The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: TONIGHT through Sunday night, the Ancora String Quartet reprises the program it just performed on a 10-day tour of Germany

September 4, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ancora String Quartet (below, in a photo by Barry Lewis) has sent the following announcement about its upcoming concerts in Wisconsin – including two in Madison – that will reprise the group’s recent tour to Germany.

Members are (below, from left) violinist Wes Luke, violinist Robin Ryan, violist Marika Fischer Hoyt; and cellist Benjamin Whitcomb.

“The Ancora String Quartet (below, rehearsing in Nieder-Olm during the tour) is fresh back from Germany, our first overseas tour, which we called “Deutsch-Amerikanische “Träume,” or “German-American Dreams.”

“We are partnering with a wonderful mezzo-soprano, Melinda Paulsen, who serves on the voice faculty at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst in Frankfurt, Germany.

“Together, we have prepared a program of works by German and American composers, for string quartet, and for mezzo-soprano and quartet.

“We spent 10 fabulous days in Germany in August of 2018, performing at town halls, concert halls, churches, and a music school, in Nieder-Olm, Frankfurt, Vellmar, Schlitz and St. Goar on the Rhine. It was wonderful and we can’t wait to go back again in future years.

“We are back in Madison now with Melinda, to perform this same program in concert venues around the state of Wisconsin.

“We are grateful for funding from several German organizations, and from the Kassel-Dane Sister County Task Force.

“Melinda and the members of this quartet (below, in Schlitz) are thrilled that this project has taken shape, are pleased with our recent reception in Germany, and look forward to sharing with Wisconsin audiences a program exploring the intersections between two cultures that are quite distinct today, but which share deep, common roots.”

Here is the “German-American Dreams” Tour, Sept. 4-9, at venues in Wisconsin

Admission is FREE except where noted

  • TONIGHT, Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 7 p.m. at Capitol Lakes Grand Hall, Madison
  • Wednesday, Sept. 5 at noon on The Midday on Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison and at 6 p.m. at Germantown Community Library, Germantown
  • Thursday, Sept. 6, at 7:30 p.m. in the Light Recital Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. For ticket information, go to: https://mastercal.uww.edu/MasterCalendar/EventDetails.aspx?data=hHr80o3M7J72xlWbKk4NucsOjgrgFcp7yGVHvRRLZ2VDe4XLariznlZrFvCFdeeY
  • Friday, Sept. 7, at 7:30 p.m. at the Janesville Women’s Club
  • Saturday, Sept. 8, at 7:30 p.m. at the Eaton Chapel, Beloit College
  • Sunday, Sept. 9, at 7:30 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Madison. Admission is $15.

PROGRAM

“Dover Beach” by Samuel Barber

Drei Lieder (Three Songs) by Viktor Ullmann

“Melancholia,” Op. 13, by Paul Hindemith

Intermission

Quartet in B Minor, Op. 11, by Samuel Barber (with the more transparent slow movement that later became the orchestral “Adagio for Strings,” heard in the YouTube video at the bottom)

“Wesendonck” Lieder, WWV 91 (arranged by Stefan Heucke) by Richard Wagner


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Classical music: Today is the Winter Solstice and winter officially starts. The Ear greets it once again by listening to Franz Schubert’s song cycle “Winterreise.”

December 21, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Despite all the snow and cold of the past few weeks, winter officially begins today.

The winter solstice, bringing with it the longest night of the year, arrives today at 4:44 a.m., Central Standard Time, this morning, Wednesday, Dec. 21.

Winter Trees

To mark the occasion, people often listen to appropriate music such as the “Winter” section of “The Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi or the “Winter Dreams” Symphony by Peter Tchaikovsky.

Over the past several years, something else has become a tradition for The Ear.

Every year on the arrival of the Winter Solstice, he listens to a recording of the song cycle “Winterreise” (Winter Journey”) by Franz Schubert.

It takes about 70 minutes.

One unforgettable hour plus.

Too bad it isn’t performed live every year or featured every year on Wisconsin Public Radio.

There are so many excellent recordings of the work.

Over the years, The Ear has listened to the songs performed in recordings by Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, Haken Hagegard, Mark Padmore, Jonas Kaufmann and UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe, who one year did perform it live with pianist Martha Fischer on the Winter Solstice at the First Unitarian Society of Madison *(below) — and it was magical.

Winterreise applause

Yet his favorite remains the version by the English tenor Ian Bostridge with Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes for EMI Records. (Bostridge also made one for Hyperion Records with pianist Julius Drake.)

The Ear likes the way Bostridge uses a kind of Sprachstimme or speech singing to bring expressiveness to the music. He also like the touch of lightness that the tenor range brings to the music, which is plenty dark by itself.

Also, every year, The Ear sees if he has a new favorite song in the cycle. But so far he still has two favorites, which you can find on YouTube along with the rest of the cycle.

One is the opening song, “Gute Nacht” or “Good Night.” It is hard to imagine a better way to kick off the mysterious cycle than with such an obviously metaphorical song in which “night” plays so many roles and has so many meanings.

