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Setting Foot on Russian Soil

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

As our motto (in the banner above) states, we steer clear of politics here at Ionarts. So we appreciate this aspect of the work done by the Embassy Series, what it calls "musical diplomacy": hosting concerts at embassies around Washington, even when international events might heighten tensions. Thus Friday night's concert by cellist Adrian Daurov, hosted at the Embassy of the Russian Federation, went ahead, even though the situation between Russian and Ukraine was going from bad to worse. Since the idea is to listen to music without politics mixed in, we could have done without the pre-concert speech from the Russian ambassador, Sergei Kislyak, who said something like what he said later in the weekend on American television about Russia's intentions with regard to eastern Ukraine. Just let the music speak for itself.

Daurov did his advanced studies at Juilliard and now makes his home in New York, where he is principal cellist of the Chamber Orchestra of New York. In a short program, played without intermission, he offered what seemed like an encore first, an arrangement by M. Bukinik of Lensky's aria from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin. He has an intense, song-like tone, most beautiful in the pianissimo statement of this famous tune, with just a slight strain at full volume. Beethoven's Variations on Bei Männern, the duet of Papageno and Pamina from Mozart's Magic Flute, started a little slow but picked up by the fun and syncopated first variation. There were a few rough edges in the second variation, and Daurov's intonation high on the A string was not always quite true in the last two variations, but his low range was somber and viscous in the minor variation.

Schumann's Fantasiestücke, op. 73, demanded more of Daurov's collaborator, pianist Di Wu, and her steely touch at the keyboard drove the first movement ahead, drawing Daurov along with her, although at times she seemed slightly rushed in the finale. Both musicians played easily with a quicksilver rubato in the second movement, which was kept light and airy, with its chromatic turns reminiscent of Schubert's song Die Forelle. The high point was the big, brawny cello sonata (G minor, op. 19) of Sergei Rachmaninov, opening with the sighing half-step motifs of the cello answered by the piano, a Lento introduction followed by yearning phrases in the Allegro section of the first movement, especially the arch-Romantic second theme. Again it was Wu whose technical acumen impressed most, for example, in the sort of cadenza for the piano that leads to the recapitulation. Every time I have heard this piece -- from Gautier Capuçon and Gabriela Montero, from Steven Isserlis and Kirill Gerstein -- it has grown on me, especially the second-movement scherzo, with its echoes of Schubert's Erlkönig. If Wu's range of color was limited in the third movement, the piano-only introduction a little prosaic, the fourth movement benefited the brash side of her playing, leading to a thrilling conclusion. A single encore, a medley of smarmy tunes by Burt Bacharach, seemed to suit the embassy's white grand piano, which fits right in with the hall's Rococo decoration, although it was a little out of tune in the treble register.


In Brief: Out Like a Lamb 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.

  • A performance of Bononcini's oratorio on the conversion of Mary Magdalen, with soprano Maria-Christina Kiehr, mezzo-soprano Alice Habellion, and Concerto Soave, conducted by Jean-Marc Aymes. [France Musique]

  • Mariss Jansons conducts the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in music of Enescu, Prokofiev (with violinist Lisa Batiashvili), and Stravinsky, recorded last fall in Bucharest. [ORF]

  • The Mahler Chamber Orchestra, with Vladimir Jurowski at the podium, perform an all-Mahler concert, with soprano Sophie Karthäuser and baritone Gerald Finley. [RTBF]

  • Watch a performance of Mozart's La finta giardiniera at the Opéra de Lille, with Emmanuelle Haïm conducting her ensemble Le Concert d'Astrée. []

  • Organist Olivier Latry perfoms music by Florentz, Messiaen, and Widor at London's Royal Festival Hall. [BBC3]

  • Listen to an all-Schumann Lieder recital by baritone Christian Gerhaher and pianist Gerold Huber. [RTBF]


'Teenage Dream': Simplicity and Repetition

Pop music is not within the purview of these pages. Still, one had to take notice when Ted Gioia stirred quite a pot last week with an article for The Daily Beast deploring the state of pop music criticism (Music Criticism Has Degenerated Into Lifestyle Reporting, March 18). This takes up some of the same ideas about the popular music industry that have drawn my attention before, particularly John Seabrook's revealing profile of Lukasz Gottwald, known as "Dr. Luke," for The New Yorker (The Doctor Is In, October 14, 2013). Namely, that what Dr. Luke and other pop song wizards produce is not really about music, but as Gioia put it, that "lifestyle" and image trump musical concerns -- and it is true of how the music is produced and, increasingly, how it is being assessed by journalists. (Hesiod James wrote a similar screed earlier in the month, Rant in Ab Major: Or, Why Your Favorite Pop Music Critic Is A Fucking Idiot, for Trop Magazine.)

Gioia inspired several responses: Ian Rogers at The Vine, Mike Powell at Pitchfork, Jody Rosen for Vulture. All basically dismissed Gioia as an old-fashioned, technophobic, obscurantist crank, but their responses were laced with varying degrees of wounded defensiveness. In some cases, the criticism leveled by Gioia clearly stung. Owen Pallett, a pop musician with a classical music education, attempted to show how such criticism might read -- in a tongue-in-cheek way -- by writing an analysis of a Katy Perry song, Teenage Dream, co-written with Bonnie McKee and Dr. Luke, among others (Skin Tight Jeans and Syncopation, March 25) for Slate. It was a fun idea: I had never heard Teenage Dream before, so clearly I had to listen to the song to see what Pallett was talking about.


À mon chevet: 'My Struggle'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
I turned and crossed the square, aware that behind me she was walking in the opposite direction, back to the party. A crowd of people had gathered around the front door beneath the trees. Arve wasn't there, so I went back, found him, told him what Linda had said to me, that she was interested in him, now they could be together. But I'm not interested in her, you see, he said. I've got a wonderful girlfriend. Shame for you, though, he said, I said it wasn't a shame for me, and crossed the square again, as though in a tunnel where nothing exited except myself, passed the crowd standing outside the house, through the hallway and into my room where the screen of my computer was lit. I pulled out the plug, switched it off, went into the bathroom, grabbed the glass on the sink and hurled it at the wall with all the strength I could muster. I waited to hear if there was any reaction. Then I took the biggest shard I could find and started cutting my face. I did it methodically, making the cuts as deep as I could, and covered my whole face. The chin, cheeks, forehead, nose, underneath the chin. At regular intervals I wiped away the blood with a towel. Kept cutting. Wiped the blood away. By the time I was satisfied with my handiwork there was hardly room for one more cut, and I went to bed.

Long before I woke I knew something terrible had taken place. My face stung and ached. The second I awoke I remembered what had happened.

I won't survive this, I thought.

I had to go home, meet Tonje at the Quartfestival, we had booked a room six months before, with Yngve and Kari Anne. This was our holiday. She loved me. And now I had done this.

I smacked my fist against the mattress.

And then there were all the people here.

They would see the ignominy.

I couldn't hide it. Everyone would see. I was marked. I had marked myself.

-- Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book Two -- A Man in Love (trans. Don Bartlett), pp. 139-40
The six volumes of Knausgaard's compelling autobiographical novel cannot be translated into English fast enough for me. (Book Three is set for U.S. release on May 27.) This is one of the most disturbing passages in the second book, which occurred when the author was at a writers' conference. His first marriage is about to fall apart, and he has met the woman who will become his second wife, but things go terribly wrong. The clinical self-regard of the narrative voice is staggering, Knausgaard's dissection of his own shame. He recounts what he did and how horrified he was at the thought of others, both strangers and loved ones, seeing him -- as he shares the same events with his entire reading public. It is difficult to read, but impossible to stop.


'Elisir': Now How Much Would You Pay?

(L to R) Stephen Costello (Nemorino), Ailyn Pérez (Adina), and Simone Alberghini (Belcore)
in L'Elisir d'Amore, Washington National Opera, 2014 (photo by Scott Suchman)

As it looked on paper, the revival of Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore was the low point of the Washington National Opera season. As it happened, that honor went to the fall's disastrous production of La forza del destino, but this rather dull and poorly conducted Elixir of Love ran a close second. There were bigger fish to fry in the run's opening week, but here are some thoughts on both casts, heard on Tuesday and Wednesday night. The opera, although skilfully made, is not an audience favorite, the cast list had no real star wattage, and the production was a revival of a rather staid staging directed by Stephen Lawless, last seen only in 2006 -- factors that all combined to leave the house somewhat less than full on both nights.

Soprano Ailyn Pérez showed the same charming stage presence and breadth of tone that she had as an apprentice singer at Wolf Trap in 2006, in their productions of Marriage of Figaro and Roméo et Juliette. Intonation issues were still present throughout the evening, but there has been improvement, with a little strain on some high notes and melismatic passages that were not always clean. If it was not vocally first-class, it was a beautifully acted Adina, not as vixenish as Elizabeth Futral last time around but with spunk. Her real-life husband, Stephen Costello, is much better suited to a comic role like Nemorino than he was to the earnest Greenhorn in Moby-Dick last month, and he was hilarious with his dancing, mugging, and other antics. As funny as he was, the role lives or dies on the tenor's beloved aria Una furtiva lagrima, which requires a melting legato and the most beautiful tone quality. Costello had comic timing and plenty of power in other places, but here he fell short.


Eschenbach to Stay at NSO through 2016-2017

The National Symphony Orchestra has extended Christoph Eschenbach's contract, meaning that he will remain in the position of Music Director at least through the 2016-17 season. At that point, Eschenbach would be 77 years old, and given the generous salary he has received since taking the NSO podium in 2010, likely ready to retire into a life of mostly guest conducting. It is true that Eschenbach would not have been my first choice to lead the NSO -- the names of James Conlon and Osmo Vänskä were on my wish list -- and given how much money the orchestra has been able to spend on its music director, thanks to generous private donations, the organization should be able to aim higher as it prepares to hire Eschenbach's successor. Still, it is important to remember just how rudderless and at sea the NSO was in the wake of Leonard Slatkin's departure. In that context, the hiring of Eschenbach was a smart move that helped to stabilize the ensemble's position in what is, all agree, a perilous time for symphony orchestras.

To be sure, all has not been rosy under Eschenbach, and complaints from some of the musicians about an imperious leadership style have wafted to my ears. He has turned to the same pet soloists in Washington as has been his practice in previous positions -- some good, and some very, very bad (noted here even before he officially took his position). As a conductor he makes exasperating, even capricious choices from time to time, and his preference for spontaneity over predictability from rehearsal to performance or from performance to performance has caused trouble sometimes. Even so, the vitriol that appears, mostly anonymously, on Web sites about Eschenbach seems misplaced given the positives that have come with his tenure. The orchestra has recorded again, thanks to Eschenbach's relationship with Ondine, and it has gone on two international tours, to Europe and South America. Most importantly, the menu changes have been excellent: week after week, music is programmed that the NSO has never played before, or not for more than ten years, and often much more than that.

Eschenbach has conducted around ten or twelve programs in each of the four seasons he has led the NSO. I have not managed to hear all of them, but I went back over the reviews I have written of concerts actually conducted by Eschenbach (see the results after the jump). Giving three stars to concerts I thought were excellent, two stars to concerts that were basically good, and only one star to those I found unsatisfactory or truly bad, we find that the good and the excellent far outweigh the bad. At the same time, you will see that the greatest number of one-star concerts has been in the current season (in fact, there were none in the first season), which may explain some of the sour grapes. (The other thing that surprised me a bit was that most of the three-star concerts were concert performances of operas or other vocal works.) This leaves out the concerts led by guest conductors, which is a more complicated part of a music director's tenure, and there are other issues that come into play as far as the happiness and morale of the players in the orchestra, but from this listener's point of view, it has been far from a disaster.


Poulenc Trio @ NGA

Charles T. Downey, Poulenc Trio brings urbane mix to National Gallery of Art
Washington Post, March 25, 2014

available at Amazon
Glinka / Poulenc / Others, Poulenc Trio
(Marquis Music, 2009)
The Poulenc Trio takes its name from a composer who actually wrote a piece for their unusual combination of instruments: oboe, bassoon and piano. Most of their other repertoire is arrangements of music for other combinations, and they brought an urbane mix of such pieces for their concert at the National Gallery of Art on Sunday evening.

A trio sonata by Handel more traditionally would have two treble instruments on the upper parts and the bassoon or another bass instrument doubling the continuo, but talented bassoonist Bryan Young’s light and agile approach to the second treble part made it work. Oboist Vladimir Lande had a consistently beautiful sound in Glinka’s “Trio Pathétique,” originally for clarinet, cello and piano, while pianist Irina Kaplan, generally content to be more in the background, gave a gossamer touch to the many decorative roulades in the keyboard part. [Continue reading]
Poulenc Trio
With Anton Lande, violin
National Gallery of Art


Bristol Old Vic's 'Midsummer'

Staging Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream is tricky principally because of the fairy scenes. How do you represent the liminal nature of the play, in which characters cross between worlds? Benjamin Britten, in his operatic version, could do it with music, but productions of the play have to do it visually. The staging by the company from the Bristol Old Vic and the Handspring Puppet Company, who created the most natural interaction of human and life-size puppets in Warhorse, uses puppetry. It was shown during the Kennedy Center's World Stages festival, where I saw it on Saturday night, in the Eisenhower Theater.

The word puppetry may give a too grand sense of what this production does. The world of the fairies is made of rather crude materials, with the puppeteers using planks to give a sense of the forest breathing and moving around the lovers or to evoke the wings and magical aura of Titania, Queen of the Fairies. The actors playing Hippolyta and Theseus are shown like puppeteers in a workshop, and they lift masks in the air when they take on the personae of Titania and Oberon, the latter carrying an enormous mechanical arm and hand, with ominous music and amplification of their voices to help the illusion. Puck is voiced and brought to life by three puppeteers, a sort of dog-like creature made of a coffee-pot for a head, a wicker basket for a body, and various utensils for his limbs. The way the production works, as directed by Tom Morris, all of the actors have to excel in acting, puppetry, and singing (music by Dave Price), as they do all of these, shifting seamlessly from one role to the other as the evening proceeds.

