The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Middleton Community Orchestra and solo flutist Iva Ugrcic turn in polished performances of a fun program to kick off the new season

October 12, 2018
3 Comments

IF YOU LIKE A CERTAIN BLOG POST, PLEASE FORWARD A LINK TO IT OR SHARE IT (not just “Like” it) ON FACEBOOK. Performers can use the extra exposure to draw potential audience members to an event.

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 photo.

By John W. Barker

The opening concert on Wednesday night by the largely amateur Middleton Community Orchestra (below top), under the baton of Steve Kurr (below bottom), was a relatively brief but pithy one, with only three short works on the program.

The opener was Autumn, the most frequently played section of the ballet The Seasons, Op. 67 (1899), by Alexander Glazunov (below) and one of the composer’s most frequently heard pieces. It is a rondo-like sequence of varied dance movements, full of lyricism and bright colors. The Middleton players dug into it with gusto.

Second came the Flute Concerto in D Major, Op. 283, by the prolific 19th-century German composer Carl Reinecke (1824-1910, below). He was conservative as a teacher and as a prolific composer.

Among his concertos, this one was his last, written just two years before his death. It is an engaging work, not notable for great ideas, but amiable, with a good virtuosic workout for the soloist.

The soloist was the Serbian-born flutist Iva Ugrcic, an absolute whiz of a player, and, among other things, a product of the UW-Madison’s Mead Witter School of Music doctoral program.  She played with super-precision and confidence, giving her instrument great personality.

Without intermission, the concert ended with the Symphony No. 100, known as the “Military,” by Franz Joseph Haydn (below). It was first played in 1794 among the composer’s “London” Symphonies during his second visit to England. But it may well have been begun while he was in Vienna, for it reflects a particular fad popular there.

This was the use in orchestral writing of an adaptation of the sounds of the Turkish Janissary band. In the second movement, whose tune was taken from an earlier chamber work of his, Haydn introduced recurrently the “Turkish” instruments (two clarinets, triangle, cymbals, bass drums) with startling effect.

At the movement’s end, a trumpet call brings these novelties back for a crashing conclusion. And then, in the fourth movement’s ending, the “Janissary” instruments return for another razzle-dazzle finish. (You can hear the fourth movement in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It’s all great fun, and the orchestra players seemed to find their own enjoyment in it.

The MCO continues its steady growth as a polished and reliable ensemble — all 98 players!


Posted in Classical music
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Classical music: UW Choral Union sounds magnificent in Haydn’s “The Creation”

April 26, 2016
Leave a Comment

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. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photos.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Choral Union and UW Chamber Orchestra (both below) again pulled off a choral spectacular on Sunday afternoon.

Choral Union and Chamber Orchestra Creation JWB

The one-time concert was devoted to the great Classical era oratorio by Franz Joseph Haydn, The Creation, which is too big a work to be performed very frequently. But Haydn modeled it admiringly on the great Baroque oratorios of George Frideric Handel, which we almost NEVER get to hear — let’s not talk about the quite unrepresentative Messiah — by comparison. So we can be grateful for the opportunities we do have.

As always, the campus and community Choral Union sounded magnificent. It is supposed to, with a complement of 116 listed singers, as against an orchestra of a mere 34 players. So it could not avoid overshadowing and overawing all other factors. And particular power, volume and homogeneity resulted from the practice of mixing the singers completely, instead of having them stand as members of vocal sections.

This follows the pernicious gospel preached, going way back, to Robert Fountain, who founded the UW Choral Union many decades ago. One argument for it was that each singer should become more self-reliant, less dependent on the one next to him or her.

But if this practice makes for blockbuster, socko sound, it does so at the cost of part-writing clarity, especially in fugal segments. It misrepresents musical texture by exchanging its definition for a power-oriented blend, a hyped-up sludge.

It strikes me as strange that advocates for applying this doctrine to choruses do not also demand it for orchestras. Think of it: each violin individually next to a trombone, each viola mixed in with the trumpets. Now there would be a chance for socko homogeneity!

The UW Chamber Orchestra’s winds were strong enough, but the strings were woefully understaffed. At times, the ensemble sounded just a tad under-rehearsed, but on the whole it did well under its handicaps.

The soloists played a multiplying game. In Parts I and II, the three Angels, Gabriel (soprano), Uriel (tenor) and Raphael (bass), who narrated and celebrated the stages of the Creation, were taken by a fixed trio (below).

