The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Madison Opera’s “Magic Flute” proved enjoyable, opulent and superb

April 25, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friend and opera veteran filed this review:

By Larry Wells

I attended last Sunday’s matinee performance of the Madison Opera’s production of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” (Performance photos are by James Gill for the Madison Opera.)

The opera’s mystifying combination of fairy tale and Masonic ritual has been better explained by others, including the legendary Anna Russell. Those who know her only through her analysis of Wagner’s “Ring” Cycle should seek out her lecture on “The Magic Flute, which is accompanied on the CD by an equally humorous look at Verdi’s “Nabucco.” A search through the iTunes store will easily yield these treasures.

The scenery and costumes (below), which were borrowed from Arizona Opera, were superb. I was captivated by the clever set, the opulent costumes and the amazing props.

The choice to have the spoken dialogue in English, while the sung parts remained in German with supertitles in English, was a smart move and helped move the ridiculous plot lines along.

The playing by members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of guest conductor from the Juilliard School, Gary Thor Wedow, (below) was, as usual, brilliant.

And the singing was, for the most part, first-rate.

Special mention should be made of Andrew Bidlack (below top) as a consistently arresting Tamino and Amanda Woodbury (below, right, with Scott Brunscheen as Monostatos) as a crystalline Pamina. Their first act duet was perfection.

Likewise, Caitlin Cisler played the Queen of the Night (below center) and her vocal fireworks were spectacular, plus she was a delight to watch in her bizarre winged costume. (You can hear the Queen of the Night’s astonishing and virtuosic aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

I enjoyed Alan Dunbar’s Papageno (below). He has a gift for comedy.

And probably my favorite characters, the three ladies (below, from left, with Tamino) portrayed by Amanda Kingston, Kelsey Park and Anna Parks were brilliantly sung and acted.

UW-Madison graduate Anna Polum (below) did not disappoint in the smaller role of Papagena, and we will be fortunate to hear her again soon in Johannes Brahms’ “German Requiem” with the Madison Symphony Orchestra next month.

The three spirits, sung by local schoolboys, were fun to watch with their steampunk attire and props, but they were vocally rather thin.

Nathan Stark’s Sarastro tested the limits of his vocal range. It’s a difficult role in any event since Sarastro has the unfortunate habit of stopping the opera’s action in its tracks whenever he appears.

The audience loved the whole thing, laughing at the comic absurdities and applauding whenever the music paused. But I cannot help wondering why “The Magic Flute” is such a popular opera. Its plot is basically incomprehensible, its second act goes on a half hour too long, the Queen of the Night’s downfall is never satisfactorily explained, and despite a number of memorable tunes, there are, in my mind, many more musically satisfying operas.

Next season we can look forward to yet another of the countless performances of Bizet’s “Carmen” and yet another Mozart opera “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” Madison does seem to love its Mozart. But we will also be hearing the late Daniel Catan’s lush, Puccini-esque “Florencia en el Amazonas,” for which I give praise.

I got to thinking about what other lesser performed operas that are not 200 years old might please the Madison crowd and quickly came up with: Benjamin Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”; Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul”; Leonard Bernstein’s “Candide”; Douglas Moore’s “The Ballad of Baby Doe”; Samuel Barber’s “Vanessa”; and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sir John in Love.”

Each of these is as melodic as “The Magic Flute” and each has certainly more compelling storylines.

What are your suggestions?


Classical music: Mozart’s music requires the rhythms of both speech and dance, says maestro Gary Thor Wedow, who will also restore lost libretto text when he conducts two performances of “The Magic Flute” this weekend for the Madison Opera. Here is Part 2 of his interview with The Ear.

April 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute this Friday night, April 21, at 8 p.m. and this Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall of the Overture Center. (Production photos are courtesy of the Arizona Opera from which the Madison Opera got the sets and costumes for its production.)

Yesterday’s post was the first of two parts. It has a plot synopsis and links to more information about the cast and production.

Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/04/18/classical-music-mozart-masterfully-melds-the-sensual-and-the-cerebral-says-maestro-gary-thor-wedow-who-will-conduct-two-performances-of-the-magic-flute-this-weekend-for-the-madiso/

The opera runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets are $18 to $130.

“The Magic Flute” will be sung in German with English supertitles.

For more about the production and cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

And also go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/cast/

Here is Part 2 of The Ear’s recent email interview with conductor Gary Thor Wedow (below, conducting in an orchestra pit):

Are there certain “tricks” or “secrets” that you try to bring to conducting Mozart? Have you conducted “The Magic Flute” before? Do Mozart’s operas in general and this opera in specific present challenges? Where do you place the opera musically, both compared to other operas in general and in regard to its place in Mozart’s work?

I feel keenly that Mozart and all 18th-century music (probably continuing to this day) is either based on a rhetorical idea or a dance form; that music is either speaking or dancing. This style of music is “pre-French Revolution,” so No Two Notes are Created Equally! The lilt of language or the buoyancy of the dance has to infuse every moment; hierarchy and shape prevail.

I’ve been fortunate to have conducted The Magic Flute frequently, in many varied productions; it’s always been a part of my musical life. Because it’s a fairy tale, it lends itself to inventive and imaginative productions. Stage director Dan Rigazzi’s production (below) for Madison Opera is a whimsical one, influenced by the surrealist painter Magritte, steampunk and more, all rolled into one beautiful show.

Mozart was fascinated with German Singspiel, as it was opera in the language of the people. The Magic Flute is his masterpiece in this genre, though there are earlier works. There is the early Zaide – incomplete, but filled with gorgeous, innovative music –and also the more mature, sumptuous and comic The Abduction from the Seraglio; they are both rich and entertaining pieces.

The Magic Flute, I feel, has a special place in the opera repertoire for several reasons: its Masonic connections that were very important to Mozart, the drama, and its central themes that trace themselves back to ancient Egypt.

It also is a brilliant combination of comedy and deep spiritual drama in the guise of a heroic rescue tale. It uses an incredibly wide range of the most beautiful music written in every major genre: sacred music, opera seria, bel canto, folk song and complex Baroque counterpoint.

What would you like listeners to pay special attention to in the music of “The Magic Flute”?

I would say “Hang on!” Whatever style of music we are in, we are going to switch gears in a fairly short time. It’s a roller coaster, an Ed Sullivan Show, American Idol, and the Barnum and Bailey Circus all rolled into one.

This is your third time conducting at Madison Opera. Do you have an opinion about Madison musicians and audiences?

My previous two experiences in Madison have been the Opera in the Park concerts in 2012 and 2016 (below). These have been among the most sublimely satisfying moments of my musical life: a cornucopia of music played by this brilliant symphony orchestra with great singers.

The audiences have been magically focused and involved; the players are magnificent, dedicated musicians, and the community is very supportive of Madison Opera. It’s electric.

Is there anything else you would like to say about the music or this performance?

Magic Flute devotees might be startled to hear some new text in these performances, particularly in Tamino, Pamina and Sarastro’s arias and the duet with Pamina and Papageno. “Bei Männern” is now “Der Liebe.” (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Let me explain by telling you a mystery story. After Mozart died, Constanze was desperate for money. Mozart’s Flute manuscript conducting score belonged to Schikaneder, the librettist and producer, but it seems that Constanze had another original score: the first original manuscript, which she then sold to a nobleman who eventually allowed it to be published.

This must have been a “composing score” that Mozart wrote first, before making the conducting score with the help of his assistant. The text deviates in several sections in notable ways. Probably Schikaneder, perhaps assisted by his Masonic brothers, “improved” the text, but Mozart had already shaped his music to the first text.

In most sections the differences are minimal and the new text was indeed an improvement. But in some cases I feel the original text was what inspired Mozart to write and orchestrate the way he did. Our marvelous singers have generously agreed to make the changes and I think we will all see how it fits the music so much better.