Other Articles:

Benjamin Tomchik, The Kennedy Center's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM is an Innovative Retelling of a Timeless Classic (Broadway World, March 23)

Nelson Pressley, Puppets make ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ magical at Kennedy Center World Stages fest (Washington Post, March 22)

Joel Brown, Puppets in Shakespeare’s fairyland? Imagine that. (Boston Globe, February 28)
It is a visually plain production in terms of materials, but rich in its sense of fantasy and with plenty of laughs (designed by Vicki Mortimer, lighting by Philip Gladwell, sound by Christopher Shutt). Saskia Portway (Hippolyta/Titania) and David Ricardo-Pearce (Theseus/Oberon) were a fiercely battling couple, and one was really not sure until the end of the play that the noble marriage would be accomplished. The quartet of lovers was goofy and gangly as a bunch of adolescents, with a particularly funny exchange between Hermia (Akiya Henry) and Helena (Naomi Cranston) on the touchy subject of the former's lack of stature. The antics of the Rude Mechanicals troupe were also quite good, led by the oversized, Greek-tinged rodomontades of Miltos Yerolemou's Bottom and the hilariously incomprehensible utterances of Saikat Ahamed's Snug. The transformation of Bottom into the Ass was especially bizarre, involving a sort of carriage that Yerolemou lay upon and wheeled himself around on, which literally inverted the actor, making his ass into his head and vice-versa. The troupe's performance of the The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe was riotously bad, a ramshackle conclusion to an entertaining evening.

The World Stages Festival concludes this week, at the Kennedy Center.

Previously at the World Stages Festival:
Marguerite Duras, Savannah Bay (Théâtre de l'Atelier)
Peter Brook, The Suit (Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord)
Penny Plain (Ronnie Burkett Theater of Marionettes)
La Muerte / Incendios (La Mafia Teatro)
Harmsaga (National Theater of Iceland)


In Brief: Winter in 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.) Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Watch more concerts in the complete cycle of Bach's harpsichord works, including concerts by Rinaldo Alessandrini, Christine Schornsheim, Davitt Moroney, and Pierre Hantaï. [Cité de la Musique Live]

  • Nikolaus Harnoncourt leads Concentus Musicus Wien in Mozart's Marriage of Figaro, starring Bo Skovhus (Conte di Almaviva), Christine Schäfer (Contessa di Almaviva), Mari Eriksmoen (Susanna), and André Schuen (Figaro), recorded earlier this month at the Theater an der Wien. [ORF]

  • Watch Kent Nagano conduct Mahler's seventh symphony with the Orchestre Symphonique de Montréal, recorded at the Wiener Konzerthaus. []

  • Listen to Herbert Blomstedt conduct the Berlin Philharmonic, in Beethoven's fourth symphony and Nielsen's fifth, recorded last May in Berlin. [RTBF]

  • From the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, recorded earlier this month, a concert performance of Rameau's Les Fêtes de l'hymen et de l'amour, featuring Le Concert Spirituel and conductor Hervé Niquet. [France Musique]

  • Handel's gorgeous oratorio Theodora, recorded last month at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, starring Rosemary Joshua, Sarah Connolly, and others, with Harry Bicket, The English Concert, and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street. [France Musique]

  • Listen to the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra and Chorus, with conductor Ton Koopman, soprano Johannette Zomer, and other soloists in cantatas by J. S. Bach, recorded in January in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland. [ORF]

  • Leonard Slatkin leads the Orchestre National de Lyon in a concert performance of Berlioz's Roméo et Juliette, with tenor Julien Behr, mezzo-soprano Marion Lebègue, and bass Frédéric Caton. [France Musique]

  • Two rare short operas -- Martinu's Mirandolina (1954) from the Moravian-Silesian National Theater, with Marko Ivanic conducting, and Tchaikovsky's Iolanta from the Mikhailovsky Theater in St. Petersburg. [RTBF]


For Your Consideration: 'Cinema Paradiso'

available at Amazon
Nuovo Cinema Paradiso
(dir. Giuseppe Tornatore, 1988)
Original and Director's Cut
When Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, cut down to two hours for international release in 1988, won the Grand Prix du Jury at Cannes and Best Foreign Film at the Academy Awards, it put Giuseppe Tornatore (b. 1956) on the map. The Sicilian-born director was known up to that point mainly for writing and directing documentaries for television, and he had one feature film to his credit at that point, Il Camorrista (The Professor, 1986), based on the life of the Camorra boss Raffaele Cutolo in Naples. Tornatore released Nuovo Cinema Paradiso at a length of 155 minutes in Italy, a tendency toward over-long films became one of his signatures. In response to the criticism of the length, he cut the film to a length of 123 minutes for international release, making it into a rather different movie. One can now appreciate this by watching a third version of the movie, the Director's Cut, which clocks in at 173 minutes.

The differences between the long and short versions mostly centers on the short version's excision of most of the latter part of the love story between the main character, Toto, and a woman he knew as a teenager named Elena. By leaving the resolution of that plot strand open in the short version, Tornatore shifted the film's focus to Toto and Alfredo, the projectionist at the local movie house who becomes Toto's mentor, and Toto's rejection of nostalgia for his homeland so that he can go in search of a career as a film director. Toto's village, Giancaldo, is based on Tornatore's hometown, Bagheria, near Palermo, where most of the film was shot. Tornatore returned to the place for his more openly autobiographical film, Baarìa (2009), which is the Sicilian pronunciation of the village's name. It was there that Tornatore, as a young man, became involved in acting and theater, not unlike how Toto became a projectionist.


NSO Strauss 150

Charles T. Downey, Soprano Goerke to the rescue as NSO celebrates Richard Strauss at 150
Washington Post, March 21, 2014

Christoph Eschenbach and the National Symphony Orchestra have marked the 150th anniversary of Richard Strauss’s birthday in grand style. After an outstanding concert performance of “Der Rosenkavalier” two weeks ago, the group is featuring two more of the composer’s operas, “Salome” and “Elektra,” in this week’s concerts, the first heard Thursday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Settling on the composer’s most familiar and often-performed operas could be characterized as underwhelming, as could featuring only one tone poem, “Don Juan,” from one of the few composers to distinguish himself equally in symphonic and operatic realms. On the other hand, this program stood out for its focus on themes of desire, disgust, and bloodthirsty violence, oddly woven together as they are in all three of these works. It made for a disturbingly Freudian but ultimately compelling evening. [Continue reading]
National Symphony Orchestra
With Christine Goerke, soprano
Kennedy Center Concert Hall

Salome, Washington National Opera, 2010 (D. Voigt)
Salome, National Symphony Orchestra, 2007 (D. Voigt)

Tim Smith, National Symphony offers soaring Strauss program with Eschenbach, Goerke, Relyea (Baltimore Sun, March 24)

James Hepokoski, "Fiery-Pulsed Libertine or Domestic Hero? Strauss's Don Juan Reinvestigated," in Richard Strauss: New Perspectives on the Composer and His Work, ed. Bryan Gilliam


Bertrand Chamayou @ French Embassy

available at Amazon
Schubert, Wanderer-Fantasie (inter alia), B. Chamayou
(Erato, 2014)

available at Amazon
Liszt, Années de pèlerinage, B. Chamayou
(Naïve, 2011)

available at Amazon
Franck, Les Djinns (inter alia), B. Chamayou, O. Latry, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, S. Denève
(Naïve, 2010)

available at Amazon
Mendelssohn, Piano Pieces and Transcriptions, B. Chamayou
(Naïve, 2008)
This review-interview is an Ionarts exclusive.

