The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Today is the winter solstice. What music best captures or celebrates winter?

December 21, 2017
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Today is the Winter Solstice.

Winter arrives at 10:28 a.m. Central Standard Time.

That means we are turning the corner. Starting today, nights will get shorter and days will get longer.

But there is still plenty of the year’s most blustery and bone-chilling weather ahead of us.

Lots of classical music celebrates winter.

Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” is a popular choice.

So is the “Winter Dreams” symphony by Tchaikovsky.

Here are links to two compilations of winter music, lasting for a total of more than two hours, on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNMIgZAx2gQ

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2jAweLVLRk

But no music is more wintry than the celebrated song cycle “Winterreise” or “Winter Journey” by Franz Schubert (below).

Every year, The Ear uses the solstice and the coming of winter to listen once again to this deeply moving and surprisingly modern song cycle.

Many excellent recordings exist. Famed German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (below left, with pianist Gerald Moore) made multiple recordings over many years.

In recent years Matthias Goerner, Thomas Quasthoff, Mark Padmore, Jonas Kaufmann and many others have already made acclaimed recordings, always with distinguished pianists including Gerald Moore, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Daniel Barenboim and Paul Lewis.

Yet I always find the most satisfying version to be the one made by English tenor Ian Bostridge with Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andnes.

Bostridge’s tenor voice lends a lightness that has a certain clarity and almost speech-like quality to it.

And Bostridge, who wrote the excellent book “Schubert Winter Journey: Anatomy of an Obsession” – a song-by-song analysis of the cycle — knows the texts and contexts of the songs inside and out. His are well-informed and thoroughly thought-out interpretations.

The whole cycle takes about 70 minutes to listen to.

This year The Ear might do one of the 24 songs in the cycle each day and then the entire cycle in one sitting at the end.

The different approach might yield some new insights and new pleasure.

Anyway, choose your own artists and your own way of listening.

But it is a great and timely choice.

Here is “Good Night,” the first song of “Winterreise”:

And here is “The Organ Grinder,” the last song and a favorite of writer Samuel Beckett who found a shared sensibility in the lean austerity of the music of the music and the text:

What winter music would you listen to or recommend to mark the solstice and the coming of winter?

The Ear wants to hear.


Classical music: Today is the Winter Solstice. So The Ear offers you Schubert’s “Winterreise.”

December 21, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Tonight we turn the corner.

At 10:48 p.m. CST we will experience the Winter Solstice.

winter solstice image

That means that from now until late June, the days will start getting longer and the nights shorter.

True, so far we have not had much cold or snow, thanks to El Nino.

But we still have the coldest months of the season – January and February – to look forward to.

One of The Ear’s winter rituals is to listen to the song cycle “Winterreise” – winter journey – by Franz Schubert  (below) on or around the first day of winter.

Franz Schubert big

It is such a unique and astonishing work, so modern in so many ways.

And there are so many outstanding recorded versions of it that The Ear likes: Mark Padmore with pianist Paul Lewis; Matthias Goerner with Christoph Eschenbach; Thomas Quasthoff with Charles Spencer; Peter Schreier with Sviatolsav Richter; Hermann Prey and Karl Engel; and of course the legendary Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau with Gerald Moore, Joerg Demus and later with Alfred Brendel.

More locally, he also likes the version, complete with black-and-white photographs by Katrin Talbot that was done by UW-Madison baritone Paul Rowe with UW-Madison pianist Martha Fischer. (It is published by the University of Wisconsin Press.)

But probably The Ear’s favorite version of the amazing cycle so far is the one done by British tenor Ian Bostridge with Norwegian pianist Leif Ove Andsnes. The Ear prefers the higher tenor range to the baritone range. He also likes not only Bostridge’s transparent sound and outstanding diction, but also his kind of singing speech style — Sprachstimme – that adds to the storytelling of the cycle.

The complete 70-minute cycle is available from YouTube but only by going  through the 24 different videos, one per song in the cycle.