Sadly, Constanze’s manuscript was lost in the wars, but many scholars had already seen it and considered it to be genuine. I love how it shows how fluid the creative process is and how it spurs us to look anew at Mozart’s creative process.

On with the show!


Classical music: Mozart masterfully melds the emotional and the intellectual, says maestro Gary Thor Wedow, who will conduct two performances of “The Magic Flute” this weekend for the Madison Opera. Here is Part 1 of his two-part interview with The Ear

April 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Opera will stage Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s The Magic Flute this Friday night, April 21 at 8 p.m. and Sunday afternoon, April 23, at 2:30 p.m. in Overture Hall. (Production photos are courtesy of the Arizona Opera, from which the Madison Opera got its sets and costumes.)

Here are an introduction and some details, courtesy of the Madison Opera:

Written in the last year of his life, Mozart’s opera is part fairy tale, part adventure story, and is filled with enchantment.

Set in a fairy-tale world of day and night, the opera follows Prince Tamino and the bird-catcher Papageno as they embark on a mission to rescue Pamina, the daughter of the Queen of the Night. Pamina had been kidnapped by Sarastro, the leader of a religious order. But it turns out that exactly who is “good” and who is “evil” is not always what it appears.

Along the way to happily-ever-after, Pamina, Tamino and Papageno face many challenges, but are assisted by a magic flute, magic bells, a trio of guiding spirits and their own clear-eyed sense of right and wrong.

“The Magic Flute has been beloved around the world since its 1791 premiere,” says Kathryn Smith (below in a photo by James Gill), Madison Opera’s general director. “It has been called a fairy tale for both adults and children, with a story that works on many levels, all set to Mozart’s glorious music. I’m so delighted to be sharing it again with Madison, with an incredible cast, director and conductor.”

The opera runs about 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Tickets are $18 to $130.

“The Magic Flute” will be sung in German with English supertitles.

For more about the production and cast, go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/

And also go to:

http://www.madisonopera.org/performances-2016-2017/the-magic-flute/cast/

Dan Rigazzi, who has been on the directing staff at the Metropolitan Opera for 10 years, makes his Madison Opera debut with this beautiful production that incorporates some steampunk elements into its fairy-tale setting.

Gary Thor Wedow, a renowned Mozart conductor, makes his mainstage debut with this opera, after having conducted Opera in the Park in 2016 and 2012.

Conductor Wedow (below) recently agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Could you briefly introduce yourself to readers?

Hello! I’m an American conductor, born in LaPorte, Indiana. A faculty member at The Juilliard School, I spend a lot of time with music of the 18th century — Handel and Mozart and often earlier, like Monteverdi, Purcell and Cavalli. But I conduct everything and grew up in love with the Romantics. I’ve also always done a lot of contemporary music. I love it all.

Mozart’s music sounds so clear and easy or simple, but the reality is quite different, musicians say. What do you strive for and what qualities do you think make for great Mozart playing?

Mozart engages both the brain and the heart. He challenges your intellect with amazing feats of counterpoint, orchestration and structure while tugging at your heart, all the time pulling you along in a deep drama.

Mozart was an Italian melodist with a German contrapuntal, harmonic engine – like an incredible automobile with an Italian slick body and a German motor.

Do you share the view that opera is central to Mozart’s music, even to his solo, chamber and ensemble instrumental music? How so? What is special or unique to Mozart’s operas, and to this opera in particular?

From all accounts, Mozart (below, in his final year) was a huge personality who was full of life and a keen observer of the human condition; his letters are full of astute, often merciless and sometimes loving evaluations of family, colleagues and patrons.

Mozart’s music speaks of the human condition: its passions, loves and hopes— no matter what genre. His music is innately dramatic and primal, going immediately to the most basic and universal human emotions with breathtaking nuance, variety and depth. (You can hear the Overture to “The Magic Flute,” performed by the Metropolitan Opera orchestra under James Levine, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Tomorrow: Tricks to conducting Mozart and what to pay special attention to in this production of The Magic Flute.


