The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Sonata à Quattro does justice to the spiritual piety and beautiful music in Haydn’s “Seven Last Words of Christ”

April 28, 2019
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IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

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 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

Marika Fischer Hoyt’s newest ensemble is called Sonata à Quattro (below), using the Italian Baroque expression for instrumental works scored for three upper parts and basso continuo. That idiom was the background to the more integrated balance of the string quartet.

It was Franz Joseph Haydn (below) who really consolidated that transformation, and so it was appropriate that the new group should at this early point in its development pay a major tribute to that composer.

Responding to a commission from a Spanish prelate, in 1786-87 Haydn composed a set of seven orchestral adagios  — plus opening and closing pieces — to be played in a Good Friday ceremony celebrating the seven final statements by Christ from the cross (below, in a painting by Diego Velazquez) that are cumulatively reported by the Gospel writers.

At the same time, Haydn made a reduction of those orchestral movements into the string quartet format. That version he published outside his regular sets of string quartets, which had opus numbers.

Especially in the quartet form, this music achieved wide circulation, so much so that several attempts were made by others to create an oratorio out of this music, prompting Haydn himself to make his own oratorio version in 1795-96. Along the way, someone else made a keyboard transcription of the music that Haydn sanctioned.

It was, of course, the string quartet version — The Seven Last Words of Christ — that the Sonata à Quattro performed. It did so, first as part of a Good Friday church service in Milwaukee on April 19, and then as an independent one-hour free and public concert at the Oakwood Village West auditorium last Thursday night.

Fischer Hoyt (below), the group’s founder and violist, gave an introductory talk about the group’s name and about its decisions as to instrumentation.  (It usually plays on period instruments, but chose this time to use modern ones with period bows.) Cellist Charlie Rasmussen added some comments about the music and its history. Violinists  Kangwon Kim and Nathan Giglierano were happy just to play.

Haydn’s music was written in the deepest piety and sincerity, and that comes through in the individual components, which cost him much effort. (You can hear the second half of the work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The seven Sonatas are framed by a solemn Introduction and a furious evocation of the “earthquake” that we are told followed the death of Jesus. Each successive Sonata is cast in very tight and concentrated sonata form. Haydn makes the Latin form of each statement or “word” the theme of each sonata. In all, the cycle makes the most deeply absorbing combination of spirituality and ingenuity.

The players brought out both those dimensions in a performance of rapt beauty. This score has quite a few recordings, but it is not heard in concert all that often, so it was a treasure to be given this wonderful presentation.

And now we know that Sonata à Quattro has great possibilities to develop.


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Classical music: This week brings three period-instrument concerts — two of them FREE — of early music from the Baroque and Classical eras including works by Bach, Telemann and Haydn

April 23, 2019
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CORRECTION: The concert listed below by Sonata à Quattro on Thursday night at Oakwood Village West, near West Towne Mall, is at 7 p.m. — NOT at 8 as erroneously first listed here. The Ear regrets the error.

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR, SHARE or TAG IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

By Jacob Stockinger

This week features three concerts of music from the Baroque and early Classical eras that should attract the attention of early music enthusiasts.

WEDNESDAY

This Wednesday, April 24, is the penultimate FREE Just Bach concert of the semester. It takes place at 1 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church, 1021 University Avenue.

This month’s program, featuring the baroque flute, presents the program that was canceled because of the blizzard in January.

First on the program is the Trio Sonata in G Major, BWV 1038, for flute, violin and continuo, a gorgeous example of baroque chamber music.

Following that comes the Orchestral Suite No. 2, BWV 1067, for flute, strings and harpsichord, really a mini flute concerto.

The program ends with Cantata 173 “Erhoehtes Fleisch und Blut” (Exalted Flesh and Blood), scored for two flutes, strings and continuo, joined by a quartet of vocal soloists: UW-Madison soprano Julia Rottmayer; mezzo-soprano Cheryl Bensman-Rowe; tenor Wesley Dunnagan; and UW-Madison bass-baritone Paul Rowe.

The orchestra of baroque period-instrument specialists, led by concertmaster Kangwon Kim, will include traverse flutists Linda Pereksta and Monica Steger.

The last Just Bach concert of this semester is May 29. For more information, go to: https://justbach.org

THURSDAY

On Thursday night, April 25, at 7 p.m. — NOT 8 as mistakenly listed here at first –at Oakwood Village West, 6209 Mineral Point Road, the Madison group Sonata à Quattro (below) will repeat the Good Friday program it performed last week at a church in Waukesha.

