The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Farley’s underappreciated Salon Piano Series shines again with duo-pianists Robert Plano and Paola Del Negro

September 29, 2017
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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. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

Roberto Plano appeared last season in a four-piano concert in the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos. This year, to open the 2017-18 season in the same series on last Sunday afternoon, the Boston-based pianist brought along his pianist wife, Paola Del Negro, for a duo program of utter fascination. (They are below.)

The first half of the program was devoted to music for piano-four hands, the duo alternating between primo and secondo parts. Robert Schumann’s six “Pictures From the East,” Op. 66, are examples of the composer’s important duo output.

Burgmein was the pen name of the covert composer better known as the influential music promoter and publisher Giulio Ricordi (below). His set of six duet pieces evoking characters from the Italian Renaissance Commedia dell’Arte tradition followed.

Then came two of the Hungarian Dances (No. 2 and 5) by Johannes Brahms in their original piano-duo form. (You can hear them play Hungarian Dances by Brahms in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Ending the program’s first half was one of its biggest hits. After composing the great orchestral cycle of six patriotic scenes called “My Country,” Bedrich Smetana (below) made four-hand piano arrangements of each. Plano and Del Negro played that for the popular “Moldau.” This arrangement managed to capture a good deal of the orchestral original’s coloristic and dramatic effects, and was played with particular power.

The entire second half was devoted exclusively to a major work by Brahms, his Sonata for Two Pianos, Op. 34b. This work was created first as a string quintet, then later discarded. But the two-piano version (below) was superseded by Brahms’ transformation of its material into a Quintet for Piano and Strings (reckoned as plain Op. 34).

The Quintet — which, by the way will be performed by the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet in the Salon Series next March — is, of course, one of the composer’s masterpieces. But the Two-Piano Sonata survives on its own merits. The parallel material is presented cogently, all of it redistributed in consistently keyboard terms, as against the mixed media of the Quintet.

The duo played it with the necessary Brahmsian burliness and power, and on Farley’s wonderful vintage pianos it sounded simply magnificent.

As an encore, the duo played a two-piano arrangement of an energetic tango piece by Astor Piazzolla, but then followed with another, in this case, an eight-hand piano trifle in which the Plano-Del Negro duo were joined as parents by their two young daughters (below). The audience could hardly resist that!

Plano and Del Negro are great discoveries. And once again, the Salon Piano Series has shown itself as one of the exciting, if too-little-known of Madison’s musical treasures.

For more information about the Salon Piano Series and its upcoming concerts, go to: http://salonpianoseries.org


Classical music: The UW-Madison’s Wingra Woodwind Quintet performs a FREE concert this Friday night and will mark its 50th anniversary with a party and mini-concert on April 25. Plus, the Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Rhapsodie String Quartet and soprano Nancy Vedder-Shults perform concerts on Friday.

February 26, 2015
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ALERTS:

1) The master class by the Takacs String Quartet on Friday from 5 to 7 p.m. has been moved from Room 1341 of the UW-Madison Humanities Building to MOPRHY RECITAL HALL. The string quartet is in town to perform a concert of works by Schubert, Haydn and Beethoven at 8 p.m. on Saturday at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

2) The free Friday Noon Musicale, to be held 12:15 to 1 p.m. in the Landmark Auditorium of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features soprano Nancy Vedder-Shults and pianist Dan Broner, who is also the FUS music director, in art songs by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Johannes Brahms, Mary Howe and Seymour Barab.

3) The Madison Symphony Orchestra‘s Rhapsodie String Quartet (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) will perform a concert this Friday night at 7 p.m. in St. Andrew’s Church, 1833 Regent Street, near Randall Elementary school on Madison’s near west side. The program is the Quartet No. 22 in B-flat Major by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the Quartet No. 2 in A Minor by Felix Mendelssohn. Admission is open to the public, with a free-will donation requested.

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

There are two reasons to pay attention to the Wingra Woodwind Quintet, one of the major performing artists ensembles at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music.

The first reason is that this Friday, Feb. 27, at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the group will perform a FREE concert. The program is “Tradition and Innovation: Music from the Old Country — Austria, Hungary and Bohemia, 1892-1969.”