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians perform Bach’s “St. John Passion” this Friday night and Saturday night in authentic early music style

April 11, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison Bach Musicians (below), which specializes in authentic period performances of early music, will perform Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. John Passion” this coming Friday  and Saturday nights, both at 7:30 p.m., in the Atrium Auditorium of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive.

On both nights at 6:45 p.m., MBM founder and music director Trevor Stephenson (below) will give a free pre-concert lecture on the “Structure and Performance History of the St. John Passion.” In his remarks, Stephenson said he will discuss the question of anti-Semitism in the famous work.

(NOTE: Stephenson and some of the players will also be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “The Midday” with Norman Gilliland TODAY at noon.)

At the end of Part I, the Rev. Michael Schuler of the Unitarian Society will give a talk focusing on “Theological Reflections on Bach and the St. John Passion.”

This is only the second time the work has been performed in historical style in the state of Wisconsin. For more information and explanation, see the story in the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://host.madison.com/wsj/entertainment/music/st-john-passion-to-be-performed-on-all-historical-period/article_0e6e3d51-c03e-5803-9230-faed6a48ed1d.html

Tickets are $28-$33 and are available online, at Orange Tree Imports and at the door. Ticket information is at www.madisonbachmusicians.org

Trevor Stephenson writes the following about the work and the performance:

Bach was 38 years old when he composed the monumental St. John Passion during his initial year of employment in Leipzig, 1723-24. The work was first performed at the Nikolai Church during the Good Friday service on April 7, 1724.

As was the custom, no concerted music had been played in church during the previous six weeks of Lent, and the airing of the St. John Passion ― music of unprecedented complexity, lasting for over two hours — must have had an overwhelming effect on the fresh ears and devoted souls of the parishioners.

From its outset—with the whirling gear-like figures in the strings beneath the moiling of the oboes—the St. John Passion has an otherworldly aura of a story that has been foretold. Bach’s genius is in how he balances this inevitability with a sense of forward dramatic thrust: the passion story must happen, has already happened, but it also must be played out in real-time by living people, step by painful step. Time is at once both linear and circular. (Below is the manuscript for the “St. John Passion.”)

I believe that the objective of Bach (below) in setting the St. John Passion was to tell as vividly as possible the story of Jesus’ cruel earthly demise while at the same time tempering this vividness with frequent textual reminders, as well as an overarching tone, that convey the firm belief that Jesus’ Passion had not only been prophesied long before his birth but that Jesus’ suffering and death on earth was the only solution for the forgiveness of humanity’s sins.

 

The Evangelist John is our guide for the story of Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and burial. John sings his narration in the dry and angular recitative style, addressing the audience directly. He summarizes some scenes and introduces others, which are then played out in present-tense tableau format by various characters: Jesus, Peter, Pilate, Court officers, the angry mob.

Bach uses two techniques to pause and comment upon the narrative: first, with arias for solo voices and instrumental obbligato, that employ freely-composed poetry to reflect upon the story in a personal way — like the thoughts of someone observing the action; and second, by chorales which use tunes and texts that would have been familiar to Bach’s parishioners to elicit a broader communal response to the passion story. Many of the chorales are like a spiritual balm, providing moments of much needed rest throughout the work.

For the upcoming April 14 and 15 concerts of the St. John Passion on Good Friday and Holy Saturday ― the Madison Bach Musicians has endeavored as much as possible to recreate the early 18th-century sound world of that first Leipzig performance in 1724. MBM will use a 17-member baroque orchestra, conducted by UW-Madison bassoonist and performance-practice specialist Marc Vallon (below, in a photo by James Gill).

The orchestra will play entirely on 18th-century style instruments:

  • Gut-strung violins, violas, cellos, and bass played with baroque bows which facilitate articulation and phrase grouping
  • Early 18th-century single-keyed wooden traverso flutes and single-keyed wooden oboes―uniquely warm-sounding and clear-toned. Plus the baroque ancestor of the modern English horn, the tenor oboe da caccia
  • A baroque chamber organ with wooden pipes tuned in 18th-century Well Temperament
  • And specialty instruments—even by 18th-century standards. The viola da gamba, featured during the tombeau– or tomb-like Es ist vollbracht (It is fulfilled) aria heard after Jesus’ death; and two violas d’amore, delicate and velvet toned, replete with sympathetic strings for a haunting after-glow of sound. (You can hear that aria in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

These instruments will join with 10 outstanding vocalists—specialists in singing both solo and choral baroque repertoire.

