The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Legendary pianist Leon Fleisher delivers subtle, moving and memorable Brahms with the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet

October 7, 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 for 12 years hosted an early music show every other 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.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

There was a warm welcome back given to the fabled pianist Leon Fleisher (below) on Thursday noon at Mills Hall on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

leon-fleisher-2016

At age 88, Fleisher is still a formidable performer, despite vicissitudes that would have wrecked many a career. Having risen to world-wide acclaim, in 1965 he was stricken with a condition that denied him the use of his right hand.

For decades, he continued performing in left-hand literature, and in conducting and teaching. But by 2003 he had managed to recover his right-hand capacity, and could resume activities as a “two-hander.”

It was in November of 2003, at the beginning of his recovery, that he appeared in Mills Hall with the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer), playing the Brahms Piano Quintet in F minor, Op. 34, one of the pinnacles of the chamber music literature.

Pro Arte 3 Rick Langer copy

Fleisher recently offered to play here again, and in that very same Brahms work. His offer came when performance scheduling had already tied down regular evening slots, so the choice fell on a one-shot noonday date.

That was no deterrent to the jam-packed audience (below) that attended the free concert.

leon-fleisher-audience-2016

Fleisher is still a remarkable pianist for his age. He clearly knows this work well, and brings his long experience to it.

To be sure, Fleisher is no longer in the mold of the muscular performer that Brahms’ music requires. His playing in this work was no longer heroic or strongly pointed. There were some slips, and his less aggressive playing now made him go more for nuance than for power.

He was at his best in the slow movement, which emerged as beautifully thoughtful and nostalgic music. Still, the generosity of his presence and his long-standing ties with the quartet players made his appearance more than just an echo of past glories. (You can hear the slow movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The Pro Arte gave a powerful and idiomatic delivery of its role, ready and able to match Fleisher as far as he would go. It was clear that playing with him here once again meant a lot to them. (Fleisher’s teacher, the famous Artur Schnabel, also played and recorded in the 1930s with earlier versions of the Pro Arte Quartet.) 

leon-fleisher-and-pro-arte-quartet-2016

The audience (below) responded with great enthusiasm to a memorable experience with one of the great musical personalities of our time.

leon-fleisher-ovation


Classical music: This week at the UW-Madison features three FREE concerts: the UW Wind Ensemble, pianist Leon Fleisher with the Pro Arte Quartet and the UW Symphony Orchestra in music by Prokofiev and Sibelius

October 4, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This week there are three FREE concerts at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music that merit your attention and attendance:

WEDNESDAY:

On Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the UW-Madison Wind Ensemble (below top) will perform a concert of theater music under director Scott Teeple (below bottom).

UW Wind Ensemble

Scott Teeple conducting

The concert features special guest soloist, percussionist Darin Olson (below), assistant director of the University of Wisconsin Marching Band.

The program includes music from “The Three Penny Opera” by Kurt Weill; the wind octet “Figures in the Garden” by Jonathan Dove; the Concertino for Timpani with Brass and Percussion by Michael Colgrass; the “Nocturno” by Felix Mendelssohn; and the “Geschwindmarsch” (Wind March) by Paul Hindemith.

For more information, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-wind-ensemble-5/

darin-olson

THURSDAY

Famed pianist Leon Fleisher (below top) will perform a FREE noon concert with the Pro Arte Quartet (below bottom, in a photo by Rick Langer).

A single work is featured but it is a great one, an undisputed masterpiece: The Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms.

The concert is from noon to 1 p.m. in Mills Hall.

For more information and background, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/special-guest-artist-concert-the-legendary-leon-fleisher-in-concert-with-pro-arte-quartet/

Leon Fleisher

PAQ-8BIT03

FRIDAY

At 8 p.m. on Friday night in Mills Hall, the UW Symphony Orchestra (below) will perform under its director and conductor James Smith.

The ingenious program features two terrific fifth symphonies that are NOT the most famous Fifth Symphony, the one by Ludwig van Beethoven: these are instead the Symphony No. 5 in B-flat by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev; and the Symphony No. 5 by Finnish composer Jean Sibelius

You can listen to the exciting and moving finale of the Sibelius symphony, performed by the Finnish conductor Essa-Pekka Salonen and the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra  in the YouTube video at the bottom. It is one of The Ear’s favorites.)

UW Symphony violins 2015

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Three student recitals, including graduate recitals in viola and piano, are also on the schedule this week. For information, visit:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/


Classical music: Here are the 2015 Grammy winners and the nominees for classical music. Pro Arte Quartet recording producer Judith Sherman wins again.

February 10, 2015
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The 2015 Grammy winners were announced Sunday night in a live three-hour broadcast.

