CD Reviews | CTD (Briefly Noted) | JFL (Dip Your Ears) | DVD Reviews


Dip Your Ears, No. 164 (C.H.Graun’s Easter Oratorio)

available at Amazon
C.H.Graun, Easter Oratorio
M.A.Willens / Cologne Academy
N.Koufochristou, D.Saskova, J.Kobow, A.Wolf

More Than Not-Quite-Bach

Any (North-) German composer of the high baroque, operating no less in the Prussian-Saxon corridor and composing works like Easter Oratorios is in the ungrateful position—in our age, not then—of being compared to Master Bach. That’s not exactly like every Dolphins QB being compared to Dan Marino, but close enough: you just can’t win. But Carl Heinrich Graun’s hour-long, four-partite Easter Oratorio is so consistently pleasing and uplifting, it deserves much more than “not-quite-Bach” status. Trumpet and timpani glory radiates, arias turn into duets with various solo instruments, each part opens and closes with a well written chorus… This makes perfect Sunday-any-day listening, of interest to anyone who also enjoys Bach Cantatas. Not the least thanks to the marvelous performance under Michael Alexander Willens and the Cologne Academy.

Made possible by Listen Music Magazine.


Black Friday: Twelve Things I Liked This Year

For your Black Friday or Cyber Monday needs, here are some gift ideas from the CDs, DVDs, and movies I enjoyed this year, in no particular order. Jens will also offer his thoughts on the best recordings of the year. When you buy through the links provided on these pages, Ionarts receives a cut at no extra cost to you -- so you are actually giving two gifts at once.


Bach, Orchestral Suites (Ouvertures), Freiburger Barockorchester, P. Müllejans, G. von der Goltz (HMC 902154)
available at Amazon
[Buy from Amazon]
This new version of Bach's orchestral suites from the Freiburger Barockorchester takes the Leipzig sources more or less at face value, with the usual corrections, reflecting Bach's (possibly hasty) recycling of these older pieces later in his career. Although the string playing is bright and unified, as one expects of the Freiburg musicians, it is the woodwind performances that stand out here, including several delightful bassoon solos (Javier Zafra) and bubbly oboes (Katharina Arfken, Andreas Helm, and Thomas Meraner), recorded with key clicks and all. Flutist Karl Kaiser absolutely dazzles in the chatty Badinerie of the second suite, paced as quickly as the breathless version from Concerto Köln (Berlin Classics) but trumps it by adding the most ornate embellishments ever witnessed by these ears in this piece, probably the most famous in the four suites. [READ REVIEW]

Schubert, Symphonies 3/4, Freiburger Barockorchester, P. Heras-Casado (HMC 902154)
available at Amazon
[Buy from Amazon]
Pablo Heras-Casado is a known quantity in New York, due to his conducting position with the Orchestra of St. Luke's and appearances with the outstanding Freiburger Barockorchester at the Mostly Mozart festival. With the latter ensemble Heras-Casado has recorded two of the lesser-known Schubert symphonies, in performances that put these two slender, even lightweight works in the best possible light. Neither of these symphonies, composed in 1815 and 1816 when Schubert had just turned 18, is what one might call a masterpiece: the menuetto third movements are in Schubert's almost-empty salon style, dances that escaped from suites somewhere and burrowed their way into a symphony. The fast section of the first movement of no. 3, with its swelling crescendo and frenetic rhythms, would not be out of place in a Rossini opera overture. The similarity between the two composers is not by chance: they were near contemporaries, born within five years of one another, and in this period both were mass-producing music at an alarming rate -- Schubert in symphonies, Singspiels, string quartets, piano sonatas, and songs; Rossini in Italian operas -- when Beethoven still had a decade to live but, for part of that time, was not producing any music. [READ REVIEW]

Bartók, Violin Concertos 1/2, Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, D. Harding (HMC 902146)
available at Amazon
[Buy from Amazon]
You can throw another top-notch recording of Bartók's two violin concertos on the pile. Why would so many of the leading violinists of our time make recordings of the Bartók concertos? The answer is in the music, two pieces that feature some exquisite writing for the violin as well as head-spinning technical challenges. Isabelle Faust's rendition of the first concerto, from the first decade of the 20th century, stands out for her sheer gorgeousness of tone in the radiant soft passages. The same is true of the shimmering flautando sound in the much more raucous second concerto, from the 1930s, overall the more dissonant and barbaric of the two. No. 2's menacing middle movement, with some dazzingly inventive orchestration, sounds vaguely like haunted Britten in some ways. These qualities distinguished her recording of the Berg concerto, too. [READ REVIEW]


A Thing about Painting

Happy Thanksgiving Day to all our American readers! -- Ed.