Choral Union Creation Trio JWB

The familiar Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below top) has a strong and beautiful soprano voice. Faculty tenor James Doing (below middle) is also a valued local standby. Baritone Benjamin Schultz (below bottom) has a pleasant voice, but it lacks a true bass range.

Jamie Rose Guarrine 2016

James Doing color

Benjamin Schultz 2016

In Part III, when Adam and Eve come on the scene, Guarrine shifted to the latter role, and another baritone weak in the low-register, Benjamin Li (below top), took over as Adam. For the final ensemble, a choral alto slipped in to round out the solo quartet (below bottom).

Benjamin Li 2016

Choral Union Creation Quartet JWB

I note the title of the work as The Creation, rather than giving its original title, Die Schöfung, because the performance was sung in a modernized English translation.

Once in a while, those English words came through, but much of them were simply lost in mixed diction values. It might have been better — if not easier for the singers — to have kept to the original German. But all praise for an unusually ample program booklet, containing the full English text as sung.

Beverly Taylor (below), the conductor of the choir and orchestra, led with consistent energy and enthusiasm. Certainly the audience responded with great enthusiasm. (You can hear the famous chorus “The Heavens Are Telling” in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

This was, to be sure, not an ideal performance, even a lopsided one. But, after all, the point of these events is to give the choristers a chance to participate in this wonderful music, and to give the audience a relatively rare opportunity to encounter it. On those counts, this was a highly successful event.

Now, even if we are not likely to get a follow-up with Handel, we at least have Haydn’s own successor oratorio, Die Jahreszeithen, or The Seasons. That would be wonderful to hear in its turn.


Classical music: Turning chaos into order. Conductor Beverly Taylor explains what makes Haydn’s “The Creation” special and fun to listen to. The UW-Madison Choral Union and UW Chamber Orchestra with soloists will perform it on Sunday afternoon.

April 18, 2016
Leave a Comment

By Jacob Stockinger

This coming Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, the campus-community UW-Madison Choral Union (below), the UW Chamber Orchestra and soloists will perform the oratorio the “The Creation” by the Classical-era master Franz Joseph Haydn.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

First, The Ear wants to clear up any confusion about the date of the performance – which is ONE-TIME ONLY. (In the past, the Choral Union usually gave two performances.) The performance was originally scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Then it was moved to Saturday night and then, after a conflict with the Jewish Passover was seen, moved back to Sunday afternoon.

Tickets are $15 for the general public, $8 for students. For more information about tickets, the work and the performers, here is a link:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/uw-choral-union2/

Beverly Taylor, director of choral activities at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music who will conduct the performance, agreed to do an email Q&A with The Ear:

Beverly Taylor MSO portrait COLOR USE

What is the place of Haydn’s “The Creation” is the choral literature? Was it influential? Popular?

It’s considered wonderful and innovative. Its choruses are magnificent, and the opening depiction of Chaos is unlike anything that had been heard up to that time.

It was written late in Haydn’s career, and showed many aspects of his wonderful talent, including musical depictions of non-musical things—water, birds, dawn — and has terrific pacing of the extended choruses building to majestic climaxes.

The premiere was enthusiastically received. It was indeed popular, although the composer’s late masses also deserve great attention. The other vocal works by Haydn (below), such as “The Seasons,” are more slowly paced, and although they contain great music, they are not often felt to be as compelling as “The Creation” with its easy-to-follow sequence of creative days.

Haydn

Are there special moments or parts of the work you would like to point out to the public? How about special aspects of the performance?

Yes! One thing to do is to listen with an open mind to Chaos. (You can preview “Chaos” in a YouTube video at the bottom as performed by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music.)

When I first heard a dull performance of it years ago, I wondered what the big deal was. Then I took a good look at it: It contains chaotic oddities — a horn suddenly blaring loudly with no reference to other instruments, a trilling flute that never resolves its trill, bassoons and clarinets who play bubbling and pointless arpeggios until it all settles down to begin the first day of the Creation (famously depicted below by the British artist and poet William Blake).

Creation and God William Blake

There are also delightful musical depictions and sound paintings of weather that can be confusing unless you know that the orchestra depicts the weather before the bass tells us about it. That way hail won’t sound like snow! The same holds true for the description of animals — we hear the leaping stags before our singer tells us.

There will be terrific moments in the work — orchestral playing, fabulous choral singing. And there will be wonderful solo work by our experienced alumni and faculty artists soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine (below top), tenor James Doing (below second), bass-baritone Benjamin Schultz (below third) and baritone Benjamin Li (below bottom). It’s a pleasure to make music with them.