The recordings of the French pianist Bertrand Chamayou have come in for special praise in these pages. Since I had managed to miss his first and only performance here in Washington, back in 2006 (co-presented by the Roque d'Anthéron Festival at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theater), the chance to hear him play an all-Schubert recital at the French Embassy, on Tuesday night, was most welcome. It turns out that Catherine Albertini, the embassy's Cultural Attaché, had presented Chamayou on a previous post in Mexico, long before Chamayou had become widely known.

Chamayou's recordings for the Naïve label have all featured Romantic composers, and his first project after signing with Erato is devoted to Schubert. After this concert, I had the opportunity to ask Chamayou a few questions, starting with why his recordings have focused on music of the 19th century. He seemed to regret that his discography indicated that he plays only Romantic music, because his interests are much broader in concert, including contemporary music and pre-Classical works. In these other areas, he told me, he has been privileged to work with Pierre Boulez, among others, and has studied the pianoforte. We did speak at some length, though, about his work with the Centre de musique romantique française, based in the Palazetto Bru Zane in Venice, which has supported some of his recordings and concerts and passed along the fruits of their research into the works of lesser-known composers of the 19th century.

What made Chamayou's Franck and Mendelssohn recordings so interesting was that he chose to pair some more familiar pieces by those composers with works that have been almost entirely forgotten. The case was similar with his Schubert program, which is anchored on the Wanderer-Fantaisie, one of the first Schubert pieces that came under his fingers. He introduced it with works that are heard much less frequently, beginning with the set of twelve Ländler, D. 790, played almost attacca, that is, with no or almost no pause between them. Each one gave a slightly different take on the Austrian folk dance known by that name, some with an orchestral scope, others like intimate moments in a small room. He did not fall into the trap of trying to make them into something more than what they are, but he found a significance in each one, especially in the first half of the set.

The two shorter pieces that followed were also both seemingly filled with a sense of nostalgia, Liszt's transcription of Schubert's song Auf dem Wasser zu singen and a single Ländler, no. 12, from the D. 366 set. Nostalgia, though, is not what Chamayou said was the most important thing in his approach to Romantic music: for him, the most important thing was to focus on a pictorial or narrative goal, revealing the literary leanings of most of the Romantic composers. This certainly seemed to be the case in the longer works on this recital, beginning with the mostly unknown three Klavierstücke (opus posth., D. 946), distinguished especially by an always beautiful touch at the keyboard and a sense of how the sections fit together to tell a story, often overcoming the composer's occasional tendency to noodle around aimlessly.

The only piece on the program one might describe as familiar was left for last, the daunting but compact Wanderer-Fantaisie. It had its tour de force moments, perhaps not as fast as some other versions in the opening section but heroic, and not only fast but mercurial in the scherzo section. As had been the case in the Klavierstücke, it was the slow movement -- an evocation of a section of the composer's song Der Wanderer -- that stood out for its forlorn quality, quite somber in color, with a concluding finale set out with a hard-handed fugato section, all steely resolution. The single encore was an equally unexpected choice -- no impromptus for Chamayou -- the Kupelwieser-Walzer transcribed by Richard Strauss. Whether one believes the story about this piece -- that Schubert played it at a wedding but never wrote it down, until Strauss transcribed what had been passed down through a couple generations in memory -- or think it is Strauss's tribute to Schubert hardly matters. It was a delicate end to a striking evening of Schubert.


Christine Goerke Replaces Iréne Theorin at NSO

We warmed considerably to soprano Iréne Theorin after her star turn in last year's production of Tristan und Isolde at Washington National Opera. So it was somewhat disappointing to learn that she had withdrawn from this week's National Symphony Orchestra concerts. The second part of the NSO's Richard Strauss celebration, after a top-notch Rosenkavalier earlier this month, it will feature excerpts from Elektra (the Recognition Scene) and Salome (the final scene), as well as some instrumental selections. Regret turned to anticipation, however, with the news that Theorin's replacement would be Christine Goerke, whose performance as Die Färberin in Die Frau ohne Schatten at the Metropolitan Opera generated critical raves from the New York press unheard of in some time (listen to a performance earlier last year with the Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra).
Alex Ross: "It's now a voice of immense force and wide-ranging expressivity. Absolutely go see her if you have the chance."

Eric C. Simpson: "Practically every moment she was onstage was a highlight. From beginning to end, she gave an astonishing and thoroughly memorable performance."

Anthony Tommasini: "And this was a breakthrough night at the Met for the American soprano Christine Goerke, who received an ecstatic ovation for her powerfully sung and wrenching portrayal of the hard-bitten Dyer’s Wife. Ms. Goerke has evolved in recent years into a dramatic soprano of exciting potential."
In other words, no one who enjoys fine singing should let the chance to hear Goerke sing go by: March 20, 7 pm; March 21 and 22, 8 pm.


Escolania de Montserrat

Charles T. Downey, Boys choir Escolania de Montserrat keeps tradition alive at Strathmore
Washington Post, March 18, 2014

available at Amazon
Virgen Morenata, Escolania i Capilla de Montserrat
(VMS, 2008)
Historically, boys choirs in Catholic churches were the training ground for many composers, from Guillaume Dufay in the 15th century to Puccini and Bruckner in the 19th. Schubert was a choirboy in Vienna in 1809, when he may have sung at the grand memorial service for Haydn, who had himself been a choirboy at the city’s cathedral in the previous century. The tradition is still going strong at the Escolania de Montserrat, a boys choir school in Spain that is making its first American tour, with a stop Sunday afternoon in the Music Center at Strathmore.

The boys, about 40 of them, normally sing for liturgical services in the Basilica of Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery in Catalonia. The concert opened with a meditative section of sacred music, including a Gregorian introit, “Germinans germinabit” and “Imperayritz de la ciutat ioyosa,” one of the pieces from the “Llibre vermell,” a 14th century codex of music composed for the pilgrims at Montserrat. [Continue reading]
Escolania de Montserrat
Music Center at Strathmore

Abbey of Montserrat
Llibre Vermell (for pilgrims at Montserrat)

Katherine Boyle, Escolania de Montserrat performs at Strathmore in boys choir’s first U.S. tour (Washington Post, March 15)


Scharoun Ensemble @ LoC

Charles T. Downey, Scharoun Ensemble Berlin plays Schubert with polish at Library of Congress (Washington Post, March 17, 2014)

available at Amazon
Schubert, Octet, D. 803, Scharoun Ensemble Berlin
(Tudor, 2005)
Schubert’s “Octet,” D. 803, is a piece that one does not hear live all that often. It is written for an unusual instrumentation — five strings, horn, bassoon and clarinet — for which few other composers have composed. The Scharoun Ensemble Berlin, composed of musicians from the Berlin Philharmonic, is in the midst of a U.S. tour, and they performed the “Octet” at a concert on Saturday afternoon at the Library of Congress.