Painting is that pleasant, innocent amusement. But 'tis more; 'tis of great use, as being one of the means whereby we convey our ideas to each other, and which in some respects has the advantage of all the rest. And thus it must be ranked with these, and accordingly esteemed not only as an enjoyment, but as another language, which completes the whole art of communicating our thoughts; one of those particulars which raises the dignity of human nature so much above the brutes; and which is the more considerable, as being a gift bestowed but upon a few even of our own species.

Jonathan Richardson, An Essay on the Theory of Painting, 1775
The above quote, from the Painting 101 exhibit at Sargent's Daughters, is a perfect beginning for a newly reorganized gallery and for me to approach a city, New York, currently loaded with exhibits of great painting.

Paintings convey thoughts; sometimes the process is more nuanced, a puzzle, a mystery to be solved. The five-artist show at Sargent's, for example: although somewhat similar, abstracted, pushing and playing with paint, they each use the medium to different ends. Jonathan Lasker and Dennis Hollingsworth take pleasure in thick graphic globs of paint. Sandi Slone's floating forms of color can indeed be both pleasant and amusing, in a good way, while Francesca Dimattio takes daring leaps into chaos, which is solidly held together by an imagined architecture; it's controlled ecstasy. All five swathed in a bit of mystery, as is Daniel Rios Rodriguez's all-knowing, small blue pear. The smallest paintings often have the biggest punch.

There is a veil of mystery to Sangram Majumdar's new paintings at Steven Harvey. Majumdar has a way of pulling you deep into the picture; then moments later you'll want to pull back in search of another point of reference. Similar to the telling of a story, over and over. With each telling it changes slightly. The intent is still there, as is the honesty: our playful memory and life experiences kick in. The original intent gets layered, and a good tale becomes a full-spun yarn, with lots of surprises. (Sangram Majumdar: peel continues in two locations: Steven Harvey Fine Art at 208 Forsyth and around the corner at Projector, 237 Eldridge.)

Two painters that I really get excited about are Jake Berthot and Leon Kossoff, and both of them are showing a block apart! Berthot at Betty Cunningham has a sensitive silky touch that exposes his subject ever so slowly from darkness to light, while Kossoff, over at Mitchel-Ines & Nash, gnarls his way forward with thick, gritty, chunky layers of paint. There is a British sensibility to paint: Turner had it, Freud, as does Kossoff. These two artists, so different on the surface, end with a crescendo of beauty and honesty, one with a final splatter of liquid paint, the other a ghostly revelation.

Mystery combined with myth and a good dose of mirth can be found in Kyle Staver's recent exhibit, her first at Tibor deNagy. In Staver's paintings all the assembled have grandeur, the women are strong natural beauties. Her attention to detail is finely tuned, and often -- just so much fun!

Dropping the veil and fade to the black paintings, but keep the mystery and humor. I was first introduced to Ad Reinhardt through his graphic work, his didactic, collaged sputterings about the New York art world. He was a multitalented artist, scholar, world traveler and lecturer. David Zwirner has a dozen of Reinhardt's ultimate black paintings -- they're amazing -- and a room full of his intricately assembled mantras. Remember that this was in the day of cut and paste and white-out. I've always been a fan of these works: they're funny, biting, rambling critiques of the art world of his day. His voice is so needed today, with sky-high auction prices, greedy dealers, artists and collectors -- nothing new, of course, but he would be keeping it honest.