The list of winners and nominees can be a good guide to new listening.

grammy award BIG

Of course most of the Grammy attention went to pop, rock, rap, country and the big selling music genres.

But here are the winners for classical music, along with the nominees and competition.

One thing to note: Producer of the Year again went to freelancer Judith Sherman (below).

Sherman will be in Madison again inn May to record the last two centennial commissions for the University of Wisconsin-Madison‘s Pro Arte Quartet. (Below, she is seen recording the first four commissions with the Pro Arte in Mills Hall.) The new recording includes the terrific Clarinet Quintet based on Allen Ginsberg’s landmark Beat poem “Howl” by American composer Pierre Jalbert and Belgian composer Benoît Mernier’s String Quartet No. 3.

Judith Shermanjpeg

Judith Sherman with Pro Arte

BEST ENGINEERED ALBUM, CLASSICAL

WINNER: Vaughan Williams (below): Dona Nobis Pacem; Symphony No. 4; The Lark AscendingMichael Bishop, engineer; Michael Bishop, mastering engineer (Robert Spano, Norman Mackenzie, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus). Label: ASO Media

Adams, John: City Noir. Richard King, engineer; Wolfgang Schiefermair, mastering engineer (David Robertson & St. Louis Symphony); Label: Nonesuch

Adams, John Luther: Become Ocean. Dmitriy Lipay & Nathaniel Reichman, engineers; Nathaniel Reichman, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony) Label: Cantaloupe Music

Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time. Dmitriy Lipay, engineer; Dmitriy Lipay, mastering engineer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Riccardo Muti Conducts Mason Bates & Anna Clyne. David Frost & Christopher Willis, engineers; Tim Martyn, mastering engineer (Riccardo Muti & Chicago Symphony Orchestra). Label: CSO Resound

Ralph Vaughan Williamsjpg

PRODUCER OF THE YEAR, CLASSICAL

WINNER: Judith Sherman (below)

  • Beethoven: Cello & Piano Complete (Fischer Duo)
  • Brahms By Heart (Chiara String Quartet)
  • Composing America (Lark Quartet)
  • Divergence (Plattform K + K Vienna)
  • The Good Song (Thomas Meglioranza)
  • Mozart & Brahms: Clarinet Quintets (Anthony McGill & Pacifica Quartet)
  • Snapshot (American Brass Quintet)
  • Two X Four (Jaime Laredo, Jennifer Koh, Vinay Parameswaran & Curtis 20/21 Ensemble)
  • Wagner Without Words (Williams)

Morten Lindberg

  • Beppe: Remote Galaxy (Vladimir Ashkenazy & Philharmonia Orchestra)
  • Dyrud: Out Of Darkness (Vivianne Sydnes & Nidaros Cathedral Choir)
  • Ja, Vi Elsker (Tone Bianca Sparre Dahl, Ingar Bergby, Staff Band Of The Norwegian Armed Forces & Schola Cantorum)
  • Symphonies Of Wind Instruments (Ingar Bergby & Royal Norwegian Navy Band)

Dmitriy Lipay

  • Adams, John Luther: Become Ocean (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Fauré: Masques Et Bergamasques; Pelléas Et Mélisande; Dolly (Ludovic Morlot, Seattle Symphony Chorale & Seattle Symphony)
  • Hindemith: Nobilissima Visione; Five Pieces For String Orchestra (Gerard Schwarz & Seattle Symphony)
  • Ives: Symphony No. 2; Carter: Instances; Gershwin: An American In Paris (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)
  • Ravel: Orchestral Works; Saint-Saëns: Organ Symphony (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony)

Elaine Martone

  • Hallowed Ground (Louis Langrée, Maya Angelou, Nathan Wyatt & Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra)
  • Mahler: Symphony No. 2 ‘Resurrection’ (Benjamin Zander, Stefan Bevier, Philharmonia Chorus & Orchestra)
  • Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7; Tapiola (Robert Spano & Atlanta Symphony Orchestra)
  • Vaughan Williams: Dona Nobis Pacem; Symphony No. 4; The Lark Ascending (Robert Spano, Norman Mackenzie, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus)

David Starobin

  • All The Things You Are (Leon Fleisher)
  • Complete Crumb Edition, Vol. 16 (Ann Crumb, Patrick Mason, James Freeman & Orchestra 2001)
  • Game Of Attrition – Arlene Sierra, Vol. 2 (Jac Van Steen & BBC National Orchestra Of Wales)
  • Haydn, Beethoven & Schubert (Gilbert Kalish)
  • Mozart: Piano Concertos, No. 12, K. 414 & No. 23, K. 488 (Marianna Shirinyan, Scott Yoo & Odense Symphony Orchestra)
  • Music Of Peter Lieberson, Vol. 3 (Scott Yoo, Roberto Diaz, Steven Beck & Odense Symphony Orchestra)
  • Rochberg, Chihara & Rorem (Jerome Lowenthal)
  • Tchaikovsky: The Tempest, Op. 18 & Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 23 (Joyce Yang, Alexander Lazarev & Odense Symphony Orchestra

