The Well-Tempered Ear

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.

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Classical music: On Saturday night, the Festival Choir of Madison will sing a program of modern Norwegian and Baltic music about the Northern Lights. Plus on Friday there is a FREE noontime concert of music by Mozart and Ernesto Nazareth and a FREE PUBLIC master class by pianist Richard Goode

November 2, 2017
2 Comments

ALERT I: This Friday’s FREE Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ernesto Nazareth. (Sorry, no specific works for either composer were named.) The concert runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m.

The performers in Mozart are: Joanne Schulz and Sarah Gillespie, horns; Elspeth Stalter-Close, violin; Melanie De Jesus and Shannon Farley, violas; Emma Downing, cello. The performers in Nazareth are: Chris Allen, guitar; Shannon Farley, viola; and Iva Ugrcic, flute.

ALERT II: On Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. in Morphy Recital Hall, pianist Richard Goode will give a FREE and PUBLIC master class on Haydn, Beethoven and Debussy. For more about Goode’s recital on Saturday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater, go to:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2017/11/01/classical-music-master-pianist-richard-goode-performs-music-by-bach-beethoven-chopin-and-alban-berg-in-a-must-hear-recital-this-saturday-night-at-the-wisconsin-union-theater/

By Jacob Stockinger

This Saturday night, at 7:30 p.m., at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, the Festival Choir of Madison (below top) will perform under director and Edgewood College professor Sergei Pavlov (below bottom).

The program features contemporary Norwegian and Baltic choral music around the theme of the “Northern Lights” or Aurora Borealis (below, as seen in northern Norway).

For more information, go to: https://www.festivalchoirmadison.org/concerts/2017/11/northernlights

Admission is $20 for the public; $15 for seniors; and $10 for students. For ticket information, go to: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3054565?ref=349591

The voices will be supported by leading Madison-based musicians in a journey through the mystical soundscapes of the North with music by Ola Gjeilo (below top), Peteris Vasks, Trond Kverno, Eriks Esenvalds (below middle), and retired UW-Madison horn professor and composer Douglas Hill (below bottom).

The specific program includes: “Northern Lights” by Ola Gjeilo; “Dark Night of the Soul” by Ola Gjeilo; “Mate Saule” by Peteris Vasks; “Ave Maris Stella” by Trond Kverno; “Northern Lights” by Eriks Esenvalds (heard in the YouTube video at the bottom); and “Homage to Thoreau” by Douglas Hill.


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra takes The Ear over the rainbow and turns in an impressive season-closing concert that leaves him looking forward to the next season

May 3, 2017
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

To The Ear, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) just keeps getting better and better, each concert building on the last one.

Take the final concert of this season last Friday night in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

It proved typical WCO fare in the quality of the soloists and orchestra players and in the variety of the program.

WCO music director Andrew Sewell (below) continues to mold his group into the tightest of ensembles. You know you are hearing precision when the rests and silences become as important to the music as the sound. And when you are listening, you feel how relaxing it is to rule out worrying about raggedness.

Here’s a rundown:

The concert opened with a tried-and-true masterpiece, the “Le Tombeau de Couperin” by Maurice Ravel (below). Each of the five dance movements pays homage to a friend of Ravel who fell in World War I, the centennial of which, the gracious Sewell explained, is being marked this year. The Ear likes such tie-ins. (The Ear also loves the original piano version, which has a sixth movement, a fabulous toccata conclusion.)

The Symphony No. 2 in C Major by Romantic master Robert Schumann is not The Ear’s favorite Schumann symphony – that would be No. 4 – and The Ear thinks that Schumann’s orchestral writing is generally not up to his piano writing, his chamber music or his songs.

Indeed, long-form music was not Schumann’s strength, as his many miniature movements in his longer suites and his fragmentary esthetic attest. Perhaps it had to do with his mental illness; perhaps it was just his preference and temperament, much as was the case with his contemporary Chopin, who also preferred the miniature to the epic.

Still, the work proved enjoyable and moving, especially in the vivacious and energetic Scherzo that was executed so precisely and then in the poignant slow movement, which was beautifully shaped with the romantic yearning that Schumann (seen below, with his wife Clara Wieck Schumann) was peerless at expressing. (You can hear the third movement, conducted by Leonard Bernstein, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

And once again, the smaller size of the chamber orchestra — versus a full symphony orchestra — created transparency. Listeners got to hear inner voices and the interplay of parts in all sections of the orchestra that they might otherwise miss.

