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


Perchance to Stream: Snow Days Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • Listen to a preview of the program offered this afternoon by the Orchestre National de France at the Kennedy Center, with Daniele Gatti conducting music by Debussy and Tchaikovsky, plus Julian Rachlin as soloist in Shostakovich's first violin concerto, recorded in Paris before they left on tour. [France Musique]

  • Jakub Hrusa conducts the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France in music by Albert Roussel and Bohuslav Martinu. [France Musique]

  • Jaap van Zweden, new music director of the New York Philharmonic, leads a concert by the Rotterdam Philharmonic and violinist Simone Lamsma. [RTBF]

  • Lutenist Thomas Dunford and viola da gambist Etienne Mangot join La Simphonie du Marais for music by Jacques-Martin Hotteterre and Marin Marais, recorded at the Philharmonie de Paris. [France Musique]

  • Mark Minkowski leads Les Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble in music of Mozart and Mendelssohn, recorded at the Salzburg Mozartwoche. [ORF | Part 2]

  • A performance of Handel's Alcina with Andrea Marcon leading the Freiburger Barockorchester and starring Patricia Petibon, Philippe Jaroussky, and Anna Prohaska. [ORF]

  • From the Opéra Royal de Wallonie, a double-bill of Wolf-Ferrari's Segreto di Suzanna and Poulenc's La Voix humaine. [RTBF]

  • Schubert Lieder performed by tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Julius Drake, recorded in Copenhagen last February. [ORF]

  • Mariss Jansons conducts Dvorak's eighth symphony and Strauss's Don Quixote with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Yo-Yo Ma as cello soloist. [BR-Klassik]

  • The Ensemble Intercontemporain and Orchestre de Paris join forces for a concert in tribute to Pierre Boulez. [Philharmonie de Paris]

  • Listen to Sitkovetsky's arrangement of Bach's Goldberg Variations, played by Janine Jansen (violin), Nimrod Guez (viola), and Nicolas Altstaedt (cello) at the Ferme-Asile Artistic and Cultural Centre in the Valais, Switzerland. [BBC3]

  • From the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, Paavo Järvi conducts violinist Janine Jansen and the Bremen Philharmonic Orchestra in music of Brahms. [France Musique]

  • Music of Schnittke, Shostakovich, and Bruckner performed by Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic, with cellist Natalia Gutman, recorded at the Royal Festival Hall. [BBC3]

  • Magdalena Kozena joins Le Concert d'Astrée and Emmanuelle Haïm for a concert at the Festival Concentus Moraviae, recorded last year. [RTBF]

  • Music of Mozart with soprano Sabine Devieilhe and the Ensemble Pygmalion, conducted by Raphaël Pichon. [France Musique]

  • Listen to a concert recently reviewed by our European correspondent, with the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester performing Shostakovich's sixth symphony and Schnittke's Faust Kantate, recorded at the Vienna Musikverein. [ORF]

  • From the Salzburg Mozartwoche, Tugan Sokhiev leads the Vienna Philharmonic in music of Mozart and Mendelssohn, plus Dutilleux's violin concerto L'Arbre des songes with Renaud Capuçon as soloist. [France Musique]

  • Antonio Florio leads performances of music by Nicola Porpora, Francesco Feo, and Antonio Vivaldi with I Turchini and soprano Francesca Lombardi Mazzulli. [ORF]

  • Marin Alsop leads the Cleveland Orchestra in music of Barber and Copland, plus Schumann's piano concerto with David Fray as soloist, recorded last November in Cleveland. [RTBF]

  • The Altenberg Trio and horn player Katerina Javurkova play chamber music by Beethoven, Brahms, and Saint-Saëns. [ORF]

  • The BBC Philharmonic, conducted by Jesus Lopez-Cobos in music, performs music by Mahler, Ravel, and Hindemith, joined by pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. [BBC3]

  • Listen again to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Wagner's Tannhäuser, starring Johan Bothe, Eva-Maria Westbroek, and Michelle DeYoung, recorded last October. [ORF]

  • Pianist Jean-Frédéric Neuburger and violinist Ryu Goto perform music by Robert Schumann, Kaija Saariaho, and Maurice Ravel, recorded at the Auditorium du Louvre. [France Musique]

  • Marek Janowski leads the Cleveland Orchestra, horn player Richard King, and tenor Matthew Polenzani in Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings, plus music of Franck and Fauré. [ORF]

  • From 2013, a concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with Sakari Oramo conducting Nielsen's fifth symphony and Prokofiev's third piano concerto with Yuja Wang as soloist. [CSO]


NSO Tour Prep, Part 3

The last puzzle piece for the National Symphony Orchestra's European tour next month is the first symphony of Brahms. They presented it to the public at Friday night's concert in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. The Un poco sostenuto introduction to the first movement felt a little lugubrious, with Eschenbach subdividing in a labored way, while the Allegro section was bold and forceful. The slow movement swooned a bit much for my taste in Brahms, but with some beautiful moments along the way, especially the duet between solo violin and horn and fine oboe solos. Tempo choice and textural balances aligned perfectly only in the third movement, exceptionally graceful, if the trio section seemed a little rushed. The interpretation was best in the finale, with the orchestra sounding all on the same page, in contrast to the less than polished Beethoven on Thursday.

The best moment in this symphony is the pick-up note into measure 61 of the fourth movement, right at the beginning of the Allegro non troppo, ma con brio, where you really know the piece has transitioned from C minor into C major. The key signature has already changed, but Brahms focused on the dominant, coming to rest on G major, which then becomes the starting note of the new tune in C major. It has a special sound because the melody-carrying instruments, both sections of the violins before the seconds split away, play that low G on the open first string. The late Prof. Robert Ricks, one of my teachers in graduate school, once spoke of that quarter note as his favorite pivotal moment, and every time I hear it, I think of him. In addition to his work teaching music theory, especially form and analysis, Dr. Ricks was for many years the conductor of the Catholic University Orchestra, and he knew this music from all sides of the page, as player, conductor, and theorist. It is a shame that he was not able to finish the book he was working on when he died, a study of orchestral instruments and how different composers used them.

Beethoven's seventh symphony was in better shape the second night, more unified and with generally better balances, although Eschenbach's choices still seemed odd in many ways. For example, shortly after the recapitulation the accompanying sixteenth notes shoot up an octave in the second violins and violas: this little change is not marked subito forte or anything, but on both nights Eschenbach turned to his right and had those sections just hammer those notes. This is just one instance that represents the whole approach, often zeroing in on some otherwise insignificant detail to make a point. The middle movements were still the most pleasing to my ear, although neither sounded quite as tight as it had the previous evening, with Eschenbach letting the tempo flag a bit in the second movement. His preference for a quick transition between the third and fourth movements caught the trumpets off guard in their opening blast. Once the tour gets under way, we will try to keep you updated on reviews from Europe.

The NSO does not play again in Washington until March, with a program featuring two Prokofiev symphonies and violinist Ray Chen (March 3 to 5).