Judith Sherman Grammy 2012

BEST ORCHESTRAL PERFORMANCE

WINNER: Adams, John (below): City Noir.  David Robertson, conductor (St. Louis Symphony). Label: Nonesuch

Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time.  Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony). Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Dvořák: Symphony No. 8; Janáček: Symphonic Suite From Jenůfa. Manfred Honeck, conductor (Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra). Label: Reference Recordings

Schumann: Symphonien 1-4. Simon Rattle, conductor (Berliner Philharmoniker). Label: Berliner Philharmoniker Recordings.

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7; Tapiola. Robert Spano, conductor (Atlanta Symphony Orchestra). Label: ASO Media

John Adams

BEST OPERA RECORDING

WINNER: Charpentier (below): La Descente D’Orphée Aux Enfers. Paul O’Dette & Stephen Stubbs, conductors; Aaron Sheehan; Renate Wolter-Seevers, producer (Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble; Boston Early Music Festival Vocal Ensemble). Label: CPO

Milhaud: L’Orestie D’Eschyle. Kenneth Kiesler, conductor; Dan Kempson, Jennifer Lane, Tamara Mumford, Sidney Outlaw, Lori Phillips & Brenda Rae; Tim Handley, producer (University Of Michigan Percussion Ensemble & University Of Michigan Symphony Orchestra; University Of Michigan Chamber Choir, University Of Michigan Orpheus Singers, University Of Michigan University Choir & UMS Choral Union). Label: Naxos

Rameau: Hippolyte Et Aricie. William Christie, conductor; Sarah Connolly, Stéphane Degout, Christiane Karg, Ed Lyon & Katherine Watson; Sébastien Chonion, producer (Orchestra Of The Age Of Enlightenment; The Glyndebourne Chorus). Label: Opus Arte

Schönberg: Moses Und Aron. Sylvain Cambreling, conductor; Andreas Conrad & Franz Grundheber; Reinhard Oechsler, producer (SWR Sinfonieorchester Baden-Baden Und Freiburg; EuropaChorAkademie). Label: Hänssler Classic

Strauss: Elektra. Christian Thielemann, conductor; Evelyn Herlitzius, Waltraud Meier, René Pape & Anne Schwanewilms; Arend Prohmann, producer (Staatskapelle Dresden; Sächsischer Staatsopernchor Dresden). Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Marc-Antoine Charpentier color

BEST CHORAL PERFORMANCE

WINNER: The Sacred Spirit Of Russia. Craig Hella Johnson, conductor (Conspirare). Label: Harmonia Mundi

Bach: Matthäus-Passion. René Jacobs, conductor (Werner Güra & Johannes Weisser; Akademie Für Alte Musik Berlin; Rias Kammerchor & Staats-Und Domchor Berlin). Label: Harmonia Mundi

Dyrud: Out Of Darkness. Vivianne Sydnes, conductor (Erlend Aagaard Nilsen & Geir Morten Øien; Sarah Head & Lars Sitter; Nidaros Cathedral Choir). Label: 2L (Lindberg Lyd).

Holst: First Choral Symphony; The Mystic Trumpeter. Andrew Davis, conductor; Stephen Jackson, chorus master (Susan Gritton; BBC Symphony Orchestra; BBC Symphony Chorus). Label: Chandos Records

Mozart: Requiem. John Butt, conductor (Matthew Brook, Rowan Hellier, Thomas Hobbs & Joanne Lunn; Dunedin Consort). Label: Linn Records

BEST CHAMBER MUSIC/SMALL ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE

WINNER: In 27 Pieces – The Hilary Hahn Encores (below). Hilary Hahn & Cory Smythe. Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Dreams & Prayers. David Krakauer & A Far Cry. Label: Crier Records

Martinů: Cello Sonatas Nos. 1-3. Steven Isserlis & Olli Mustonen. Label: BIS

Partch: Castor & Pollux. Partch. Track from: Partch: Plectra & Percussion Dances. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Sing Thee Nowell. New York Polyphony. Label: BIS

Hilary Hahn Encores CD cover

BEST CLASSICAL INSTRUMENTAL SOLO

WINNER: Play. Jason Vieaux. Label: Azica Records

All The Things You Are. Leon Fleisher. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