Marc-André Hamelin

available at Amazon
N. Medtner, Complete Piano Sonatas / Forgotten Melodies, M.-A. Hamelin
(Hyperion, 1998)
Music is an ephemeral and mysterious thing, some lines and circles laid out, inert on the page. You know exactly how the thing goes, in theory, because you push the keys in the right order and out comes Schubert's last piano sonata, D. 960. Yet, you do not really know, because the damn thing, elusive in its melancholy brilliance, sounds so different in different hands: Konstantin Soukhovetski (2012), Menahem Pressler (2011), Radu Lupu (2009), Alfred Brendel (2008), Andreas Haefliger (2007), Leon Fleisher (2006). Even with all those earlier performances, and more besides, the rendition by Marc-André Hamelin, heard at his latest Washington Performing Arts Society recital on Monday night in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, was full of surprises. The change of the Schubert selection to the B-flat major sonata, a monument in the history of keyboard music, came late in the game, but no one was complaining. In an insert added to the program, Hamelin noted joyfully that he would be content if this piece were on every program he played for the rest of his life. That love of this music, causing Hamelin to marvel at "how mysteriously Schubert is able to achieve such spiritual heights through the very simplest of means," came through in how he played it, reverently, with a caressing touch, but also with his signature controlled mastery of touch. The control, though evident upon reflection on the craftmanship of sound, did not make the performance cautious or fussy, though -- it brought it to life.

Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, At Kennedy Center, Marc-Andre Hamelin doesn’t seem to find anything difficult (Washington Post, November 27)

Michael Roddy, Circus Galop: Canadian Pianist Marc-André Hamelin on Performing, Composing and 'Synethesia' (Reuters, November 14)

Niels Swinkels, Marc-André Hamelin and the Mystery of Human Creativity (San Francisco Classical Voice, November 11)

Ivan Hewett, Marc-André Hamelin, Wigmore Hall, review (The Telegraph, November 5)

Andrew Clements, Busoni: Late Piano Music – review (The Guardian, October 30)

Charles T. Downey, Hamelin @ Shriver Hall (Ionarts, January 29)

Why do you howl, night wind?
Why do you complain insanely?
Your voice is strange. What does it mean?
First muffled, pitiful, then loud?
My heart understands your tongue,
your tale of madness it can't,
and at times you uproot and plow up
frenzied noises in your words!
Don't sing these songs,
these fearsome songs
of ancient Chaos, kindred Chaos!
How avidly the inner soul of night
hears the beloved tale!
It wants to burst from the breast,
it wants to merge with the boundless.
Oh, do not wake the sleeping storms -
Chaos writhes beneath them!
-- Fyodor Tyutchev (1803-1873)
The first movement's trajectory was, in a sense, laid out in the first eight bars, with Hamelin gently unsettling the tonality with whispered emphasis on the dissonance in the left hand -- the raised fourth scale degree on the downbeat of measure two and the menacing trill on the flat sixth, both half-steps on either side of the dominant. So much of the exposition is marked pianissimo, and Hamelin did exactly that, really crashing down at the little connective material that leads back to the repeat, which made the sudden turn toward C# minor at the development stand out in contrast. The second movement was the most shadowy I have ever heard it, the right hand's melody completely free of the gently crossing left hand, while the third movement seemed utterly unconcerned with the sadness around it, a flighty dance that seemed quite fast, the trio approaching the edginess of tango with its misplaced accents. The fourth movement, whose main theme remains stubbornly in G minor, really until the Presto coda takes us back to the relative major, was driven by its knell-like opening tone, placed just so each time.