This piece is the group’s signature work, performed at its public debut in 1983, and its selection of eight instruments determined the group’s core membership. Schubert gave us about an hour of music in the “Octet,” with two complete slow movements and two dance movements with trios, enough music to justify getting such an unusual ensemble together. [Continue reading]
Scharoun Ensemble Berlin
Dvořák, Czech Suite (arr. Ulf-Guido Schäfer)
Schubert, Octet in F major, D. 803
Library of Congress


In Brief: Yet More Winter 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.

  • You will want to watch this complete performance of all of Bach's harpsichord music on historical instruments, recorded between March 11 and 21, with Aurélien Delage, Olivier Baumont, Béatrice Martin, Céline Frisch, Andreas Staier, and others. [Cité de la Musique Live]

  • At the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Riccardo Muti conducts Bernarda Fink and the Orchestre National de France, to celebrate the orchestra's 80th anniversary, with music by Rossini, Chausson, and Scriabine. [France Musique]

  • From 1959, four historical concerts performed by the Orchestre National de France, featuring Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Clara Haskil, Gyorgy Cziffra, Victoria de Los Angeles, and Georg Solti. [France Musique]

  • Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the San Francisco Symphony in music by Ives, Adams, and Berlioz. [BBC3]

  • Watch Kent Nagano conduct the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal in Wagner, David Philip Hefti, Berlioz, and Liszt, with pianist Marc-André Hamelin as soloist. []

  • A recital by pianist Angela Hewitt, with music by Bach and Beethoven, recorded last December at the Wigmore Hall in London. [ORF]

  • Esa-Pekka Salonen leads the Orchestre Philharmonique de Fradio France in a performance of Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, with mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung and other soloists. [Cité de la Musique Live]

  • Schoenberg's Pierrot lunaire, plus music by Strauss, with Barbara Sukowa, violonist Hélène Collerette, and the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, conducted by Mikko Franck. [France Musique]

  • Watch the production of Sindbad, a new opera by Howard Moody, from Brussels. [De Munt]

  • Handel's Dixit dominus and Purcell's Dido and Aeneas with soprano Anna Prohaska and MusicAeterna, conducted by Teodor Currentzis. [France Musique]

  • Watch John Eliot Gardiner conduct Monteverdi's Vespro della beate vergine at the Chapelle Royale de Versailles. []

  • A recital by pianist Stephen Hough with music by Beethoven, Scriabin, Liszt, and Hough. [RTBF]

  • Herbert Blomstedt leads the NDR Sinfonieorchester, with pianist Piotr Anderszewski as soloist, in music by Mozart and Wilhelm Stenhammar, recorded last November in Hamburg. [ORF]

  • The vocal ensemble Discantus performs music from the Winchester Troper, plus music by Joël Rust and Pierre Chépolov, recorded at the Rencontres de musique médiévale du Thoronet. [France Musique]

  • Arias and dances from Rameau operas, with soprano Anna Reinhold and Les Arts Florissants, recorded last month in Vienna. [ORF]

  • Krzysztof Penderecki conducts the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien and the Chor der Oper Graz in his own music and that of Schoenberg. [ORF]

  • Listen to Dvořák's Rusalka, starring Renée Fleming, Emily Magee, Dolora Zajick, and others, with Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the Metropolitan Opera. [France Musique]

  • Listen to Massenet's Werther, starring Jonas Kaufmann (Werther), Sophie Koch (Charlotte), and Lisette Oropesa (Sophie), at the Metropolitan Opera. [ORF]

  • Dirk Kaftan leads the Grazer Philharmonisches Orchester and pianist Boris Berezovsky in music by Shostakovich and Rachmaninov. [ORF]

  • Pianist Shai Wosner and soprano Katherine Broderick join Andrew Manze and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra for music by Tippett and Mozart. [ORF]

  • Violinist Sayaka Shoji and the BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Yukata Sado, perform music by Barry Gray, Chausson, Berlioz, Dukas, and William Walton. [France Musique]

  • Music by Thierry Pécou and Moritz Eggert, performed by the Ensemble Resonanz at the Présences Festival. [France Musique]

  • Roger Norrington conducts a live recording of Mozart's Mitridate, Re di Ponto, at the Mozartwoche in Salzburg, with Bruce Ford (Mitridate), Cyndia Sieden (Aspasia), Christiane Oelze (Sifare), and the Camerata Salzburg. [ORF]


Doré on Doré, Musée d'Orsay

The Musée d'Orsay has opened a new exhibit of the works of Gustave Doré, Gustave Doré : L'imaginaire au pouvoir, open through May 11 in Paris. Le Monde asked Julien Doré, a musician who happens to be the great-great-great nephew of the artist, to lead a little video tour through the exhibit.

Gustave Doré vu par Julien Doré by lemondefr

The music is taken from Julien Doré's latest album, LØVE.


Trifonov's Debut with the NSO

available at Amazon
Chopin, Grande valse brillante (inter alia), D. Trifonov

(Decca, 2013)
Daniil Trifonov gave an electrifying recital a year ago at the Kennedy Center. His debut with the National Symphony Orchestra, heard on Thursday night, was therefore high on my list for the month. It was not his first concerto performance in the area, which was during a visit with the Mariinsky Orchestra in 2011. (Nor will it be his last -- the NSO already announced that Trifonov will be a featured soloist next season.) While that Mariinsky performance, of Tchaikovsky's first concerto, was all about force and pyrotechnics, this one showed a piece that is just as familiar, Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, from its most eclectic and sometimes downright bizarre side.

From the start, where the solo part is quite minimalistic, Trifonov gave every nuance a dramatic cast, delighting in each accent or shift of tempo and applying a careful touch. Much of the piece was hardly more than a whisper of air over the keyboard, murmurs and half-thought ideas, from the devilish syncopations to the broad Romantic gestures. The piece is actually just about as strange as Trifonov played it, a series of character pieces leading up to the famous Variation XVIII, the only moment where this Rachmaninov sounds like everyone's favorite Rachmaninov (and my least favorite one). Trifonov set up those three well-known minutes by drawing back the preceding variation almost entirely into itself and keeping its outburst of passion contained as long as he could.

Other Articles:

Katherine Boyle, Ailing Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos cancels NSO performance (Washington Post, March 16)

Philip Kennicott, Conductor Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos finishes concert despite apparent health issue (Washington Post, March 15)

Robert Battey, Ankush Kumar Bahl leads NSO performance well after Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos takes ill (Washington Post, March 17)

---, Conductor Frühbeck de Burgos inspires NSO musicians (Washington Post, March 14)

Anne Midgette, Daniil Trifonov: A pianist ahead of his time (Washington Post, March 8)
Although it may have been odd in many ways, an experimental half-success, it was still extraordinary playing. At each shift of tempo, it seemed to be Trifonov who was pacing the orchestra, rather than the evening's guest conductor, Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos. The Spaniard is a regular with the NSO, last reviewed in 2006 and 2011, and a favorite with the musicians because he was formerly the group's Principal Guest Conductor in the 1980s. Since his last appearance on the podium, he has become much more frail and thin than I recall him, and this seemed to impact his conducting -- although likely not his connection with the musicians in rehearsal. Due to a personal issue, I was able to hear only the first half of this concert, which began with a pleasant enough but generally unremarkable rendition of the first two nocturnes by Claude Debussy, pastel-delicate (Nuages) and bubbly (Fêtes) but ultimately still plain. By contrast, Trifonov's single encore -- Chopin's Grande valse brillante (op. 18, E-flat major), the same he played with the Mariinsky in 2011 -- was a quirky bag of tricks, which perhaps not did all add up to something coherent but never failed to entertain.

