Music

A Crop of Recordings XIV: Richard Strauss, Bruckner, Brahms, and Wagner

Richard Strauss Conducting

Here is a really lovely performance of Ein Heldenleben, perfectly recorded in Frankfurt’s Alte Oper. From the very first note—that rich ocean-liner steam whistle signifying a voyage through life—it’s satisfying—if, that it is—you like things a bit understated. You are sitting about row “K,” and the orchestra is laid out before you at a slight distance. Listeners familiar with the many videos of this orchestra on YouTube will not be disappointed at the fine balances and purring nature of the sound. This is a satiny, swift reading, gently beautiful, supple and romantic in an undemonstrative way. It reminds me of Reiner’s and Kempe’s versions, both of which bring the piece home similarly at around 45 minutes.

Thomas Nickell, Piano, and The Orchestra of the Swan, David Curtis, Conductor, in an Original Program of Mozart, Messiaen, Nickell, Cowell, Britten, David Matthews, and Wagner/Liszt

Thomas Nickell, Pianist

At 18, Thomas Nickell, even in a world populated by numerous prodigies who began to play in public at very young ages, still deserves to be considered a young, emerging artist, and this concert showed him to be a notably mature and tasteful one.  He is currently a student at the New School, Mannes College of Music, studying piano and composition, both with equal seriousness. He has already played programs in concert and with orchestra in the United Kingdom, Italy, Japan, and Chicago, and has been honored as a Steinway artist and is represented by Alexander & Buono International. The concert, a repeat of his London debut, gave the full house something else to be grateful for: a visit from an outstanding British chamber orchestra—in this instance all strings—The Orchestra of the Swan, based in Stratford-upon-Avon, under the direction of its founder and music director, David Curtis, who is as enterprising and personable as he is musical.

Pianist Christina Kobb plays Schubert, Robert and Clara Schumann, Grieg, and Liszt in her Carnegie Hall Debut

Pianist Christina Kobb

I recently heard three piano programs, almost back-to-back, in Weill Hall. Each pianist produced a strikingly different sound from the same instrument, Weill’s beautiful house Steinway. The pianists and their programs were so very different that  it is not so very difficult to resist the temptation to discuss them in a single review, although there are some common threads, for example Romanticism and Schubert. In fact, you’ll find I’m writing rather a lot about those subjects at the moment.

Emmanuel Villaume leads the Prague Philharmonia in Smetana and Dvořák, with Gautier Capuçon, cello

Emmanuel Villaume and the Prague Philharmonia

must have been in a Fantasia mood for this program—funnybone at the ready. There was something cartoon-friendly about the array on stage Sunday afternoon—an orchestra half the usual size—an enormously tall conductor in black maitre d’ tails with a huge bald head, black goatee and a tiny baton—a remarkably small cellist by his side. Were we about to hear a concert in caricature by the Katzenjammer Kids? It would seem so. My bad!

Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin in the First Complete Cycle of Bruckner’s Symphonies in the U.S., with Mozart Concertos for Piano, Winds, and Strings

Anton Bruckner

We New Yorkers are fortunate in enjoying annual visits from the greatest European and American orchestras, and even more fortunate when these visitors offer a residency or at least what some people like to call a “curated” series of concerts. In most instances these take place in Carnegie Hall. Beyond the privilege of hearing different groups under different conductors in the same familiar acoustic—fortunately one of the highest order—a more extended and coherent journey through the classical repertoire justifies the effort and expense of the tour. The brilliant 2010 series built around Beethoven and the Second Viennese School, played by the Vienna Philharmonic, with the podium shared by Pierre Boulez and Daniel Barenboim, stands out as a telling example.

A Crop of Recordings XIII: Richard Strauss, Hans Rott, Alberto Ginastera, Robert Schumann, and Gabriel Fauré

Alberto Ginastera with Cat

This is a groundbreaking recording—and a wonderful one! I first became aware of Elektra on an old Fritz Reiner/Inge Borkh LP of excerpts. The unusual violence of Strauss’s harmonies appealed to my teenage ears. Not long after, Georg Solti taped the complete opera, though without, I felt, the same crushing power from the podium as Reiner. But the sound of the orchestral score remained with me, and I always hoped someone would put together a suite. It’s taken 54 years in my case—but here it is!

Manfred Honeck talks to Michael Miller about Mahler, Bruckner, and Conducting

Manfred Honeck. Photo Felix Broede.

Anyone who has heard Manfred Honeck conduct his own Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in Heinz Hall or in their exemplary recordings on the Exton and Reference Recordings labels will know what a treasure he is for the world of music. This week he will conduct the New York Philharmonic in Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto with Inon Barnatan and Mahler’s First Symphony. He has made something of a speciality of this composer, a fellow Austrian. His recorded cycle with Pittsburgh now includes Symphonies No. 1, 3, and 5. Maestro Honeck also has special insight into the work of Anton Bruckner, another fellow Austrian. He has so far recorded Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony and looks forward to recording the Ninth.

In this interview you will learn something about the care and intelligence he puts into preparing his performances and his particular feeling for these great composers.

Keys to Romance, the Carnegie Hall Debut of Pianist Christina Kobb, Weill Hall, February 24, 2017

Christina Kobb

On February 24 at 8PM, DCINY presents 19th-century piano technique expert Christina Kobb in a performance of her program titled Keys to Romance. The Norwegian pianist and scholar makes her Carnegie Hall debut performing an evening of Romantic piano works by Schubert, Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, Grieg, and Liszt.

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