I’ve been harping on acoustics in my past few reviews, not only as a personal crotchet (which I must own), but because the issue has been cropping up of its own accord. It’s particularly frustrating that Chapin Hall at Williams is so fine to look at, while its sound it is so dismal, but to be fair, it was built for academic pomp, not music. What’s more the acoustically outstanding auditorium at the Clark is not often used for music. However, Berkshire County people are lucky to be in easy reach of several halls which are among the best in the worldÃ‚Â—I mean not only Symphony Hall in Boston, or the wonderful Seiji Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, but Mechanics Hall in Worcester (1857, sadly underused for music), the Sosnoff Theater at Bard’s Fisher Center (2003), which I’ve already discussed on several occasions, and the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, also on the Hudson, built between 1871 and 1875 to the designs of George B. Post. It’s not the only concert hall to have been constructed as a multipurpose building, but its vaulted roof and Greek temple which dominate the rooftops and steeples of this once grand commercial city is unusual. Its acoustics are legendary, and I’ve wanted to hear music there for some time. I’m grateful that my responsibilities to BFA have allowed me to give it a priority, and I’ll most certainly come back regularly to hear this great hall, the excellent Albany Symphony, and as many as possible of the other compelling events it hosts.
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.
Thomas Adès’ affinity for the music of Sibelius was manifest last summer when he led the TMC Orchestra in a program that included the Symphony no. 7. In my review of that performance, I called attention to the relationship between mystery and space that is evident in this music and is also a factor in Adès’s own works. These parameters were present in the current program but not as prominently: mystery was eclipsed by performances that were energetic even to the point of aggressiveness. This might have been a function of the need to project into the cavernous reaches of the shed; both Adès and Tetzlaff, the soloist in the Sibelius Violin Concerto, favored large gestures, emotional intensity, and the upper end of the dynamic spectrum. The results were musically clear and impressive, appropriate for Adès’s own music but sometimes less so for Sibelius.
Otakar Ostrčil was a prominent Czech composer who has fallen into obscurity. His dates, 1879-1935, span a key moment in the history of Central Europe, for it was in 1918 that the Czech lands became part of the new country of Czechoslovakia, independent of Austrian rule. In the preceding decades, Czech writers and artists had often attempted to define a national identity for themselves, as can be heard in many works of Smetana and Dvořák.
We normally think of operas as being serious or comical. But a number of operas—some familiar, others forgotten—are neither of these. Instead, they are fantastical, dealing with such things as the fairy world and sorcerers, or with the world of dreams. One of the best such works is Ravel’s L’enfant et les sortilèges(which might be freely translated as “The Boy Who Meets Objects and Creatures that Magically Begin to Speak and Dance”), which has recently been blessed by two astounding new recordings (conducted by, respectively, Stéphane Denève and Mikko Franck).At the present site I have recently reviewed a very engaging Czech opera by Otakar Ostrčil, based on a quasi-folktale by Tolstoy, in which the Devil seeks to seduce three brothers into serving his own destructive ends.
The time-frame of “contemporary music” keeps expanding. “Modern music” was a term (and the name of an American music magazine) current from the 20’s through ‘40’s, but is still used to refer to music from the 1890’s on. After the war, we have the beginnings of “contemporary music” with Boulez, Carter, Stockhausen, the Darmstadt composers and the Cage followers who were busy decrying “modern music” as passé. Since the late sixties when twelve-tone music was periodically declared a dead-end in the pages of the Sunday New York Times and elsewhere, we have had “post-modern” music, which includes “new romanticism.” Tanglewood has had a “Contemporary Music” festival since 1961, so we can safely say that the “contemporary” era is at least 57 years old.
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.