NSO Tour Prep, Part 2

The historic snowfall last weekend paralyzed Washington, and it has thrown a wrench into Christoph Eschenbach's preparation of the National Symphony Orchestra for its upcoming European tour. Last week's program of Rouse, Dvořák, and Brahms as orchestrated by Schoenberg ended up receiving only a single performance on Thursday instead of the expected three. The prolonged snow clean-up also forced the NSO to cancel its rehearsal on Monday, which they are making up today, but the uncertainty had an impact on the orchestra's sound and sense of security in its second of three tour programs, heard last night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

The main course of each concert will be a chestnut symphony: the Brahms first symphony (heard on tonight's program) or Beethoven's seventh symphony (heard on Thursday and again tonight), with Schoenberg's slightly odd orchestration of the Brahms first piano quartet as an alternative in some cases. The Beethoven was in decidedly rough shape last night, especially the outer movements, with some uncertainty of tempo and some sloppy coordination in the violin sections. (My kingdom for a unified pizzicato chord.) Eschenbach seemed to want the most brash, raw sound possible at points, and the strings, especially the violins, responded with outright hacking attacks. The winds were often pushed into quite dicey intonation, and the horns were like bulls in the proverbial china shop, and not in a good way. The inner movements felt the most secure, the funeral march kept in strict military step and an ultra-tight Presto in the third movement.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Eschenbach, NSO prepare European repertory for European tour (Washington Post, January 29)
Most of the concerts on the NSO tour will feature cellist Daniel Müller-Schott or pianist Lang Lang in a beloved concerto (Dvořák for cello, Grieg for piano). In only the first concert of the tour, Schubert's "Unfinished" Symphony (B minor, D. 759) takes the concerto slot and is never heard again. This is a shame based on how the musicians played it last night. The cello section gave the first movement's famous second theme -- the one that music students remember for their "Drop the Needle" tests as sung to the words "This is the symphony that Schu-u-ubert never finished" -- a character so subdued and unaffected that it was instantly winning. Again, Eschenbach brought out oddities, emphasizing swells in accompanying figures in ways that seemed unnecessary. His tempo choice for the second movement seemed a little sluggish, the gestures dipped in molasses, making those mystery modulations toward the end hard to pull off, little more than just soft. Traffic nightmares made me too late for the overture to Weber's Der Freischütz, a rather middling alternative to Rouse's concert-opening corker Phaethon.

Two other versions of the NSO European tour repertory will be performed tonight and Saturday, in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Latest on Forbes: Jaap van Zweden will be the New York Philharmonic's New Music Director

New York Philharmonic Appoints Dallas' Jaap van Zweden As New Music Director

...Jaap van Zweden, even if he doesn’t come with the greatest amount of clout in the business, should find the position agreeable, even if fundraising gloom ever looms on the horizon for the band, as does the potentially nerve-wrecking planned renovation of David Geffen née Avery Fisher Hall. The orchestra, which had become an obviously old, seemingly demoralized, and certainly deadly boring bunch after Maazel had finished with it, had gotten a good injection of energy under Alan Gilbert...

The full article on


Ratmansky Takes On 'The Sleeping Beauty'

Scene from The Sleeping Beauty, American Ballet Theater (photo by Gene Schiavone)

One of several revelations in Jennifer Homans's beautiful book Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet was the line drawn between the classical ballet of our age with the court ballet of the French ancien régime. In Russia that continuity lasted up to a work like Marius Petipa's choreography for Tchaikovsky's music of The Sleeping Beauty. Premiered in 1890 in St. Petersburg, the ballet is set in an absolutist court like Versailles, and it even featured an appearance by a dancer costumed as Louis XIV in its Act III apothéose, a tableau pairing him with Helios, the god of the sun. After the Russian Revolution, Soviet authorities quietly removed all such glorifications of aristocracy and royalty, while still presenting Petipa's ballets to the world as "authentic" recreations of his work. Alexei Ratmansky has finally given the world something much closer to Petipa's original vision, in his new restoration of The Sleeping Beauty, made for American Ballet Theater's 75th anniversary season, which the company brought to the Kennedy Center Opera House on Wednesday evening.

available at Amazon
Tchaikovsky, The Sleeping Beauty, Czecho-Slovak State Philharmonic Orchestra (Košice), A. Mogrelia
(Naxos, 1994)
This approach lies somewhere between preserving a moldering corpse, as in the Mariinsky Ballet's version with Diana Vishneva seen in 2010 and the Royal Ballet's adaptation by Frederick Ashton seen in 2006, and the radical updating of Matthew Bourne's vampire version with New Adventures seen in 2013. Ratmansky learned Stepanov notation, used in the 19th century to write down choreography, to get as close as he could to Marius Petipa's original steps, and Richard Hudson based his designs on the version of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes by Léon Bakst. The burden of a considerable budget, reportedly around $6 million, was shared with La Scala in Milan. Ratmansky has stated that his goal was not purely that of historical reconstruction -- the Sun-King does not appear at that musical fanfare in Act III -- but to reveal what Marius Petipa's ballet was really like. If you would like to find out, see one of the performances this week.

Other Reviews:

Alastair Macaulay, Ratmansky’s ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ Has Premiere in California (New York Times, March 10, 2015)

---, ‘The Sleeping Beauty,’ Reawakened by American Ballet Theater (New York Times, May 31, 2015)

---, ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ Spurs American Ballet Theater to Work on the Details (New York Times, June 15, 2015)

Marina Harss, ‘The Sleeping Beauty’ Awakes to Vibrant Ballet Costumes (New York Times, May 28, 2015)

Sarah L. Kaufman, ABT’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’: Amazingly, this fairy tale becomes a love story (Washington Post, January 29, 2016)

Sadie Dingfelder, American Ballet Theatre brings a lush new ‘Sleeping Beauty’ to D.C. (Washington Post, January 28, 2016)

Joan Acocella, Ratmansky's Beauty Wakes Up (The New Yorker, June 8, 2015)

Judith Mackrell, Ratmansky's royal flush: the most authentic Sleeping Beauty I've seen (The Guardian, September 30, 2015)
Most of the choreography's broad shapes are familiar from other Petipa adaptations, like the fluttering, flute-playing hands of the Canary Fairy variation, but the details of the moves are sometimes quite different, especially in the extension of legs and amount of time spent en pointe. The overall effect is to link the movements more closely with the music, revealing connections to Tchaikovsky's score that are often muted in other versions. Isabella Boylston's Aurora was spunky and coy, if not always with the balanced stillness the choreography requires, and the Prince Désiré of Joseph Gorak was somewhat nondescript. Ratmansky has not changed his mind about the musical cuts he made to the score, removing most of the Sommeil scene, which makes Act II seem disappointingly short and robs the Lilac Fairy (a fine Stella Abrera stepping in for the indisposed Veronika Part) and Désiré of some dramatic weight, as the rescue of Aurora is now oddly instaneous. The most significant (and unexpected) star power came in the terrifying Carabosse of Marcelo Gomes, with his hooked nose and clawed gloves, the choreography now matching his cackles and menacing gestures with each musical motif.