But the piece that everyone came to hear was the finale: The world premiere of a Two-Piano Concerto by American composer Thomas Cabaniss (below top). The WCO commissioned the piece with help from two local patrons (Jun and Sandy Lee) and the soloists, Michael Shinn and Jessica Chow Shinn (below bottom), who have ties to Madison.

The work and its three movements – “Surfaces,” “Disturbances” and “Revelation” — did not disappoint and received a rapturous reception from the large audience, which demanded and received a piano-four hands encore.

The concerto struck The Ear as perfectly fitting its title, “Double Rainbow.” You heard elements of Maurice Ravel and John Adams. But you did NOT hear the typical standout solo playing of, say, a piano concerto by Beethoven or Brahms, Rachmaninoff or Prokofiev.

This was a much more atmospheric ensemble work that shimmered and glittered, much like a rainbow. It almost seemed in many places similar to a Baroque concerto grosso, with the piano incorporated into the orchestral texture rather than standing out against it.

That is not to say the concerto, more mood than melody, wasn’t impressive. The score seemed very difficult, even virtuosic, and it certainly had moments that allowed the two soloists to show off their first-rate, Juilliard-trained chops.

Will this new concerto join other two-piano staples, such as the famous two-piano concertos by Poulenc and Mozart? It would take more hearings to be sure, but The Ear suspects not. It will surely get repeated hearings, especially from the Shinns, without becoming a go-to default piece in the two-piano repertoire. But he could well be wrong.

In any case, one would be hard put to find a better summary of the WCO approach to music-making than this outstanding concert that combined the old and the new, that mixed works from the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries and performed them with technical precision and moving interpretation.

Bravos to all.

And all the more reason to look forward, after the WCO’s six summer outdoor Concerts on the Square from June 28 to Aug. 2, to the next indoors Masterworks season, both of which you can find here:

https://wisconsinchamberorchestra.org/performances


Classical music: Remembering The Modest Maestro. English conductor Sir Neville Marriner died this past week at 92

October 8, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

He played in a string quartet and a symphony orchestra before founding and directing a chamber orchestra that rose to the top ranks of the music world. Then he became a world-famous conductor of larger ensembles, including the Minnesota Orchestra.

He was Sir Neville Marriner (below, in old age), and he died at 92 on Oct. 2.

nevlle-marriner-old

Perhaps because Marriner, who pioneered period practices on modern instruments when playing music of the Baroque and Classical eras, was famous for recording the soundtrack to the Academy Award-winning film “Amadeus,” his death was announced the same day on radio news programs – something that doesn’t happen often and speaks to his popularity and influence.

By all accounts, in the world of many egotistical maestros, Marriner remained modest. For this friendly titan, music mattered most and he was busy conducting right up until the end. Apparently, Marriner was a wonderful man to know and to work with.

Chances are good that by now you have already heard about Marriner’s death. So The Ear is offering some homages that repeat the details of his career and his passing. (Below is a photo of the young Neville Marriner.)

neville-marriner-young

First are two moving testimonies from Marriner’s friend, the British critic Norman Lebrecht, published on Lebrecht’s blog Slipped Disc:

http://slippedisc.com/2016/10/sad-news-neville-marriner-is-gone-at-92/

http://slippedisc.com/2016/10/the-unforgettable-neville-marriner/

Here is the announcement of his death from the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields (heard playing the Adagio by Tomaso Albinoni in the YouTube video at the bottom), which Marriner founded and led for many years:

http://www.asmf.org/sir-neville-marriner/

Here is an exhaustive obituary from The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/03/arts/music/neville-marriner-prolific-musician-and-acclaimed-conductor-dies-at-92.html?_r=0

And here is another obituary from The Washington Post:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/music/neville-marriner-led-renowned-academy-of-st-martin-in-the-fields-dies-at-92/2016/10/02/3bfbb3ec-88b2-11e6-875e-2c1bfe943b66_story.html

