The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra concert shows Andrew Sewell is a born Bruckner conductor who uses a smaller orchestra to reveal structure

January 30, 2017
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) gave the second concert of its season on Friday evening in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

WCO lobby

The program opened with a rarely performed symphony, No. 30 in D Major, K. 202, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Mozart did not muster in this score anything like the ideas he delivered in his symphonies on either side of this one.

Still, it is an engaging piece, and maestro Sewell always shows great sympathy for the Austrian Classical-era composers of the late 18th century, so the performance was nicely molded.

The guest soloist this time was Croatian-born guitarist Ana Vidovic (below). She was originally scheduled to play the Second Guitar Concerto by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, but for some reason she switched late on to the more substantial Concierto de Aranjuez by the 20th-century Spanish composer Joaquín Rodrigo.

ana-vidovic-2017

Unfortunately, Vidovic followed other guitarists of today who feel they must fortify their performances with electronic amplification, so she brought her own rig with her. The result was a boomy, hollow sound, completely artificial, pitted in fake balance against the natural world of the orchestral writing that was rendered, by the way, with charm and delicacy.

The composer (below) was very careful about not allowing the orchestra to overwhelm the intimate guitar, and generations of guitar players have been able to perform this and parallel concertos without benefit of sonic hype.

Alas, the combination of technology with egotism! Vidovic is obviously a musician of genuine artistry, but she quite sabotaged her playing by use of this six-string howitzer. And the knobs were still on through an encore, a trivial Cavatina by one Stanley Meyer.

joaquin rodrigo

The evening was richly redeemed by the main work. Sewell has, in recent years, been working his way into the symphonies of the 19th century, late Romantic Austrian composer Anton Bruckner—a composer usually tackled by large orchestras. But he has brought off the first two numbered symphonies with aplomb, and now was the turn of the Third.

This is a work with a complex history of versions and revisions. Sewell bravely chose to use the 1874 revision of the original 1873 version, rather than the ill-fated revision of 1877 or the once-standard bowdlerization of 1889.

Sewell could command only 20 string players, but they proved quite sufficient, even with the occasional divisions of the violins. The reduced lushness resulting allowed inner parts to come through, and the rest of the orchestra played magnificently. Sewell understands Bruckner’s individual rhetoric, with its stop-and-start pacings and dramatic shifts between tremendous power and great delicacy.

Sewell (below) is indeed a born Bruckner conductor. The second movement in particular I have never heard played so eloquently. (You can hear the second movement of the 1874 edition in the YouTube video at the bottom.) I don’t know if Sewell plans to probe still further into Bruckner’s symphonies, but I am ready to follow him eagerly if he does.

AndrewSewellnew

Far from being put off by the often-maligned music of Bruckner, the very large audience gave the performance a justly deserved standing ovation. This was, I think, a genuine landmark in the WCO’s history.


Classical music education: The Ear takes the “Cello Cure” at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and now can’t wait for another “treatment” next summer.

June 19, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Last Saturday night, for the first time ever, I went to the free public concert put on every June by the National Summer Cello Institute, which takes place each summer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

Cello Choir 2014 with Uri Vardi

The NSCI is under the direction of University of Wisocnsin-Madison cello professor Uri Vardi (below top) and his wife Hagit Vardi (below body), who works with the UW-Madison Institute of Integrative Medicine and emphasizes the use of the Feldenkrais Method to help performers in workshops called, fittingly, “You Body is Your Strad.”

Uri Vardi with cello COLOR

hagitvardistretching artm

Here is a link to a previous post about the cello institute, with still other links to even earlier stories:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/11/classical-music-a-free-cello-choir-concert-will-take-place-this-saturday-night-at-the-university-of-wisconsin-madison-it-features-new-music-and-works-by-villa-lobos-poulenc-j-s-bach-cesar-frank/

The event proved so thoroughly enjoyable and so deeply pleasurable, and put me in such a great mood and frame of mind, that a close friend referred to the experience as the “Cello Cure.”

I won’t argue because it sure did feel curative.

But then I find that experiencing great beauty often feels that way.

One came away from the concert -– which included a cello choir of 16 undergraduate, graduate and professional cellists, selected by audition, from around the nation and perhaps even the world –- completely understanding why the cello, with its human voice-like singing tone, is the favorite instrument of so many listeners. (For The Ear, the cello ranks right up there, just below the piano and alongside the violin and the oboe.)

Cello and bow

One thing The Ear liked was the lack of purism. Enjoyment was the goal of the evening, and so the program featured some simply gorgeous isolated single movements from sonatas and concertos, and NOT the entire pieces. The Great Hits format worked exceptionally well. And so was featuring soloists, and not just ensembles, for the first time.

And on top of all the cellos, The Ear also had two special and bonus experiences: He heard Anna Whiteway, a fabulously talented undergraduate soprano at the UW-Madison, and he heard what sounds like an eminently listenable contemporary composer, Kyle Price, who will be attending the UW-Madison for a graduate degree.

So here are the highlights with photos and not a lot of commentary except to say I found excellence from everyone and disappointment from no one.

The concert opened up with UW-Madison conductor James Smith (below right) leading the famous “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 5, with its soaring and lyrical soprano aria or wordless vocalise, by Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos. In it and the other similar suites, the composer attempted to adapt and update the musical style of Johann Sebastian Bach to his native country’s indigenous folk melodies and dance rhythms.

Cello Choir 2014 Jim Smith

Here are members of the cello choir, which wouldn’t fit well in a single photo.

Cello Choir 20144 left

Cello Choir 2014 right

And here is Anna Whiteway, who got enthusiastic applause from the cellists and the woefully small audience of several dozen listeners. No wonder. She is The Real Deal. She possesses beautiful tone, big volume, pleasant and modest vibrato, excellent diction and a thoroughly confident stage presence:

Cello Choir 2014 Anna Whiteway

Here is Brian Klickman and pianist Claire Mallory in the poignantly moving Cavatina movement from the Cello Sonata by Francis Poulenc.

Cello Choir 2014 Brian Klickman, Claire Mallory piano

Here is that wonderfully tuneful last movement from Cesar Franck‘s Violin Sonata transcribed for cello and played by Cordula Aeschbacher with pianist Claire Mallory:

Cello Choir 2014 Cordula Aeschbacher

Then Aleks Tengesdal played the impressively turbulent first movement of the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, with piano accompaniment.

Cello Choir 2014 Aleks Tengesdal, Claire Mallory piano

Julian Mueller closed out the first half with the gorgeous Andante Cantabile by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, who, it seems, was never at a loss for a beautiful, bittersweet melody. (You can hear it played by superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma in a YouTube video at the bottom):

Cello Choir 2014 Julian Mueller

The second half opened with seven cellists playing the Recitative and Meditation movements from the young contemporary American composer Kyle Price’s “Requiem in Memory of Connie Barrett.” The Ear found it a very promising and appetizing foretaste of what sounds like a listener-friendly composing style, something too often missing from new music:

Cello Choir 2014 Kyle Price Requiem cellos

Then came back-to-back performances by father and son cellists.

Son Andrew Laven played three movements –- the Bourees 1 and 2 and the Gigue -– from the Suite No. 4 for Solo Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach:

Cello Choir 2014 Andrew Laven

Father Steven Laven, with pianist Christina Lalog, played “The Tears of Jacqueline” by Jacques Offfenbach, a work he said he first heard when it was dedicated to the late great British cellist Jacqueline du Pre. You understand the dedication because the piece is appropriately lyrical in its lament:

Cello Choir 2014 Steven Laven, Christina Lalog piano

And then the concert closed as it opened, with the music of Villa-Lobos. But this was a work The Ear didn’t know, the “Bachianas Brasileiras” No. 1, which has a lovely and soulful slow movement and catchy fugal finale:

Cello Choir 2014 Bachianas Brasileiras No. 1

As an encore, the cello choir demonstrated an improvisational exercise that it used during the two-week workshop. It involves a conductor using unusual and unpredictable hands movements that are unrelated to a particular score or piece of music, and to which the cellists must each respond as they desire or hear is necessary. To The Ear, it sounded a bit like the famous simultaneous, full-orchestra crescendo in the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” song from “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

Cello Choir 2014 Improvisation exercise

Uri Vardi graciously thanked the small but very appreciative audience that rose to its feet and added: “See you next year.”

Indeed, he will.

He will almost certainly see The Ear, although I hope the NSCI can find a way to avoid a conflict with a concert on the same night by the popular Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. Audiences shouldn’t have to choose between two such deserving groups.

And Vardi should also see a full house in Mills Hall.

The Cello Choir concert is that good and that lovely, that beautiful and, yes, that curative.


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

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