambitions. Makes you want to check out volumes one, two, and three.

19.4.13

Stile Antico @ LoC



Charles T. Downey, Stile Antico brings out beauty of early music
Washington Post, April 19, 2013

available at Amazon
Passion and Resurrection, Stile Antico
(Harmonia Mundi, 2012)
[Other recordings]
Sometimes the best way to champion early music is to perform it as beautifully as possible and forget about how it might have been performed when it was composed. This was exactly what the English chamber choir Stile Antico did, once again, in its exquisite concert Wednesday night at the Library of Congress, a venue with more suitable acoustics for unaccompanied Renaissance polyphony than the choir had for its Washington debut two years ago.
[Continue reading]
Stile Antico
Treasures of the Renaissance
Library of Congress

PREVIOUSLY:
Charles T. Downey, British vocal ensemble Stile Antico makes stunning Washington debut (Washington Post, April 4, 2011

18.4.13

Dresden Staatskapelle (and WPAS) in North Bethesda

available at Amazon
Brahms, Violin Concerto / C. Schumann, Three Romances, L. Batiashvili, Dresden Staatskapelle, C. Thielemann
(DG, 2013)
Given the direction Washington Performing Arts Society seems to be going -- more about that below -- we should perhaps savor the last Neale Perl season from WPAS, with performances by András Schiff, Evgeny Kissin, and Rafał Blechacz in just this month alone. Add to that list a rare visit from one of the oldest orchestras in the world, the Dresden Staatskapelle, presented at Strathmore by WPAS on Tuesday night. It is a historic ensemble, led by the likes of Heinrich Schütz, Johann Adolph Hasse, Carl Maria von Weber, and Richard Wagner, a position that has now fallen to Christian Thielemann. The esteemed German conductor took the reins in Dresden last fall after an acrimonious departure from the Munich Philharmonic, all given excellent coverage by our own Jens Laurson. Thielemann has released a series of recordings with this new band over the last couple years -- including one of the Brahms violin concerto with Lisa Batiashvili, who came along on the orchestra's all-Brahms tour -- and is in the midst of a U.S. tour.

Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Thielemann, Dresden offer a mercurial approach to Brahms at Strathmore (Washington Post, April 18)

Andrew Patner, Thielemann, Dresden Staatskapelle make a welcome return to Orchestra Hall (Chicago Sun-Times, April 15)

Lawrence A. Johnson, Thielemann, Batiashvili and Dresden orchestra serve up memorable afternoon of Brahms (Chicago Classical Review, April 15)

Clive Paget, Brahms: Violin Concerto (Batiashvili, Dreden/Thielemann) (Limelight, April 2013)

Zachary Woolfe, Traditions Honored, Then Sidestepped, at Salzburg Easter Festival (New York Times, March 27)

George Loomis, 'Zauberflöte' in a New Easter Home (New York Times, March 26)

Shirley Apthorp, Parsifal, Salzburg Easter Festival, Grosses Festspielhaus (Financial Times, March 25)

John Allison, Christian Thielemann: Germany's most sought-after conductor (The Telegraph, March 22)

Ljubisa Tosic, Christian Thielemann: "Wagner war kein besonders netter Mensch" (Der Standard, March 22)
The Academic Festival Overture, given a subtle but crisp opening by Thielemann, showed off the orchestra's sound, especially the gleaming brass in their chorale moment, as if heard from a distant ivory tower. The louds and softs were all scrupulously managed, revealing the work's structure and many details, finally blossoming into a triumphal parade with the quotation of Gaudeamus igitur. While we were pleased with Lisa Batiashvili's recording of the Sibelius and Lindberg violin concertos a few years ago, we missed hearing her performance with the National Symphony Orchestra, when she also played the Brahms concerto. Thielemann and the musicians treaded very softly during the solo passages, but there was still an element of brawn missing from Batiashvili's tone at the big moments, while the radiant parts, like the closing theme of the first movement, were shining and tender in her hands. The second movement opened with a golden wind and horns serenade, taken up with smoldering beauty and plenty of rubato by Batiashvili, followed by a playfully paced finale, not that fast but with lots of solo fireworks.