Internationally recognized, and Grammy Award winning tenor, Dann Coakwell (below, in a photo by Mary Gordon) will sing the part of John the Evangelist.

The Passion will be sung in its original German; but an English translation of the text will be projected in supertitles scene-by-scene throughout the performance.

MBM is thrilled to be presenting this masterwork in the Atrium Auditorium (below, in a  photo by Zane Williams) at First Unitarian Society, a space beautifully suited to early music. The sightlines are superb, and the acoustics offer a great balance of clarity, crispness, and spaciousness.

Seating is limited, so advance ticket purchase is suggested.


Classical music: Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra performs Sunday afternoon. Plus a FREE violin recital is this Friday at noon

February 23, 2017
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features violinist Paran Amirinazari in music by Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Johannes Brahms, Camille Saint-Saens and Dmitri Shostakovich. Amirinazari, a graduate of the UW-Madison, is a member of the Willy Street Chamber Players. The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Edgewood College Chamber Orchestra will perform a concert of music by Domenico Cimarosa, Ludwig van Beethoven and Gioachino Rossini this Sunday afternoon, Feb. 26, at 2:30 p.m. in the St. Joseph Chapel, 1000 Edgewood College Drive.

Admission is $5, and free with an Edgewood College ID.

The program features the rarely performed Concerto for Oboe by the 18th-century Italian composer Domenico Cimarosa. Oboist Malia Huntsman will be the soloist. The orchestra will perform under the baton of its music director, Edgewood College professor Blake Walter (below).

You can sample the Oboe Concerto by Cimarosa in the YouTube video at the bottom.

blake walter john maniaci

The program opens with music by Rossini and also features Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, one of the early symphonic masterpieces of the German composer.

Originally from Los Angeles, Malia Huntsman (below) has been playing oboe since the age of 14. She holds an undergraduate degree in Oboe Performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and a Master of Arts degree in Oboe Performance from Rice University.

malia-huntsman

Founded in 1993 via an endowment established by benefactors William O. Hart and the late Edgewood College music professor Vernon Sell, the Edgewood Chamber Orchestra provides performances and unique educational opportunities. The ensemble is the permanent, in-house chamber orchestra at Edgewood College.


Classical music: The second half of the concert season starts with a conflicting wealth of great music and promising performances this weekend and especially on Sunday

January 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The second half of the current concert season is getting off to a terrific, if crowded and competitive, start.

Take this weekend.

At least five individuals and groups are playing very appealing concerts. In some cases, there is time to get from one to another.

But there is also a good chance you will have to pick and choose, then be disappointed at what you miss as well as pleased with what you go to.

Here is a roundup:

SATURDAY

From 8:30 a.m. until 7 p.m., the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music will hold the 54th annual Wisconsin Day of Percussion. It features workshops, clinics, presentations and concerts for percussionists and fans of percussion at all levels.

All-day admission is $15 and is available at the door. For more information about attending and participating, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/2016/11/10/wisconsin-day-of-percussion/

World Percussion Ensemble

World Percussion Ensemble

At 1:30 p.m. in the relaxed and cozy venue of A Place to Be, 911 Williamson Street, the Willy Street Chamber Players (below) will offer a 90-minute program of string quartets by Franz Joseph Haydn (String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4), Felix Mendelssohn Four Pieces for String Quartet), Astor Piazzolla (Four for Tango) and Daniel Bernard Roumain String Quartet No. 5 “Rosa Parks”) as a prelude to the group’s third summer season this July. Admission is $20.