The Carnegie Recital. Daniil Trifonov. Label: Deutsche Grammophon

Dutilleux: Tout Un Monde Lointain. Xavier Phillips; Ludovic Morlot, conductor (Seattle Symphony). Track from: Dutilleux: Symphony No. 1; Tout Un Monde Lointain; The Shadows Of Time. Label: Seattle Symphony Media

Toccatas. Jory Vinikour. Label: Sono Luminus

BEST CLASSICAL SOLO VOCAL ALBUM

WINNER: Douce France. Anne Sofie Von Otter; Bengt Forsberg, accompanist (Carl Bagge, Margareta Bengston, Mats Bergström, Per Ekdahl, Bengan Janson, Olle Linder & Antoine Tamestit). Label: Naïve

Porpora: Arias. Philippe Jaroussky; Andrea Marcon, conductor (Cecilia Bartoli; Venice Baroque Orchestra) Label: Erato

Schubert: Die Schöne Müllerin. Florian Boesch; Malcolm Martineau, accompanist. Label: Onyx

Stella Di Napoli. Joyce DiDonato; Riccardo Minasi, conductor (Chœur De L’Opéra National De Lyon; Orchestre De L’Opéra National De Lyon). Label: Erato/Warner Classics

Virtuoso Rossini Arias. Lawrence Brownlee; Constantine Orbelian, conductor (Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra). Label: Delos

BEST CLASSICAL COMPENDIUM

WINNER: Partch (below): Plectra & Percussion Dances. Partch; John Schneider, producer. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Britten To America. Jeffrey Skidmore, conductor; Colin Matthews, producer. Label: NMC Recordings

Mieczysław Weinberg. Giedrė Dirvanauskaitė, Daniil Grishin, Gidon Kremer, & Daniil Trifonov & Kremerata Baltica; Manfred Eicher, producer. Label: ECM New Series

Mike Marshall & The Turtle Island Quartet. Mike Marshall & Turtle Island Quartet; Mike Marshall, producer. Label: Adventure Music

The Solent – Fifty Years Of Music By Ralph Vaughan Williams. Paul Daniel, conductor; Andrew Walton, producer. Label: Albion Records

harry partch

BEST CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL COMPOSITION

WINNER: Adams, John Luther (below): Become Ocean. John Luther Adams, composer (Ludovic Morlot & Seattle Symphony). Label: Cantaloupe Music

Clyne, Anna: Prince Of Clouds. Anna Clyne, composer (Jaime Laredo, Jennifer Koh, Vinay Parameswaran & Curtis 20/21 Ensemble). Track from: Two X Four. Label: Cedille Records

Crumb, George: Voices From The Heartland. George Crumb, composer (Ann Crumb, Patrick Mason, James Freeman & Orchestra 2001). Track from: Complete Crumb Edition, Vol. 16. Label: Bridge Records, Inc.

Paulus, Stephen: Concerto For Two Trumpets & Band. Stephen Paulus, composer (Eric Berlin, Richard Kelley, James Patrick Miller & UMASS Wind Ensemble). Track from: Fantastique – Premieres For Trumpet & Wind Ensemble. Label: MSR Classics

Sierra, Roberto: Sinfonía No. 4. Roberto Sierra, composer (Giancarlo Guerrero & Nashville Symphony). Track from: Sierra: Sinfonía No. 4; Fandangos; Carnaval.  Label: Naxos

John Luther Adams

 


Classical music: Need gift suggestions? NPR names its Top 10 classical music albums of 2014. Plus, though Dec. 24 the Madison Symphony Orchestra is offering cut-rate holiday tickets for four spring concerts.

December 14, 2014
2 Comments

ALERT: The Madison Symphony Orchestra has started its annual holiday cut-rate ticket sale. And you can get some great deals. Between now and Christmas Eve (Dec. 24), you can buy seats for $20 (with a value up to $44) and $45 (valued up to $88). The spring has four concerts, two of which feature piano concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach, Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt plus a concert of music by exiles from Nazi Germany in Hollywood during World War II and the Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven and a violin concerto by Leonard Bernstein. For more information, visit: http://www.overturecenter.org/events/madison-symphony-orchestra/

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, today is another Shopping Day left before Christmas and other holidays.

With that in mind, The Ear usually offers lists that other media suggest about the best classical music recordings of 2014.

If you recall, I have already posed a link to the 57th annual Grammy Award nominations, which can be useful when it comes to holiday gift-giving.

Here is a link to that post:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/09/classical-music-the-57th-annual-grammy-award-nominations-provide-a-useful-guide-to-holiday-gift-giving/

grammy award BIG

And below is a link to the Top 10 classical albums that appeared on the appeared on the NPR (National Public Radio) blog Deceptive Cadence over the weekend. It is an eclectic list that features early music, well-known classics and new music.