And there is a preface that features both Bostridge and Andsnes talking about the work and about performing it.

By the way, an excellent companion to the cycle is the book and e-book that Bostridge has published –- a doctoral thesis called “Schubert’s Winter Journey” Anatomy of an Obsession” (Knopf).

It is a comprehensive look at the aesthetic, historical, cultural and the literary aspects of the astonishing work and analyzes each of the 24 songs in the cycle. The Ear has read it and highly recommends this definitive study by someone who knows the famous song cycle inside and out after performing it more than 100 times.

Here is a set-up piece with pianist Jeremy Denk interviewing Ian Bostridge about his book:

And here are Bostridge and Andsnes talking about the cycle:

And “Gute Nacht” (Good Night) here is the opening song of “Winterreise”:

And “Der Leiermann,” the closing song of “Winterreise”:

The Ear urges you to sample many more, in order or out of order.

Let The Ear and other readers know which performers you prefer and which songs in the cycle are your favorite?

 


Classical music: The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and piano soloist Ilya Yakushev excel in a varied program. But audience members should do better at observing concert etiquette. Plus, retired UW-Madison bass-baritone Sam Jones dies at 87.

January 26, 2015
4 Comments

ALERT: Sad news has reached The Ear. Samuel M. Jones, a bass-baritone who was an exceptional performer and teacher at the UW-Madison School of Music for 37 years and who also served as the cantor at Temple Beth El and the Choral Director at Grace Episcopal Church, has died at 87. Here is a link to the obituary in the Wisconsin State Journal:

http://m.host.madison.com/news/local/obituaries/jones-dr-samuel-m-jr/article_8a445e98-0cf3-5112-bd72-8840b58a0399.html?mobile_touch=true

Samuel M. Jones

By Jacob Stockinger

On Friday night, The Ear couldn’t be in two places at once.

Being in the mood for some solo piano playing – because The Ear himself is an avid amateur pianist – he attended the solo recital of works by Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Liszt, William Bolcom and Johannes Brahms performed by UW-Madison School of Music professor Christopher Taylor. But more about that will come in another post this week.

However, Larry Wells — a college classmate and good friend who is a longtime and very knowledgeable classical music follower and who has worked, lived and attended concerts in Rochester, San Francisco, Moscow, Tokyo and Seoul — went to the concert Friday night by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra (below) in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center.

He filed this review:

WisconsinChamberOrchestrainCapitolTHeaterlobby

By Larry Wells

The program opened with a short introduction by Maestro Andrew Sewell, the longtime music director and conductor of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, to the “English Suite” for string orchestra by the contemporary British composer Paul Lewis. (Sewell himself is a New Zealand native who also trained in England.)

Paul Lewis composer

Although the work was termed by Sewell as an obligatory form for British composers in the manner of Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and the like, I found the rhapsodic opening and closing of the second section, “Meditation,” reminiscent of VW’s “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.” But the remainder of the piece seemed trite and forgettable.

Following was the Concerto No. 1 in D Minor for keyboard by Johann Sebastian Bach. In this case, a concert grand piano was used featuring soloist Ilya Yakushev, a Russian native who now lives in the U.S., who was making his second appearance with the WCO.

This familiar piece was played bouncily in the first movement, sweetly in the second, and really fast in the third. I enjoyed Yakushev’s playing, although from my seat the piano seemed slightly muffled and occasionally unheard over the orchestra.

ilya yakushev 3

The second half of the evening opened with the Chamber Symphony No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg, which Maestro Sewell claimed to be in the manner of Richard Strauss. If so, Strauss was much more expressive and engaging.

The evening ended with the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Felix Mendelssohn, again featuring Yakushev. I was unfamiliar with the piece, and found it immediately engaging and enjoyable throughout. (You can hear Ilya Yakushev perform the Mendelssohn piano concerto in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Altogether, it was a good evening of music.

