The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Scarlatti sonatas are hot again -– and not just at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival, which has its closing concert this afternoon.

August 31, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Trends come and trends go.

Who knows why?

A few years ago, it seemed as if I hadn’t heard the famous and overplayed “Appassionata” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven in decades. Everyone focused on the last three piano sonatas. And then suddenly there were four or five live performances of the “Appassionata” within a year or two. Can the “Waldstein” Sonata be far behind?

This past couple of years, it also seems almost impossible to escape “La Valse” by Maurice Ravel -– in its two-piano version or its original solo version, or in modified solo version, or in its orchestral arrangements. Maybe the popularity of the work says something about the decadence of our times and our society. Or maybe it has to do with the centennial this year of World War I, which destroyed and demolished the old monarchical “waltz” societies, much as Ravel does in his postmodern deconstruction of the waltz.

In any case, you might recall that only last Wednesday night, the 25th annual Token Creek Chamber Music Festival featured Smith College pianist Judith Gordon (below) in four Scarlatti sonatas along with 12 preludes by Frederic Chopin. (The festival closes with a SOLD-OUT performance of music by Franz Schubert, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Maurice Ravel and Claude Debussy this afternoon at 4 p.m.)

Here is a link to the festival’s website with information about the artists, the program and tickets:

http://tokencreekfestival.org

Judith Gordon plays 2014

The Ear loved that program about the originality of short forms and keyboard music for both its insight and its beauty. Here is a link to my review:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/classical-music-token-creek-festivals-exploration-of-chopin-and-scarlatti-proves-beautifully-compelling-and-teases-ones-desire-to-attend-one-of-the-two-remaining-concerts-on-saturda/

I hadn’t heard live Scarlatti performances in a while.

But that will change soon, I expect.

Because voila!

It turns out that another trend is in the making. Scarlatti is hot again. There are several new recordings of sonatas by Scarlatti (below) that just came out. And they are featured on the exceptional Deceptive Cadence blog done by NPR, or National Public Radio.

The blog posting – “A Surge of Scarlatti Sonatas” – was written by blog chief Tom Huizenga and even features some sound samples from the various records.

Domenico Scarlatti

I’ll be anxious to see how they measure up to The Ear’s favorite recordings, which include, in approximate order, recordings by: Vladimir Horowitz; Alexandre Tharaud; Andras Schiff; and Mikhail Pletnev.

Here is a link to the NPR story and review. I hope you enjoy it.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/08/28/343705852/a-surge-of-scarlatti-sonatas

And let us know which one of the 555 sonatas by Scarlatti is your favorite. Slow or fast? Major or minor? Extroverted and dance-like or introspective and meditative?

At the bottom is a popular YouTube video of one of my all-time favorite Scarlatti sonatas, in B minor — Longo 33 or Kirkpatrick 87 — and performed to perfection by Vladimir Horowitz, who brings both clarity and soul to its almost prayer-like intensity.

I would also like to dedicate the performance and the sonata to the late University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, for whom a free and public memorial celebration will be held today at 3 p.m. in Mills Hall.

Include a link to a YouTube recording, if you can.

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: If you are saddened by the deaths of Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall, YOU MUST HEAR THIS: Johann Sebastian Bach’s keyboard transcription of the slow movement from the famous oboe concert by Alessandro Marcello.

August 14, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Not a lot of words today.

I feel like hearing music, not talking or writing.

Maybe I feel like hearing soulful and quiet music because of the sad news about the deaths of comedian Robin Williams (below top) and actress Lauren Bacall (below bottom), two losses — the first a suicide, the second natural — that make my world smaller, less beautiful and less fun.

Robin Williams

Lauren Bacall

So here, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom, is the French pianist Alexander Tharaud (below, in a photo by Marco Borggreve)  – an artist I really like, especially in Baroque repertoire like the Johann Sebastian Bach, Jean-Philippe Rameau, Francois Couperin and Domenico Scarlatti works that he has recorded.

Here he is playing the transcription that Johann Sebastian Bach made of the profoundly beautiful slow movement from the Baroque oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello. He has also recorded it on CD for Harmonia Mundi. Such beautiful music, and not so hard to play, at least technically.

Alexandre Tharaud  Marco Borggreve Virgin Classics

Mr. Bach (below) knew a good thing when he heard it and wasn’t afraid to transcribe this wind and orchestra work to the keyboard, which was his forte. Bach was no purist.

Bach1

So enjoy as you will.

And leave your own suggestions, with a link if you can.


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS songful, lyrical and movingly bittersweet Cavatina movement from the Sonata for Cello and Piano by Francis Poulenc.

March 16, 2014
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Perhaps you missed the performance a week ago Saturday night by University of Wisconsin-Madison cellist Parry Karp (below left) and UW-Oshkosh pianist Eli Kalman (below right), who seem perfectly matched in their technical abilities and interpretive viewpoints.

Parry Karp and Eli Kalman

The longtime duo (below top) turned in terrific performances of demanding music by Ludwig van Beethoven (Violin Sonata in G Major, Op 30, No. 3, as arranged by Parry Karp), 24 Preludes for Piano by Dmitri Shostakovich (as arranged by the contemporary Russian composer Lera Auerbach) and the lovely Sonata for Cello and Piano by the 20th-century French composer Francis Poulenc (below bottom), which for The Ear centered around a lovely Cavatina slow movement that has that tuneful heartbreak so typical of Poulenc.

