When I was first invited to attend the Bach Choir of Bethlehem’s Christmas Concert in Advent 2014, I had no idea that that and the Bach Festival in May would become annual traditions. I believe that I have missed only one year since then, and now my wife has become as attached to these events as I am. From the gusto with which the people of Bethlehem celebrate the Christmas season, the liturgy celebrated in the local Moravian Church—which includes a prayer for the Holy Roman Emperor, Rudolf II—and the spirit of the Bach Festival, now in its 112th year, one can readily grasp the vitality of tradition in this originally German city—and it’s infectious, I can attest.
To have attended Christoph Denoth’s classical guitar recital at SubCulture on Bleecker Street three nights ago is to have undergone a New York moment very particular to NoHo, the neighborhood where it was performed. Having moved to this swatch of the city three years ago, I’ve come to marvel at its odd but easy mix of strikingly disparate elements—gritty architecture, wildly colorful paintings on the sides or fronts of various buildings mixed into a motley crew of chic clubs, bars, galleries and a cheeky Underground Boxing gym on Bleecker’s easternmost end. SubCulture is a venue for any number of kinds of events and performances, cunningly aligned with the complex gestalt of NoHo for which it could be a symbol. Christoph Denoth’s recital, which is timed to attend the release of his most recent CD “Tanguero”, seemed to me to fit right into Noho and SubCulture’s complex heterogeneity.
Anglophiles, those with a taste for recent British history and anyone who would like a look back at a non-PC world will enjoy this entertaining gabfest. Writer Moira Buffini has imagined a lengthy series of interchanges between Queen Elizabeth and her Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, sprinkling these liberally with references to events they shared. The transition from Rhodesia to Zimbabwe, relationships with President and Mrs. Reagan, Charles and Diana’s wedding, the Falklands and a much else gets a brief look at as two Queens, (Anita Carey as Q and Beth Hylton as a younger version dubbed Liz), and two Iron Ladies, (Kate Fahy as T and Susan Lynskey as the younger Mags), meet repeatedly, talk about what passed for state business and drop asides.
Both works here are gorgeously conceived and transparently recorded from top to bottom (and the Seventh Symphony features a convincing velvet-deep organ presence to boot). They make for a wonderful release together and a fitting conclusion to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s well-received Vaughan Williams cycle on Onyx. Spectacular as the Antartica is in Manze’s hands (and it is) it’s his performance of the Ninth Symphony which stands out for me as an even more remarkable accomplishment beyond normal praise.
It’s Angel’s Bar, a good-ole-boy hangout in Maynard, Texas with bales of hay, beer bottles, an outline of the Lone Star state on a door and graffiti on the walls. Two ragged men with battered Stetsons speak as one sloppily sweeps up escaping hay and I thought, ah, the performance. No, it was the house rules with the usual explanations about exit signs augmented with some barroom bits like “no touching.”
It was with relief that I greeted the final number on the program. Undercurrent, set to music by Henryk Gόrecki, woke up, enlivening me, the audience at large and also seemingly the dancers who had previously drifted through a series of works that I found bland and somnolent. Undercurrent raised levels of power and energy with repeated prancing steps, first danced by groups of women and later by the company’s men.
Veteran opera critic Conrad L. Osborne delivers a lifetime’s worth of keen perceptions and stern judgements, all in quirky yet compulsively readable prose.
The string quartet literature is notable for throwing super-complex challenges at the players; after all, this is the most cohesive medium for ensemble playing, and quartets play together for years or decades and can polish their communication and coordination skills to the highest degree. For that reason, composers have striven their utmost to present path-breaking difficulties and daring quartets to conquer them. One sub-history of 20th/21st century music has been the interplay between quartet composers and the groups performing their music. The avatar of all of this is late Beethoven, whose Große Fuge pushed the boundaries of playability in its day, and whose late quartets were composed with the skills of the Schuppanzigh Quartet in mind.