Tag Archive: Dvořák

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.

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!

A Crop of Recordings VIII

Maurice Ravel

“If only I had known it could be done like this!” So enthused Brahms the first time he heard Dvořák’s Cello Concerto—then as now probably the greatest work for cello and orchestra ever written. “If only Brahms could hear this performance,” I’m tempted to say! Thomas Dausgaard seems to have a musical green thumb. Touch something and it springs to life with unexpected flips of energy and color—Schubert and Schumann Symphonies with his Swedish Chamber Orchestra only among the most recent successes.

Krzysztof Urbański Debuts with Emanuel Ax and the San Francisco Symphony in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto and Dvořák’s “New World” Symphony

Krzysztof Urbański conducts. Photo by Maria Maślanka

This was an old-fashioned program — the kind audiences like. Two grand and tuneful symphonic works. A venerated pianist. The debut of a young matinee idol conductor. And last but not least, total absence of any threatening nouvelle cuisine for the ear. So how did it go, this debut?

A Week of Music in Chapel Hill: Two Conductors, Two Concerts, One Young Composer, a fine Pianist and a Cat

Dolce far niente

This is a piece about coming of age, so I suppose I should start with Tonu Kalam’s cat, always more vocal than musical, but who has approached gravitas since kittenhood two years ago with remarkably matured powers of persuasion! “Dolce” belongs to Kalam and his fiancée, Karyn Ostrom. And his progress towards getting what he wants with supreme efficiency seems to match the improvements I hear in the UNC Symphony Orchestra, which Kalam directs and manages, and where Karyn plays violin among the firsts. In his maturity, “Dolce” has nearly mastered the front doorknob to go outside and roll all over the concrete path and collect pollen, which he unaccountably enjoys. In the past, the expression of his wishes might have seemed less coherent. Today it is focused and not to be trifled with.

Martin Helmchen Debuts with the SF Symphony. Yan Pascal Tortelier Conducts Berlioz’ Roman Carnival, the Schumann Concerto and Dvorak’s Symphony No.7

“This is such a wonderful program!” gushed the volunteer showing me to my seat. She had already heard Thursday’s concert and clearly looked forward to the repeat in a beatific mood. It made me reflect. Although audiences are more comfortable about being “educated” to a new piece these days – and the new pieces have become more accessible and performance-worthy – there is something to be said for not entering the concert hall as a captive. For once, our orchestra was simply going to play music we all know and love – and try to make us love it more. They succeeded. And it made for a satisfying evening.

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