You will find music by composers John Dowland, John Adams (below and at bottom in a YouTube video), John Luther Adams and Thomas Adès as well as Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Jean Sibelius and Carl Nielsen.

John Adams

Performers include violinist Augustin Hadelich (below), who has played twice with the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and Leon Fleisher, who performed at the Wisconsin Union Theater; mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato; the New York Philharmonic under music director and conductor Alan Gilbert; and the Danish String Quartet playing works by Danish composers.

Augustin Hadelich 1

The list also shows CD covers and feature sound snippets and samples.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2014/12/11/370067981/best-classical-albums-of-2014

 


Classical music: NPR weighs in with its recommendations for box sets of classical CDs for holiday gift-giving.

December 12, 2013
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This holiday season seems like it is shaping up as a time to consider bigger and more expensive gifts such as complete box sets of recordings of certain performers, composers and institutions.

Could it be because their volume makes them less downloadable? Or does their appeal have to do with the novelty of having the complete collection of something — you know, the desire for total possession of beauty as well as convenience?

True, the box sets, which often run into dozens of CDs, have their own scale of economy that brings the per disc price down to as low as $5 or less.

But more importantly, the sets also feature reissues of historical recordings by major artists that have not generally been available singly — or at all! You can hear the complete Van Cliburn; the legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz playing live at Carnegie Hall between 1943 and 1973 in recently discovered recordings (a sneak peek sampler is in a YouTube video at the bottom)  the world’s great singers doing Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner at the Metropolitan Opera; conductor Fritz Reiner with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra; conductor Carlo Maria Giulini and several orchestras; and former superstar pianists Gary Graffman and Leon Fleisher whose early careers later got sidetracked by injuries.

NPR boxed CD sets

Here is what the critics for The New York Times recommended a few weeks back:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/11/29/classical-music-as-we-head-into-black-friday-small-business-saturday-and-cyber-monday-how-appealing-as-holiday-gifts-are-complete-cd-boxed-sets/

And here is what “Deceptive Cadence,” the terrific classical blog on NPR, recommends in the way of boxed sets.

In addition, NPR also provides audio samples from many of the sets to whet your appetite and help you decide, so if you can listen to it – don’t just read it.

They also provide links to other stories and blog postings that NPR has done about the major artists.

Here is a link to the story by Tom Huizenga and Anastasia Tsioulcas:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/deceptivecadence/2013/12/04/248792687/a-bumper-crop-of-classical-boxed-sets

It seems to me, comparing the two stories, that both The New York Times and NPR agree on a lot of the boxed sets – a good sign, don’t you think?

Do any of you have personal experiences and opinions about the various boxed sets? Let us know in the COMMENTS section.

Happy shopping.

Happy giving.

Happy receiving.


Classical music: As we head into Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber-Monday, how appealing as holiday gifts are complete CD boxed sets?

November 29, 2013
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is Black Friday, known for deep price cuts, huge sales and outrageous store hours that draw massive crowds — and for putting retails business in the profitable black at the end of the year.

Tomorrow is Small Business Saturday, which is supposed to encourage us to patronize local businesses.

And Monday is Cyber-Monday for on-line Internet shopping.

Never mind that they are all starting to get mixed up and to become one big, long shopping frenzy.

Black Friday Shopping

As I do every year, I will hunt out and post on this blog the “Best of 2013” lists, which should feature lots of recordings, some great DVDs and also some noteworthy books about classical music. Here are some links to last year’s from NPR, The New York Times and The New Yorker and Gramophone magazines among others. After all,  the music and the performances are just as good as it was a year ago:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2013/01/10/classical-music-critics-have-had-their-say-but-about-the-public-what-were-the-most-popular-if-not-the-best-classical-records-of-2012-radio-station-wqxr-knows/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/10/06/classical-music-gramophone-magazine-announces-its-2012-awards-for-best-classical-recordings-artists-and-labels-do-you-see-evidence-of-a-brit-bias/

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/culture/2012/11/ten-notable-classical-music-recordings-of-2012.html

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/classical-music-here-is-part-4-of-the-ears-holiday-gift-giving-guides-to-classical-music-compliments-of-the-new-york-times/

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/classical-music-here-is-part-2-of-the-ears-holiday-gift-giving-guide-featuring-nprs-top-10-classical-recordings-of-2012/

But recently The New York Times chief music critic Anthony Tommasini (below) wrote about the phenomenon of these multi-CD boxed sets, containing dozens of CDs and costing hundreds of dollars (unless of course you are a reviewer) that often use original LP covers and that give you the encore output” – or “oeuvre,” if you like – of a particular performer (like pianist Arthur Rubinstein, below) or composer. But they also probably offer lots of duplicates to serious collectors who already have a substantial number of recordings.

tommasini-190

Tommasini remarks on the seeming contradictions of these as music becomes more and more about digital downloads rather than physical Compact Discs.