Then on Saturday, April 25, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the University Club, the Wingra (below, in a photo by Michael R. Anderson) will celebrate its 50th year as an ensemble. The public is asked to RSVP by April 20 by sending an email to news@music.wisc.edu

Wingra Woodwind Quintet 2013 Michael Anderson

Here is a link to an extensive biography, member list and history of the Wingra Woodwind Quintet, done by Sarah Schaffer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with more details about the 50th anniversary part.

http://www.music.wisc.edu/wingra-woodwind-quintet/

And here is the program for the concert on Friday:

Humoreske (1939) by Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942)

Woodwind Quintet No. 1 (1953) by Endre Szervánsky (1911-1977). You can hear this tuneful and dance-like work in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Nine Short Pieces for Children (1909) by Béla Bartók (1881–1945), arranged by UW-Madison bassoonist Marc Vallon (2014), who is a member of the Wingra Woodwind Quintet.

Intermission

Three Songs from “Das Knaben Wunderhorn” by Gustav Mahler ) (1860-1911), arranged by Trevor Cramer (1983)

Rheinlegendchen (1893)

Wer hat dies Liedl erdacht? (1892)

Lob des Hohes Vertandes (1896)

Wind Quintet No. 2 (1969) by Frigyes Hidas (1928–2007)

 


Classical music: Here are some more stories — including two from The New York Times — about University of Wisconsin-Madison pianist Howard Karp, whose FREE and PUBLIC memorial will be this Sunday at 3 p.m.

August 30, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

As you probably already know by now, tomorrow, Sunday, Aug. 31, will bring a FREE and PUBLIC memorial celebration of the life of Howard Karp (below, in a photo by Katrin Talbot) -– who died in June at 84 — on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus in Mills Hall at 3 p.m.

Howard Karp ca. 2000 by Katrin Talbot

It is scheduled to run about two hours and then have a free and public reception after it.

Parking in nearby Grainger Hall is also free.

The memorial will feature live music and recorded music. Works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Frederic Chopin, Robert Schumann and Sergei Rachmaninoff will be featured.

Here is a link to a post a few days ago with more details:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/classical-music-here-are-the-final-program-and-details-about-the-free-memorial-on-this-sunday-at-3-p-m-in-mills-hall-for-university-of-wisconsin-madison-pianist-howard-karp/

Karp Family in color

But if you can go, and especially if you can’t, you might be interested in some other stories about Howard Karp, who was both a wonderful man and wondrous musician.

He was written up no less than twice by Anthony Tommasini (below), the celebrated senior classical music critic for The New York Times who is himself an accomplished pianist with degrees from Yale University and who studied piano with the late Donald Currier, the same terrific teacher with whom The Ear studied privately in high school. (Small world, no?)

tommasini-190

Here is the first story published in 1998, about the differences in temperament more than talent between academic teaching pianists and professional touring pianists. It is full of insight and affection:

http://www.nytimes.com/1998/10/27/arts/critic-s-notebook-master-teachers-whose-artistry-glows-in-private.html?pagewanted=all

And here is a recently published review by Anthony Tommasini of the new 6-CD set of performances by Howard Karp that have been released by Albany Records. You will hear music from this set and from some CDs issued by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, at the memorial:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/17/arts/music/box-sets-highlight-leonard-shure-and-howard-karp.html?_r=0

Howard Karp Albany CD cover

Here is a story — a tribute, really — by the local critic Greg Hettmansberger (below), who writes the Classically Speaking blog for Madison Magazine:

http://www.madisonmagazine.com/Blogs/Classically-Speaking/August-2014/Howard-Karp-Memorial/

greg hettmansberger mug

And here is a long and beautifully written personal essay done in 1994 by Jess Anderson, a fine amateur pianist and former longtime music critic for Isthmus:

http://www.madisonmusicreviews.org/doc/p_199401_karp.html

Jess Anderson

There may be more. If you know of them, please leave word – and a link, if possible – in the Comments section. This seems like the right time.


Classical music: The Ear travels to many places and hears much exciting music, thanks to the closing chamber music concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. Now he can’t wait to find out about next season and then the 25th anniversary season the following summer.

July 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a good summer for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

Make that a GREAT summer.

It was all to mark its 23rd annual season, and mark it they did, in high style.

23Skiddoo logo

Thanks to BDDS, I wandered far and wide without ever leaving my seat. Here is what I did last Friday and Saturday:

I went to the movies.