Here it is:

And of course, he also loves the last song, “Der Leiermann” or “The Organ Grinder.” Listen to its alternation with between voice and piano, to that drone broken by silence showing despair, solitude and loneliness, and you understand why it was also a favorite of the great modernist playwright Samuel Beckett.

Here it is:

The Ear wishes you a hopeful winter – despite all the signs that it will instead be a winter of deep discontent – and hopes you will find time to take in “Winterreise.”

It is Franz Schubert’s winter journey.

But it is also my own and yours.

Here is Bostridge talking about what the cycle means to him:

Enjoy.

And tell us if you have a favorite performance of “Winterreise” and why?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: The Ear hears the impressive young pianist Joyce Yang and thinks Madison needs more piano recitals. Plus, a FREE concert of female vocal duets is at noon on Friday.

October 22, 2015
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale, held 12:15-1 p.m. at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, will feature sopranos Susan Savage Day and Rebekah Demaree with pianist Sharon Jensen in duets by Gabriel Faure, Jacques Aubert, Jules Massenet, Claudio Monteverdi, UW-Madison alumnus Lee Hoiby and more.

By Jacob Stockinger

There he was last Thursday, sitting in the lower balcony in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

The Ear was in Piano Himmel, listening to a masterful performance.

The occasion was a solo piano recital by Joyce Yang (below), an up-and-coming, prize-winning Korea-born and America-trained pianist, still in her late 20s, who was making her Madison debut.

Joyce Yang

And the same thought haunted The Ear, himself an avid amateur pianist, that also came to him during a fine student piano recital this summer.

That thought was simply this: Madison needs to have many more solo piano recitals.

The piano is perhaps the one most commonly studied musical instrument and is a staple of music education, so the potential audience should be there. The repertoire is vast and wonderful. And the piano just hasn’t been receiving its due compared to the many new choral groups and chamber music ensembles that always seem to be proliferating in the area.

The Wise Teacher recalls years ago when almost a dozen solo piano recitals happened during a single season. This season there are only three -– and two have already taken place.

One was the recital of Mendelssohn, Franck and Chopin by Spanish pianist Daniel del Pino (below top)  on Oct. 4 at Farley’s House of Pianos on its Salon Piano Series. (The Ear couldn’t go because he is was in Chicago that afternoon hearing a piano recital by Maurizio Pollini.) The second was by Joyce Yang. The third one will be the performance by UW-Madison virtuoso professor Christopher Taylor (below bottom) on Friday, Feb 26. (No program has yet been announced.)

Daniel del PIno square

Christopher Taylor new profile

Here is an afterthought: Maybe the Madison Symphony Orchestra could start a piano series like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra offers on Sunday afternoons?

Let’s be clear: This is a matter more of pleasure and education than of justice.

Take Yang’s performance, which drew an unfortunately small house of only 300-400.

The first half was remarkable for both the clarity and color she possessed. Ethnic themes, folk songs and folk dances, especially Latin American and Spanish in nature, united the first half of her program.

She opened with two sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti, the three “Estampes” or Prints by Claude Debussy and two pieces from “Iberia” by Isaac Albeniz and three virtuosic “cowboy” dances by the Argentinian composer Alberto Ginastera.

In all those works, Yang proved a complete and mature keyboard artist. Her technique is rock solid, but it is her musicality that most impresses the listener. The Ear was particularly struck by Yang’s command of dynamics, her ability to play softly and still project, and to delineate and balance various voices.

The second half, all works by Sergei Rachmaninoff, proved less satisfying to The Ear, if not to the audience. It featured two transcriptions of vocal works or songs — “Dreams” and  “Vocalise”  — by the late American virtuoso pianist Earl Wild (below).

earl wild

Unfortunately, Wild himself possessed a Lisztean (or Horowitzean) command of keyboard technique. And like Franz Liszt (or Vladimir Horowitz), Wild just couldn’t resist adding Liberace-like flourishes, flash and trash to his transcriptions in places where simplicity rather than Big Chords would have more than sufficed.

At certain points in a Wild transcription, the work inevitably sounds louche or decadent and over-the-top, like something you might hear at a piano bar or in a cocktail lounge. In short, they are more piano than music. (You can listen to Earl Wild himself performing his own transcription of Rachmaninoff’s “Vocalise” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Then came  the Sonata No. 2 in B-flat minor by Rachmaninoff (below) in its revised 1931 edition. To be honest, this is a Big Piece that is full of sound and fury signifying not very much that The Ear can discern. (The Ear much prefers Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, preludes and Etudes Tableaux.)

To be sure, the bombastic sonata requires impressive and powerful piano playing, which must explain the muscular work’s popularity among professional pianists and certain segments of the public. It is a Wower and wow us it does, although many of us would rather be seduced than wowed.

Rachmaninoff

The sonata surely is effective in live performance and brought an immediate standing ovation. That, in turn, was rewarded with another Earl Wild transcription this time of George Gershwin’s “The Man I Love.” Too bad the love once again seemed overpowered by difficult but flawlessly executed scales and runs.

But putting those shortcomings aside, the sound of an amazingly played piano recital was such a welcome experience.

The Ear hopes that many more of them are somehow in store.

 


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