But it was unfortunately marred early in the aforementioned “Meditation” movement when a woman two seats down from me decided to answer a text. The bright light from her cell phone was distracting, so I pointedly stared at her until her seat mate nudged her, and she put away the phone. The seat mate clearly felt that I was in the wrong and glared at me.

I noticed that there is no caution in the program about turning off cell phones, so I believe it would be a good idea for a brief announcement to be made at the beginning of the concert and at the end of the intermission for people to turn off their phones. That simple courtesy has still not become a part of all concertgoers’ routines.

smart phone

And what is with the Madison tradition of giving everything a standing ovation? (Below is a standing ovation at a concert on the Playhouse by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.)

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

There have been perhaps a dozen times in my long concert-going life when I have been so moved by the moment that I’ve leapt to my feet. I think of a standing ovation as recognition of something extraordinary — not as a routine gesture that cheapens to the point of meaninglessness.

For purposes of comparison, here is a link to the review of the same concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and pianist Ilya Yakushev that veteran local music critic and retired UW-Madison medieval history professor John W. Barker wrote for Isthmus:

http://www.isthmus.com/daily/article.php?article=44422&sid=6243d3d1e78139b69884d31c5c1126e2


Classical music: This will be an outstanding semester for piano fans in the area. But it starts with a “train wreck” this Friday night with dueling piano concerts by Christopher Taylor and Ilya Yakushev.

January 20, 2015
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

For piano fans, the first semester in Madison proved a bit underwhelming, even disappointing when compared to many past falls.

But that is about to change this semester, starting this weekend.

Of course this piano-rich week comes complete with the inevitable piano “train wreck,” as The Wise Critic terms such scheduling conflicts and competition.

Farley's House of PIanos MMM 20141

CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR OR ILYA YAKUSHEV

For many area listeners, the big annual piano event is on this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall. That is when the UW-Madison School of Music virtuoso Christopher Taylor (below) — whom The Ear hears other schools are trying to lure away from the UW — performs his annual solo faculty recital.

Taylor, famed for his prodigious technique and fantastic memory, has won praise nationwide and even internationally for his performances of all kinds of difficult music, from Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven to Olivier Messiaen and Gyorgi Ligeti as well as contemporary musicians like Derek Bermel.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Taylor’s program this time is an unusual one that mixes old and new.

It features another of the dazzling two-hand transcriptions by Franz Liszt of the symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven, which Taylor has been performing elsewhere in a cycle. This time he will perform the famous Symphony No. 6 in F Major, “Pastoral.”

Also on the program are seven of the 12 etudes by the contemporary American composer William Bolcom, who taught at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and the Sonata No. 3 in F minor, Op. 5, by Johannes Brahms — a wondrously dramatic and beautiful work that you can hear performed by Van Cliburn International Piano Competition winner Radu Lupu in a YouTube video at the bottom.

Tickets are $10 and benefit the UW-Madison School of Music Scholarship Fund.

For more information, including some national reviews of Taylor, here is a link to the UW website:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/christopher-taylor-piano-faculty-recital/

But, as I said, there is a problem.

At exactly the same time on Friday night, in the Capitol Theater of the Overture Center, is a terrific concert by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra with Russian pianist Ilya Yakushev (below), who last performed Prokofiev and Gershwin concertos with the WCO.

This Friday night’s program includes Yakushev in two well-known concertos: the keyboard concerto in D Minor by Johann Sebastian Bach and the Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor by Felix Mendelssohn.

ilya yakushev 3

Also on the program – typically eclectic in the style that conductor Andrew Sewell (below) favors — is the English Suite for Strings by British composer Paul Lewis and the Chamber Symphony No. 2 by Arnold Schoenberg.

For information, go to: http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/77/event-info/

andrewsewell

But this piano weekend doesn’t stop there.

On Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., Ilya Yakushev will open the new season of the Salon Piano Series when he plays a solo recital in the concert room (below) at Farley’s House of Pianos, on Madison’s far west side.

The program includes the famous Sonata in C minor “Pathétique,” Op. 13, by Ludwig van Beethoven; the Sonata No. 2 by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev and “Carnival” by Robert Schumann. A reception will follow the recital.