Arthur Rubinstein CD box set

He makes some intriguing points worth considering if you are hunting for a special classical music gift.

So in honor of the days-long holiday shopping frenzy that is facing us, here is a link to Tommasini’s story that covers several major pianists including Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall (below top, bowing, in a  photo by Don Hunstein, and below middle in the scale model “Carnegie Hall” box container), Murray Perahia (below bottom) and Van Cliburn as well as Byron Janis, Leon Fleisher and Gary Graffman plus the composer Benjamin Britten, whose birth centennial was on Nov. 22.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/17/arts/music/classical-music-boxed-sets-multiply.html?_r=0

Benjamin Britten Complete CD set

DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE RECORDING TO RECOMMEND AS A GIFT?

The Ear wants to hear.

Vladimir Horowitz in Caregie Hall Don Hunstein,jpg

Vladimir Horowitz at Carnegie Hall CB whole box

Murray Perahia box


Classical music Q&A: American pianist Jonathan Biss talks about writing his e-book on Beethoven as he starts recording all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and thinks about writing future books and making more recordings. Part 2 of 2.

March 2, 2012
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

I first heard him on recordings. Then I heard him on TV when his teacher Leon Fleisher received the National Medal of the Arts at the Kennedy Center. And then I heard him live in Madison in a thoroughly sublime and poetic performance of a Mozart concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

In every instance, my reaction was the same: American pianist Jonathan Biss (below, in a photo by Jillian Edelstein) is supremely talented, one of the young classical musicians to watch and listen to in coming years.

That impression is reinforced by the recent release of first volume of Beethoven sonatas for the Onyx label, which features a mixed recital or program format of four sonatas from the early to the late periods.

It is an outstanding release, and should receive many awards. I generally do not favor such complete cycles believing that individual pianists respond to individual sonatas better than to all the others.

It is an ambitious and historic feat, to be sure. Still, it is hard to believe it took more than 100 years for the first complete Beethoven sonata cycle (done by Artur Schnabel, below) who taught Biss’ teacher Fleisher) and that since then many others have been done: Alfred Brendel (three times!) Vladimir Ashkenazy, Richard Goode, Stephen Bishop Kovacevich, John Kimura Parker and Paul Lewis, with some other cycles by Garrick Ohlsson and Maurizio Pollini in the works but yet to be completed.

But right now my money is on Biss’ cycle. I find his Beethoven completely absorbing and totally convincing. It offers a quiet virtuosity in music that is extremely hard to play. Yet his astonishing technique never draws attention to itself, but instead always serves the music.

Moreover, his Beethoven is thoroughly musical. Biss neither smoothes over the rough spots nor overemphasizes the spikiness. Instead, each melody, harmony and rhythm seems thoroughly thought out, seems to come from somewhere and then go to somewhere. At all times, Biss’ playing has coherence, conviction and consistency. I love his playing, which has clarity and is never over-pedaled. His readings make both intellectual sense and emotional sense. When I listen to Biss’ Beethoven, I am aware of paying attention to Beethoven, not to Biss.

As if great playing isn’t enough, Biss is articulate and writes well. His e-book  “Beethoven’s Shadow” ($1.99 at Amazon.com) is informative and instructive as well as enjoyable. Only a few other performing pianists in history can write as well – Charles Rosen comes immediately to mind, but Rosen writes for a more specialized or learned reader. Biss is more accessible.

The Beethoven sonata cycle will take the 31-year-old Biss almost a decade to complete: 9 CDs over 9 years, to be released one per year. That should show some development and growth, and only adds to the excitement and pleasure.

Biss (below, in a photo by Jamie Jung), an extremely busy concertizing artist, recently took time to do an email Q&A about his Beethoven book and Beethoven sonata recording for The Ear.

Here it is in two parts – the first yesterday, the second part today.

Will the program-like sequencing of sonatas (early, middle and early late) on the first CD (below) be how the entire cycle is recorded? Or will you go with a largely chronological order in the future? How do you choose which sonatas to play with which other ones?  What kind of links to you look for?

Each disc will cover as much ground – in terms of date of composition, style, and character – as possible. Because the pace of recording is so slow, I really want each CD to offer a narrative of Beethoven’s evolution. I find it fascinating, because his language changed so very much, and yet the most basic characteristics of his music – the strength, the grit, the searching – are there all the way through.

Beyond that, the links I look for are not ones I could put into words. For example, I do feel a strong kinship between Opus 26 (“Funeral March”) and the “Les Adieux,” even though they have virtually no surface detail in common. In the end, no matter what else is going on, that voice is unmistakable.