The highlights of the program were left for the second half, beginning with a slow burn of a fourth symphony, opening with that distinctive main theme like a gentle tidal pull, no heaving, nothing overwrought, some surges -- especially at the end of the first movement -- but also real delicacy of emotion. The violin section's beautiful sound was meted out carefully, never allowed to overwhelm other parts that were more important. The second movement did not become overly sentimental, emotional pain buried deep inside, followed by a boisterous third movement, enlivened by a somewhat unpredictable approach to the tempo at the podium. The finale had serious zip to it, with Thielemann not giving us a chance to breathe until the section with that lovely flute solo, slowing down to an even more solemn pace for the trombone-heavy section, after which the performance exploded into action again. The energy continued with something we were really hoping to hear, Thielemann's Wagner, with the prelude to Act III of Lohengrin.

* * * *
When the announcement was made that Jenny Bilfield would take over as President and CEO of Washington Performing Arts Society this spring, we made some predictions about what this might mean for that organization's concert schedule. Like Bilfield's work at Stanford Lively Arts, it would likely mean "less Takács Quartet and more Kronos Quartet, less Royal Concertgebouw and more eighth blackbird, less Angela Hewitt and more Esperanza Spalding." Well, WPAS has just announced its line-up for the 2013-14 season, which is not entirely Bilfield's work but gives more indications of what to expect.

Orchestras invited next year include the Mariinsky Theater (with Valery Gergiev) and St. Petersburg Philharmonic (with Vilde Frang as soloist), the Los Angeles Philharmonic (with Gustavo Dudamel), and the Israel Philharmonic (with Gianandrea Noseda) -- in the same category, curiously, WPAS lists the Detroit-based chamber orchestra Sphinx Virtuosi. The piano series includes as "well-established" names Marc-André Hamelin, Louis Lortie, and Murray Perahia -- while I agree with the first and third, probably only Perahia has the broad audience appeal to fill a big house. Among the rising pianists to be featured -- Kit Armstrong, David Greilsammer, Benjamin Hochman, Sam Haywood -- only Martin Helmchen would likely be my pick for a must-hear concert. Under the "Sustaining Established Talent" category, Yuja Wang is someone I would certainly want to hear, but recent concerts by Simone Dinnerstein and Hilary Hahn have been underwhelming (either by musical results or ability to sell a large house). While I have enjoyed concerts by Jeremy Denk and Benjamin Grosvenor, I'm not sure I would put them in the "Piano Masters" category just yet.

Add concerts by violinists Anna Lee and Stefan Jackiw, Germany’s Minguet Quartet, soprano Julia Bullock, and the crossover group Sybarite5, and that is the whole WPAS season. Color me generally unimpressed: there is not much that I would seriously recommend. For those other than classical fans, there is a lot more jazz -- yes, including Esperanza Spalding -- and some world music, none of which is really part of our brief. It seems to me yet another misguided redefining of mission, akin to the Washington National Opera sacrificing part of its limited budget to the production of a musical when plenty of other organizations are devoted to producing musicals. You cannot increase audiences for classical music or opera by reducing the number of performances of it, and musicals, jazz, and world music are really not hurting for venues and organizations to sponsor them, at least not to the degree that opera and classical music are.

17.4.13

Maurizio Pollini de Retour

available at Amazon
Chopin, Preludes / Nocturnes / Mazurkas / Scherzo, M. Pollini
(DG, 2012)

available at Amazon
Chopin, Box Set, M. Pollini
(DG, recorded 1972-2008)

available at Amazon
Debussy, Preludes (Book 1) / L'Isle Joyeuse, M. Pollini
(DG, 1999)

Previous Recitals:
2010 | 2008 | 2006 | 2004
Why do we love the performances of Maurizio Pollini so much? What some listeners find too flinty or steely in his playing is the same lack of varnish, the stripping away of layers of affectation slathered on much-played music, that galvanizes my ears. There was also the near-invulnerability of his technique, something that is less breathtakingly perfect nowadays -- the Italian pianist celebrated his 70th birthday last year -- but there are still moments in a Pollini recital that can make your heart stop. The last time we experienced Pollini's playing here in Washington was in 2010, when Washington Performing Arts Society brought him to the Kennedy Center. He was scheduled to play for WPAS again in March 2011, with the last three sonatas of Beethoven planned, a concert that he had to cancel. For whatever reason, WPAS has not rescheduled that concert, and Pollini's latest appearance in the area came courtesy of Strathmore, where he performed on Sunday afternoon in a surprisingly not completely filled Music Center.