An encore seemed unlikely after the Schubert, although Hamelin told an interviewer that he always has "several pieces" prepared and will play them depending on the audience's reaction ("I will play as many as they want, basically" -- perhaps if the audience had insisted more). In retrospect, it was difficult to expect other music to have preceded D. 960 as well, but here was where Hamelin's love of obscure music made the difference. (He told the same interviewer that the piece he has never performed but would most like to is Pierre Boulez's second sonata, which he ranks with D. 960 and Ravel's Gaspard de la Nuit. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.) In John Field's short and sweet Andante inédit (E-flat major, H. 64), Hamelin's light touch reminded me of his charming way with the music of Haydn. It was a good balance for the monster that loomed after it, Nikolai Medtner's tempestuous E minor sonata (op. 25, no. 2), known as "Night Wind" because it was inspired by a poem by Fyodor Tyutchev (see the translation in the sidebar). Medtner dedicated the piece to Rachmaninoff, with whose music it has a lot in common, but where Rachmaninoff's tendency toward sentimentality often grates on my nerves, Medtner drowns the ear in contrapuntal complexity, which Hamelin patiently pulled apart into separate strands. Motifs of clanging bells, howling winds, and lost songs are buried in tangles of chromatic vagaries, hand crossings, and impossible technical challenges, as the piece reels drunkenly from poetic reverie to frenzied rapture. WPAS, which had trouble filling the larger hall at Strathmore for Hamelin's last recital, in 2011, learned its lesson, and there were still, to my amazement, empty seats in the much smaller Terrace Theater.

Another great Schubert piece, the Wanderer Fantasy, is the focus of Rob Kapilow's next What Makes It Great? lecture series (December 15, 6 pm), presented by WPAS at the National Museum of Natural History. Following the lecture, pianist Yuliya Gorenman will perform the work in its entirety.


Ionarts-at-Large: Rossini in San Francisco

Many thanks to Robert R. Reilly for this review from out West.

Photo assumed courtesy San Francisco Opera, very possibly © Cory Weaver.

On November 13th, the San Francisco Opera offered a big valentine to Gioachino Rossini, who was present on stage either in the form of a giant six-foot tall bust at the opening, or as a bas relief on the upper wall, for the remainder of a scintillating performance of The Barber of Seville. At the appearance of the bust, I suspected that this production, which comes from the Lithuanian National Opera (inspired by Emilio Sagi’s production for the Teatro Real), might prove to be too self-conscious, which is fatal for comedy, but it was not—except in a few minor instances. In fact, so infused with fun was this staging that it made the opera seem 200 years young.


Ionarts-at-Large: Artemis Splendor

While the Labeque Sisters occupied the main hall (Großer Saal) of the Vienna Konzerthaus, the Artemis Quartet was playing the very modestly filled smaller Mozart Saal for their November 19th recital of Haydn-Bartók-Brahms. Perhaps a commentary on the state of

Listen Up: Wagner in Saxony—Revolution, ma non Troppo

New in Listen Magazine

Wagner the Revolutionary

Saxony at long last honors its prodigal, politically ambivalent son.

When Röckel laid out a radical socialist program for the future, there were two points Wagner found himself unable to agree with: the abolition of marriage and, tellingly, the equal treatment of all workers. Without a special status for artists, Wagner wasn’t going to sign off on such an idea.

Wagner escaped certain imprisonment and possible death in Dresden by a hair’s breadth, via Chemnitz and Weimar to Zurich. As soon as he was in the clear he sent a letter to his wife Minna in which he assures her that this “worst possible catastrophe” that he had just experienced was something from which he “emerged a changed man, set on a new path.” Furthermore Wagner claimed that he really wasn’t a revolutionary at heart because a victorious revolutionary has to be ruthless to the core — a quality he simply couldn’t possess...

Available in the current issue of Listen Magazine.

'Albert Herring' at University of Maryland

Charles T. Downey, Charming take on Benjamin Britten’s ‘Albert Herring’ from Maryland Opera Studio (Washington Post, November 25, 2013)

available at Amazon
Britten, Albert Herring, P. Pears, English Chamber Orchestra, B. Britten
What better way to spend the 100th anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s birth, which fell on Friday, than listening to one of his operas? They are the height of the British composer’s achievement, although “Albert Herring” is somewhere down the list of his best works. It received a charming production by the Maryland Opera Studio at the Clarice Smith Center, directed by Kasi Campbell, with a cast, like most fielded by collegiate companies, that was varied but earnest.

