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Notes from the 2010 Salzburg Festival ( 6 )

Chamber Concert 2 · Martha Argerich II

Kontinent Rihm 2

Jammed between evenings of Wolfgang Rihm, Monday offered a little divertissement with Martha Argerich and friends (and acquaintances) at the Mozarteum. The second of two concerts in that series, there was a little Saint-Saëns and Rachmaninoff for two pianos (a type of repertoire that Argerich does much to keep from being completely ignored), a little Janáček, Chopin, and Brahms. The Chopin Cello Sonata with Argerich and Maisky (the latter shackled to a space suit, by the looks of the très fashionable shirt he sported) was pleasing for the uninhibited pianism. And the best thing about Maisky was probably Argerich playing with the fully opened lid (something that Rostropovich wouldn’t tolerate with Sviatoslav Richter, for example, who had to use a quarter stick). Between odd spots of intonation, Maisky worked up occasional energy and intensity, but except for the finale, he generated more heat than light.

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Rihm, Quid est Deus, et al.,
Cambreling / SWRO BBF
Hänssler Classics

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Gesualdo, Tenebrae Responsies,
Hilliard Ensemble

The following Brahms Quartet in g-minor (No.1, op.25) with violinist Dora Schwarzberg, her daughter Nora Romanoff (viola), Walter Delahunt (piano), and Mark Drobinsky (cello) was a touch clumsy but made up for it with Drobinsky’s terrific cello playing. Unobtrusive, graceful, calm, rhythmically and technically precise it was a study in the pitfalls of self-indulgence by way of contrast to what came before. Géza Hosszu-Legecky and the 5 DeVils topped things off in this five hour (!) concert, playing “Gypsy medleys” in shiny suits, slicked-back hair, oozing more narcissism during their Paprika flavored re-hashing of movie tunes than any echt-Hungarian spirit. Excepting cimbalist Gyula Csik, it should be noted that there is a considerable difference between getting lost in the music and getting lost in admiring yourself playing it. The result was how I imagine a musical night out with you local chapter of the New Jersey mafia.

On to Kontinent Rihm 2, though, with the South West (German) Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra Baden-Baden & Freiburg under Sylvain Cambreling (SWR BBF, not to be mistaken with Norrington’s South West German Radio Symphony Orchestra Stuttgart, SWRSO) along with the chorus, the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart. The performance in the Kollegienkirche (which will be broadcast by Ö1 tonight, 11pm CET / 5pm EST) included Klaus Huber’s “Tenebrae” for large orchestra from 1966 and Rihm’s “QUID EST DEUS – Cantata Hermetica” for chorus and orchestra from 2007; both responses, in some way, to the music of Carlo Gesulado.

Tenebrae starts with flageolet whispers, a snake hissing in the percussion section, brief alternating spurts of brass and woodwinds, full stops, and develops through beautiful moments of quietness, deliberate lacunae of sound. What he achieves in some 18 minutes, Rihm expands to 40, running through 24 ‘definitions’ of God. The definitions themselves, taken from an apocryphal Latin text, are largely platitudes, many of them rehashing the much more succinct Aristotelian concept of the unmoved mover. When stripped of their noble veil of Latin, they sound like juvenile doodles of an aspiring intellectual who got bored in math class. The music, though, is pleasing and caresses the ear, the atmosphere lulling… before tiring with sameness. The dramatic incline is shallow and predictable, the accumulative power nil. With so much filler, one wonders if 13 definitions might not have been enough. God is anything, apparently, but not succinct. God and Wolfgang Rihm may be used interchangeably, in that context. A good deal of QUID EST DEUS reminded of Wilfred Hiller’s 2009/2010 “The Son of the Carpenter”, but I found the latter fare more novel, varied, and genuinely touching.

Preceding the two modern works were the Tenebrae Responsories by Gesulado, our everyone’s favorite murderous polyphonist, himself. Incidentally, the Hilliard Ensemble members must have found his polyphony murderous… their performance was an unhealthy mix of frayed, cracking, wobbly, and worn voices with nary a bright spot among them; a mere shadow of the crack (no pun intended) A capella ensemble I know from dozens of beloved ECM and Virgin recordings. Members of the orchestra, many eager to hear the famed ensemble for the first time, looked on with saddened astonishment.

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