The NSO's Strauss anniversary observation concludes next week, with soprano Iréne Theorin and bass-baritone John Relyea (March 20 to 22).


À mon chevet: 'My Struggle'

À mon chevet is a series of posts featuring a quote from whatever book is on my nightstand at the moment.

book cover
I had studied history of art and was used to describing and analyzing art. But what I never wrote about, and this is all that matters, was the experience of it. Not just because I couldn't, but also because the feelings the pictures evoked in me went against everything I had learned about what art was and what it was for. So I kept it to myself. I wandered about the Nationalgalleri in Stockholm or the Nasjonalgalleri in Oslo or the National Gallery in London and looked. There was a kind of freedom about this. I didn't need to justify my feelings, there was no one to whom I had to answer and no case to answer. Freedom, but not peace, for even though the pictures were supposed to be idylls, such as Claude's archaic landscapes, I was always unsettled when I left them because what they possessed, the core of their being, was inexhaustibility and what they wrought in me was a kind of desire. I can't explain it any better than that. A desire to be inside the inexhaustibility. That is how I felt this night as well. I sat leafing through the Constable book for almost an hour. I kept flicking back to the picture of the greenish clouds, every time it called forth the same emotions in me. It was as if two different forms of reflection rose and fell in my consciousness, one with its thoughts and reasoning, the other with its feelings and impressions, which, even though they were juxtaposed, excluded each other's insights. It was a fantastic picture, it filled me with all the feelings that fantastic pictures do, but when I had to explain why, what constituted the "fantastic," I was at a loss to do so. The picture made my insides tremble, but for what? There were plenty of clouds around. There were plenty of colors around. There were enough particular historical moments. There were also plenty of combinations of all three. Contemporary art, in other words, the art which in principle ought to be of relevance to me, did not consider the feelings a work of art generated as valuable. Feelings were of inferior value, or perhaps even an undesirable by-product, a kind of waste product, or at best, malleable material, open to manipulation. Naturalistic depictions of reality had no value either, but were viewed as naïve and a stage of development that had been superseded long ago. There was not much meaning left in that. But the moment I focused my gaze on the painting again all my reasoning vanished in the surge of energy and beauty that arose in me. Yes, yes, yes, I heard. That's where it is. That's where I have to go. But what was it I had said yes to? Where was it I had to go?

-- Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle: Book One, pp. 207-208
The esteem of several book reviewers, James Wood among them, got me onto this Norwegian writer's autobiographical novel. The premise, that the subject of the novel is quite openly Knausgaard's own life, might promise the worst kind of navel-gazing, but the reality could not be farther from the truth. Knausgaard focuses the harshest and most focused light on his own life, scrutinizing his own feelings and shortcomings in a way that had to be difficult to write, not to mention difficult to read for those in his life. At the same time, that part of the narrative is mostly a springboard for profound reflections on death, art, and the hold other people have on us in life. This particular passage will now become a regular part of my teaching on art history, because this element of why art moves us -- which is entirely subjective -- is important to remember, lest art history become too academic.


KC Theater Festival Opens with Peter Brook

Der Tod und das Mädchen

The Kennedy Center's annual spring arts festival shifts this year from a geographical orientation, like last year's Nordic Cool theme, to one of genre. World Stages, an International Theater Festival, will feature performances from a score of countries and nearly every continent: 13 fully staged productions, 9 of which are U.S premieres, plus art installations, readings, and other events. The festivities kicked off with the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord adaptation of The Suit, a play by Mothobi Mutloatse and Barney Simon (based on the novel by Can Themba), distilled down to an intense sixty minutes by Peter Brook and Marie-Hélène Estienne, with music composed and arranged by Franck Krawczyk, seen on Tuesday night in the Terrace Theater.

A few years ago, at age 85, director Peter Brook stepped down from the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, the company that had rejuvenated an old theater in a quartier chaud of Paris. This led to a budget cut for the company, as the French government reduced its subsidy, but it has also meant that we and other audiences around the world are seeing more of Brook's touring productions like this one. The performance of Brook's Fragments, in 2011, was the first time Brook had brought a production to the Kennedy Center since 1973. We are still waiting to see Brook's version of The Magic Flute, but the same collaborators worked together on this new adaptation of The Suit, with similarly enchanting results.

The signature of this brand of theater is the amalgamation of drama, recitation, song, and instrumental music, a quasi-operatic mode of performance that heightens the play's emotional tensions. Three musicians (Arthur Astier, Mark Christine, and Mark Kavuma) perform on trumpet, electronic keyboard, accordion, and guitar and also play minor roles, making the music literally part of the action. When the accordion enters, playing the melancholy melody of the song Ständchen (Serenade), from Schubert's Schwanengesang, it sets the stage for a lovers' tryst. We see the morning routine of Philemon and Matilda, and they seem a blissfully happy husband and wife. After he leaves for work, though, Philemon learns that his wife is receiving regular visits from another man. When he surprises them in bed, the man runs off, leaving his suit and tie on a hanger. Philemon subsumes his rage into himself but at the cost of his own mental balance, charging Matilda to treat the suit like an honored guest in their home -- a duty she must fulfill faithfully, seating 'him' at the dinner table and even spooning food to 'him' -- or he will kill her. As the accordion plays the melancholy Schubert song Death and the Maiden, the pairing evoked by Matilda's embrace of the ominous sign of her shame, we know the story will not end well.

Other Reviews:

Thomas May, Ménage à froid: Peter Brook’s The Suit (Memeteria, March 20)

Peter Mark, World Stages festival: ‘The Suit’ is superbly tailored (Washington Post, March 12)

Toby Zinman, In Peter Brook's 'Suit,' a couple in apartheid's shadow (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 1)

Ben Brantley, Revenge Comes in a Tight Embrace in a South African Tale of Infidelity (New York Times, January 21, 2013)
Music plays a central role, representing fantasy and self-fulfillment in Matilda's mind, and she is the one whose singing is most present in the performance. Nonhlanhla Kheswa was sweet and tragically melancholy in the role, with a pleasant voice to listen to in the songs (by Miriam Makeba and others). As Philemon, Ivanno Jeremiah was both seemingly innocent and wounded but at the same time haunted by a dark menace. As narrator of the story and a family friend, Jordan Barbour was light-hearted and sincere, but he also gave a gripping, minimalistic rendition of the protest song Strange Fruit, which brought the struggles of the characters, who are living through the imposition of apartheid laws in South Africa, into glaring reality. The solemnity of the tragic conclusion is marked by an extended but quiet solo on the electronic keyboard, an arrangement of Mache dich, mein Herze, rein, a bass aria from Bach's St. Matthew Passion. Although the set is simple -- a few brightly colored chairs and clothing racks on a rug -- the music combined with some vibrant lighting (designed by Philippe Vialatte), occasionally deep vermilion, to create an ambiance that drew one into the theatrical world it opened.

