Music

The Bard Music Festival 2017: Chopin and His World—a Preview

Chopin at 25, by his fiancée Maria Wodzińska, 1835. Watercolor and ink on Bristol board. National Museum Warsaw.

Many of us who attend the Bard Music Festival look forward to it with the same warm anticipation we once looked forward to Christmas. Two weekends are packed with music, much of it we’ve never heard before, some of it great, some good, some interesting. There are panel discussions and lectures to help tie it all together, usually pitched at a general educated audience, but always with surprises and things one didn’t know before. And there is a feast of discussion, with the musicians, with the speakers, and with each other. It’s not so much that there is music to be enjoyed and a historical context to learn: through the immersion in immediate, live concerts and contact with knowledgeable humans a unique experience emerges in which we can live this whole of sensual and intellectual pleasure, analysis, and a direct understand of the cultural and social whole in which the music was created. The difference between this and the traditional sources of background information available to concertgoers—i.e. program notes—is like a month in Paris against a travel brochure.



A Crop of Recordings XVI: Elgar, The Dream of Gerontius and the First and Second Symphonies played by the Berliner Staatskapelle under Daniel Barenboim

Edward Elgar

If Gerontius died today, it would probably be at a hospital with no Cardinal Newman to record his passing and no Sir Edward Elgar to create his beautiful dream of a masterpiece. And, one supposes too, there’d be no Daniel Barenboim to bring the work to Germany so powerfully as he does here, details and quibbles to follow. We don’t immortalize last words and thoughts the way we used to.



A Room with Two Views: Campra and Handel at the Boston Early Music Festival

Caroline Copeland in Cmapras's Le Carnaval de Venise. Photo Kathy Wittman.

Two large-scale vocal works were presented at BEMF on successive nights (Wednesday and Thursday, June 14 and 15), one a work of music theater, merging opera and ballet; the other devotional but in the musical language of opera absent the staging. Composed within nine years of each other, they offer contrasting perspectives of Italian music and culture from the points of view of a French and a German composer. Both were clearly besotted with Italy, one responding to the carnival spirit of Venice with its light-hearted approach to life, love, and entertainment; and the other situated at the center of the sober religious and devotional culture of Rome. Experiencing these two works back-to-back and interpreted by many of the same performers provided a wonderfully condensed testament to the multidimensional attractions and influences that Italian opera radiated at the turn of the 18th century.



Amy E. Gustafson, an Important New Pianist, at Florence Gould Hall, Playing an Exceptional 9-foot Yamaha

Amy E. Gustafson

One of the gratifying trends in recent piano recitals has been the interest in Debussy’s most ambitious piano compositions, above all Book II of his Préludes. In the past few years I’ve reviewed penetrating, deeply considered realizations of these subtle and complex sound-poems by Ian Hobson and Stephen Porter, which were among the most significant piano recitals I heard at the time. Marc-André Hamelin also included a characteristically brilliant and subtlety tinted and shaded reading of Images, Book I. It was a rich season for Debussy.



Vasily Petrenko leads the SF Symphony in Glinka, Lalo, and Rachmaninoff, with Joshua Bell, violin

Vasily Petrenko

I don’t know how many in the audience had ever heard anything like it, a symphony dragging itself to a conclusion like a wounded beast over shrieking strings, bass drum rolls gone mad, brass, cymbals and tam tam flashing like jaws and teeth. And then, there was that set of hall-flattening final chords, like crates dropped on the stage, followed by silence for five seconds, broken only by a quiet “Jesus!” under someone’s breath. Welcome to the Rachmaninoff First Symphony!



A Crop of Recordings XV: Bizet, Brahms, Dvořák,and Jongen!

Joseph Jongen

As well-written program notes remind us here, Georges Bizet was an unlucky man. Chain-smoking killed him at 36. He died thinking Carmen a failure. And his Symphony in C went unknown and unheard until Felix Weingartner unearthed it eighty years later at a 1935 concert in Basel. None of this gets in the way of the fact that the piece is memorable from beginning to end, even if similarities to Gounod’s symphony are a bit on the suspicious side. Bizet’s own symphonic effort was catalysed by the experience of transcribing Gounod’s work for two pianos. At times one can hardly tell the two pieces apart.



David Curtis, Music Director of the Orchestra of the Swan, talks to Michael Miller

ome months ago New Yorkers enjoyed an opportunity to hear a gifted young American pianist, Thomas Nickell play Mozart’s Concerto in A Major, K. 414 and a new concerto by a living English composer, David Matthews, supported by a splendid chamber orchestra in the best English tradition, The Orchestra of the Swan, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, conducted by its founder, David Curtis. They received an especially warm response from their sold-out hall, and they have every reason to come back. This will occur in early June 2018. Meanwhile you can listen to David Curtis talk about chamber orchestras, The Orchestra of the Swan in particular, and English music, which, I believe has been rather neglected on these shores in recent years.



Elgar’s The Apostles, with Leon Botstein and the American Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall

The Ascension by Bell & Beckham. Tiles. All Saints Church, Margaret Street, London. Photo John Pankhurst.

I was tempted to preface this review of this rarely performed oratorio by Sir Edward Elgar with a harangue about the neglect of British music in this country, but I was pleasantly surprised to look over the upcoming Tanglewood schedule, and to find that British music and Sir Edward will be rather well served this summer



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