The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Old music and new music mingle superbly at the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival through a concert with viols, a countertenor and a new composition by John Harbison

September 1, 2016
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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 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 provided the performance photos for this review.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

The second of the Token Creek Chamber Music Festival’s three public concerts, which took place on Tuesday evening, was a study in the old and the new, and the mingling thereof.

The program title was, in fact, “Viol Music, Then and Now.” The performing group was the Second City Musick Consort of Viols of Chicago (below)  — three players from there, plus visitor Brady Lanier.

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Craig Trompeter, Russell Wagner, Anna Steinhoff at the Planetarium, Chicago, May 30, 2013

Much, but hardly all, of their contributions were consort pieces of the 16th and 17th centuries, although a certain number of transcriptions — ironically, of later music — were involved.

Three Fantasias for three viols by William Byrd and one by John Jenkins for four viols were prime specimens. Two pairs of examples from Henry Purcell’s Fantasias in 4 Parts represented a late contribution to the consort literature, but were probably intended — primarily, if not exclusively — for members of the violin family, not viols.

Token Creek viols JWB

With the addition of countertenor Nathan Medley, groups of “consort songs” were presented: three by Byrd and one each by four different composers of the late-Elizabethan and early Stuart periods. These were capped by one of the favorite airs of Purcell, “Fairest Isle”— which is a part of his large “semi-opera” King Arthur.

Token Creek viols and countertenor closeup JWB

The program’s centerpiece, however, was a new work by festival co-founder and co-artistic director, John Harbison (below), who won a Pulitzer Prize and has been a MacArthur “genius grant” Fellow and who teaches at MIT.

John Harbison MIT

The nature and the scoring of this work, The Cross of Snow, was defined by the patron who commissioned it. This was local businessman William Wartmann (below), who intended it as a tribute to his deceased wife, the painter and singer Joyce Wartmann.

wiiliam wartmann

It was understood from the outset that it would be written for countertenor and consort of viols, and that the texts set would come from 19th-century poetic literature.

The choice eventually fell on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who also lost his wife tragically, in a fire. The three poems set are: The Cross of Snow, Suspira and “Some day, some day.” All of them deal with the deep and enduring pain over the loss of a loved one. The three settings are framed by a Prelude and a Postlude for the consort alone. (You can hear the poem “The Cross of Snow” in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Harbison has a strong sense of tradition and a genuine sympathy for Baroque music. Still, in this composition he by no means attempts simply to imitate long-past styles. While he is interested in exploring the special coloring and harmonics of the viols, he also brings to them a lot of the playing techniques familiar from writing for modern stringed instruments, but alien to viols. Indeed, the instrumental role in this work could pretty easily be transferred from viols to modern strings.

Nevertheless, Harbison’s stylistic assimilations run deep. The five movements, and especially the quite contrapuntal Postlude, are built upon allusions to chorales by Johann Sebastian Bach (below). And, quite wisely, the consort played transcriptions of three such pieces in conjunction with Harbison’s score.

Bach1

Moreover, it was decided to perform Harbison’s new work twice, once in each half of the concert. This was most helpful in allowing a deepened appreciation of the emotional content of both the poetry and the music. The vocal lines are strongly etched, and were beautifully sung by countertenor Medley, a superb artist.

With the final program, on this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., the spotlight will be exclusively on Franz Schubert (below) — his “Die Schoene Muellerin” (The Beautiful Miller’s Daughter) song cycle and the famous “Trout” Piano Quintet — music in a world between the two evoked by this concert.

Schubert etching

For more information, visit: http://tokencreekfestival.org

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Classical music: French composer Maurice Durufle’s quietly glorious but rarely performed Requiem will be sung for FREE twice this Sunday, March 29, at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. Plus, the UW Hunt Quartet performs a FREE concert of Mozart, Janacek and Mendelssohn on Thursday night at 6:30 in Morphy Hall.

March 25, 2015
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ALERT: This Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall, the Hunt Quartet will perform three great string quartets: the String Quartet No. 23 in F Major, K. 590, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the String Quartet No. 1 “Kreutzer Sonata” by Leos Janacek; and the String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13, by Felix Mendelssohn.

The quartet is made up of four graduate students (below) at the UW-Madison School of Music. Here is a link to the event with impressive biographies and other information:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/events/hunt-quartet-recital/

Hunt Quartet 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Our friend Dan Broner, the music director of the First Unitarian Society of Madison, has sent the following note to The Ear: 

On Sunday, March 29, at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. the Society Choir of the First Unitarian Society of Madison will be joined by guest singers and instrumentalists in two performances of a masterpiece by French composer Maurice Durufle (below): his Requiem, Op. 9

Maurice Durufle full frontal BW

Both performances will take place in the modern Atrium Auditorium (below, in a photo by Zane Williams).

