The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet delivers a perfect program of superb music by Haydn, Mozart and Schubert

February 5, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

By John W. Barker

While snow may have restricted the audience attending the Pro Arte Quartet (below, in a photo by Rick Langer) on Saturday night, those who came were amply rewarded with a virtually perfect program of superb music.

The program brought together three Austrian works, two by those Classical-era titans, Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the third by the Austrian early Romantic Franz Schubert.

The combination of the first two was particularly stimulating, an opportunity to reckon how different from each other were these composers who are so often bracketed together.

The E-flat Quartet is No. 3 in the Op. 50 set that some commentators have viewed as the response by Haydn (below) to the set of six quartets that Mozart had recently published in Haydn’s honor.

Deliberately, Haydn chose to avoid matching Mozart’s lyricism and rich imagination, turning instead to statements of strength in austere textures.

Composed in 1790, a year before his death and only three years after the Haydn work, the Quartet in B-flat, K. 589, by Mozart (below) was his penultimate quartet, part of a series to be written for the King of Prussia who played the cello, which is featured prominently in the quartet.

Here we have a Mozartian style that is expansive and exploratory. Amid music of great lyric beauty and even vivacity, we have a Menuetto third movement whose Trio, or midsection, is remarkably dark and ambiguous. (You can hear a period-instrument performance of the third movement in the YouTube video at the bottom)

The Pro Arte players brought out the individuality of the two different styles quite beautifully. To my ears, the viola lines were delivered with notable strength and color by Sally Chisholm.

The final work, and the longest, was one of Schubert’s amazing late quartets. The No. 13 in A minor, D. 804), from 1824 is known as the “Rosamunde” Quartet because the second movement is the elaboration by Schubert (below) of the lovely melody in the well-known interlude in his incidental music for the play of that title.

Despite a somewhat moody first movement, the work as a whole is suffused with Schubert’s very special, very personal lyricism. Analyses of it can be instructive, but ultimately this remains music for the soul, not just the brain, I think.

The Pro Arte understands that well, and gave a generous demonstration of its beauties.

It proved such a wonderful concert, for which we can only give warm thanks to the UW-Madison’s Mead-Witter School of Music where the Pro Arte Quartet has been an artist-in-residence since World War II.


Classical music: Grammy winners Takacs Quartet and pianist Garrick Ohlsson perform a MUST-HEAR concert of Mozart, Brahms and Shostakovich this Sunday night at the Wisconsin Union Theater. Plus, you can hear a FREE performance of string music by Johan Halvorsen and Philip Glass this Friday at noon

November 30, 2017
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ALERT: This week’s FREE Friday Noon Musicale at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive, features the Passcaglia Duo of Norwegian composer Johan Halvorsen and String Quartet No. 5 by American contemporary composer Philip Glass.

Performers are violinists Kaleigh Acord, Elspeth Stalter and Ela Mowinski; violist Shannon Farley; and cellist Morgan Walsh. The concert, which runs from 12:15 to 1 p.m., will be streamed live on the Facebook page of Noon Musicales.

By Jacob Stockinger

Separately and together, The Ear loves piano and strings.

So you can imagine the appeal of a concert that will take place this Sunday night at 7:30 p.m. in Shannon Hall at the Wisconsin Union Theater.

That’s when the veteran and venerable Takacs Quartet (below) and acclaimed pianist Garrick Ohlsson will join forces in a terrific all-masterpiece program.

The concert has all the makings of a MUST-HEAR event for chamber music fans.

The award-winning Takacs Quartet, founded 42 years ago in Hungary and widely recorded and honored, will play two string quartets.

The late String Quartet No. 21 in D Major, K. 575, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (below), is the first of the composer’s three so-called “Prussian” quartets.

Known for a more relaxed style than the earlier “Haydn” quartets by Mozart, the Prussian quartets were composed for the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm II (below), who was a talented amateur cellist.

The Takacs will also perform the seven-movement String Quartet No. 11 in F minor by Dmitri Shostakovich (below). It is one of The Ear’s very favorite of the 16 quartets written by the Russian composer who endured the torments and treacheries of the Stalinist terror in the Soviet Union.

Then Garrick Ohlsson (below) will join in for the Piano Quintet in F Minor by Johannes Brahms. It is one of the four or five crowning quintets for piano and string quartet.

The Ear loves the playing of both artists and the program should be deeply interesting and moving. The Takacs possesses a mastery of many styles and has recorded numerous quartets by Haydn, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Smetana, Janacek and, more recently, by Dvorak as well as a terrific complete cycle of the 16 Beethoven quartets.

But the Takacs has recorded little Mozart (two string quintets) and little Shostakovich (one quartet and a piano quintet), so The Ear looks forward to hearing the quartet’s take on those composers.

The Takacs has recorded the Brahms Piano Quintet, but with British pianist Stephen Hough and Hungarian pianist Andras Schiff, but that work too should be a memorable performance with Ohlsson, the only American ever to win the International Chopin Piano Competition. (You can hear the energetic and lyrical opening movement from the Takacs-Hough recording in the YouTube video at the bottom, which has an intriguing and colorful bar graph to emphasize the structure.)

Tickets are $10-$47. For more information about purchasing tickets plus a video and more background about the artists, go to:

https://union.wisc.edu/events-and-activities/event-calendar/event/takacs-quartet-with-garrick-ohlsson/


Classical music: The venerable early music group Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble celebrates the 300th birthday of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach with fine style and revealing contexts that anticipate Mozart and Beethoven. Plus, many UW-Madison choirs perform two performances of a one-hour seasonal program in FREE “Choral Prism” concert this Sunday afternoon at 2 and again at 4.

December 5, 2014
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ALERT: Two one-hour performances of the FREE Choral Prism Concert, featuring all of UW-Madison choral choirs, will take place on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. in Luther Memorial Church (below), 1021 University Ave. Performing short pieces of seasonal music — winter,  Christmas, Hanukkah — under conductor and director Beverly Taylor are the UW Chorale, UW Concert Choir, UW Madrigal Singers, UW Masters Singers and Women’s Chorus Opera and Voice. There is an optional sing-along for the audience. Sorry, The Ear has received no word on specific composers and works.

luther memorial church madison

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 20 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves 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

After almost 25 years, as the first and longest-surviving group bringing early music to Madison on a regular basis, the Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble (below) is still going strong.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble 2014

And two days after Thanksgiving, on the tail end of a University of Wisconsin-Madison football game, it came up with a remarkably rich and generous program, performed at a familiar venue, the historic Gates of Heaven synagogue (below) in James Madison Park.

Gates of Heaven

Part of the richness was the idea of a partial theme: commemorating the 300th anniversary year of the birth of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (below, 1714-1788).

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach in 1733 painted by Gottfriend Friedrich Bach, a relative

Of eight program slots, three were devoted to C.P.E.’s music.  The opening item was a Trio Sonata in D minor, for two flutes and basso continuo, played by flutists Brett Lipshitz and Monica Steger, with cellist Anton TenWolde cellist (below) and harpsichordist Max Yount. (You can hear the Trio Sonata in D minor at the bottom in a YouTube video.)

anton tenwolde

Written during C.P.E.’s service to the flute-obsessed Frederick the Great of Prussia, it is a conservative piece that still looks back to the late Baroque styles of the composer’s famous father, Johann Sebastian Bach. On the other hand, three short practice Sonatinas from the very end of C.P.E.’s life (played by Yount) can be related to the piano sonatas that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was writing exactly at the same time.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble composite

Most fascinating of all, however, was a Sonata for Viola da gamba and Harpsichord obligato, dating from 1759.  An intricate and demanding work, it has its own musical substance, the opening of which Eric Miller (below, in photo by Katrin Talbot) brought off brilliantly, with Yount.  But clearly as a duet for two equal instruments (abandoning the old keyboard continuo function), it gave hints of Ludwig van Beethoven’s cello sonatas, to come a half-century and more later.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble Eric Miller USE THIS by Katrin Talbot

As against the works of the birthday boy, instrumental pieces by three other composers were offered, composers roughly parallel in lifespan to C.P.E., but whose individual differences made nice contrasts to the latter’s style.

Rather conventionally post-Baroque was a sonata for cello and bass by the Dutch composer Pieter Hellendaal (1721-1799).  But pre-Classical virtuosity was the hallmark of a Sonata for traverse flute and continuo by Johann Philipp Kirnberger (1721-1783), played with wonderful flair by Lipshutz, with Steger shifting to the harpsichord as partner.

Particularly interesting, though, was a chamber work by a dimly remembered French composer of the day, Louis-Gabriel Guillemain (1705-1770). The scoring of this sonata pitted a seemingly unbalanced trio of two flutes and gamba against the basso continuo: the manipulations of color and texture were full of wit and cleverness, especially in the last of its four movements.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble flutist Brett Lipshutz and Monica Steger BW

There were also two vocal works, for some added contrast.  Soprano Consuelo Sañudo (below) sang a cantata, on a text about tempestuous love by slightly earlier Baroque French master Michel Piglet de Montéclair.  She displayed in this her usual combination of precision and stylistic flair.

Consuelo Sañudo

And then, for the program’s closer, she sang a Spanish “villancico” by Juan Hidalgo de Polanco, whose life span (1614-1685) was almost exactly identical with C.P.E. Bach’s, by one century earlier.  This was, in fact, composed for four vocal parts with basso continuo, but for this the other three vocal parts were rendered instrumentally, thus bringing the full group of six performers together in a grand finale.

This was, in all, an unusually long program, but one filled with surprises, discoveries and delights. It proved another reminder of the WBE’s endless gifts to Madison’s musical life.

Wisconsin Baroque Ensemble BW 2013

 


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