Farley Daub plays

Here is a link with more information:

http://salonpianoseries.org/concerts.html

And as background, here is a Q&A that The Ear did in 2011 with Ilya Yakushev:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2011/10/03/classical-qa-russian-pianist-ilya-yakushev-discusses-prokofiev-and-gershwin-which-he-will-play-at-the-opening-concert-of-the-wisconsin-chamber-orchestra-on-friday-night/

ilya yakushev mug

MORE TO COME

Of course this is just the beginning of Piano Heaven.

There is still the concerto competition for the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) to come, along with the UW-Madison concerto competition, the Bolz “Final Forte” Concerto Competition of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and others.

Later this semester, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will also feature two other returning pianists –- Shai Wosner (below top) and Bryan Wallick (below bottom). They will perform, respectively, two concertos by Franz Joseph Haydn and the Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major “Emperor” by Ludwig van Beethoven.

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

Bryan Wallick mug

Here is a link to the WCO website:

http://wcoconcerts.org/performances/masterworks/

And let’s not forget the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

In addition to the above piano events and others, the Madison Symphony Orchestra will feature the Irving S. Gilmore Competition winner Ingrid Fliter (below), a native of Argentina, in the lusciously Romantic Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor by Frederic Chopin on Feb. 13-15 – perfect fare for Valentine’s Day weekend.

Ingrid Fliter playing

That program which also includes the Symphony No. 4 by Robert Schumann and British composer Benjamin Britten’s “Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge” -– Bridge was Britten’s teacher — promises to be a memorable performance by a renowned Chopin specialist who last played a solo recital here ay the Wisconsin Union Theater.

And if you know of more. just add them in a Reader’s Comment for others to see,

 

 


Classical music: Here are the best classical recordings of 2014 from The New York Times, The New Yorker magazine and The Boston Globe as well as NPR.

December 20, 2014
1 Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This is the last weekend for holiday shipping before Christmas, and retailers expect today to be even bigger and busier than Black Friday.

But whether you go to a local brick-and-mortar store such as Barnes & Noble or use the Internet, there is still time to order and receive such items as gifts.

Plus, whether you are looking for a gift for someone else or for what to buy with that gift card or cash you receive, perhaps you will find the following lists convenient and helpful.

The three lists are compilations of the Best Classical Music Recordings of 2014, even if they appear a bit late. (I seem to recall that these lists appeared closer to Thanksgiving or Black Friday in past years, but I could be wrong.)

NY Times top 20 classical CDs 2013 Tony Cenicola for NYT

The first list, a long one, comes from the various critics at The New York Times:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/19/arts/music/classical-critics-pick-the-top-music-recordings-of-2014.html?_r=0

It covers solo instruments, vocal music, operas, orchestral music, chamber music – you name it.

The second list from a critic for The Boston Globe:

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/music/2014/12/13/the-best-albums/6q7Tin4lPvj5RmqfCCSTFP/story.html

The third list comes from ace music critic and prize-winner Alex Ross (below) of The New Yorker Magazine. He names 20 different recordings along with 10 memorable live events from the concert scene in New York City.

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/ten-notable-performances-recordings-2014

Alex Ross 2

The Ear finds it interesting how many agreements there are about certain composers, works and performers – such as the haunting, 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning work “Become Ocean” by the contemporary American composer John Luther Adams (below top and at the bottom in a YouTube video) and the Schubert recording by British pianist Paul Lewis (below middle) in late music by Franz Schubert or Alan Gilbert conducting the New York Philharmonic in two symphonies by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

John Luther Adams

Paul Lewis

Here is a link to a previous Top 10 Best of 2014 list from NPR (National Public Radio), complete with CD covers and sound samples, that I posted:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/12/14/classical-music-need-gift-suggestions-npr-names-its-top-10-classical-music-albums-of-2014/

Happy shopping!

And even happier listening!!

It will be interesting to see what 2015 brings.


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