Further down the cast were more delights, including the adorable Canary Fairy of Skylar Brandt in Act I, and the exquisite vertical alignment of Christine Shevchenko's Diamond Fairy in Act III, matched by the strongly unified Gold, Silver, and Sapphire trio of Brittany Degrofft, Lauren Post, and Melanie Hamrick. The comic parts of the Fairy Tale divertissement are given new humor and buzz, especially the White Cat and Puss-in-Boots of Elina Miettinen and Gabe Stone Shayer. Cassandra Trenary and Daniil Simkin were a virtuosic pair as Florine and the Bluebird, with Simkin's strength and grace causing a sensation. The corps showed exceptional unity and precision in the large numbers, especially the ballet blanc vision of Act II.

Richard Hudson's sets and costumes are a pastel Rococo blast, replete with towering wigs, broad plumed hats, boots and other foot-ware. If you have ever wondered what a ballet tutu would look like with a bustle in it, wonder no more. Ormsby Wilkins conducted a mostly good performance of the score by the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra, including excellent violin and cello solos but with some misses in the horn section.

This performance repeats through January 31, in the Kennedy Center Opera House.

Ionarts-at-Large: Humor in Soviet Music at Vienna’s Musikverein

When Schnittke and Shostakovich beckon from the program, you don’t expect a full house, really. Certainly not in conservative Vienna, and not with the third band in town, the ORF Radio Symphony, playing. Then again, the RSO’s audience (or that of the Jeunesse organizer) would be the only one in town to appreciate the 20th century fare on the bill…the anti-monumental corker of a Sixth Symphony and the wild’n’wacky romp that is Alfred Schnittke’s Faust Cantata.

Vladimir Fedoseyev has a Vienna history—he was the music director of the Vienna Symphony from 1991 until 1997 and had just recently had a, frankly awkward, atmospherically challenged concert with them in town—but he can’t be considered box office magic, either. And still, the Musikverein’s Golden Hall was very nearly filled (I hesitate to say “sold out”, given the amount of comps handed out to the chorus members). Because the full chorus and full orchestra sprawled out and nearly spilled over the small stage of the Musikverein, the seating had been pushed back and placed on rails that allows them to place them narrower together and squeeze the rows they lost by pushing the stage out right back in. The result is that the already ungenerous seating-arrangement in the Musikverein resembles something you would you would expect on a budget airline domestic flight in China.

Shostakovich, Sixth Symphony

available at Amazon
D.Shostakovich, Symphonies Nos.6 & 10,
A.Litton/Dallas SO

Political DSCH-interpretations will forever try to find something menacing or at least ironic in this (and ever other) symphony, but the musical reality of the lopsided Sixth Symphony, with its looong first movement and quick left-right punch for movements two and (final) three, is “hoppity-hop”, a pot-boiler, a lark. For the duration of the Largo, I was concerned that Fedoseyev might have other ideas for it, making it sound drab and more like the opening of the Eighth Symphony. The woodwinds plangent (not very colorful), and the violins strident (togetherish), wiry and tense like the trumpets, and those latter occasionally shrill beyond (I would venture to guess) intended interpretative aspects. But the Allegro and the nifty Presto, by all means a gay and merry thing, became exercises in a martial show-down… a bit as if the United States Special Forces ran Six Flags. Brash and punchy needn’t be a detriment; it could well go into the credit column, as did the noise the RSO made, which was considerable (the hall was not built with Shostakovich-orchestras of 14 first violins down to 6 double bases in mind), but still controlled. Rollicking zip also goes a long way in making for entertaining listening, not just nuance, and finally the work’s strength itself is great enough to save it… in short: It was a cracking, but not terribly memorable warm-up for all involved, leading nicely into the Schnittke after intermission.

Schnittke, Faust Cantata

available at Amazon
Schnittke/Webern-Bach/Bach, Faust Cantata/Ricerata/Chorales,
Boreyko/Hamburg SO
Berlin Classics

Now this is the work I came for. Once you’ve heard Schnittke’s Faust Cantata (incidentally premiered in Vienna in 1983, well before the opera—of which the cantata is essentially the third act—first hit the stage in Hamburg), it’s just too much of a hoot not to want to hear it every opportunity you get. I will plagiarize myself from when I last heard it, with Andrey Boreyko and the Munich Philharmonic:

Twenty years of composing for film had given Schnittke a dead-on sensitivity effect and he never lacked the confidence to use it brazenly. From the first notes he gets the mood just right; within two bars you feel transplanted into a black and white picture of F.W. Murnau. One of Schnittke’s devilishly good ideas was to give Mephisto to a countertenor… and a mezzo, when he is in disguise as Helen. Creepy delightful, with organ, orator (tenor Steve Davislim here just as well as in Munich) accompanied on harpsichord, and of course the highlight of the show: the tango where Mephisto (disguised as Helen) narrates the gruesome death of Faust in gory detail. From the Matthew Passion to the Rocky Horror Picture Show in less than 20 bars, Schnittke covers all your grand theatrical desires in this work. Undoubtedly one of the best treatments of Faust in music.

It’s catchy like a musical (if only I found musicals catchy), it has bite, it has laughs (if you find musical audacity funny), and it is loud (which is always good for a round of applause). Gongs, percussion up the wazoo, the aforementioned organ, harpsichord, piano, celesta, huge chorus: All the ingredients of a great night out, and just about as intoxicating. I fell in love with the work immediately upon hearing it on record, but live, in all its gory glory, it’s even more fun. Better yet, the work is almost immune against botched entries by the chorus or modest singers… not that the present lot or the Singverein were all that terrible.

Steve Davislim has a relatively fine and small voice but is wise enough not to try too hard to compensate, which I cherish immensely. Aside, in his function as quasi-Evangelist, he needn’t trumpet about in this rôle. Bariton Adrian Eröd (Faust) wasn’t very melodic in his singing, but then his part isn’t, either. Schnittke pushes him into deep bass-territory, first, where Eröd managed a hollowish Sprechgesang… then, without rest in the middle, pushes him all the way up against the vocal ceiling. It’s almost as if Schnittke wanted to deny any rest in the vocal comfort zone and Eröd rarely found any.

Matthias Rexroth as Mephisto even looks the part: His fire-engine red face (I’m not sure if make-up was deliberately involved) and the hair that looks like flames licking up his head in an attempt to reach the ceiling suggest a chap whose natural habitat is too near a subterranean blast furnace. His vocal performance, well… he sounded uncomfortable, comical, almost as if feigning vocal trouble to give Faust more character. I don’t know the score to say whether Schnittke specifies any of this… but even if, surely not quite that much. Rexroth sounded more as though he was still a baritone and tried out that counter tenor thing for the first or second time. But, given the magic of ironic-or-isn’t-he-Schnittke, it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment and Rexroth certainly had the dramatic element down pat. Elisabeth Kulman, the alto for all seasons in Vienna (when she’s not busy complaining about being overworked), finally threw herself into the role with gusto and her eyebrows expressive overtime. Not quite the over-the-top, transvestitesque show Malgorzata Walewska pulled off in Munich, but rousing and entertaining enough in the conservative confines of the Goldener Saal (Walewska might have caused a scandal), and very nicely sung by all means. The devilish tango left goosebumps all around… and the RSO under Fedoseyev a fine, impassioned impression, which is heartening.