Willy Street Chamber Players 2016 outdoors

You may recall that last month The Ear named the Willys as Musicians of the Year for 2016. That post had details about the  program and the group’s history. Here is a link:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2016/12/30/classical-music-the-ear-names-the-willy-street-chamber-players-as-musicians-of-the-year-for-2016/

For more information about this quartet concert (below is a photo of last year’s concert in the same place), go to:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org/calendar.html

And here is a link to the group’s home website with more specifics:

http://www.willystreetchamberplayers.org

Finally, one of the Willys assures The Ear that the Sunday performance will be over early enough to allow audience members to go watch the Green Bay Packers championship football game.

Willy Street Chamber Players string quartet cr JWB

At 7 p.m. the Oakwood Chamber Players will give an adventurous  concert of unusual works by Maurice Ravel,  Arnold Schoenberg, Byron Adams, Gabriel Jackson and Francis Poulenc at the Oakwood Village West Auditorium, 6002 Mineral Point Road on Madison far west side.

Here is a link to a story with more details about the program and how it fits into the yearlong series of concerts:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/01/18/classical-music-oakwood-chamber-players-perform-looking-within-can-we-see-within-ourselves-those-who-have-gone-before-this-coming-saturday-night-and-sunday-afternoon/

Oakwood Chamber Players 2015-16

SUNDAY

At 1:30 p.m., the Willy Street Chamber Players repeat their Saturday concert. See the information above for Saturday.

Also at 1:30 p.m., the Oakwood Chamber Players repeat their concert. See the information above for Saturday.

At 4 p.m. in Mills Hall, UW-Madison faculty members violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top) and pianist Christopher Taylor (below bottom) will give a recital of two violin sonatas: Sonata No. 1 in A major, Op. 13, by Gabriel Faure and the prize-winning 1963 Sonata for Violin and Piano by the contemporary American composer John Corigliano. (You can hear the lovely slow movement of the Corigliano sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Admission is $15, $5 for children and non-UW School of Music students.

Here is a link with more information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/violinist-soh-hyun-altino-and-pianist-christopher-taylor/

Tickets can be bought at the door or by visit this site:

https://union.wisc.edu/visit/wisconsin-union-theater/theater-tickets/

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

Christopher Taylor new profile

Also at 4 p.m., pianist Catherine Kautsky (below) will perform a Schubert-themed program on the Salon Piano Series at Farley’s House of Pianos, 6522, Seybold Road, on Madison’s far west side near West Towne.

Her program includes the Sonata in D major and Twelve German Dances by Schubert; the Schubert-inspired “Valses nobles et sentimentales” (Noble and Sentimental Waltzes) by Maurice Ravel; Prelude and Fugue in E Major, from Book 2 of “The Well-Tempered Clavier” by Johann Sebastian Bach; and “Idyll and Abyss: Six Schubert Reminiscences” (20213) by the German composer Jeorg Widmann.

Admission is $45.

catherine-kautsky

Kautsky has concertized on five continents. You may recall, she came to teach for several years at the UW-Madison from Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin, and then returned to Lawrence where she heads the keyboard department and this year received an Excellence in Teaching award.

Call more information and tickets, call (608) 271-2626.

You can also go to this link to get more information about this concert and forthcoming concerts in the Salon Piano Series:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html


Classical music: The UW Choral Union delivers an eclectic non-seasonal program of music by Beethoven, Brahms and Bernstein with power and lyricism

December 12, 2016
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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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Eschewing any seasonal or holiday connections, the UW-Madison Choral Union (below) gave its December concert last Friday night with a program of three “B’s”.

uw-choral-union-with-chamber-orchestra-and-soloists-dec-2016-jwb

Well, two of the B’s are familiar ones. But in place of Bach, we got Leonard Bernstein, taking first place in reverse chronological order — his Chichester Psalms, dating from 1965.

