Music

A Crop of Recordings XVII: Dvořák, Ravel, Lalo, and Manén…with Some Classical Favourites for Hallowe’en!

La Mère L'Oye

Every time I hear the Czech Philharmonic properly recorded I’m reminded what a glorious orchestra they are—overdue for appreciation. The ensemble recently signed a major contract with Decca and released Dvořák symphonies and concertos on CD, led by Jiří Bělohlávek. There’s also a complete Tchaikovsky project in the works from Semyon Bychkov. And now we have this beautiful take on the Slavonic Dances, captured without compromise.

Ups and Downs of the Boston Music Season, mostly Boston Symphony with Andris Nelsons, 2016-2017

Thomas Adès conducting the BSO. Photo Stu Rosner.

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s 2017 Tanglewood Music Festival, very successful by many reports, has just concluded, with the new season in Boston to begin very soon. I offer here the perspective of a look back at the preceding season in Boston, commenting mostly on BSO, but also a few other events. I was able to attend only one Tanglewood concert this summer: the impressive concert performance of Wagner’s Das Rheingold, conducted by BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons, with a large, excellent cast. A good sign for the future.

Jeannette Sorrell and Apollo’s Fire Condescend to Perform in Youngstown for a Remedial Concert

Jeannette Sorrell conducting the same program at Tanglewood

Early Monday morning, July 3, 2017, with neo-Baroque instruments in tow, Jeanette Sorrell and eighteen members of Apollo’s Fire ventured down routes 77, 80, and 680 from Cleveland to Youngtown’s St. Columba Cathedral for a performance of Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni (“The Four Seasons”) plus La Bergamasca by Marco Uccellini and Evaristo dall’Abaco’s Concerto in E minor , op. 5, no 3. This expensive event was billed as one of the highlight concerts for the 2017 American Guild of Organists’ Great Lakes Regional Convention.

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!

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