Quatuor Thymos @ KC

available at Amazon
Schubert, String Quartet No. 13 ("Rosamunde") / Lieder, S. Haller, Quatuor Thymos, C. Eschenbach
(Calliope, 2009)
Charles T. Downey, After blizzard, Thymos Quartet creates warm concert atmosphere (Washington Post, January 27)
After four days in blizzard seclusion, a few people were ready to hear some live music. While most of Washington remained closed Monday, the Kennedy Center opened its doors for a few performances, including an evening concert by France’s Thymos Quartet. The house manager of the Terrace Theater asked listeners to feel free to take empty seats closer to the stage, creating an atmosphere even more like a home concert.

One good reason to have made the effort to get across a city still only partly dug out from the weekend’s historic snowfall was the chamber music of Franz Schubert... [Continue reading]
Quatuor Thymos (with Anne-Sophie Le Rol and Delphine Biron at second violin and cello)
With Yann Dubost (double bass) and Christoph Eschenbach (piano)
Fortas Chamber Music Series
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Charles T. Downey, Quatuor Thymos (Ionarts, January 25, 2016)

Stephen Brookes, Thymos Quartet at Kennedy Center (Washington Post, March 13, 2012)


Briefly Noted: Larsson's Orchestral Works

available at Amazon
Lars-Erik Larsson, Orchestral Works, Vol. 2, Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, A. Manze

(released on November 13, 2015)
cpo 777672-2 | 69'53"

available at Amazon
Vol. 1
Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986), while not unknown on disc, is new to these ears. The single mention of him in these pages before now is because of Andrew Manze, in his work with the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, which has released two installments of Larsson's orchestral music on the CPO label, in beautifully detailed performances and sound. Manze left Helsingborg in 2014, to take up the post of Principal Conductor for the NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra in Hannover, so it is not clear how complete this series will ultimately be. Both of the volumes so far were actually recorded in 2011, which makes one hopeful that at least one more volume is on the way, with the third of Larsson's symphonies. Next on our wishlist would be Larsson's sole opera, Prinsessan av Cypern (The Princess of Cyprus).

Larsson's second symphony, the centerpiece of the second volume, dates from 1936 to 1937. Larsson, a polystylist, here channels a quite delightful Romantic idiom, with the best sort of echoes from Tchaikovsky or Dvořák. While there are touches of the sound of Sibelius in the second, Larsson seemed closer to the influence of the Finnish composer in his first symphony, from a decade earlier and recorded on the first volume, which has a steely opening brass section of the first movement, for example, redolent of that Sibelius sonic bloom. Another piece recalling the theatrical music of Sibelius is En Vintersaga, also from the 1930s, a piece with some of the forlorn melodic writing and innovative harmony we love in the Finnish composer, in four sketches that were part of incidental music for Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale.

In his middle period, in the decades after World War II, Larsson did not ignore developments in serialism, turning to a more contemporary, dissonant idiom in the Orchestral Variations (op. 50, 1962). Larsson's work represents more of the middle way with this kind of technique, reflecting his studies with Alban Berg in Vienna, so that the piece is less jarring to the ear than one might expect. The Music for Orchestra (op. 40, 1948-1949) is in the same vein, quite diverting. Lest there be any doubt as to Larsson's talent as a mimic of musical styles, the second volume ends with the late orchestral suite Råå-rokoko (also known as Barococo, from 1973). In it Larsson returns to a more neoclassical frame of reference, using Baroque dance forms and including less than subtle references to Mozart in the Serenata and Menuett movements. The title refers to the commission of the music, a Rococo suite, by the town of Råå in Sweden, in honor of the 25th anniversary of the Råå musiksällskap in 1974. Larsson gets downright Offenbachian in the concluding Galop, a sort of wink at severe serialism.

The Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra had already recorded some of Larsson's works, under Hans-Peter Frank, including the second symphony (embedded below).


Briefly Noted: Quatuor Thymos

available at Amazon
Dvořák, Piano Quintet (inter alia), A. Kučerová, Quatuor Thymos, C. Eschenbach
(Avie, 2011)
In the midst of the National Symphony Orchestra's preparations for their European tour next month, Christoph Eschenbach is bringing back one of his regular chamber collaborators, the Paris-based Quatuor Thymos. In a concert on the Fortas series this evening, the quartet will perform Schubert's Rosamunde Quartet, recorded on their 2009 disc for the Calliope label, the same composer's Trout Quintet, with Eschenbach and double bassist Yann Dubost, plus a recent string quartet by Olivier Dejours (no. 17, "A Winter's Tale"). Having missed the group's last appearance here, in 2012 at the Kennedy Center, I am glad that the snow from this weekend's blizzard will be cleared away in time. (Their performance of the same program in North Carolina last night was canceled because of the weather.)

The group's second disc, released on the Avie label in 2011, is devoted to the music of Antonín Dvořák. Eschenbach accompanies Slovak soprano Adriana Kučerová in the composer's Love Songs, op. 83, a rendition of some charms but not likely to displace Bernarda Fink (Harmonia Mundi) or Martina Jankova (Supraphon). This selection goes nicely with five movements from Cypresses, Dvořák's arrangement for string quartet of two-thirds of his song set of that name, a piece that is quite pretty played by string quartet. The Thymos Quartet shows off its expressive capabilities in them, but its real mettle is revealed in the A major piano quintet, op. 81, with Eschenbach on the stormy piano part. The piece is one of the gems of the chamber music repertory, and not only just piano quintets, recorded in several excellent versions. Again, the expressive parts of the piece are quite lovely in this rendition, like the mournful "Dumka" second movement, but the playing loses some of its polish in accuracy and intonation at the more strident parts, like the conclusion of the first movement and the intervening sections of the slow movement. Eschenbach, much as he does at the podium of the NSO, looks for extremes of dynamics and expressive rubato, glossing over some of the details in the Furiant movement, and the Thymos musicians are happy enough to go along with him.