This performance will be repeated tonight and tomorrow evening (March 12 and 13, 7:30 pm).


'Il Corsaro' Actually Not So Bad

(L to R) Sebastian Catana, Tamara Wilson, Maestro Antony Walker, Michael Fabiano, Nicole Cabell, Eduardo Castro,
Il Corsaro, 2014, Washington Concert Opera (photo by Don Lassell)

available at Amazon
G. Verdi, Il Corsaro, M. Caballé, J. Carreras, J. Norman, New Philharmonia Orchestra, L. Gardelli
(Decca, 2009)
One often assumes, with the obscure operas that are the bread and butter of Washington Concert Opera, that the works themselves are generally not worth rediscovering. Sometimes, though, it is not only the fine roster of singers, which artistic director Antony Walker always manages to assemble, that makes this company's performances so memorable. Such was the case with Verdi's little-known opera Il Corsaro, heard at Lisner Auditorium on Sunday evening, which has not only some beautiful individual numbers but signs of the master dramatist Verdi would later become.

This should not be surprising, since the libretto -- by Francesco Maria Piave, one of Verdi's favorite, if easily cowed, collaborators -- takes its story from a tale in verse by Lord Byron, The Corsair, who provided so many arch-Romantic stories for operas and tone poems. It follows Corrado, who leads a group of pirates based on an island in the Aegean against the Turks -- a revolutionary cause near and dear to Lord Byron's heart. Corrado is in love with Medora, who begs him not to leave on this mission, because she has a premonition that she will die before his return. When Corrado and his men attack the Turkish city, the pirate confronts the local pasha, Seid, and is ultimately helped to escape by the pasha's favorite, Gulnara, whom Corrado saved from the fire set by the corsairs. Corrado returns to his island with Gulnara, only to find that his beloved Medora has poisoned herself after hearing the news that Corrado was facing a brutal execution at the hands of the Turks. Although Gulnara has expressed her love for Corrado, the pirate cannot face life without Medora and hurls himself from a cliff.

Other Articles:

Anne Midgette, Tenor Michael Fabiano leads Washington Concert Opera’s ‘Il Corsaro’ (Washington Post, March 11)

Gary Tischler, Antony Walker of Washington Concert Opera: ‘It’s All About the Music’ (Georgetowner, February 27)
The title role requires that rarest breed, a dramatic tenor, and Michael Fabiano (first heard in Santa Fe last summer) fit the bill quite beautifully: a room-filling, Byronic-hero kind of sound, unbound confidence as he sang without a score, a sweet legato in the slow pieces, and more strength than finesse in the faster arias. Soprano Tamara Wilson, whom we have admired in staged operas at Wolf Trap and at Washington National Opera, exceeded expectations as Gulnara, the female lead with all the juicy bits -- an amply proportioned, buttery voice with striking breath control (heard in a moving messa di voce, for example), note-perfect intonation, and laser-like accuracy in the fioriture. The same intensity was heard from baritone Sebastian Catana, as the rage-filled pasha -- in some ways a study for the character of Otello much later in Verdi's career -- announced in his opening slow aria with the three trombones, a powerful voice that was skillfully deployed.

Soprano Nicole Cabell made a much more favorable impression here than when I first heard her. It is not a large voice, so she was easily upstaged by the orchestra and the other leads (as in the duet with Fabiano in Act I and the trio at the end of Act III), but in the sensitive role of Medora she had an affecting touch, especially in her Act I aria with the harp and the equally lovely lament in Act III. At the podium Walker was, as always, a sure hand, effective because he demands excitement from his players, plus rubato and shape, even in the silliest oom-pah-pah accompaniments. A couple early entrances -- one in the men's chorus during the attack scene, and one from a trombone (I think) in the introduction to Act III -- were the only defects one might mention.


NSO Fêtes Strauss with Stellar 'Rosenkavalier'

available at Amazon
R. Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier, R. Fleming, F. Hawlata, S. Koch, D. Damrau, J. Kaufmann, Munich Philharmonic, C. Thielemann
(Decca, 2009)
Der Rosenkavalier is an opera we love here at Ionarts, but we have reviewed it so far only in Munich. While hopes for a production from Washington National Opera were delayed by another season, the National Symphony Orchestra is marking the 150th birthday of Richard Strauss, which falls this coming June, with two programs devoted largely or entirely to Strauss's operas. The first of those, given in a single performance on Saturday night to a sold-out house in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, was a concert performance of perhaps his most beloved opera, Der Rosenkavalier. With a score that sparkles and wallows in nostalgia, it is a perpetual favorite, but no less wondrous for its popularity.

The cast was led by two veterans in the roles of the conniving old Viennese nobles, who are parallel in many ways to the calculating Marquise de Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont in Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses. Renée Fleming made a savvy and puissant Marschallin, a role that fits her like a glove, like much Strauss, including her historic interpretation of the Countess in Capriccio. Franz Hawlata was an absolute hoot as the lecherous Baron Ochs -- a role he has sung so many times and in so many places, including Chicago -- like a bull crashing through every china shop on stage. If there were vocal limitations in both of these voices, there was enough expertise to disguise them and enough dramatic mojo to make one overlook these defects.

The title role was to have been sung by Sarah Connolly, who withdrew for health reasons. Mezzo-soprano Stephanie Houtzeel, already familiar to Washington audiences from several performances with Opera Lafayette, stepped in to save the day. She has sung Octavian at the Wiener Staatsopera, Paris, and Graz, and although it was reportedly a role that did not suit her at first, she was captivating dramatically and a vocal force in it in this format. So we had two-thirds of the luminous trio that comes at the end of the third act, where the Marschallin (Fleming) removes herself as the obstacle stopping her young lover, Octavian (Houtzeel), from taking up with the younger Sophie. (The Verdi opera, Il Corsaro, heard on Sunday night from Washington Concert Opera, ends with a similar gesture, with music that is banal by comparison.) What we did not have was a Sophie with all the vocal requirements. Soprano Marisol Montalvo showed pretty much the same strengths displayed in her 2010 NSO appearance, some very pretty and pure-toned high notes (if occasionally soured by intonation concerns), but also the same weaknesses, meaning that she was easily overpowered at many moments. Once again, Christoph Eschenbach's devotion to a favorite musician seemed to have taken precedence over the demands of the work.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Delightful NSO ‘Rosenkavalier’ features Fleming, Montsalvo and newcomer Houtzeel (Washington Post, March 10)

Tim Smith, Eschenbach leads National Symphony in semistaged Rosenkavalier with Renée Fleming (Baltimore Sun, March 10)
Happily, strengths grew further down the cast list, with outstanding contributions from Austrian baritone Adrian Eröd, making a fine NSO debut as Herr von Faninal, mezzo-soprano Catherine Martin's Annina (a voice becoming quite familiar to Washington National Opera audiences), and bass Soloman Howard, another WNO favorite, as both the notary and police inspector. Tenor Steve Davislim had to withdraw, that morning, from the brief, thankless, but crucial role of the Italian singer, part of the Marschallin's morning levée à la Hogarth, but Mario Chang, who sang the role in the Metropolitan Opera's production, made an excellent last-minute substitution. At the top of the supporting cast, however, was Irmgard Vilsmaier, a German dramatic soprano who blew the roof off the place as Marianne Leitmetzerin, Sophie's governess. Hopefully, she is on the radar of the folks at Washington National Opera as a possible Brünnhilde for their upcoming Ring cycle.