“Writing in a language with no operatic tradition to speak of,” tenor Ian Bostridge noted of Britten this week, “he wrote the only substantial body of operatic work since 1945 which is regularly revived and appreciated around the world.” The success has to do with Britten’s ability to set English words to music, his choice of excellent literary sources and a melodic and harmonic sensibility that is, for the 20th century, more alluring than off-putting. [Continue reading]
B. Britten, Albert Herring
Maryland Opera Studio (continues through November 26)
Clarice Smith Center

Previous productions:
Santa Fe Opera (2010)
Castleton Festival (2009)
Catholic University (2005)

YouTube: Glyndebourne (where the opera was premiered, in 1947)


In Brief: Happy 100th Britten 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.) Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Graeme Jenkins leads a performance of Britten's Peter Grimes at the Wiener Staatsoper, starring Herbert Lippert and Gun-Brit Barkmin. [ORF]

  • Jan Latham-Koenig conducts Billy Budd at the Göteborg Opera, starring Mathias Zachariassen (Vere), Joa Helgesson (Billy), and Clive Bayley (Claggart). [RTBF]

  • Britten's War Requiem with soprano Sabina Cvilak, tenor Allan Clayton, and baritone Roderick Williams, plus the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Semyon Bychkov. [RTBF]

  • From last June's Aldeburgh Festival, soprano Emma Bell joins Marc Elder and the Hallé Orchestra for music by Britten, plus the world premiere of Wolfgang Rihm's A Tribute. [France Musique]

  • From last July's Aix-en-Provence Festival, tenor Ian Bostridge, Gianandrea Noseda, and the London Symphony Orchestra perform music by Britten and Shostakovich. [France Musique]

  • From last summer's Proms, trumpeter Alison Balsom and the Camerata Ireland perform music by Britten and his contemporaries. [France Musique]

  • The SWR Vocal Ensemble performs music by Britten, Brahms, and Hindemith, recorded in the Speyer Dreifaltigkeitskirche as part of the Schwetzingen Festival. [France Musique]

  • Listen to Benjamin Britten conduct Mahler's fourth symphony, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen, and other works in Suffolk and Snape Maltings. ORF]

  • Tenor Robin Tritschler and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales perform music by Britten, Poulenc, and Satie, recorded last May at Hoddinot Hall in Cardiff. [France Musique]


Dip Your Ears, No. 163 (Visual Bruckner)

available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.4
D.Barenboim / Staatskapelle Berlin
Accentus blu-Ray

available at Amazon
A.Bruckner, Symphony No.4
D.Barenboim / Staatskapelle Berlin
Accentus DVD

Bruckner and Barenboim, Take 3

Daniel Barenboim doesn’t waste his fame on unknown repertoire and rather records the Beethoven Sonatas a fourth time, or Ludwig’s Symphonies again, or the complete Bruckner Symphonies trice. A pity—and all the more important that he have something to say with the umpteenth time of whatever he currently reiterates. And in the case of this Bruckner, that seems to be the case. The popular Fourth Symphony, with the Berlin Staatskapelle live from the Berlin Philharmonic Hall is his most natural, satisfying Bruckner yet, not so youthful brash and stridently impressive as his Chicago iterations (DG), not as polished and strangely listless as his Berlin Philharmonic go (Teldec), but brawny and brassy, sage and warm and patient. An easy choice for anyone who likes to watch, not just listen.


Briefly Noted: Michel Legrand and Natalie Dessay

available at Amazon
Entre elle et lui, N. Dessay, M. Legrand, et al.

(released on October 29, 2013)
Erato 934148 2 | 65'32"
Crossover is normally off limits here at Ionarts, but my francophilia gets the better of me with this new release. So this recommendation applies only to readers who share my weaknesses -- for jazz, for the film scores of Michel Legrand (especially in the films of Jacques Demy), for French song, and for Natalie Dessay. Legrand, one of my favorite film composers, made a very rare visit to the Washington area in 2009, which through a calendar mishap, I managed to miss having the chance to review. This new disc gives me hope that I may get another chance to hear Legrand live, if there is a related U.S. tour. Dessay sings all Legrand songs in this selection, with the composer at the piano, joined at times by bass, drums, and harp, with vocal turns by soprano Patricia Petibon, baritone Laurent Naouri. Legrand himself sings in two of the more moving performances.