Perchance to Stream: Blizzard of Blizzards Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • For the Henri Dutilleux centenary, watch or listen to a concert in homage by the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, including the composer's second symphony. [ARTE | France Musique]

  • A series of excerpts from concerts of music by Henri Dutilleux, performed by the Orchestre National de France. [France Musique]

  • More music by Dutilleux from Thomas Sondergard and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, plus music by Debussy and Mozart. [BBC3]

  • Dutilleux's cello concerto performed by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra, conductor Kirill Karabits, and soloist Jean-Guihen Queyras, plus play Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony. [BBC3]

  • From La Scala, listen to Riccardo Chailly conduct a performance of Verdi's Giovanna d'Arco, starring Anna Netrebko and Francesco Meli, recorded this past December. [ORF]

  • Listen to the Metropolitan Opera broadcast of Wagner's Tannhäuser, starring Johan Botha and Eva-Maria Westbroek. [Radio Clásica]

  • Herbert Blomstedt leads the Royal Concertgebouw Orchesttra, recorded at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, with music by Wagner, Ingvar Lidholm, and Dvorak. [RTBF]


Alyson Cambridge at the Kennedy Center

Charles T. Downey, Soprano Travels Adventurous Road During D.C. Recital
Classical Voice North America, January 23

available at Amazon
W. Bolcom, From the Diary of Sally Hemings, A. Cambridge, L. Brown
(White Pine Music, 2010)
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Soprano Alyson Cambridge is testing the boundaries of classical music. The Washington-born singer’s breakthrough role at Washington National Opera was in the musical Show Boat, and her second recording, combining jazz, crossover, and pop music, was released on Naxos’ new Suite 28 Records label. Her recital on Jan. 20 in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, presented by Washington Performing Arts under the title “In Her Voice,” brought together three new song cycles by American composers, two of them world premieres.

The concert opened with the most substantial work, William Bolcom’s From the Diary of Sally Hemings, which Cambridge recorded for a disc released in 2010. Bolcom used a literary text by playwright Sandra Seaton — eighteen entries in an imagined diary as it might have been written by Hemings, the slave of American president Thomas Jefferson...
[Continue reading]

Alyson Cambridge (soprano)
William Bolcom, From the Diary of Sally Hemings
Music by Jeffrey Mumford, Adam Schoenberg
Washington Performing Arts
Kennedy Center Terrace Theater

Noah Mlotek, Jeffrey Mumford Portrait at the National Gallery (Ionarts, February 12, 2013)

Barbara Jepson, New Music With a Tonal Twist (Wall Street Journal, June 1, 2010)


NSO Prepares for European Tour

available at Amazon
Rouse, Phaeton, Houston Symphony, C. Eschenbach
(Telarc, 2006)
Since Christoph Eschenbach came to the National Symphony Orchestra, he has made only one recording, a disappointment. The thing that has panned out is that Eschenbach has led the ensemble on two international tours, with another European tour planned for next month. They will be playing twelve concerts in eleven cities, with stops in Spain, Germany, Austria, Luxembourg, and Poland. The programs include more music than they can possibly play on two programs this week and next week, but the first glimpse on Thursday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall was encouraging.

Some of the tour cities will be treated to Christopher Rouse's barnstorming mini-tone poem Phaethon, which makes quite an arc across the sky as a concert opener. This is the first time the NSO has played the piece, and it did not sound yet quite as rhythmically tight across the ensemble as it needs to be. The musicians played it with great verve and attention to its vivid details: burbling woodwinds (what sounded like a slide whistle may have been the flexatone?), kooky muted brass, the dull bark of an ostinato tuba line. A berserk French horn call, played with exceptional force, signaled the high-flying disaster that befalls the title character, with the full complement of six percussionists all walloping something, the climaxes marked by enormous hammer strikes (think Mahler's sixth symphony) and the swinging of a gigantic racket. It is a piece that should raise some eyebrows on the tour, just as it is meant to do.

Cellist Daniel Müller-Schott serves half the solo duties of the tour, with Lang Lang reprising his rendition of Grieg's piano concerto, heard in Washington in October. Müller-Schott, last heard here with the NHK Symphony Orchestra, did not do much with Dvořák's cello concerto. He had an ardent, never overbearing tone, lovely on the second theme of the first movement, although not as beautiful as the way it was introduced by the French horn solo in the orchestral exposition. His intonation was not always on target, in the development of the first movement, for example, but better in the second movement after he retuned his strings. In the slow movement, the interlude with the horns was excellent, and Müller-Schott had a lovely cadenza moment with the solo flute. He was freer with rubato in the third movement, alternately mischievous and soupy, but the overall effect was oddly underwhelming especially by comparison to the last time the NSO performed it, with Yo-Yo Ma in 2014.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, NSO anticipates upcoming tour with Central European program (Washington Post, January 22)
The choice of Arnold Schoenberg's vast orchestration of the first piano quartet (G minor, op. 25 -- last heard in 2014) seemed weird for a tour, but it has the virtue of putting to work at least some of the percussion crew you are hauling along for the Rouse piece. Schoenberg orchestrated in ways that probably would make Brahms roll over in his grave but are really fun: in the development section of the first movement, the little motifs traded back and forth appear in every conceivable instrument. Eschenbach took the second movement, where the Brahms magic really has to happen, a little too fast, but the tempo settled down a bit afterward, and the fairy-dust coda, with its healthy dose of triangle, was magical. The march section of the third movement is hilarious in Schoenberg's orchestration, not to mention the use of marimba -- in Brahms! -- and other absurd percussion in the finale.

This concert would have been repeated tonight and Saturday night, but the arrival of a blizzard in Washington has closed the Kennedy Center along with everything else.


'The Winter's Tale' from National Ballet of Canada

Hannah Fischer (Hermione) and Piotr Stanczyk (Leontes), with artists of the National Ballet of Canada
in The Winter's Tale (photo by Daniel Neuhaus)
[See More Pictures]

Not many new full-length story ballets get produced these days, when it is safer to create new choreographies for already successful scores or short works that showcase new choreographers. Thanks to a co-commission of the Royal Ballet in London and the National Ballet of Canada, British choreographer Christopher Wheeldon had the chance to do it. The new work, an adaptation of Shakespeare's late romance The Winter's Tale, was premiered in London in 2014. After its first production in Toronto last fall, the ballet had its American premiere at the Kennedy Center Opera House on Tuesday night.

Shakespeare's play needs trimming, and Wheeldon's streamlining, assisted by his composer Joby Talbot, gets at the heart of the story. The bromance between Kings Leontes and Polixenes is put on the rocks by the former's sudden jealousy of the latter, whom he believes has slept with his wife. Leontes torments his wife with his rage, putting her on trial and causing the death of his young son, who perishes with his mother. Servants take the king's newborn daughter to a faraway land, where she grows up and falls in love with Polixenes' son. Driven by his father's rage, the couple ends up back in Leontes's kingdom, where all is somehow put right.

Piotr Stanczyk brought the jealous despair of Leontes to disturbing life, his spider-like hand showing the birth of hatred and his twitching, writhing movements making him more beast than human. Second soloist Hannah Fischer had a breakout performance as Hermione, the long lines and angles of her body framed by her white dress. Jillian Vanstone was a pretty but somewhat featureless Perdita, matched beautifully by the more elegant Florizel of Naoya Ebe. In the supporting cast, Xiao Nan Yu stood out as a particularly dignified and tragic Head of Queen Hermione's household, serving as the conscience of the devastated king and overseeing his atonement.