The second part of the NSO's Strauss celebration will feature soprano Iréne Theorin in excerpts from Elektra and Salome (March 20 to 22).


In Brief: Now No More Winter 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.

  • The news of the death of Gerard Mortier, the controversial artistic director, reached our ears this weekend. ARTE has made a video of the Warlikowski production of Gluck's Alceste available. [ARTE Live Web]

  • Listen to the Monteverdi Choir's 50th anniversary concert. [BBC3]

  • In a recital at the Salle Pleyel, pianist Khatia Buniatishvili plays music by Ravel and Musorgsky. [Cité de la Musique Live]

  • From the Royal Albert Hall in London, a September concert by the Vienna Philharmonic and conductor Lorin Maazel (Bruckner's eighth symphony), plus organ works by Bach played by Klaus Sonnleitner. [France Musique]

  • A performance of Rossini's Le Comte Ory from the Opéra de Lyon, starring Dmitry Korchak, Désirée Rancatore, and Antoinette Dennefeld. [France Musique]

  • From the Royal Opera in London, Antonio Pappano conducts Verdi's Les vêpres siciliennes, starring Michael Volle (Guy de Monfort) and Erwin Schrott (Procida). [ORF]

  • Daniel Harding leads the Berlin Philharmonic in Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust, with Dorothea Röschmann, Anna Prohaska, and other soloists. [ORF]

  • Leif Ove Andsnes plays Beethoven sonatas at the Wigmore Hall. [BBC3]

  • Sacred music by Jan Dismas Zelenka, performed by Collegium 1704, with Roberta Invernizzi and other soloists. [ORF]

  • Julia Schröder leads the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra in music of Frederik II, CPE Bach, Wagenseil, and Haydn. [RTBF]

  • Lorin Maazel conducts the Munich Philharmonic, recorded last month in Vienna, in Richard Strauss's Eine Alpensymphonie and Schumann's fourth symphony. [ORF]

  • Early music by Concerto Copenhagen, recorded in Faaborg, Denmark.. [RTBF]

  • Fro Brussels, a concert by the Tokyo String Quartet. [RTBF]

  • Andreas Staier, from the pianoforte, leads the Esterhazy Hofkapelle in music by C.P.E. Bach and Haydn. [RTBF]

  • Recent music by Carola Bauckholt, Johannes Schollhorn, Bernard Cavanna, and Andreas Dohmen performed by Ensemble 2e2m at the Présences Festival. [France Musique]

  • Ilan Volkov leads the Konzerthausorchester Berlin, with Benjamin Grosvenor as piano soloist, in music by Britten and Janacek. [ORF]

  • Pianist Cédric Tiberghien joins the Orchestre National de France, conducted by Ludovic Morlot, for music by Dutilleux, Saint-Saëns et Chabrier. [France Musique]

  • Adam Fischer conducts the Orchestre philharmonique de Radio France, with violinists Tedi Papavrami and Hélène Collerette, in music by Haydn, Bartok, and Dvorak. [France Musique]

  • For the Semaine des femmes, France Musique broadcast a selection of music by women composers. [Part 1 | Part 2]

  • Also opera excerpts for the Semaine des Femmes, with Médée by Michèle Reverdy, Douce et Barbe-Bleue by Isabelle Aboulker, and La Esmeralda by Louise Bertin. [France Musique]

  • Choral music by Brahms, Schubert, Mahler, and others, with Roger Vignoles conducting a quartet including soprano Elena Copons. [ORF]

  • Pianist Romain Descharmes joins the Choeur and Orchestre de Paris, with conductor Ingo Metzmacher, for an American program of music by Gershwin, Ives, George Antheil, and Bernstein. [France Musique]

  • The 1996 recording of Verdi's Don Carlo, led by Bernard Haitink in London and starring Roberto Scandiuzzi, Galina Gorchakova, Olga Borodina (Eboli), Richard Margison (Don Carlos), and Dmitri Hvorostovsky (Posa). [ORF]

Minetti Quartett with Pastry

This review is an Ionarts exclusive.

available at Amazon
Beethoven, String Quartets (op. 18/4,2 and 95), Minetti Quartett
(Hänssler Classic, 2014)

available at Amazon
Mendelssohn, String Quartets (op. 13, 12), Minetti Quartett
(Hänssler Classic, 2012)
The Minetti Quartett, a young string quartet from Austria, was one of the highlights of our 2006 and 2007 review seasons. The discovery was thanks to the Embassy Series, the same organizer that brought them back to the area, after a long absence, for a concert on Friday night at the Austrian Embassy. (The group, on a North American tour, also appeared on Saturday afternoon in Baltimore.) The experience was not quite the same, however, since the quartet now features a new violist in Milan Milojicic, the principal violist of the Salzburg Chamber Soloists and the Deutsche Kammerakademie, who replaced Markus Huber in 2011. Furthermore, a family matter prevented first violinist Maria Ehmer from taking part in the tour, so she is being replaced by Božena Angelova.

They opened with one of the quartets from their new Beethoven disc, op. 18/2, unified and crisply articulated, with a pleasing control of sound, aside from some unpleasant growls from the viola. A playful coda to the first movement led to a glowing slow movement, with gently pulled rubato and minimized vibrato. Much of the work rests on the sound of the first violin, which challenged Angelova at times, but the third movement was light and fun, pitched just right in character, although the fourth movement was a bit too fast for comfort. It was paired with Arvo Pärt's Fratres, in its original formulation for string quartet from 1977, which was played just as it should be: the harmonic-infused chords glistened, lush sounds that gently shifted, like a kaleidoscope, around the unchanging drone in the second violin. At one point, a plane flying low lent its rumbling boom to the sound, fitting right in. The piece, from the first phases of the Estonian composer's experimentation with the tintinnabular form of what has since come to be called "holy minimalism," sounds as fresh as it must have toward the end of the Age of Aquarius, a cliche that had not yet become a cliche because of endless decades of self-recapitulation.

The program ended with a Mendelssohn quartet, op. 44/2, not one of the pieces on the group's Mendelssohn disc from a couple years ago. With the fast tempos taken as quickly as possible, this was impassioned playing that still never felt forced. The agitated stuff had its expected effect -- the repeated notes of the scherzo theme just buzzed -- but it was the smooth legato of the first movement's second theme, for example, that swayed me, as did the viola lament of the second movement's trio section. The third movement did not drag, in a gentle lilt, with some fine cello solos and a quiet end that showcased the silence, which the audience, after clapping after almost every movement, finally allowed between movements. The virtue of that silence was apparent as the group was able to bite into that empty space with a finale that was not just sawed away at, but given much careful gradation and shaping. The group rode the piece thrillingly to its end, in a way not steely or desperate, just intense. Patisserial delights awaited after musical ones, with slices of warm Wiener Apfelstrudel and other goodies laid out in the reception room.