Can you briefly go through what distinguishes for you each of the four sonatas you chose for the inaugural CD and what major points you would like the listener to hear in each one?

Op. 10, No. 1: For me, this sonata is all about extremes of pacing. The outer movements are all about restlessness, whereas the slow movement has this quality of incessant expansiveness. The juxtaposition is extremely moving, and when the last movement starts to break down, just before its conclusion, losing steam and approaching the world of the middle movement, the effect is just wonderfully disorienting.

Op. 22: I always come back to the same verb for this piece: it crackles. Beethoven (bel0w) himself loved it, and it has a wit and energy that really do make it irresistible, even though on the surface, it is probably the least adventurous of the four sonatas on the disc. Also remarkable is the operatic nature of the slow movement, which opens with what may be the single longest uninterrupted phrase Beethoven ever wrote – it takes a minute and a half to play, and forms the entire “A” section of the movement.

Op. 26 “Funeral March”: Part of my special fondness for this piece comes from the fact that I was 10 when I learned it! But mostly it comes down to the piece’s weird charm. It’s from 1801 – one of his most experimental years – and hardly anything in it conforms to the model of the sonata he had established to this point. (A slow-ish set of variations to start the work? Really?) The funeral march – played at Beethoven’s own funeral procession – is relentlessly unsentimental, and all the more moving for it.

Op. 81a: Surely this work – the “Les Adieux”  (at bottom) – needs no special pleading. (Not that any of them do, really.) It has probably become famous foremost because it is the closest Beethoven ever came to writing programmatic music. But what is most extraordinary about it is its concentration. It is is compact, built on very little material, and the ambiguous nature of its first two movements gives way to rapturous displays of delight Beethoven ever wrote.

Will you continue to record other works and composers in between the yearly Beethoven releases? For Onyx? Or do you still record for EMI aside from the Beethoven cycle?

Obviously, as far as recording goes, the Beethoven cycle is foremost in my mind at the moment! I do have some other projects in the planning stages – a chamber music disc and a live recital CD. My main recording relationship at this point is with Onyx.

What non-Beethoven CDs are in the works for the future? Solo, chamber works and concertos?

Nothing is 100 percent at the moment, but it looks like I’ll be making a recording of the Schumann and Brahms quintets sometime in the next year; and my next non-Beethoven recital disc will probably be a mix of Schumann and 20th century works. But it’s all still fluid – the planning of the Beethoven is taking up a whole lot of my brain space.

You have recorded a lot of Schumann (below, in a photo from 1850) as well as Mozart and Schubert? Might you write similar essays for other composers and works?

I would love to, for all the same reasons I was moved to write about Beethoven. In fact, that’s the exact list of composers that I feel compelled to explore in a similar way.

The problem is finding the time – without another sabbatical looming, I’m going to need to get a lot better at multi-tasking if there’s any chance of my doing any serious writing.

Are there other composers you feel a special affinity for and whose music you like to play and record? Who are they?

There are many composers I’m drawn to – aside from the ones I’ve mentioned. Haydn, Chopin, Janacek, Brahms and Bartok would all be high on the list, and I’ve played quite a lot of all of their music.

But recording is such a curious activity, which demands so much concentration and conviction. I think I just want a few more concert hall experiences with each before I cross that bridge. Being a pianist means making tough choices – there is too much great music to get to all of it! It’s a very lucky problem to have …


Classical music Q&A: American pianist Jonathan Biss talks about writing his e-book on Beethoven as he starts recording all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, and thinks about writing future books and making more recordings. Here is Part 1 of 2.

March 1, 2012
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ALERT/REMINDER: TODAY FROM 5 TO 7 P.M., A FREE AND PUBLIC RECEPTION WILL BE HELD AT THE DANE COUNTY AIRPORT FOR THE MAJOR EXHIBIT, TO RUN THROUGH SEPT. 3, BY THE UW TANDEM PRESS AND THE PRO ARTE QUARTET CENTENNIAL COMMITTEE TO MARK THE CENTENNIALS OF BOTH THE UW PRO ARTE STRING QUARTET AND THE WISCONSIN IDEA. THE QUARTET WILL PERFORM LIVE AND THERE WILL BE FOOD AND REFRESHMENTS.

By Jacob Stockinger

I first heard him on recordings. Then I heard him on TV when his teacher Leon Fleisher received the National Medal of the Arts at the Kennedy Center. And then I heard him live in Madison in a thoroughly sublime and poetic performance of a Mozart concerto with the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

In every instance, my reaction was the same: American pianist Jonathan Biss (below) is supremely talented, one of the young classical musicians it is important to watch and listen to in coming years.