Other Articles:

Alastair Macaulay, Dark Suspicions in Jumps and Gestures in ‘The Winter’s Tale’ (New York Times, January 21)

Sarah Kaufman, ‘The Winter’s Tale’ dazzles with its visual drama, choreography (Washington Post, January 20)

Rebecca Ritzel, ‘The Winter’s Tale’: The blockbuster ballet that almost wasn’t (Washington Post, January 16)

Martha Schabas, The Winter’s Tale draws warm reception (The Globe and Mail, November 16, 2015)

Clement Crisp, The Winter’s Tale, Royal Opera House, London – review (The Financial Times, April 13, 2014)

Luke Jennings, The Winter's Tale review – 'a ballet to keep' (The Guardian, April 12, 2014)

Judith Mackrell, Royal Ballet: The Winter's Tale review – 'A game-changer for Wheeldon' (The Guardian, April 11, 2014)
Wheeldon's star is on the rise, seen in recent works like This Bitter Earth, Aeternum, and An American in Paris, and he will choreograph the new Nutcracker for the Joffrey Ballet set to open next December. His last full-length ballet seen here, Alice in Wonderland (presented by the National Ballet of Canada in 2013), had a big commercial success but was a failure as a story ballet, in the sense that it told a story but was more about stage effects than about dancing. The Winter's Tale is more successful at using ballet to tell the story, with stage effects providing some excellent enhancements. Video projections on silk scrims were breathtaking (projections by Daniel Brodie, with silk effects by Basil Twist), showing the various ship voyages back and forth, as well as crashing surf, and most strikingly the menacing bear from the play's infamous stage direction ("Exit, pursued by a bear") after Antigonus leaves the baby Perdita on the rocky shore.

While overall better than his Alice in Wonderland, this ballet still lacks a convincing danced climax. The emotional high point of the evening occurred when Leontes recognized his wife's emerald necklace around Perdita's neck. Rather than seizing on the moment with a dance between father and daughter, during which the statue of Hermione, brought back to life, could perhaps join in, the lights faded for a transition into a separate scene with the statue, and the energy dissipated.

The other problem with this Winter's Tale is the middling score by British composer Joby Talbot, who writes in a bland sort of pop minimalism (think of the theme for Downton Abbey) that produces little sustained interest. Talbot relies on the same crutches far too often: using metallic percussion of some kind on every other phrase robs that sound of its potential mystery. Here a group of onstage folk musicians (bansuri, dulcimer, accordion, and percussion), which have to be amplified, do not mix well with the orchestra. Good ballets have been made with mediocre scores -- Ludwig Minkus made a career out of it -- but a great full-length ballet needs much better music.

This production continues through January 24, in the Kennedy Center Opera House.


Europa Galante Gets In On It

available at Amazon
Il diario di Chiara, Europa Galante, F. Biondi
(Glossa, 2014)
Antonio Vivaldi worked for much of his career at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, the Venetian home for abandoned children. Unwanted babies, both boys and girls, left at the Pietà were illegitimate or abandoned for other reasons, sometimes brought there by their mothers or rescued by good-hearted Venetians. Only the girls raised in the Pietà had the option of living there for the rest of their lives, if they were talented musicians and wanted to have a musical career playing in the orchestra or singing in the chorus. The place functioned almost like a convent, led by a "prioress" elected by the residents, but its rule was musical rather than monastic.

The ingenuity of Il Diario di Chiara, a recent disk by the historically informed performance ensemble Europa Galante, was to trace the life of the Pietà not through one of its composers, but through one of its wards. The woman known only as Chiara, or Chiaretta, played the violin, viola d'amore, and organ, and Fabio Biondi has put together the scores of pieces that she played, that were composed for her, and for which she wrote cadenzas. It is a glimpse inside the musical life of the place, which nearly everyone who visited Venice as a tourist in the 18th century visited to hear the performances. Jean-Jacques Rousseau spent an eventful eighteen months in Venice, of which he gives a well-detailed account in Book VII of his autobiography, The Confessions. He describes not only hearing the Sunday Vespers services at the Pietà but actually meeting the performers, who were normally hidden from the audience's view by a grill:

M. le Blond presented to me, one after the other, these celebrated female singers, of whom the names and voices were all with which I was acquainted. Come, Sophia,- she was horrid. Come, Cattina,- she had but one eye. Come, Bettina,- the small-pox had entirely disfigured her. Scarcely one of them was without some striking defect. Le Blond laughed at my surprise; however, two or three of them appeared tolerable; these never sung but in the choruses; I was almost in despair. During the collation we endeavored to excite them, and they soon became enlivened; ugliness does not exclude the graces, and I found they possessed them. I said to myself, they cannot sing in this manner without intelligence and sensibility, they must have both; in fine, my manner of seeing them changed to such a degree that I left the house almost in love with each of these ugly faces. I had scarcely courage enough to return to vespers. But after having seen the girls, the danger was lessened. I still found their singing delightful; and their voices so much embellished their persons that, in spite of my eyes, I obstinately continued to think them beautiful.
Rousseau was at the Pietà in 1741, when Chiaretta was in her 20s and already widely known for her playing, although Rousseau does not mention her. As this program traces, heard live on Sunday evening at Shriver Hall, Chiaretta had a long and distinguished career in Venice, serving as director and teaching her own students until her death at the age of 73. As experienced at the last local appearance of Fabio Biondi and Europa Galante, at the Library of Congress in 2008, the details of the performance were not always in line. Mostly this was due to Biondi's many turns as soloist, best in the striking concerto by Antonio Martinelli, for Chiaretta to play on the viola d'amore, which he played with the cadenzas written by Chiaretta herself. It was hard not to think, given some of the problems that Biondi experienced here and there in the other concertos, by Martinelli and Vivaldi, that perhaps it is time for him to give some solo opportunities to the younger violinists in his ensemble.

Other Reviews:

James R. Oestreich, Europa Galante Tells the Story of a Musical Orphan in ‘Chiara’s Diary’ (Washington Post, January 18)

Tim Smith, Europa Galante explores 18th-century music written for Venetian orphanage (Baltimore Sun, January 19)

Harry Rolnick, Rockin’ And Rollin’ With The Orphanage Gals (ConcertoNet, January 17)
Europa Galante as an ensemble has a sort of default sound, elegant and smoothed out, almost lacking any affect in a strange way. This produced some lovely moments, especially in the slow movements, where the ensemble was often thinned down to a smaller number of instruments, as in the combination of violin solo, pizzicato strings, and theorbo in the slow movement of Vivaldi's G major sinfonia (RV 149), which sounded like a big mandolin. At the same time, a sense of rule-bound homogeneity crept in to many of the pieces, which made the rare standout, like the ground bass variations in the middle movement of Vivaldi's D major violin concerto (RV 222), a welcome relief from a slightly disappointing sameness. An encore, the violent hailstorm movement from Vivaldi's "Summer" concerto, provided a last frisson of excitement.

The next concert on the Shriver Hall series will feature violinist Michelle Shin (January 30, 3 pm), in a free concert at the Baltimore Museum of Art.