And I found out that after almost a century, silent movies still work their magic. In the 1916 film “The Count” actor-director Charlie Chaplin is still brilliantly funny, and provokes loud laughs and astonished admiration for his physical pratfalls, his absurd no-win situations, his precise direction, his perfect timing, his stunts and his facial expressions.

BDDS 2014 Charlie Chaplin

Plus, it all happened during the duo-piano score of “Le boeuf sur le toit” (The Ox on the Roof) by Darius Milhaud and played with perfect timing and image-synching by Randall Hodgkinson and Jeffrey Sykes, who played complete with popcorn and a soda.

The Ear says “Do It Again” next summer and in the future. The mixed media event was terrific and informative entertainment.

BDDS 2014 Chaplin score by Milhaud

What movies I didn’t see, I heard.

Take American composer William Hirtz’s Variations for Piano-Four Hands on Themes from “The Wizard of Oz.” From the title, it sounds goofy and too pop-like. It even seems a reach to call it classical music. But it proved an undeniably and impressively virtuosic piece for the duo-pianists Randall Hodgkinson and Jeffrey Sykes.

Fun was added by the appearance of Dorothy (BDDS executive director Samantha Crownover, below top) in her ruby slippers and one of the guards of the Wicked Witch of the West. How BDDS!

BDDS 2014 Oz Dorothy (Sam)

BDDS 2014 OZ Witch Guard with Sykes and Hodgkinson

I went once again to South America, the geographical center of this BDDS season.

What took me there was the music, this time the Poem for Flute and Piano by an Argentinian named Angel Lasala (below). Never heard of him. Too bad for me. But NOW I have and am glad.

Angel Lasala

I also went there specifically through the flute, which, along with the guitar, seems the instrument of choice for the southern continent. (Remember the haunting use of the flute in “El Condor Pasa” – which would have made a great solo flute encore — and other Andean folk songs.) And it was played with such complete mastery by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt (below) that she made a wind instrument sound percussive as well as lyrical.

BDDS 2014 Jutt and Syles play Angel Lasala

I went to The Land Where Unknown Music Goes.

That is how I heard a great but neglected Trio for flute, violin and piano by Italian composer Nino Rota, more famous for his scores for movies by Federico Fellini than for his own chamber music, which is quite good. (Hollywood movie scores are getting more and more validity in the concert hall. Next season the Madison Symphony Orchestra will do a program with a lot of them written by exiles from Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.)

nino rota at piano

It is also how I heard neglected French composer Philippe Gaubert (below) through his  rarely performed “Three Watercolors” for flute, cello and piano in which Jutt’s flute tone perfectly matched the idea of watercolor transparency and watercolor sensuality.

Philippe Gaubert 2

Even such a mainstream and popular composer as Maurice Ravel became more exotic, exciting and engaging with his Sonata for Cello and Violin with violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau (both below) of the San Francisco Trio. It is fiercely difficult and thorny to play. Ravel worked on it for two years. The Ear thinks it is Ravel’s most modern and serious work, his most unusual sounding composition. So I have to listen to it again. It’s good to rediscover something old in a new way.

BDDS 2014 Stauss and Fonteneau play Ravel Sonata

But I also went to the Land of Great and Unforgettable Music.

It also always good to hear familiar music and genuine masterpieces played superbly. And that is exactly what I heard in Anton Dvorak’s Piano Trio in F Minor, Op. 65, which too often takes a back seat to the more famous “Dumky” Trio.

BDDS 2014 Dvorak Trio

And I don’t think I will ever hear a better performance — despite a snapped cello string that had to be replaced mid-performance — of Dmitri Shostakovich’s dark Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67. It was forceful, whether biting or elegiac, and so impressed the animated audience that it — and not the more timid Gaubert — should have been the concluding work on the “Cut and Run” program. (You can hear the captivating Finale in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

BDDS 2014 Shostakovich Trio

We are one lucky city to hear the San Francisco Trio (below) in these works. The Ear, for one, can’t get enough of the threesome.

BDDS 2014 San Francisco Trio

I don’t know what else to say except that even with the main concert season over, The Ear doesn’t think he will be making a lot of vacation plans in the future if they overlap with performances by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

And he suggests that you do the same.


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