The one-hour concert – featuring “The Seven Last Words of Christ” by Franz Joseph Haydn — is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. (You can sample the first part of the Haydn work in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Commissioned by the southern Spanish episcopal city of Cadiz, this piece was originally scored for orchestra, but it enjoyed such an immediate, widespread acclaim, that the publication in 1787 also included arrangements for string quartet, and for piano. In nine movements beginning with an Introduction, Haydn sets the phrases, from “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” to “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit,” concluding with one final movement depicting an earthquake.

Performers for this program are:  Kangwon Kim, Nathan Giglierano, Marika Fischer Hoyt and Charlie Rasmussen. Modern string instruments will be used, but played with period bows.

The period-instrument ensemble Sonata à Quattro was formed in 2017 as Ensemble-In-Residence for Bach Around The Clock, the annual music festival in Madison.

The ensemble’s name refers to baroque chamber music scored for three melody lines plus continuo. The more-familiar trio sonata format, which enjoyed great popularity in the 17th and 18th centuries, employs a continuo with only two melody instruments, typically treble instruments like violins or flutes. 

In contrast, a typical sonata à quattro piece includes a middle voice, frequently a viola, in addition to the two treble instruments and continuo; this scoring has a fuller, richer sonority, and can be seen as a precursor to the string quartet. For more information, go to: https://www.facebook.com/sonataaquattro/

SATURDAY

On Saturday, April 27, at 7:30 p.m. at Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 1833 Regent Street, the veteran Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) will perform a concert of baroque chamber music.

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

Performers are: Brett Lipshutz, traverse flute; Sigrun Paust, recorder; Monica Steger, traverse; Anton TenWolde, baroque cello; and Max Yount, harpsichord.

The program is:

Johann Baptist Wendling – Trio for two flutes and bass

Johann Pachelbel – Variations on “Werde Munter, mein Gemuethe” (Be Happy, My Soul)

Friedrich Haftmann Graf – Sonata or Trio in D major for two German flutes and basso continuo

Daniel Purcell – Sonata in F Major for recorder

INTERMISSION

Georg Philipp Telemann – Trio for recorder, flute,and basso continuo TWV 42:e6

Franz Anton Hoffmeister – Duo for two flutes, Opus 20, No. 1

Joseph Bodin de Boismortier – Trio Sonata, Op. 37, No. 5

Telemann – Trietto Methodicho (Methodical Sonata) No 1. TWV 42: G2

After the concert, a reception will be held at 2422 Kendall Avenue, second floor.

For more information, go to: https://wisconsinbaroque.weebly.com


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Classical music: UW Choral Director Beverly Taylor talks about her life with Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion,” which she will conduct this Sunday afternoon and night

April 20, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Johann Sebastian Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” always ranks high on the short list of the greatest choral works ever composed.

And for good reason.

It represents a peak of Bach’s sacred music and his choral compositions.

This Sunday afternoon and night in Mills Hall, Beverly Taylor, director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music and the assistant music director of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will conduct the UW Choral Union (below) — comprised of university and community singers — plus soloists and an orchestra, in a performance of the complete work.

At 4 p.m. they will do Part 1 and then at 7:30 p.m., Part 2.

Tickets (one ticket is good for both parts) are $15, $8 for students and seniors. To purchase tickets, go to: https://www.music.wisc.edu/about-us/tickets/

Tickets will also be available at the door.

The Ear is always curious to learn more about the relationship between a professional musician and a towering masterpiece.

He found out more when Taylor (below) recently answered an email Q&A about her past and current experiences with the “St. Matthew Passion”:

When did you first hear the “St. Matthew Passion” and what was your reaction?

I never heard it until my late 20s, would you believe? I’d been through grad school and all its training, and learned German, knew a lot of Bach; and when Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony did it on Good Friday, I sat spellbound for over three hours.

I was shaken to the core by its beauty, and even though it was hardly an early music performance, it was well handled, and one of my favorite British singers, Robert Tear, was the Evangelist. I’ve never forgotten it!

Where do you place the “St. Matthew Passion” among Bach’s works and especially among his many choral works?

As with all masterpieces, it’s hard to choose. It’s the longest work, and its size and scope alone make it a frequent choice of many for favorite work.

It’s more dramatic than the breath-taking B Minor Mass and more meditative than the St. John Passion, but I also love the unbelievable variety of cantatas that Bach (below) produced.

Don’t make me choose!

What role has the “St. Matthew Passion” played in your personal and professional life?

I’d say it’s a pinnacle work. This is only my second time performing it, and I’m unlikely to have the chance again, although one hopes. So I’m invested in its beauty and in its core message of hope in the face of tragedy.

Are there things you would like audiences to know about your upcoming performance?

There are several things.

We have a wonderful cast of soloists, and the orchestra is not the usual student orchestra, since the UW Symphony Orchestra is committed to another program in the near future, but is instead a mixture of students, semi-pros and pros.

