The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: You must hear this – how Debussy provided a soft way to end a season

May 24, 2018
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By Jacob Stockinger

It seems perfectly normal and natural that big groups like to close their season with a big ending.

So the Madison Symphony Orchestra closed this past season with the “Glagolitic Mass” by Leos Janacek, which used a lot of brass and a large choir.

The Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra went for an all-Beethoven program that featured the Piano Concerto No. 3, with soloist John O’Conor, and the forceful, driven Fifth Symphony.

Yet there was something particularly soothing and reassuring about the way the Ancora String Quartet (below) closed its 17th season last Friday night. (Member, below from left, are Wes Luke and Robin Ryan, violins; Benjamin Whitcomb, cello; and Marika Fischer Hoyt, viola.

The group opened with a welcome rarity: the fourth and final string quartet by Danish composer Carl Nielsen. It proved a fine offering, especially noteworthy for the hymn-like slow movement that brought to mind the open harmonies of Aaron Copland.

But the concert ended ever so quietly and warmly with the only String Quartet, Op. 10, written by French composer Claude Debussy (below).

The poet T.S. Eliot said the world ends not with a bang but a whimper.

But this ending was neither bang nor whimper.

The Ear would call it a sigh, a long and sensual sound bath that left you leaving the performance less with admiration or wonder than with gratitude for the group and for the music.

Plus, it was all the more affecting for the way that violinist Wes Luke (below) clearly explained how the main themes of all movements grow out of one motif and cohere.

The Debussy string quartet, he explained, is one of the most performed and recorded of the entire string quartet repertory. Yet its sensuality always makes it seems so fresh and so French.

The highlight was, as always, the third movement, the slow movement. And as the spring season completes winding down and the summer seasons starts to pick up, here it is for your enjoyment in a YouTube video of the Juilliard String Quartet.

What did you think about the season-closing concerts this spring? Did you have a favorite?

What do you think of the Debussy string quartet?

If you know of a better slow movement from a string quartet, please leave a COMMENT and a link, if possible, to a YouTube performance.


Classical music: Don’t miss tango weekend at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society

June 15, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

If there was ever a genre of music created specifically for the talented, eclectic and fun-loving musicians of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, it is surely the tango.

It is hard to imagine a more perfect kind of music because it seems so suited to the temperament of the BDDS and its participants. The tango and BDDS simply seem made for each other.

BDDS 25th poster

The sexy and sensual tango has become both a popular and populist form of South American dance music. It started in brothels and then went mainstream. Then it crossed over into the classical repertoire, thanks to composers Astor Piazzolla, Carlos Guastavino and others.

If you have heard the BDDS perform tangos before, you know how captivating the performances are.

This weekend, the BDDS Silver Jubilee season will feature two programs with tangos, arranged by Pablo Zinger (below), a Uruguayan native who now calls New York City home.

Pablo Zinger at piano

Last time they performed, Zinger and his BDDS colleagues were absolutely terrific. The Ear will never forget the BDDS version of Piazzolla’s “Oblivion,” a fantastic, soulful and heart-breaking piece of music. (You can hear another version of “Oblivion” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Here are links to the program with tango this weekend to be performed at the Playhouse in the Overture Center and in the Hillside Theatre (below) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org/schedule.php

taliesin_hillside2

Besides tangos, there will also be music by Maurice Ravel (Piano Trio); Arnold Schoenberg (Chamber Symphony); Franz Schubert (Piano Trio No. 1); Joseph Haydn (Piano Trio No. 25, “Gypsy Rondo”); and movie music by Nino Rota, Henry Mancini and Luis Bacalov.

But featured prominently are tangos by Uruguayan composer Miguel del Aguila (below top) and by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla (below bottom), who turned to the tango of his native land at the advice of Nadia Boulanger, the famous French teacher of Aaron Copland, Philip Glass and others.

Miguel del Aguila

astor piazzolla

If you are looking for a preview sample, you can of course go on YouTube. But you could also listen to the new CD of South American tangos by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt, who teaches at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Not long ago, Jutt (below) spent a sabbatical year in Argentina, if The Ear recalls correctly. She clearly fell in love with tango music and is anxious to share her enthusiasm with others. That enthusiasm and her flair for the dance form show in the terrific performances on the CD.

Stephanie Jutt with flute

The new CD (below), on the Albany label, features pianists Elena Abend and the versatile arranger-pianist Pablo Zinger, whom you can hear live this weekend. It features 20 modern Latin American and Spanish works by Piazzolla and Guastavino as well as by Angel Lasada, the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos and the Basque composer Jesus Guridi. (It is on sale at BDDS concerts for $15.)

Stephanie Jutt tango CD

Dance has always inspired classical music. Historically, the tango seems a natural modern progression from the Baroque minuets and allemandes of Johann Sebastian Bach, the Classical landler of Haydn, the Romantic waltzes of Franz Schubert and Frederic Chopin, the Hungarian Dances of Johannes Brahms and the Slavonic Dances of Antonin Dvorak.

But don’t take The Ear’s word for it.

Go listen for yourself. And be captivated, be transported. You won’t be disappointed.


Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS – the sensual sound and sexy music of Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quintet No. 1

June 1, 2016
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The other night The Ear heard a recording of Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quintet No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 89.

He had forgotten quite how quietly and intimately sensual, even sexy, it is.

The Ear has never heard the work in a live performance because, unfortunately, it isn’t programmed often – a fate it shares with most of Fauré’s music save his Requiem. But Fauré also wrote beautiful chamber music, songs and solo piano music.

Just listen to the opening watery sounds of the piano and the luscious string sounds. Just listen to the melodies and harmonies. It is such seductive music, filled with yearning and softly stated passion.

See if you don’t agree when you listen to the first movement in the YouTube video at the bottom. (You can also find a complete performance of the work in YouTube.)

It offers more proof that Faure (1845-1924, below), who taught Maurice Ravel, is severely underestimated and underperformed in the non-French music world.

faure-1

In The COMMENT section, tell The Ear if you agree and what other sexy pieces of chamber music you want others to listen to.


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