Alban Gerhardt @ LoC

available at Amazon
Britten, Cello Symphony / Cello Sonata, Cello Suites, A. Gerhardt, S. Osborne, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, A. Manze
(Hyperion, 2013)
Charles T. Downey, For cellist Alban Gerhardt, a strong start but a weak second half (Washington Post, January 18)
Many themes unified the concert that German cellist Alban Gerhardt played Saturday at the Library of Congress. All of the music he performed was from the 20th century, most of the composers were American and many of the pieces were composed for Mstislav Rostropovich. The choices were to Gerhardt’s credit, but as in his last appearance with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in June, the results were mixed.

Two excellent sonatas filled the first half, beginning with Cello Sonata, Op. 6, by the young Samuel Barber. Gerhardt filled the Coolidge Auditorium with an ardent tone, especially on the high strings, slashing upward on the first movement’s main theme but infusing the second theme with Brahmsian tenderness... [Continue reading]
Alban Gerhardt (cello)
Anne-Marie McDermott (piano)
Library of Congress

Charles T. Downey, C Major Is C Major Is C Major? (Ionarts, June 18, 2015)


Third Opinion: NSO Plays Sibelius 2

available at Amazon
Sibelius, Symphonies / Tone Poems, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, N. Järvi
(DG, 2007)

available at Amazon
H. Eller, Five Pieces for String Orchestra, Scottish National Orchestra, N. Järvi
(Alliance, 1992)
Neeme Järvi returned to the podium of the National Symphony Orchestra last week, for the first time since 2013. Now in his late 70s, Järvi was understated in a program representing his strengths, including an ensemble debut of a work by fellow Estonian Heino Eller. To go along with reports of the first two performances, here are some additional thoughts on the third performance, heard on Saturday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.

Neeme Järvi has recorded the Sibelius symphonies twice with the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, once for BIS and once for Deutsche Grammophon. Neither cycle ranks highly in our estimation, but he led a solid, somewhat earthy rendition of the composer's second symphony. The horns complied with his demands for brilliant, full sound, as did all the members of the brass section, with thrilling interpretations of the ff and fff sections. The pulsating main theme of the first movement, marked with tenuto accents under slurs, surged in the strings, dissonance-laden harmonies amassed over the D pedal in the basses and second cellos. For its tense qualities, the opening of the second movement, with the timpani summoning pizzicato basses and cellos to accompany the melody in the bassoon, seemed more like the opening of Die Walküre than it normally does, and the third movement was startlingly fast, in keeping with the Vivacissimo marking. All evening long, the cell phones and watch alarms of the audience intruded, worst of all at the quite moments of this movement's trio, but the seamless transition into the finale set up beautifully paced surges of sound to the returns of one of Sibelius's most famous melodies.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Jarvi’s insouciance gets results from the NSO (Washington Post, January 15)

Robert R. Reilly, NSO, Neemi Järvi, and Baiba Skride (Ionarts, January 16)
To go with James Ehnes's performance of Prokofiev's second violin concerto this past fall, Järvi led a relatively rare rendition of the composer's first violin concerto, not heard from the NSO since 1999. Latvian violinist Baiba Skride, last heard with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra in 2011, was in disappointing form for the first time in my experience, her intonation especially not quite right far too often. It is a work that should be tailored to her strengths, with its dreamy introduction paired with flute and clarinets and a melancholy, music-box pseudo-cadenza at the end of the first movement with harp and piccolo. The G string of her Stradivarius (ex-Baron Feilitzsch, 1734) growled in the second movement, which turns into a perverse march, and she had her best moments on the soaring lines of the finale, where the intonation issues were minimal. Unlike Thursday night, Skride offered no encore. The Five Pieces for String Orchestra by Heino Eller, best known as having taught Arvo Pärt, were pleasant to discover, rather simple character pieces composed for piano and arranged for soupy strings.

Next week Christoph Eschenbach returns to the podium, with Daniel Müller-Schott playing the Dvořák cello concerto. Over the next two weeks, the NSO will be playing through the repertory planned for its European tour, lasting most of the month of February.


Perchance to Stream: MLK Edition

Here is your regular Sunday selection of links to online audio and online video from the week gone by. After clicking to an audio or video stream, you may need to press the "Play" button to start the broadcast. Some of these streams become unavailable after a few days.

  • From St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, in London, the BBC Singers perform music for the season of Epiphany by German composers of the early Baroque period. [BBC3]

  • Watch Alexandre Tharaud play Bach's Goldberg Variations. [ARTE]

  • Watch Hugh Wolff conduct the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra in Sibelius's fifth symphony, plus music of Mozart and Messiaen with clarinetist Jörg Widmann. [ARTE]

  • Watch a concert by the London Philharmonic, with Simon Rattle leading music by Ravel, Delage, and Dutilleux. [ARTE]

  • Listen to a double-bill of Tchaikovsky's Iolanta and Stravinsky's Persephone, recorded last July at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. [RTBF]

  • A performance of Handel's Israel in Egypt by Concerto Copenhagen, Lars Ulrik Mortensen, and the Nederlands Kamerkoor, with Joanne Lunn and other soloists, recorded in Vienna. [ORF]

  • The Akademie für alte Musik Berlin performs Handel's Water Music. [Avro Klassiek]


NSO, Neeme Järvi, and Baiba Skride

available at Amazon
Prokofiev, Violin Concertos, L. Mordkovitch, Scottish National Orchestra, N. Järvi
(Chandos, 2009)

available at Amazon
Sibelius, Symphony No. 2, Royal Philharmonic, J. Barbirolli
(Chesky, 1990)
Many thanks to Robert R. Reilly for this review from the Kennedy Center.

On Friday evening, January 15, 2016, at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, famed Estonian conductor Neeme Järvi and the National Symphony Orchestra offered the second of its three performances of a highly attractive program, consisting in the 5 Pieces for String Orchestra by Heino Eller, Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1, and Jean Sibelius’s Second Symphony.

As a Sibelius fanatic, I was impelled to attend to hear the third item on the program but was surprised to find that the major treat of the evening was the Prokofiev and the exquisite playing by Latvian violinist Baiba Skride in her NSO debut.

However, first things first. The opening, brief 5 Pieces by Eller is a charming, lovely string composition that, while apparently redolent of Estonian folk tunes, could easily keep company with comparable string works by English composers like Frank Bridge, Ralph Vaughan Williams, or Benjamin Britten. Its plush string writing has the warmth of musical mahogany, and it was appropriately upholstered by the sound of the NSO strings.

Prokofiev wanted the violinist to play the beginning of his Violin Concerto No. 1 “as if in a dream.” That is exactly how Skride softly entered with the Stradivarius she was playing. It was with a feminine softness, and also a purity of line and crystalline clarity. This concerto does not have a cadenza for its soloist, properly speaking. But since the soloist plays almost nonstop throughout all three movements, it is almost more appropriate to think of the concerto as a giant cadenza with orchestral accompaniment. In any case, it was magic time. Skride played with unfailing eloquence, energy and refinement (and spot-on accuracy) through all the various complexities that Prokofiev packed in for the soloist, cadenza or not. It was a joy to hear someone playing at this level on an instrument this beautiful.