Legrand's voice and hands at the piano sound just fine, for someone who is now in his 80s, and Dessay is not quite up to snuff in only a few cases. (It takes a while to realize that Dessay is singing in English in the song from Yentl, for example. If you are looking for translations of the French songs and one Russian song, you are out of luck, by the way.) Legrand turns a lot to the same formulas: there are moments in Les moulins de mon coeur, made for the film The Thomas Crown Affair, that sound an awful lot like sections of the score for Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, for example. Legrand's credentials are strong on both sides of the jazz-classical divide: he studied with Nadia Boulanger but was also formed by jazz he heard in Paris. Where he excels are the songs that sound best on this album, the slow ballads in minor keys that are infused with ineffable Gallic sadness (La valse des lilas, Les moulins de mon coeur, the song of Guy and Geneviève from Parapluies de Cherbourg, The Summer Knows, Mon dernier concert). A guilty pleasure.


'Et in Arcadia ego': Adès on Mortality

available at Amazon
T. Adès, Arcadiana (inter alia), Endellion Quartet
It was time last night for the first Musicians from Marlboro concert on the free concert series at the Freer Gallery of Art. Some of the most engaging performances (and their performers) are selected to be sent on tour around the country between summers, when the festival is held in Vermont. In the case of this program, featuring a piano trio and a string quartet that shared some members, it was almost certainly Arcadiana, a fascinating work for string quartet by British composer Thomas Adès, that was the reason for this program being sent on tour.

The most recent string quartet by Adès, Four Quarters from 2011, struck me as a major work when it was performed by the Arditti Quartet here last year. His first attempt in the genre, from 1994, was new to my ears in this performance, and it was perhaps more obtuse but just as fascinating to unravel. Adès has a way of eliciting unexpected sounds from instruments, often combining them in surprising ways, a talent that goes back at least as far as this work, completed when he was still in his early 20s. Glissandi and percussive barking attacks gave a growling, sometimes human vocal quality to many of the movements, with sounds like sighs in sliding pizzicato notes. He makes some outrageous demands on the players, like the flautando, ultra-high harmonics in the first violin in the second movement. This group -- violinists Scott St. John and Michelle Ross, violist Emily Deans, and cellist Matthew Zalkind -- does not perform regularly as a quartet, but the luxury of several summer weeks in Vermont made possible an astounding grasp of the work.

Adès took his title not just from Arcadia, the name of a region of Greece held up by classicizing scholars in the 17th and 18th centuries as the ideal location of a golden age of poetry. Adès references the painting by Poussin known as Et in Arcadia ego (at left), which explains much of what he is trying to do with the piece. The phrase "Et in Arcadia ego" goes back to a painting made by Guercino in 1621, and Poussin's famous variation on it in the same way shows shepherds discovering a tomb with the words as an epitaph. The meaning, as if spoken by the dead person -- or by Death itself -- is that death, too, is in Arcadia. As M. Owen Lee put it, in Death and Rebirth in Virgil's Arcadia: "Even in the enclosure where all is supposedly timeless happiness, death is present." Adès seemed to evoke this idea by quoting music -- a section of Mozart's Magic Flute, a Schubert song, Elgar's Nimrod variation -- well, really, processing more than quoting, as it often seemed to have gone through a food processor and was now a sort of sonic purée. For all of its quizzical effect, one was left with a feeling of nostalgia, as if to say that death has claimed all those composers, too, and perhaps even their music, one day, will ultimately die.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, Music From Marlboro program returns to Freer Gallery (Washington Post, November 22)
The other three pieces on the program were far less extraordinary, both in terms of the music and the performance -- still pleasant, but there were no other real delights until the encore, which brought together all five musicians for the Scherzo movement of Dvořák's piano quintet. Beethoven's Variations for Piano Trio on Wenzel Müller's dippy song Ich bin der Schneider Kakadu, op. 121a, was a reminder of Beethoven's fondness for weaving great things from the humblest of fabric. Fauré's D minor piano trio (op. 120), completed in the year before the composer died, has pretty moments but is episodic and more than a little saccharine, especially given that it was composed almost a decade after Rite of Spring. Its third movement uses a short motif that is an (unintended?) quotation of the words "Ridi, Pagliaccio!" from Vesti la giubba, the famous aria in Leoncavallo's Pagliacci. In Mendelssohn's E minor string quartet (op. 44/2), all four musicians produced a beautiful tone and played with energy, if not always a taut sense of ensemble, but the result still felt a little sterile.

