Music

Bravo to Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz for their admirable New York International Piano Competition

Melvin Stecher and Norman Horowitz with the 2016 finalists of the New York International Piano Competition

Almost any seasoned music lover will at some time complain about the globally-renowned musicians who play at Carnegie Hall, Symphony Hall, or Tanglewood. You’ll hear that the players in this orchestra or that are cynical and bored, that a particular violinist over the years has developed into a parody of herself, or that a certain pianist is going through a dry period and that the life has gone out of his playing. The most efficacious antidote for that malaise is to seek out young musicians who are still enthusiastic and still believe that they have to do their best all the time. We are all thrilled by the brilliant young musicians of the Tanglewood Music Center.

Openings: Boston Musica Viva plays Boulez, Marteau sans maître, and Nelsons and the BSO present Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier

R. Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier: Andris Nelsons, Renée Fleming, Franz Hawlata, Susan Graham. Photo Winslow Townson.

One hoped and expected there would be performances of Pierre Boulez pieces in Boston this season to honor this great musician who died last winter. The Berlin Philharmonic, hardly a local group, will play one piece on its visit here in November. I don’t see anything else on the horizon. So, many thanks to Boston Musica Viva, our fine contemporary music ensemble now in its 48th year, for opening its season with Boulez’s perhaps most significant work, Le Marteau sans maître (The Hammer without a Master, 1954-57).

Nadejda Vlaeva plays piano music by Vladimir Drozdoff and Sergei Bortkiewicz, with Schubert and Liszt at Zankel Hall

Nadejda Vlaeva

A plentiful audience at Zankel Hall last week enjoyed Nadejda Vlaeva’s program of attractive salon pieces by two forgotten Russian éxiles, Vladimir Drozdoff (Saratov 1882 -New York 1960) and Sergei Bortkiewicz (Kharkiv 1877-Vienna 1952), and a colorful Hungarian Rhapsody by Franz Liszt (a rarely played one)—all introduced by one of Schubert’s most profound sonatas, the G Major, D. 894, sometimes known as the “Fantasie,” a name given it by its first publisher because of its meditative first movement. There could be no doubt that the curtain-raiser was the most significant work on the program, but the centerpiece was nonetheless the selection of shortish rarities by the two Russians. Their music has much in common. Both are rooted in the nineteenth century, with little or nothing traceable to the musical trends that emerged after 1910, or later. Although they were younger than Rachmaninoff, who was plagued by his own conservatism, their music is even more retardataire. This is not in itself a fault, although one can understand why their music failed to reach a wider audience in the age of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. Both Drozdoff and Bortkiewicz were undoubtedly fine craftsmen and showed a deep understanding of the piano in the great Russian tradition.

A Crop of Recordings X

This CD has already become a favored and frequented member of my collection. Chandos has a long and successful history of recording the BBC Philharmonic, but this is the first recording I’ve encountered from their new venue in MediaCity, Salford. I’m happy to report that the transparency, fine balances and smooth listenability of the old Studio 3 are alive and well in the new facility. And the performances, under recently appointed Music Director Juanjo Mena, are as idiomatic and atmospheric as one could hope for.

Race and Slavery in Mozart Operas: A Letter to the New York Times

Mozart conducting his Entführung aus dem Serail

A most welcome contribution from Ralph P. Locke, Professor Emeritus of  at the Eastman School of Music, an unpublished letter to the editor of the New York Times, directed my attention to a review and an article by Zachary Woolfe concerning recent productions he has seen in France of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Così fan tutte. The content of these articles will be clear enough from Professor Locke’s letter and his own commentary.

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