That impression is only reinforced by the recent release of his first volume of Beethoven sonatas for the Onyx label, which features a mixed recital or program format of four sonatas from the early to the early late periods.

It is an outstanding release, and should receive many awards. I generally do not favor such complete cycles, believing that individual pianists respond to certain individual sonatas better than to all the others.

It is an ambitious and historic feat, to be sure. Still, it is hard to believe it took more than 100 years for the first complete Beethoven sonata cycle (done by Artur Schnabel, below) who taught Biss’ teacher Fleisher) and that since then many others have been done: Alfred Brendel (three times!) Vladimir Ashkenazy, Richard Goode, Stephen Bishop Kovacevich, John Kimura Parker and Paul Lewis, with some other cycles by Garrick Ohlsson and Maurizio Pollini in the works but yet to be completed.

But right now my money is on Biss’ cycle. I find his Beethoven completely absorbing and totally convincing. It offers a quiet virtuosity in music that is extremely hard to play. Yet his astonishing technique never draws attention to itself, but instead always serves the music.

Moreover, his Beethoven is thoroughly musical. Biss neither smoothes over the rough spots nor overemphasizes the spikiness. Instead, each melody, harmony and rhythm seems thoroughly thought out, seems to come from somewhere and then go to somewhere. At all times, Biss’ playing has coherence, conviction and consistency. I love his playing, which has clarity and is never over-pedaled. His readings make both intellectual sense and emotional sense. When I listen to Biss’ Beethoven, I am aware of paying attention to Beethoven, not to Biss.

As if great playing isn’t enough, Biss is articulate and writes well. His e-book  “Beethoven’s Shadow” ($1.99 at Amazon.com) is informative and instructive as well as enjoyable. Only a few other performing pianists in history can write as well – Charles Rosen comes immediately to mind, but Rosen writes for a more specialized or learned reader. Biss is more accessible.

The Beethoven sonata cycle will take the 31-year-old Biss almost a decade to complete: 9 CDs over 9 years, to be released one per year. That should show some development and growth, and only adds to the excitement and pleasure.

Biss, an extremely busy concertizing artist, recently took time to do an email Q&A about his Beethoven book and Beethoven sonata recording for The Ear.

Here it is in two parts – the first today, the second part tomorrow.

Why and how did you end up writing the 19,000 word essay “Beethoven’s Shadow” to coincide with the release of the first CD in your 9-year, 9-CD Beethoven sonata cycle for Onyx? What do you hope to communicate with it?

Honestly, from the moment the idea was suggested to me, it was attractive. First of all, I’ve always been interested in writing, both as a creative outlet that is different than playing; and as a way of engaging with music that is broader than preparing for and worrying about the next concert, which obviously I spend much of my time and energy doing.

Then, because the Beethoven sonatas play such an enormous role in my life – in both the most practical and the most spiritual ways – it seemed like now that I was beginning this recording odyssey, it was a good moment to take stock, and try to clarify some of my ideas about this music.

And lastly, a lucky coincidence made it possible: I was approached about writing a Kindle Single in April, and I was already (for years, actually) scheduled to take June through September off; I called it my “sabbatical.” So I had much more mental energy – and much more freedom to stay up until 5 in the morning, pacing around my coffee table – to devote to writing than I normally do.

In a nutshell, what attracts you to Beethoven and to such a mammoth project as recording the cycle of 32 sonatas?

I spent four months of my life trying to explain this, and it remains a very difficult question to answer!

There is the breadth of the expression in these works – they are so different from each other, in language, in character, in affect – which means that they cover an extraordinary amount of territory.

There is the perhaps unequalled skill for development – Beethoven puts his materials through paces that reveal qualities in them we are not initially aware of.

There is the idealism – Beethoven has the uncanny ability to speed up or slow down time at will, and can conjure up the infinite in the process; his music really does imagine a more perfect world.

Perhaps most of all, Beethoven (below) has the strongest and most insistent personality of any great composer. We continue to listen to his music because we simply cannot stop listening.

What do you think you have to say about such iconic works that is new or special?

I feel very strongly that this is not the right way for a performer to approach great music. In the end, any musician’s relationship to a piece of music is, almost by definition, unique. But if you make a concerted effort to try to do something new or different, than you are observing yourself making music, rather than living it.

This kind of self-consciousness is the enemy of music-making; the point is to be as open as possible to your experience of the music, and to try to allow your relationship with it to evolve naturally and perpetually. And with Beethoven, there is an infinite amount in the music to be experienced.

TOMORROW: JONATHAN BISS TALKS ABOUT THE SONATAS ON VOLUME 1 AND HIS FUTURE RECORDING PLANS



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