The other two Musicians from Marlboro concerts at the Freer are planned for the spring, on April 10 and May 10, 2014.


Bartók and Hungarian Modernism

Here is a cool idea -- a new exhibit, Allegro Barbaro: Béla Bartok et la modernité hongroise, 1905-1920 at the Musée d'Orsay, juxtaposes the music of Béla Bartók with the paintings of a group of Hungarian modernists known as the Group of Eight, who were exhibited in Budapest around the time of the composer's first performance of his Allegro Barbaro. Ariane Bavelier and Thierry Hillériteau have an article (À Orsay, Bela Bartok pris dans les toiles, November 19) for Le Figaro (my translation):
Everything was done with the staging of the exhibit to make Bartók's music resonate in the light of his painter compatriots. With, for example, real "cocoons" in the form of niches where you can curl up to listen to excerpts of Bartók's scores. The entrance into the exhibit is made to the rhythms of his Two Portraits for Orchestra. An introspective gesture -- the first of these portraits explicitly quotes his own violin concerto -- that does not shrink from self-ridicule. It was, three years before the triumphal march of the Allegro Barbaro, the already ill-tempered self-portrait of a young composer, both an activist and an innovator. Other self-portraits face off with it, those of painters whom one follows throughout the exhibit. We are in "the age of revolution in Hungarian art." Dezsö Czigány, a gypsy, paints himself with a green reflection, József Nemes-Lampérth, in pink tie and blue collar, works with a knife in barbaric tones. Robert Berény and Sandor Ziffer reinterpret in their own ways the canvas where Gauguin paints himself, in 1893, wearing a straw hat.
The Nemes-Lampérth self-portrait, shown here, was painted in 1911, the same year as Bartók's Allegro Barbaro (embedded below, with the composer at the keyboard). The exhibit, whose concept hits all the right receptors in my brain, will be in Paris through January 5.


Briefly Noted: Tharaud's Encores

available at Amazon
Autograph (Encores), A. Tharaud

(released on November 19, 2013)
Last week, I mentioned Alexandre Tharaud's special concert residency at the Cité de la Musique this week. The French pianist's new CD, Autograph, arrived in the mail recently, and the official release date is today. In most cases, such a recording of favorite encores is nothing more than the self-indulgence of a star musician. As usual, even under those circumstances, Tharaud delivers something that is instead thoughtful and mostly devoid of overly familiar chestnuts (a Rachmaninoff prelude, op. 3/2, and Chopin's Minute Waltz aside). There are a couple favorites from Tharaud's past, like Rameau's Les Sauvages, Couperin's Le Tic-Toc-Choc, and a Scarlatti sonata (K. 141): Tharaud has described the disc as a sort of self-portrait through the lens of his own discography. Many pieces, perhaps too many, are of the dreamy, sugary melodic variety -- Tchaikovsky's op. 19/4 nocturne, Fauré's Romance sans paroles, Sibelius's Valse triste, Satie's third Gymnopédie, Poulenc's Mélancolie, Mompou's El Lago -- but this sort of piece is so squarely in Tharaud's wheelhouse that it is hard to complain about their inclusion. The surprises are the best part -- the frantic celebration of Grieg's Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, the homesickness of Adios a Cuba by Ignacio Cervantes, the prancing dissonance of Oscar Strasnoy's Tourbillon -- and, of course, there is Tharaud's crisp and joyous Bach, which bookends the disc. The only thing one misses is hinted at in this radio interview (en français): Tharaud loves to improvise, which is another reason he thinks that having a piano in his apartment would put him at risk of doing nothing but playing for his own own amusement. A Tharaud improvisation would have been just the thing to give the final punch to this pleasing little disc.