Pollini has written about his more recent approach to the music of Chopin as being more free, less literal and straight than the technically brilliant, not at all self-indulgent approach that won him the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1960, when he was just 18 years old. He gave a wistful, introspective quality to the opening prelude (C-sharp minor, op. 45) and to the quieter of the four mazurkas of op. 33, especially the melancholy odd-numbered ones. In two ballades, the second and third, Pollini felt no need to take the poetic sections -- said to be based on Chopin's love of reciting the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz -- too slowly, while the tumultuous fast passages of no. 2, some of Chopin's most impulsive and dastardly, were gutsy and thrilling, taken fast enough and with no quarter given to be just slightly beyond technical perfection. In the third ballade, he kept even the most extravagant of the bel canto opera-inspired runs in a strictly maintained tempo. To hear these demanding passages fitted into the prevailing meter is bracing for the way one thinks about Chopin, as with the forcefully played third scherzo (C-sharp minor, op. 39), which closed the first half.


Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, Pianist Maurizio Pollini’s mastery is beyond reproach, but playing has little spontaneity (Washington Post, April 16)
The second half was devoted to the first book of Claude Debussy's preludes, a series of poetic vignettes shorn of all artifice and affectation (listen to his performance of the set in London in 2008). The intention to keep the rhythm close to how it is notated on the page was announced in the first prelude, Les Danseuses de Delphes, played evenly, as it to accompany dancers, but no less evocative in the choice of voicings, and in the ethereal Voiles, even in the wispy whole-tone scales, said to evoke the exotic, slightly provocative veil dances of Loïe Fuller. Just as Chopin can often be played too wanly, Debussy's music can often lose its edge as pianists cover it too much in mist, but here the buzzing figures of Le vent dans la plaine and the tumultuous sweep of wind in Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest were more etched and thrilling than mere pastel washes. Soft moments were there, in the blanketed muteness of Des pas sur la neige, thankfully played not too slowly, and in the gentle curves of Les collines d'Anacapri, but the eighth prelude (La fille aux cheveux de lin) was played without any unnecessary rubato, the model of artless simplicity itself. Pollini has a witty side, too, giving playful voice to the Moorish inflections of the "quasi guitarra" La sérénade interrompue, the mischievous leaps of La Danse de Puck, and the broad, swaggering performance of Minstrels (the sort of entertainment Debussy had in mind may make listeners a century later somewhat uncomfortable). Sustained ovations elicited two encores, concluding with an incendiary performance of Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude" (op. 10, no. 12).

Maurizio Pollini will repeat this program at Carnegie Hall in New York this Sunday (April 21, 3 pm).

16.4.13

In Memoriam: Hearing Sir Colin Davis (1927 - 2013)



available at Amazon Tippett, Midsummer Marriage
Lyrita

UK | DE | FR
available at Amazon Britten, Peter Grimes
Philips/Decca

UK | DE | FR
To pick a dozen recordings from Sir Colin Davis’ discography that do his life, work, and art justice is either terribly easy (because there are so many) or terribly difficult (because twelve are so few). Davis was one of the most prolific, and most recorded conductors, rivaled only by Sir Neville Marriner, Bernard Haitink, Riccardo Muti, Neeme Järvi, Daniel Barenboim, and Claudio Abbado—to mention only peers that are still active.

Although Colin Davis did much to generate interest in composers like Michael Tippet and James MacMillan, shaped our impression of Benjamin Britten on account of a stunning account Peter Grimes, and conducted a vast repertoire during his sixteen years heading Covent Garden, decade with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and twelve years as Principal Conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, he will be remembered primarily for two composers: as the foremost champion of Berlioz, and