Parry Karp and Eli Kalman 2014

Francis Poulenc

If you missed the performance, you have another chance to hear much of the program, including the difficult to play but lovely to hear Poulenc sonata.

The Karp-Kalman duo will be again perform the Cello Sonata by Poulenc in Brittingham Gallery 3 of the Chazen Museum of Art a week from today, on Sunday, March 23. They will perform it for FREE on Wisconsin Public Radio’s weekly program “Sunday Live From the Chazen” that airs live statewide (88.7 FM in the Madison area) most Sundays from 12:30 to 2 p.m. Also on the program is a transcription of the song “O Tod, wie bitter bist du,” Op. 121, No. 3, by Johannes Brahms. The second half will be the 24 Preludes for solo piano of Dmitri Shostakovich in the cello-piano arrangement by Russian composer Lera Auerbach.

SAL3

But whether you hear the Cavatina – a word for a simple song, a genre made famous when used by Beethoven in his late String Quartet in B-Flat Major, Op. 130 — live or not, YOU MUST HEAR IT. It is sheer beauty that uses the kind of popular and accessible vernacular music from the music hall that characterizes so much of Poulenc’s music.

So here are the French cellist Jean-Guihen Queyras and the French pianist Alexandre Tharaud, in a recording for the Harmonia Mundi label, as posted in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Use the COMMENT section to let The Ear know what you think, if you like the music and if you know of other works that are similar to it, for they too will probably be must-hear’s.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfEsw38Ru24

Enhanced by Zemanta

Classical music: Should soloists perform using a score or not? Which is more liberating for the performer, for the audience and especially for the music?

January 6, 2013
10 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

As he often does, the New York Times’ senior music critic Anthony Tommasini recently raised an important question:

After 200 years or so, are we starting to see a trend developing whereby the stigma of performing solo music with a score is disappearing and the use of scores is increasing in legitimacy? Many conservatories or schools of music even require students to perform without a score for a degree recital. But that may be changing.

Tommasini’s column had the perfect headline: “Playing by heart – without or without the score.”

And Tommasini drew on three specific recent examples of pianists: Alexandre Tharaud, who played Scarlatti and Satie’s “Le Boeuf sur le Toit” at Le Poisson Rouge with a score; Andras Schiff, who played both books of J.S. Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” without a score; and Emanuel Ax, who used a score for solo Bach but did not use a score for solo Schoenberg. I have also seen Christopher O’Riley and others use scores on an iPad with a foot switch to turn pages. (All of Tommasini’s examples are seen below. First is Alexandre Tharaud, below, in a photo by Ruby Washington of The New York Times. Tharaud’s playing is also heard at the bottom.)

Alexandre Tharaud at Poisson Rouge with score Ruby Washington NY Times

Is this a healthy or unhealthy development? Well it seems to depend on the individual performer and certain kinds of music (generally you find Chopin played without a score, but Elliott Carter and other new music with a score.)

Here is a link to Tommasini’s think piece:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/01/arts/music/memorizations-loosening-hold-on-concert-tradition.html?ref=anthonytommasini&_r=0

The Ear is of two minds.

On the one, hand I remember reading pianist veteran Murray Perahia (below) saying that although he loved playing chamber music and did so with a score, he felt most on top of the music when he memorized it and played it without a score. And the concerts I have heard by him all suggest he is right.

I’ll also bet that Murray Perahia has excellent nerves for performing, and a relative lack of stage fright of the incapacitating kind. He has the right temperament.

murray perahia at piano

On the other hand, even a master like Sviatoslav Richter (below) spent his last years using a score – and many critics said with great results. Of course, he said he turned to the score because age brought a decline in his perfect pitch, which used to help guide him through scoreless performances without wrong notes. Plus, the ability to memorize deteriorates with age.

richterwithcross1

And I can’t deny it: There is something so basic, so elemental and essential, about seeing a musician sit down at a piano or a cello and or stand with a violin, and start making music without any music in front of him or her.

It just all comes from within. Yes it is showy and impressive, but it also inner and poetic. I feel like I am hearing more directly and personally from the performers and that the lack of a score allows for certain liberties of subjective interpretation. (Below is a photo by Ruby Washington of The New York Times of Andras Schiff recently playing J.S. Bach by memory at the 92nd Street Y.)

Andras Schiff playing Bach's WTC by menory at 92nd St Y Ruby Washington NY Times

What do you think about playing with a score?

Should solo pianists, singers, cellists, violinists and others now feel that using a score is just fine?

I’ll bet that many of them don’t t really use the score They have already have the music memorized and simply find the score reassuring, as a kind of insurance against memory lapses and the like. (Below is a photo by Hiroyuki Ito of  The New York Times of Emanuel Ax using a score to play some solo Bach before he played with an ensemble.)

Emanuel Ax using a score with NY Phil Hiroyuki Ito for NY Tmes

But what about opera singers using a score?

What do you think?

If you are a performer, The Ear especially wants to hear from you.

And if are an audience member, I also want to hear from you about what you think of heating a performer play scoreless or with a score.


    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,202 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,080,034 hits
%d bloggers like this: