With an impressive list of singing competition wins and opera roles, not least her brilliant Eurydice and Sibyl in the Pinchgut Opera’s production of Haydn’s opera of the Orpheus myth L’anima del Filosofo in 2010, Elena Xanthoudakis is now directing her energies toward researching and rediscovering Romantic Lieder written for trio, here soprano, clarinet, and piano, and she is doing done so in style with a definite passion for the genre, which is fitting to the original spirit of the music. The trio have recorded a CD called “The Shepherd and the Mermaid” of some of their finds (which I haven’t yet heard) and here perform the songs on it, including parts of Franz Lachner’s version of von Chamisso’s Frauenliebe und -leben cycle better known perhaps in the Schumann version and perhaps even the Loewe version. They are also publishing these pieces in print under the Kroma Editions name so all can have the opportunity to play them, obviously many of these are not on the usual free sheet music sites on the ‘net, having had to be dug out of libraries in London and Vienna, and some (according to Xanthoudakis) have never been recorded.
The Rockport Chamber Music Festival concluded its official season with a piano recital by Russell Sherman, consisting of music by Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt. Of course, things go on year round now in the Festival’s wonderful new hall, the Shalin Liu Performance Center—it is intimate, beautiful, sounds great, looks out onto the harbor and the open sea—not enough admiring can be said about it. So there will continue to be good reasons for music lovers to visit Rockport.
While a piano soloist has special control over their music, and complete polyphonic music at that, that is to say melody, harmony and range and all the parts or ‘voices’ where contrapuntal, and this endows the pianist also with solitude, there is a romance fundamental to piano music, the two hands creating a relationship and complementing each other, at the very least in register. Piano music for ‘four hands’ is then even more romantic, the chamber music-wise relationship of the two musicians, the complexity of the music and the ease with which it can slip into a thick intensity, a knife’s edge from chaos, the twice infinity combinations of expression, unanalyzable on the fly and loss of a degree of control, leave even more to faith, and make this music an especially creative performing art form. This is partly why Mozart called the organ the ‘king of instruments,’ though a pair of pianos of course has fewer stops, it is capable of greater percussion and so a peculiar rhythmic sense which the organ can’t express in the same way. On top of all this, Pascal and Ami Rogé chose some very difficult music for this concert, which showed off their technical ability, but more importantly gave them the material to produce a vivid operatic sound, singing duets in their fingers while playing the orchestra part as well.
In recent weeks the Boston Symphony Orchestra has celebrated the 200th anniversary of Robert Schumann’s birth with performances of the four Symphonies and the Piano Concerto, with mixed, eventually quite good, results.
Unfortunately I was not able to attend Alan Gilbert’s first concerts of the season, and this was my first experience of his work with the New York Philharmonic. I did hear his guest concert with the Boston Symphony last spring—a major event, as it included his magnificent Ives Fourth. It happens that both the Boston and the New York program were quite similar and revealed similar qualities in Gilbert’s conducting, although his approach was quite different. Both included a little-known early work by a major twentieth-century composer, and a concerto with a highly-respected pianist, as well as a symphony—eccentric symphonies in both cases, I’m tempted to add.