The work is set for the two choruses and two orchestras that play with them. Many of the choral movements are set for both orchestras, but Bach varies the texture of each movement by varying who plays in what.

If a listener hasn’t been to a Passion performance before, then you might want to know that:

The character of the Evangelist (sung superbly in this case by Wesley Dunnagan, below) is the narrator of the drama. He is accompanied by the continuo part—which is made up of a keyboard (usually organ with sacred works) and a low melody instrument, usually cello.

The chorus members sing sometimes in the character of Greek chorus commentary, sometimes as characters in the roles of Mob, Roman soldiers, Pharisees, and disciples. Most of this text comes from the book of St. Matthew. However, German theologians wrote commentary that is used for the beautiful Chorales-which basically are hymn-style settings of well-known Lutheran tunes. These chorales turn personal—for instance when Judas betrays Jesus, the chorus, after being a mob, turns around and says in repentance—It is I, I’m the one that killed you. (You can hear the final chorus in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The text is so important, and Bach uses myriad details to bring it out. It is typical that when the text is about death, or evil, or sin, the writing is chromatic, or full of augmented fourth intervals (once nicknamed the devil’s interval). When Jesus has died and been buried, the chorus sings what feels like a lullaby, with the rocking cradle motion. When an earthquake follows Jesus’ death and the curtain of the temple is torn, the continuo cello breaks out of accompaniment mode and tears down the scale like lightning

Although this work presents Bach’s Christian view in the heart of the church year, the scope and issues of faithfulness and disloyalty, trust and fear, should resonate with listeners of all faiths.

We’ve chosen, as some other presenters have, to have a dinner/snack break between the two parts of the three-hour work. One ticket will get you into either or both halves. We do this to give singers and players a little rest, and a little movement to our listeners. Part I runs from 4 p.m. to about 5:15 p.m., and Part II runs from 7:30 p.m. to about 9:15 p.m.


Classical music: Today is both Good Friday and Passover. Here is music to mark both religious holidays

March 30, 2018
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Good Friday, 2018.

Today is Passover, 2018.

Today is both religious holidays.

So it is a good time to recall that the original Last Supper that led to Easter WAS a Seder where Jesus Christ and his Disciples celebrated Passover, as depicted in the famous Renaissance painting “The Last Supper” (below) by Leonard da Vinci.

So today The Ear offers Jewish music that is an homage to both Christianity and Judaism.

If you go to YouTube, you can find a lot of music celebrating each event from Johann Sebastian Bach, and before, to the notorious anti-Semite Richard Wagner.

But in the YouTube video at the bottom, The Ear is offering a moving performance of Ernest Bloch’s “Schelomo: A Hebrew Rhapsody” as played by cellist Leonard Rose with the Cleveland Orchestra under conductor Lorin Maazel.

The mood of the music feels right for both Passover and Good Friday.

The Ear hopes you agree.


Classical music: Visionary Venezuelan music educator José Antonio Abreu is dead at 78

March 28, 2018
1 Comment

ALERT: Because of Good Friday and Easter, there is no Friday Noon Musicale this week at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. The free concerts, from 12:15 to 1 p.m., will resume next week.

By Jacob Stockinger

By any measure José Antonio Abreu (below), who died on March 24 at age 78, was a titan — but a beloved and accessible titan.

He invented and nurtured the famous El Sistema program of music education for all students – especially poor students – in his native Venezuela.

First he worked hard to make the program grow and succeed throughout his homeland.

Then in recent years, he helped to spread his inspired model around the world.

A tireless educator, Abreu has altered how we think about music education and how we do it. As a result, many countries and cities as well as music schools and professional music organizations have adopted El Sistema.

If you have heard of him before, it is likely because of his most famous pupil, the superstar conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Gustavo Dudamel (below right).

Here are two excellent obituaries, with a lot of background and details about El Sistema in Venezuela and around the world, including the United States, about Abreu:

From The New York Times:

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/26/arts/jose-antonio-abreu-venezuelan-musical-visionary-dies-at-78.html

From The Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/obituaries/jose-antonio-abreu-creator-of-renowned-venezuelan-youth-orchestra-dies-at-79/2018/03/25/bed38660-3030-11e8-8bdd-cdb33a5eef83_story.html?utm_term=.27fc894a6724

You can find many tributes to Abreu, including an 18-minute TED Talk by Abreu himself, on YouTube. Many of them are in Spanish and many offer a lot of music.

Here is something shorter and simpler to remember him by: the beautiful and stately “Pavane for a Dead Princess” by Maurice Ravel accompanying Abreu’s own words and those of others.


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