Classical Music Agenda: January 2014

There are more than ten concerts we want to hear in January, but here are the ten we find most intriguing. We love the Takács Quartet around here, and their performances of Bartók's string quartets remain some of my best musical memories. Do not miss their complete cycle of all six quartets -- Quartets 1, 3, 5 (January 21) and Quartets 2, 4, 6 (January 22) -- in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

The recital by pianist David Greilsammer, presented by Washington Performing Arts Society in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (January 11, 2 pm), will feature 17th- and 18th-century music on a modern piano and music by John Cage for prepared piano. The same evening, the Atlas Center will present mezzo-soprano Megan Ihnen and violinist Martha Morrison Muehleisen in a performance of György Kurtág's Kafka-Fragments (January 11, 8 pm).

Watch a new restoration of Buster Keaton's film The General at the National Gallery of Art, with members of the NGA Orchestra performing a new score by local composer Andrew Simpson (January 12). Russian piano virtuoso Denis Matsuev will give a big recital, with music by Haydn, Tchaikovsky, and Schumann, at the Music Center at Strathmore (January 25).

Both recitals offered by Vocal Arts D.C. in January rate high on our list: soprano Ana María Martínez (January 8) and bass-baritone Luca Pisaroni (January 31). Both singers appear in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Make it a Lieder recital month with baritone Matthias Goerne, who joins pianist Christoph Eschenbach for Schubert's song cycle Die schöne Müllerin in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater (January 27).

The companion piece of Opera Lafayette's French Così is this month, the American premiere of Philidor's opera Les Femmes Vengées (January 16) in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

For dance enthusiasts, the event of the month will be the performances of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake (January 28 to February 2) by the Mariinsky Ballet, on their regular visit to the Kennedy Center Opera House.

The rest of the schedule will run through the sidebar.


In Brief: Music Man 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.) Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days. This week's selection is particularly full, so you had better get started.

  • Diana Damrau and Nathan Gunn star in a performance of Iain Bell's new opera A Harlot's Progress, in its world premiere production with the Vienna Symphony and the Arnold Schönberg Chor, conducted by Mikko Franck at the Theater an der Wien. The libretto, by Peter Ackroyd, is based on the series of etchings by William Hogarth. [ORF]

  • From the Wien Modern festival, the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien and cellist Sung-Won Yang, led by Johannes Kalitzke, perform recent music by Johannes Maria Staud (Maniai, 2011), Bernd Richard Deutsch (subliminal, 2010), and Peter Eötvös (Concerto grosso for cello and orchestra, 2010/11). [ORF]

  • Peter Rundel conducts the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra in Gerald Barry's piano concerto, plus music by Ondrej Adamek and Morton Feldman. [BR-Klassik]

  • Listen to Le Concert Spirituel, directed by Hervé Niquet, performing Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Messe à 8 voix et 8 violons et flûtes (H. 3) in La Chapelle royale at the Château de Versailles, recorded back in 2004. [France Musique]

  • A recital by soprano Renée Fleming and pianist Maciej Pikulski, with music by Schoenberg, Zemlinsky, Korngold, Canteloube, and Ravel. [RTBF]


Dip Your Ears, No. 162 (Gergiev Cycles Through Shostakovich)

available at Amazon
D.Shostakovich, Symphony No.7,
Valery Gergiev / Mariinsky Orchestra
Mariinsky Live SACD

Shostakovich's Humdinger

Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony is a prisoner of her own history and the resultant clichés: a triumph of propaganda, competition, intrigue, and daredevil plots. Laden with extra-musical meaning, the enjoyably crude humdinger of a symphony made Shostakovich an instant international cultural icon in the free world. In the first movement, DSCH-typical, he slowly piles on music to ratchet up the tension, Bolero-like. Whenever the work, which the slow moving and deliberate Valery Gergiev stretches to 82+ minutes, about slips from the listener’s attention-grip, he gives it a little kick until he finally unleashes fervor. It’s considerably better than the first go-around Gergiev had on Philips, and like the Rostropovich Shostakovich on LSO Live, it’s well recorded with wide dynamics (not quite as wide as those). It isn’t, however, as thrilling as Andris Nelsons’ recent recording with Birmingham (Orfeo).

Made possible by Listen Music Magazine.