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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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: Concerts by UW cellist Parry Karp and the chamber music group Con Vivo take place this Saturday night

October 11, 2018
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ALERT: The Rhapsodie Quartet, featuring members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, will perform a FREE public concert (suggested donation is $5) at the Capitol Lakes Retirement Community,  333 West Main Street, two blocks off the Capitol Square, this Friday night, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m.

The program is the String Quartet in G minor, Op. 74, No. 3, by Franz Joseph Haydn and the “Razumovsky” String Quartet in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3, by Ludwig van Beethoven. For more information and background, go to: https://madisonsymphony.org/event/rhapsodie-quartet-recital/

By Jacob Stockinger

It is a busy week for classical music in Madison, and all the listings have still not been included here.

On Saturday night, Oct. 13, two more noteworthy events will take place.

PARRY KARP

A Faculty Concert Series recital by UW-Madison cello professor Parry Karp (below), who is also the longtime cellist of the Pro Arte Quartet, will take place on Saturday night in Mills Hall at 8 p.m.

Karp will be joined by two pianists: his mother Frances Karp, a longtime Madison piano teacher; and Thomas Kasdorf (below), who is pursuing his doctoral degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music.

The program is an interesting and unusual one.

It features “Hamabdil” (1919), or Hebrew Rhapsody, by Granville Bantock (below), who, Karp says “was a wonderful British composer, a favorite of Elgar.” (You can hear “Hamabdil” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

“Phantasma for Solo Cello” (2006) is by Jesse Benjamin Jones (below), who is on the faculty of the Oberlin College Conservatory.

The Violin Sonata in A Major, Op. 30, No. 1 (1801-02), by Ludwig van Beethoven, continues the exploration of Beethoven’s violin sonatas transcribed for the cello by Karp himself.

The Cello Concerto (1956) by William Walton (below), says Karp, who performed it this summer with the English Symphony Orchestra, “is one of the great cello concertos of the 20th century. This version features a piano reduction of the orchestral score.

CON VIVO

Con Vivo (below), the critically acclaimed Madison-based chamber music group, will also give a concert to open its 17th season on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. in the First Congregational United Church of Christ, at 1609 University Avenue, near Camp Randall Stadium.

Free parking is two blocks away, at the nearby UW Foundation, 1848 University Avenue.

The eclectic program, called “Members Choice,”will include the  “Kegelstatt” Trio for piano, clarinet and viola by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; and the Suite for Organ, Violin and Cello by Josef Rheinberger (below).

The night will be rounded out by solo works from the group’s talented and veteran performers many of whom also play with other major groups including the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Tickets are available at the door, and cost $18 for general admission; $15 for seniors and students.

For information, go to www.convivomusicwithlife.org


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Classical music: Lesson 1 from the 2015 season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society: Chamber music transcriptions, arrangements and reductions of large orchestral works deserve a wider hearing.

July 1, 2015
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society finished up its three-week, 24th annual season this past weekend.

The populist chamber music group used local and imported artists to perform six programs over three weekends in three different venues -– all based around the theme of “Guilty as Charged,” which meant emphasizing borrowings and similar transgressionsTalk about a hard-working group of performing artists!

BDDS poster 2015

Over the next week or two, The Ear wants to share some of the lessons that he learned from attending several of the BDS concerts.

Today is Lesson 1: Chamber music transcriptions, arrangements and reductions of large orchestral works deserve a wider hearing so that more people can enjoy those works more often.

I cite two examples from the “Crooked Business” program that BDDS performed at the Stoughton Opera House (below, where I saw and heard it) and at the Hillside Theatre on the Taliesin compound of architect Frank Lloyd Wright in Spring Green.

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

First, there was the Piano Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. BDDS co-founder, co-artist director and house pianist Jeffrey Sykes led the group of 11 players from the keyboard and played with his back to the audience.

(Believe it or not, if The Ear recalls music history correctly, that was the standard performance practice, as was playing with the score, until the legendary piano virtuoso Franz Liszt turned the piano to the side to highlight his dramatic profile and also memorized the music to astonish his audiences.)

The Mozart piano concerto is a great work — you can hear the whole work in its full orchestral version with pianist Mitsuko Uchida in a YouTube video at the bottom. And the arrangement or reduction they used made it seem even more remarkable. That is because the smaller size of the forces allowed one to hear more clearly the interplay of various parts.

BDDS 2015 Mozart C minor piano concerto

Then on the second half of the program came a second example: The Serenade No. 1 in D Major, Op 11 (1857) by Johannes Brahms. It was performed with nine players in a reduction by Christopher Nex.

The Ear found the work to be a bit too long and repetitive — the structure of its six movements lacked the tightness of a symphony. But then again, a tuneful serenade is by definition supposed to be lighter and have a looser structure, to spur more relaxed and informal listening and to demand less focused attention.

BDDS 2015 Brahms Serenade 1

Such reductions originated in the desire of amateurs to make house music at a time when professional orchestras and chamber music groups and commercial concerts did not exist in a widespread way.

It is an approach that can and should be revived. To be fair, the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival has also done a few of these transcriptions or arrangements, often with the Harvard University Mozart scholar and pianist Robert Levin.

But nonetheless it is largely thanks to the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that listeners can make their way through the 27 piano concertos by Mozart and the 104 symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn -– to say nothing of the many Baroque, Classical, Romantic and modern works that must already exist in similar arrangements or could be rearranged on demand.

To which The Ear simply says: Bravo! Do more of them!

What do you say?

The Ear -– along with BDDS organizers and performers – wants to hear.


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