Here is a good overview with some audio-visual samples, from the Deceptive Cadence blog on NPR or National Public Radio:

http://www.npr.org/sections/deceptivecadence/2016/10/02/195882515/neville-marriner-who-recorded-the-beloved-soundtrack-to-amadeus-has-died

And here is a good summary from famed radio station WQXR-FM in New York City:

http://www.wqxr.org/#!/story/conductor-neville-marriner-dies-founded-london-orchestra/?utm_source=local&utm_medium=treatment&utm_campaign=carousel&utm_content=item5

Sir Neville Marriner was a prolific recording artist, with more than 500 recordings to his credit. The Ear fondly remembers an LP that had the Serenades for Strings by the Czech composer Antonin Dvorak and the “Holberg” Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, which has been reissued as a “Legends” CD by Decca. The playing was warmly heart-felt and superb.

The Ear also loved his complete set of piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, done with pianist Alfred Brendel.

What are your favorite Marriner recordings?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Which are the most famous and most popular string quartets? And which ones are your favorites?

May 26, 2016
8 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Does The Ear ever love chamber music!

And it has been a good few days for him and for other Madison fans of string quartets.

On Saturday night, The Ear heard the Ancora String Quartet (below) in outstanding performances of the “Dissonance” Quartet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and the late String Quartet No. 13 in A Minor, “Rosamunde,” by Franz Schubert.

Ancora CR Barry Lewis

Then on Monday night, the Ear heard the terrific Rhapsodie Quartet (below top, in a photo by Greg Anderson), made up of players in the Madison Symphony Orchestra, perform the “American” String Quartet by Antonin Dvorak followed by the sublime and profound Cello Quintet by Franz Schubert. UW-Madison and Pro Arte Quartet cellist Parry Karp (below bottom) sat in as the extra cellist.

Rhapsodie Quartet MSO Greg Anderson

Parry Karp

At the Ancora concert, cellist Benjamin Whitcomb, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, made the case that Mozart’s “Dissonance” Quartet is well known for its apt nickname and is probably the best known or most popular of Mozart’s string quartets.

That got The Ear to thinking:

What are the most well-known and most popular string quartets?

And which string quartets are your favorites that you would recommend to other chamber music fans?

The Ear drew up a list of candidates of the first honor of being well-known.

He suspects that the “Emperor” Quartet — with its famous and infamous slow movement theme that was turned from an homage to the Austrian emperor into an anthem for Nazi Germany — by Franz Joseph Haydn, the “Death and the Maiden” Quartet of Schubert and the “American” Quartet of Dvorak all rival or surpass the public reputation of the Mozart’s “Dissonance,” although that one is certainly and deservedly famous to the general public.

As to The Ear’s favorite quartets: The Ear is especially partial to the six early Op. 18 string quartets by Ludwig van Beethoven (below), which often take a back seat to the same composer’s middle quartets and late quartets. But of the famous last ones, The Ear loves the very last one, Op. 135, with its return to classical structure and clarity.

Beethoven big

He also loves all of the Op. 76 string quartets by Haydn (below top) and is especially partial to the “Sunrise” and the “Quinten” or “Fifths” quartets. He also loves Haydn’s earlier Op. 20 “Sun” quartets; and all six string quartets that Mozart (below bottom) composed for and dedicated to Haydn, generally considered the father or the modern string quartet who also played string quartets  with himself on violin and Mozart on viola.

Haydn

Mozart old 1782

The Ear likes Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden” well enough, but he is always blown away by Schubert’s last quartet in G major, which was used as a soundtrack in Woody Allen’s great movie “Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

He also loves the lyrical quartets on Dvorak (below), especially the Op. 51 “Slavonic” as well as the “American.” (You can hear the opening of the “Slavonic” String Quartet in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

dvorak

As for Johannes Brahms, The Ear prefers the string quintets and string sextets to the string quartets.

Francophile that he is, The Ear also loves the single string quartets by Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.

Among other modern string quartets, he loves the third and fifth of Bela Bartok, the second one by Sergei Prokofiev and the eight and 11th by Dmitri Shostakovich. He also adds the String Quartet No. 3 “Mishima” by Philip Glass.

Well, that’s enough for today and for this post.

What string quartet do you think is the most famous or most popular?

And which string quartets are your favorites?

Leave word, with a YouTube link if possible, in the COMMENT section.

The Ear wants to hear.


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