This three-movement work probably represents Bernstein’s most important choral score. It sets texts in the original Hebrew, the middle movement calling for a boy treble to represent the young David in the rendering of Psalm 131 — a function here filled bravely by young Simon Johnson (below, front left) of the Madison Youth Choirs.

uw-choral-union-dec-2016-jwb-simon-johnson-of-myc

The platoon of percussionists in the first two movements confirms the composer’s flashy “modernism.” To be sure, there are some characteristic melodic twists that proclaim the composer familiar to us, and the swaying melodic tune of the third movement is really lovely.

But Bernstein (below) did not know what to do with it besides repeating it obsessively. Bernstein simply was not a savvy master of choral writing, and I firmly believe that this work—a trivial cross between Igor Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms and Bernstein’s own Broadway musical West Side Story—would not merit much attention were it not for Bernstein’s name on it.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: You can decide on the work’s merits for yourself by listening to the live performance, conducted by the composer himself, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Leonard Bernstein composing in 1955

Just how inadequate Bernstein’s choral sense was emerged clearly with the next work, the short ode for chorus and orchestra by Johannes Brahms, Nänie, Op. 82.

The title adapts a Greek word for a lament, and Friedrich Schiller’s German text evokes the death of beauty in the death of Achilles. Brahms was among the supreme choral masters, and this particular example is one of several of his “minor” choral works that we hear too rarely.

brahmsBW

The second half of the program was devoted to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Mass in C major, Op. 86. No, not the monumental Missa solemnis of the composer’s last years when (as with the Ninth Symphony’s finale) he had transcended the realities of choral writing. This earlier Mass setting, dating from 1807, was in the direct line of Mass settings for the Esterházy family composed by the aged Haydn.

But to Haydn’s incorporation of symphonic structure into Mass composition, Beethoven (below) brought his own strongly progressive personality, and a remarkable quality of melodic and thematic invention. This is a lovely work, and choirs who fling themselves doggedly against the Missa solemnis ought sometimes to revel in this beautiful work instead.

Beethoven big

The forces arrayed included a solo quartet (below, in the front from left) are bass John Loud, tenor Jiabao Zhang and sopranos Jessica Kasinski and Anna Polum.

uw-choral-union-dec-2016-soloists

The UW Chamber Orchestra proved able. But the star was, of course, the Choral Union chorus itself. Its diction worked from indistinguishable Hebrew through respectable German to really lucid Latin. Above all, it made mighty, full-blooded sound that bolstered Beethoven’s lyricism with powerful projection.

Once again, conductor Beverly Taylor (below) has gone beyond stale conventions to bring us valued exposure to music outside the conventional boundaries.

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE


Classical music: The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble excels again in a varied program of rarely heard Baroque vocal and instrumental music

November 30, 2016
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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.  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 Baroque Ensemble offered its latest specimen of intimate Baroque chamber music at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Regent Street last Sunday afternoon.

As always, each of the performers—six in this case—had one or two opportunities as soloist.

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Mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo (below), for instance, was featured in two solo cantatas.

One, by Giovanni Bononcini was on conventional emotional themes.

But the other was a real curiosity. By the French composer Louis-Nicolas Clérambault, it was written for the Nativity season, and has been given a French title as “Hymn of the Angels.” But its text was no more or less than the Latin words of the Gloria section of the Mass Ordinary.

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A new member in the group, recorder player Sigrun Paust (below), delivered the Sonata No. 1 from a 1716 collection of works written by Francesco Veracini alternatively for violin or flute.

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For flutist Monica Steger (below) the vehicle was a Sonata Op. 91, No. 2, for Flute and Harpsichord duo, by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier.

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The spotlight was on viola da gambist Eric Miller (below) in another duo with harpsichord, no less than the Sonata in D Major, BWV 1028, by Johann Sebastian Bach, but Miller also participated in continuo functions elsewhere. (You can hear the Bach sonata in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

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Likewise active in continuo work was viola da gambist Anton TenWolde (below), but he had one solo, a Capriccio for cello, by Joseph Ferdinand Dall’Abaco.

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And the harpsichordist Max Yount (below), also involved in continuo roles, presented two contrasting keyboard pieces, a Toccata by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck and a Fantasie by Johann Jakob Froberger.

