Nelsons and Thibaudet play Gershwin.

Subtlety in the Shed: an Oxymoron? Nelsons and the BSO play Stravinsky’s Petrushka and Gershwin, with Jean-Yves Thibaudet

After the sparkling performance of George Gershwin’s little gem of variations on one of his most popular songs, an audience member asked her husband “Do you want to stay after intermission?” Certainly the atmosphere had been more that of a Pops concert with hearty applause after the first movement of the concerto as well as an ovation at the end; but at that moment it struck me that the ears that savored the pleasures of Gershwin might not relish the kaleidoscopic astringencies of Stravinsky. The much less enthusiastic audience reception for the ballet score affirmed this, despite a performance that capably revealed the colors and shapes of this astonishing breakthrough work.

A Crop of Recordings XXIII: Barenboim’s Brahms, Orozco-Estrada’s Strauss, Szell’s Walton and Stravinsky

If I tell you here is the side of Brahms which kept a score of Parsifal open on his piano, I think we are more than halfway to understanding what Daniel Barenboim has tried to do with this composer and now achieves more fully and authentically than in his Chicago Symphony cycle recorded for Erato several decades ago. The Staatskapelle Berlin has always been a Brahms orchestra of the old school, as Otmar Suitner’s 1984 digital cycle for Berlin Classics, recorded in the Lukaskirche, wonderfully demonstrated, but Barenboim has maintained and encouraged its nutty/creamy sonority to new levels of evocative lushness and subtle woodwind tone coloration. He doesn’t aim to compete for brilliance with the Berlin Philharmonic. Indeed, the sound here boasts a theatrical darkness and elision, first, foremost and nearly always. I imagine this still resembles the burnished sonority my German father heard in Berlin before the First World War.

Two-Piano Recital at Simon’s Rock: Manon Hutton-DeWys and Larry Wallach will Play Brahms and Stravinsky, September 1 at 7:30

I am excited to be performing repertory for two pianos with the wonderful pianist and now colleague at Simon’s Rock, Manon Hutton-DeWys.  We will be matching our trusty Steinway B (on the left in the picture) in Kellogg with a newly acquired Mason and Hamlin BB (on the right) to present great compositions that exploit the medium of piano duo, in sonority somewhere between solo piano and full orchestra.  Our varied program includes Brahms’s Sonata, an alternate version of the great Piano Quintet in F minor; Debussy’s late, dramatic “En Blanc et Noir” composed during World War I, with poignant expressions of French patriotism; Stravinsky’s spare, neoclassical Sonata, and Copland’s joyful “Danzon Cubano.”  We invite you to celebrate Labor Day weekend with us on Saturday, September 1 at 7:30.

Five in the Afternoon, and more…the Boston Classical Season, So Far

Rome’s Santa Cecilia Orchestra, led by Sir Antonio Pappano, with guest soloist Martha Argerich, visited Symphony Hall on Sunday, October 22nd, performing at the rather unusual hour of 5 p.m. Going into the concert, I was overtaken by the suggestion of my title for this review. Thinking of Lorca and Hemingway, who between them immortalized the phrase “Five in the Afternoon,” in connection with bullfighting, I wondered if we concert goers were in for a strong flavor of doom, transcended through ritual and magnificence. No such thing. The concert was all beauty and vitality, though certainly with magnificence about it.  This stunning event was the best orchestral concert of the fall in Boston.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard performs at Pleasant Valley as part of BSO collaboration with Mass Audubon Society. Photo Hilary Scott.

Pierre-Laurent Aimard Programs Birds, Ideas, and Modernist Brilliance

As Pierre Boulez’s “house pianist” at Ensemble Intercontemporain for many years, Pierre-Laurent Aimard could have been expected to be very brainy, in command of the most complex and challenging modern scores, with an artistic temperament on the cool side, eschewing virtuosic display and temperament. His deep insight into contemporary music has been amply demonstrated in his many past Tanglewood appearances, but may give the impression that he is a specialist in this area. This would be mistaken. As demonstrated in recordings and in these concerts, his virtues as a musician benefit a wide-ranging repertory, including (in his solo recital) the baroque Louis-Claude Daquin, the romantic Robert Schumann, and the earlier 20th century Maurice Ravel.

From left to right: Lucy Bardo, Kenneth Cooper, Joel Pitchon, Gili Melamed-Lev, and Judith Mendenhall.

Intimate Conversations, Bach and Beyond:
 Bach, Kabalevsky, Stravinsky, Mendelssohn, and Telemann — Kenneth Cooper and Friends at Camphill Ghent

It is perhaps best to begin this review with a word of practical advice. This concert was sold out. The hall at Camphill Ghent is rather small. Seating is general. So for future events, you would do well to buy your tickets early and to arrive early. But that should be no hardship. It will give you all the more opportunity to meet members of the Camphill Ghent community and others who live in the area, and that can only add to the pleasure of the concert. As far as seating goes, all the instruments in this program, with their wide but compatible range of color and dynamics came through with clarity, warmth, and strength, and I got the impression that that obtains in every part of this intimate space.

Gil Shaham’s Tchaikovsky and Bach: Double Virtuosity

Gil Shaham’s double appearance at Tanglewood made a powerful statement: that he was the master of both ends of the spectrum of virtuosity, with the implication that every other challenge would fall somewhere in between. On the one hand, there was a visceral, mercurial, spontaneous and totally commanding performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto, a work whose technical challenges are so great that it was supposed to have been declared unplayable by its intended first performer.

TMC Vocal Fellow Fleur Barron and Dominik Belavy perform in Kurt Weill's Seven Deadly Sins in Ozawa Hall. Photo Hilary Scott.

A Singer’s Notes 127: Great Things at the TMC, and Good Fun at the Berkshire Theatre Festival and Shakespeare and Company

In line with the excellent work I have heard at Tanglewood, was the Fellows’ vocal concert. Kurt Weill’s The Seven Deadly Sins was masterfully led by mezzo-soprano Fleur Barron, Nuno Coelho, conductor, with Nicholas Muni as director. Mr. Muni’s direction was not fussy, and it tapped into the knife-edged nature of the show without excess. Ms. Barron gave a masterful performance. Not only was her voice beguiling in every way, she moved decisively, and somehow naturally, through the opera. Each of her skills contributed to a larger convincing performance in this ice-cold piece.

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