Jamie Rose Guarrine 2016

James Doing color

Benjamin Schultz 2016

Benjamin Li 2016

Composer John Harbison says that Haydn is the most neglected of all the great composers. Why do you think Haydn isn’t thought of more highly and performed more often?

Among musicians, Haydn is certainly thought of highly, and many people enjoy his work, especially the element of surprise in his work — sforzandos, sudden silences, changes of rhythm.

But many of his works are chamber works designed for smaller rooms and audiences. And in our modern life, the size of the orchestra and special instruments and added theatrical elements often attract more people. Haydn’s chamber works are fabulous, but sometimes subtle. However, they repay well those who pay attention to them.

The Creation poster 2016

What else would you like to say about the composer, this particular work or this performance?

Haydn was influenced by and had influence on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven, on all the European composers. But what inspires audiences — including, we hope, ours — is the immediacy of the beauty of the music. You don’t need special training to jump right in and listen.


Classical music: A major and long overdue revival of Franz Joseph Haydn seems at hand –- and The Ear applauds it.

May 23, 2014
5 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The evidence just keeps on mounting, at least to The Ear’s ears.

What I hear tells me this: We are on the verge of a major rediscovery and revival of the works of Franz Joseph Haydn, who too often seems little more than a token inclusion or an afterthought in so much classical programming. The repertoire usually runs: Lots of Mozart, lots of Beethoven, some Schubert and far less Haydn.

Haydn

Almost all classical musicians, historical and contemporary, concede that “Papa” Haydn -– a more complex personality than it would appear at first, especially if you read the authoritative biographies and essays by H.C. Robbins Landon  — was one of the most inventive and creative, the most prolific and influential composers of all time.

Haydn was more or less the father of the symphony, as we know it; the string quartet as we know it; the piano trio as we know it; and the piano sonata as we know it.

But curiously, Haydn has never received the same intense attention that his more famous colleagues such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Franz Schubert, have enjoyed. And this is even despite the fact that he was a teacher or mentor to all of them.

Haydnpiano

And on what does The Ear base his hunch about a Haydn revival?

Well, this past season I heard many more of Haydn’s string quartets and piano trios than usual. I also heard one of his two cello concertos and a trumpet concerto.

The string quartets and piano trios came from the Pro Arte Quartet (below top), plus the Hunt Quartet (below middle) and the Perlman Trio (below bottom, seen with a guest pianist and guest cellist) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music as well as from chamber musicians in the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO). Plus, the annual summer Token Creek Chamber Music Festival often likes to explore Haydn’s piano trios, although I don’t yet know this summer’s programs. (You can hear part of a great Piano Trio in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Pro Arte Quartet in Haydn at Mernier

Hunt Quartet Mills 2-2014 USE

perlman trio 2014 2 Esposito

I have also heard many more symphonies everywhere, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus concert halls to Wisconsin Public Radio and SiriusXM satellite radio. More importantly, I have heard far more of the 104 symphonies than the usual favorites such as “the Farewell,” “The Clock,” “The Drumroll” and “The Surprise,” including fine performances by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra and the Madison Symphony Orchestra under conductor John DeMain — which played Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto with soloist Tine Thing Helseth — as well as the UW Symphony Orchestra and UW Chamber Orchestra under conductor James Smith.

WCO lobby

Then take a look at the concertos, which are relatively rare in the concert hall.

Next season the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will feature Shai Wosner (below, in a photo by Marco Borgrevve), a first-rate and sensitive musician, performing two of Haydn’s many piano concertos, the unheard No. 4 in G Major and the more popular No. 11 in D Major. This season, his Piano Concerto in D Major –- the most famous one — was also featured at Edgewood College, and it will again be programmed this summer by the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra (MAYCO). That kind of repetition programming means something and bodes well.

Shai Wosner Photo: Marco Borggreve

One major disappointment of the revival so far is that local pianists don’t seem to be doing their part. They are not picking up on the 52 piano sonatas that are such a rich field of repertoire.

Too bad!

The Ear finds the piano sonatas of Haydn interesting and varied, and I am not alone: They were favorites of none other than the titanic talent Sviatoslav Richter (below top), who possessed a gigantic repertoire, but always spotlighted Haydn in performances and recordings. Alfred Brendel, Emanuel Ax, Leif Ove Andsnes, Andras Schiff and especially “super-virtuoso” Marc-Andre Hamelin (below bottom) -– all top names currently on the concert circuit –- have also championed Haydn through performances and recordings.

richterwithcross1

marc-andre hamelin

But perhaps those shortcomings will be overcome in time. After all, this past season, Archiv issued an outstanding CD of Haydn’s rarely played violin concertos with Giuliano Carmignola ad the Orchestra of the Champs-Elysees.