At the work’s 1923 premiere in Paris, Prokofiev reported of the critics that “some of them commented not without malice on its ‘Mendelssohnisms.’” What those disappointed critics were referring to are the parts of the work that capture the kind of crepuscular, murmuring enchantment that Mendelssohn was so expert at distilling. Unless you are looking for a catastrophe in a boiler factory, this is one of the work’s highly attractive assets. Not only did Skride play these with tremendous delicacy and charm, but so did the orchestral accompaniment. And here one must applaud Järvi, a Prokofiev expert, for keeping everything in perfect balance throughout the three movements. The chimerical fleetness with which all departments in the NSO played deserves huzzahs.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Jarvi’s insouciance gets results from the NSO (Washington Post, January 15)
Järvi began the Sibelius Second briskly enough that, were he a less expert conductor, I might’ve worried that he was going to rush the fence, to use an equestrian expression. Of course, he didn’t. However, this was an interpretation based more on the power of the piece, than its passion. It was more like a cold splash of Nordic water, which can be very bracing, than it was nature mysticism. To catch the sense of my meaning listen, if you can, to John Barbirolli’s 1962 performance with the Royal Philharmonic (Chesky label). Barbirolli catches a sense of what the music is coming out of so that when there is an orchestral pause, it is a silence pregnant with sound. In Järvi’s performance, it was just a pause, period. It was not as expressive because the underlying mysticism was not there. However, the comparison with Barbirolli is not meant as a criticism, but a contrast. There is more than one way to do the Second Symphony. Järvi was consistent in his, which produced a lot of excitement. I should add that, in the finale, he combined power with passion. Overall, I was impressed but not moved. The NSO effectively draped the great sheets of brass and string sound across the Concert Hall to thrilling effect.

The only dismaying feature of the evening was the sparse audience attendance. With this much ear candy on offer, where were they?

This concert repeats this evening.

BSO Takes Up Magnificent Rouse Oboe Concerto

available at Amazon
C. Rouse, Oboe Concerto, L. Wang, New York Philharmonic, A. Gilbert
(NYP, 2014)
Charles T. Downey, BSO debut of ‘Oboe Concerto’ bursts with trills and colors (Washington Post, January 16)
Next month, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra marks the 100th anniversary of its first public concert. This season and last, music director Marin Alsop has given both her programming and her musicians an energy-boosting shake-up. That happy trend continued Thursday night with the BSO’s concert in the Music Center at Strathmore, anchored on a recent work by Baltimore-born composer Christopher Rouse.

The Minnesota Orchestra gave the world premiere of Rouse’s “Oboe Concerto” in 2005. The BSO’s outstanding principal oboist, Katherine Needleman, advocated for its BSO debut after playing it at the Peabody Conservatory... [Continue reading]
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
With Katherine Needleman, oboe
Music Center at Strathmore

Tim Smith, BSO principal oboist Katherine Needleman soars through Rouse concerto (Baltimore Sun, January 16)

Ionarts-at-Large: National Youth Orchestra of Germany rocks Viktor Ullmann

When I saw an e-mail with the following program advertised to go down on Thursday, January 14th, at Vienna’s premiere concert venue, the Konzerthaus (not to be mistaken with its premiere musical museum, the Musikverein)—

Markus Hechtle Fresko. Eine Zuflucht (“Fresco: A refuge”). (2015, Austrian premiere)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Fantasia in C minor, K.475
Viktor Ullmann, Piano Concerto op.25
* * *
Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony Nr.3 “Eroica”

—I reasoned that attendance would be seemly for the following reasons, in order:

#1: V.Ullmann’s Piano Concerto: Viktor Ullmann is one of the great composers of the 20th century. Potentially greatest, at least, if he had written a few more works as good as the few that I know (his Piano Sonatas, Third String Quartet, the haunting melodrama The Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke). I want to hear as much of him as I can, on record and live. Because it is usually such good music, the listening never doesn’t end with me being considerably upset—as I am sure he was, too—that the German authorities gassed him on October 18th, 1944, and threw his twisted body into a ditch of dead bodies, to burn.

#2: H.Schuch: The youngish pianist has steadily and solidly built his unspectacular career on excellent skill and refined taste. There is nothing loud or glittery about him; he will not model underwear. Deutsche Grammophon will not sign him to an exclusive contract; he won’t star in a Nespresso commercial. But he will draw decent crowds of connoisseurs who value a fine touch over garish colors and who appreciate many shades of gray without thinking of grammar-defying housewife-porn. The Ullmann concerto has been in his repertoire for a while (he has made one of only three recordings). To also hear him in the contrasting Mozart Fantasia K.475 (nice to lighten the texture thus) is just about as intriguing. (Schuch previously reviewed on ionarts: Stuttgart, 09/15/2010 jfl; Terrace Theater, 10/17/2015 S.A.)

#3: Here I was going to list Michael Sanderling’s hair, which is the only legitimate successor to Riccardo Muti’s. But Sanderling, the youngest of the conducting clan, had to cancel the tour, and Hermann Bäumer stepped in without changing the unusual program. (I’d not have known him except for a tame Johan Gottfried Mann CD on CPO.) Without disrespect to Bäumer, but that means the Bundesjugendorchester (BJO) becomes the next-coveted attraction because youth orchestras are interesting to hear, the possibility of a bad performance is lower, because I haven’t heard the orchestra in quite a while, and it’s nice to compare this very young band (all hands on fretboards are between 14-19 years old) to outfits like the Gustav Mahler Youth Orchestra or the EUYO.

#4: Beethoven’s Third, if I have to… but then, with a youth orchestra it should at least be exciting to some degree.

available at Amazon
V.Ullmann (+ LvB), Piano Concerto op.25 (+ PC#3),
H.Schuch / Olari Elts / WDR SO Cologne

I didn’t come for Markus Hechtle Fresko. Eine Zuflucht, but I’d certainly never leave because of it, either. (The group of listeners I overheard later at the sausage stand felt less charitable, but, even though the tepid applause suggested they might, they may not necessarily have been representative.) It opens in hushed triple-pianissimo in the strings before other instruments pipe up and interrupt. For a split second it sounds like we will hear a Sibelius symphony, but Hechtle quickly steers the work into a different direction. Stereo clappers, positioned far left and far right, jolt all those who were prone to spend the ‘overture’ slumbering. Good trick, actually. And so they click and clacked away, at a furious clip, while the strings swelled and the woodwinds whaled and the brass snarled every so often. The whole thing is held in pleasant dissonance, except for the outbreaks and snarls, which have bite, and little micro-corners that, on turning, sounded like the briefest of glimpses of familiar material. In concert, I could listen to this as an orchestral warm-up innumerous times; at home I cannot see myself