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For a colorful finale, Paust and Miller joined TenWolde and Steger (on harpsichord) in a Trio Sonata in F by Georg Philipp Telemann.

The artistry of these performers (below) was fully up to their own high standards, and their delight in trading off assignments to play together is palpable.

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St. Andrew’s Church (below) on Regent Street may have been a bit bigger than a Baroque salon or parlor, but still served well as a setting for this kind of amiable gentility in musical substance.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

The group’s next Madison concert is at St. Andrew’s on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. No program has been announced.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble performs a varied program of French, German, Italian and Dutch music on Sunday afternoon

November 23, 2016
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ALERT: There will NOT be a Noon Musicale this Friday at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The weekly series resumes next week.

By Jacob Stockinger

The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble will perform a very varied concert of baroque chamber music on this coming Sunday, Nov. 27, at 3 p.m. at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (below), 1833 Regent Street, on the near west side of Madison.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Madison Front

St. Andrew's Church interior

Members of the ensemble include Eric Miller, viola da gamba; Sigrun Paust, recorder; Consuelo Sañudo, mezzo-soprano; Monica Steger, traverso flute, harpsichord; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

Tickets at the door only are $20 for the public, $10 for students.

For more information, visit www.wisconsinbaroque.org

A reception will be held at 2422 Kendall Ave, second floor after the concert.

The program includes:

Johann Sebastian Bach – Sonata for viola da gamba and harpsichord in D major, BWV 1028

Francesco Maria Veracini (below) – Sonata No. 1 for recorder and basso continuo in F major

Jan Peterszoon Sweelinck, Toccata in C

Johann Jakob Froberger, Fantasie

Giovanni Bononcini, “Vorrei pure pianger”

francesco-maria-veracini

Intermission

Joseph de Bodin de Boismortier – Sonata for flute and harpsichord, Opus 91, No. 2

Francois Couperin – “Le Dodo ou l’Amour au Berceau”

Evaristo Felice Dall’Abaco – Capriccio for solo violoncello No.

Louis-Nicholas Clerembault – Hymne des Anges

Georg Philipp TelemannTrio sonata for recorder, viola da gamba, and basso continuo, TWV 42:F3 (heard in the YouTube video below)


Classical music: The Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble opens its new season with rarities beautifully performed

October 18, 2016
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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 for WORT-FM 89.9. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photos in the review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The season opener for the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble was held last Saturday night at the historic Gates of Heaven Synagogue, in James Madison Park on East Gorham Street.

Gates of Heaven

An unusual feature of the program this time was a kind of running backbone: the music of the little-known 18th-century French composer Benoît Guilemant.

From a collection of duo miniatures for flute and violin, six short pieces were sprinkled through the program. There was also a larger work of his, a Quartet Sonata, Op. 1, No. 3, for two flutes and violin with basso continuo. All these were spirited, clever and imaginative pieces that greatly delighted the audience.

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The French Baroque was further represented by a cantata by François Bouvard (1684-1760), sung by mezzo-soprano Consuelo Sañudo, with flutist Brett Lipshutz and violinist Nathan Giglierano taking obligato parts.

The other veteran singer involved, soprano Mimmi Fulmer, delivered a pungent Italian mini-cantata by Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677).

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And, from the German Baroque scene, there was a fine Trio Sonata, Op. 1, No. 2, by the great Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707). You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.

The earliest music in the program was provided by Claudio Monteverdi: first, the delicious concertato madrigal, “Chiome doro” from the Seventh Book (1619); then three delightful pieces from the earlier Scherzi Musicali of 1607.

The ensemble this time consisted of eight performers. Besides the two singers and the two instrumentalists named, there were regulars like Eric Miller (viola da gamba), Monica Steger (flute, recorder, harpsichord), Anton TenWolde (cello), and Max Yount (harpsichord). Violinist Giglierano is a new presence in the group, and it seems as if he will be returning to the fold later this season.

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One hates to think that the audience was somewhat smallish due to football. But it was a lively and—as always and justly—an appreciative one.


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