Giuliano Carmignola

Another area that needs some catching up with is Haydn’s choral music. It has been quite a few years since we have heard either of his large and magnificent oratorios “The Seasons” or “The Creation.” And I am not even talking about his wondrous, smaller-scale late masses (“Mass in Time of War,” “The Lord Nelson Mass”) that deserve far more performances than they usually receive, maybe from the UW Choral Union.

UW Choral Union and UW Symphony 11-2013

Will Haydn ever displace or dethrone the bigger masters and more famous names? Probably not.

The Ear finds Mozart more beautiful, but Haydn more interesting. 

Beethoven (below) is more dramatic, virtuosic and powerful, though much of what he learned about development, he learned from Haydn with whom he studied counterpoint, and whose work he knew intimately.

Beethoven big

And except in some of the “Storm and Stress” symphonies, Haydn seems more formal and objective, and rarely expresses the kind of heart-wrenching empathy and soulful humaneness we find in Mozart (below top)  and Schubert (below bottom), who were supreme melodists.

Mozart old 1782

Franz Schubert big

In fairness, we have to admit that Haydn did have his weak points. He wrote far too many works (123 trios!) for the outdated baryton (below) –- a kind of cello or viol with vibrating sympathetic strings -– simply because his royal patron at the Esterhazy Palace in Austria (now Hungary) played it. One can only imagine what would be the result if such energy had gone into other more important genres where Haydn excelled.

Baryton

Also, Haydn’s many operas seem deservedly neglected when they are compared to Mozart’s. Haydn just didn’t seem to have the flair necessary to combine theater and music in an engaging and insightful or moving way. And perhaps Haydn didn’t really take to vocal music because he subconsciously resented how close he had come to being castrated to preserve his boy soprano voice. Still, it might be interesting to see the Madison Opera do one of the better Haydn operas as its winter offering, or to see the University Opera, which often does neglected repertoire, tackle one. (Below is the English Touring Opera performing Haydn’s opera “Country Matters.”

Haydn's opera %22Country Matters%22 by the English Touring opera

But make no mistake. Haydn’s life and career were very long and his enormous output constitutes an endless vein of precious ore to mine, as these approximate numbers show: 104 symphonies, 60 piano trios, 72 string quartets, 52 piano sonatas, dozens of concertos and operas, a dozen or two major choral works.

Haydn, a humorous and good-natured man as well as a hard worker -– he always composed at the keyboard (below) — was a driving force behind all of them. And even though he developed and changed immensely over long life -– he was born in 1732 and died famous in 1809 -– all stages of his work offer masterpieces that deserve performances and acquaintance, and certainly far more attention than they generally receive.

Haydn_3

That is especially so now that early music, period instruments and historically informed performance practices are the norm. But I personally find that Haydn, unke some other composers, sounds terrific on either period instruments or modern instruments.

Haydn’s early symphonies like the triptych “Morning, Noon and Night;” (Symphonies Nos. 6, 7 and 8) are rich; his middle-period “Storm and Stress” minor key symphonies from his middle period are extraordinary and surprising for a Classical era composer. His sophisticated late work, when he twice took London by storm, includes the “Paris” and “London” symphonies as well as the “Oxford,” to celebrate his receiving an honorary degree. Next season, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will perform Symphony No. 96, “The Miracle.”

The Ear would love to see WCO music director and conductor Andrew Sewell (below)  -– who has shown himself to be a masterful interpreter of Haydn – undertake either a major cycle or at least a major survey of Haydn’s symphonies in coming seasons. Maybe the UW’s Pro Arte Quartet could do the same with the string quartets.

andrewsewell

So rich is Haydn’s work that even if a major revival happens -– if it indeed has already started – it can keep going for a very long time to come, and still keeps surprising us and pleasing us.

Does anyone else sense that a major Haydn revival is at hand?

Why do you think Haydn has been comparatively ignored?

What Haydn works do you like best?

And what Haydn works would you like to get to know better or to see better known by the general public and performed more often?

The Ear wants to hear.

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 1,196 other followers

    Blog Stats

    • 2,067,251 hits
%d bloggers like this: