The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Irish pianist John O’Conor charms and excels in solo works by Haydn, Schubert, Beethoven and John Field. Ancora String Quartet plays Nielsen and Debussy Friday night. 

May 14, 2018
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ALERT: The Ancora String Quartet will close out its 17th season with a performance this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street. The program features the String Quartet No. 4 in F Major, Op. 44, by Danish composer Carl Nielsen and the String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 10, by Claude Debussy. Tickets are available at the door and are $15, $12 for seniors, $5 for children. A reception follows the concert. For more information, go to: https://www.ancoraquartet.com

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 Isthmusand 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.

By John W. Barker

Lovers of piano music were given a special treat this past weekend — a double-header, allowing access to two different dimensions of one of the important pianists of our time.

John O’Conor (below), the Irish pianist, appeared on Friday evening with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (WCO), presenting a stimulating performance of the Piano Concerto No. 3 by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Then, the following evening, at the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, O’Conor gave a solo recital that showed the more personalized aspects of his art.

O’Conor concentrates particularly on the early Romantics in both his performing and recording activities, and from such concentrations was the recital program derived.

He began it with a reach back to an early favorite, Franz Joseph Haydn, in the Sonata No. 32 in B minor. In this work from 1776 O’Conor could find hints of the Romantic spirit to come — in a composer usually more identified with High Classicism.

The pianist was more fully in his own comfort zone, however, with the four Impromptus that make up the Op. 90 (D. 899) by Franz Schubert.

Dating from 1827, the composer’s last year, these are simply marvelous gems, and they made me realize that part of their delightfulness is what differentiates them from Schubert’s larger-scale piano works (sonatas,a fantasy, etc.).

The latter correspond to his efforts at music of grand scope and structure, as in the string quartets and symphonies, whereas the shorter piano pieces correspond to Schubert’s Lieder, or art songs, in their greater directness and intimacy. O’Conor played them with conviction and affection.

After the intermission came music by two composers with whom O’Conor has his most-established affinity. He has been the outstanding and crucial champion in the revival of interest in the piano music — both concertos and the pace-setting nocturnes — by John Field (1782-1837, below), the Irish pianist and composer who is recognized now as an important forerunner to Chopin.

Three of Field’s nocturnes (Nos. 5, 6, and 18) were presented, the last a kind of picture of party life in old Russia — where Field spent his later years — ending at the tolling of midday chimes. (You can hear John O’Conor play the lyrical and lullaby-like Nocturne No. 6 in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Beethoven’s music is O’Conor’s other speciality. He has recorded all of the sonatas and the concertos, among other things. For this program, he performed the Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor (1801), a work nowadays cursed by the nickname given its first movement, “Moonlight.” He reminded us that the other two movements are the more fascinating and important ones.

As an encore, he suggested the John Field connection with one of Chopin’s own nocturnes.

Before each half of the program, the pianist gave his own comments, on both personal and analytical matters, and laced with his delightful Irish charm.

O’Conor performed on the amazing 1906 Chickering concert grand piano that Tim Farley has so lovingly restored. The post-recital conversation I had with O’Conor suggested that he had had too little time to adjust to the very remarkable individualities of the instrument. We may hope that he will return to Madison to fill out that acquaintance.

And we hope for more examples of the fruitful cooperation between the WCO and Farley’s in jointly bringing so fine a performer as this to the Madison scene.


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Classical music: The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has posted online an impressive list of concerts for the 2016-17 season. Plus, the Willy Street Chamber Players promise to make it easy for their listeners tonight to also get over to the Handel Aria Competition.

July 8, 2016
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ALERT: The Ear likes to see cooperation and collegiality, especially as the classical music scene in Madison gets busier and more competitive. And cooperation is exactly what he heard this week on Wisconsin Public Radio‘s noon-time show “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland

Members of the Willy Street Chamber Players and the Handel Aria Competition, which both take place tonight, appeared back-to-back on the show and behaved as true colleagues.

The Willy Street Chamber Players said their program of Tchaikovsky s “Souvenir of Florence” and “Entr’acte” by Caroline Shaw should run about an hour — from 6 to 7 p.m. — and that they would do everything possible (less talking perhaps?) to make sure audience members could also attend the fourth annual Handel Aria Competition, which starts at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, and is held in conjunction with the Madison Early Music Festival, which takes place this week. 

Here is a link with more details about the Willy Street Chamber Players:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/classical-music-next-friday-night-starts-the-second-season-of-the-acclaimed-willy-street-chamber-players/

And here is a link to the Handel Aria Competition.

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/07/01/classical-music-handel-aria-competition-announces-2016-finalists-to-sing-next-thursday-night/

By Jacob Stockinger

Get out your datebooks.

Most of the major classical music organizations and presenters in town – the Madison Symphony Orchestra, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, the Madison Opera, the Wisconsin Union Theater to name a few — have already announced their new seasons for 2016-27.

And now the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music has posted its calendar of concerts for the new season, most of which take place in Mills Hall (below) on its website.

MIllsHall2

To be clear, there are few specific programs listed with composers and works. Sometimes that happens because the programs just aren’t decided yet. And sometimes they aren’t decided because the makeup of some groups – like the UW Symphony Orchestra and the UW Chamber Orchestra – aren’t known until school begins in September.

Nonetheless, it is an impressive list that runs into the hundreds when you include student recitals.

Some of the higher profile concerts are ticketed, but most remain FREE to the public.

And you can find out a lot from the calendar, even if it is incomplete and subject to change.

You can see the operas that will be staged by the University Opera – namely Giuseppe Verdi’s “Falstaff” and Benjamin Britten’s “The Turn of the Screw.”

You can find out about the UW Choral Union (below), which will perform works by Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven and Leonard Bernstein as well as a rarely performed worked based on Walt Whitman by Paul Hindemith.

UW Choral Union 11-2013 Vaughan Williams soloists

You can see the groups that will participate in the third annual Brass Fest, including the Stockholm Chamber Brass on its first tour of the U.S.

You can see when virtuoso pianist Christopher Taylor (below) will perform as well as when his fellow faculty members will play recitals.

Christopher Taylor new profile

Ditto for the renowned Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), the Wingra Woodwind Quintet and the Wisconsin Brass Quintet.

Pro Arte Quartet new 2 Rick Langer

And same goes for the 38th annual Karp Family Labor Day concert on Sept. 5, which officially opens the news season.

There is just so much to choose from!

Happy hunting!

Here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/


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