FUS Atrium, Auditorium Zane Williams

Maurice Durufle (1902-1986) was a celebrated French organist and composer. He studied at the Paris Conservatoire with the two most important French organist-composers of the day, Charles Tournemire and Louis Vierne, and he surpassed them both.

Durufle (below) won every major prize – in organ, harmony, accompaniment, counterpoint and fugue, and composition. In 1939 he gave the world premiere of Francis Poulenc’s Organ Concerto and in the 1940s he was named Professor of Harmony of the Conservatoire. It was his exceptional penchant for self-criticism, however, that led to Durufle publishing only 13 works: six organ pieces, two works for orchestra, a chamber piece, and four choral compositions.

He kept re-writing and revising his compositions for years after they were completed. As a result Durufle is a relatively unknown composer to the general public, but is admired by composers and singers for the impeccable craftsmanship and sublime beauty of his work.

Durufle at organ

The Requiem for choir, soloists, orchestra and organ was completed in 1947 and is based on Gregorian chants from the Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead. Stylistically it is influenced by the 20th-century organ music of Tournemire and Vierne, the Impressionist school of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, the elegant Romanticism of Gabriel Faure, Renaissance polyphony and above all Gregorian chant. These elements form a tapestry held together by Durufle’s command of harmony and structure.

Durufle wrote three different accompaniments for the work: the original for large orchestra, a version for organ accompaniment, and one for organ and chamber orchestra.  It is this last version that we will be using for our performances. (Below is a photo of Dan Broner conducting the choir. At bottom, you can hear the fourth movement, the Sanctus, as performed by Robert Shaw and the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. Sorry, but I don’t know why there is no video to accompany the audio.)

fus choirs

The concert will also introduce the new Allen digital organ gifted by William Wartmann (below) in memory and honor of his late wife, Joyce Wartmann, and her lifelong friendship with retired FUS Assistant Music Director and Organist, Eva Wright.

SONY DSC

Joining the Society Choir will be guest singers from the Meeting House Chorus and community; baritone Paul Rowe (below top) and soprano Heather Thorpe (below bottom), who directs the FUS Children’s Choir.

Schubertiade 2014 Paul Rowe baritone BIG

Heather Thorpe

Retired UW-Madison professor and Concertmaster of the Madison Symphony, Tyrone Greive (below top, in a photo by Katrin Talbot), will lead the string section, which will be joined by three trumpeters, timpani and harp, all conducted by FUS music director Dan Broner.  Linda Warren (below bottom) will be the harpist and the guest organist will be Sheri Masiakowski, a doctoral student of UW organist, John Chappell Stowe.

Tyrone Greive Talbot

linda warren

I hope you will be able to join us on March 29 to experience some of the most beautiful music ever penned for choir and orchestra.

 

 

 

 

 


Classical music: Candid Concert Opera brings a pared down performance of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” to Edgerton with enchanting results.

May 13, 2013
3 Comments

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 every other Sunday morning on WORT 88.9 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

Founder and music director Codrut Birsan has been moving on steadily with his Chicago-based Candid Concert Opera project. I was lucky to catch his latest presentation at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center (below top is the exterior, below bottom is the interior and concert hall) on this past Saturday evening, May 11. (At bottom is a YouTube video of Birsan speaking with excerpts from a production of “Die Fledermaus.”)

edgerton performing arts center exterior

Edgerton PAC stage

Edgerton is blessed to have so fine a performance venue as that incorporated into its high school.  The house is ample, the acoustics excellent, the sightlines uniformly open, and the seating comfortable. Its annual seasons are full of fine visiting ensembles, and it is to the particular credit of Edgerton’s stellar benefactor, William Wartmann (below), that an effort is made to attract operatic offerings.  For those, Madisonians can find it worthwhile to make the trip down to this quiet and welcoming little city.

wiiliam wartmann

The CCO production this time was a version of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” sung in the original German, with English surtitles projected.  One of the defining patterns of evolution that Birsan has made is gradually to develop a mini-orchestral accompaniment for his presentations.  This time, he had the largest showing yet: 13 players, made up of four winds (one each of flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon), eight strings, and piano. 

Candid Concert Opera 8

This group, conducted by Birsan (below), made a credible Mozartean sound, even when shorn of brass and timpani.

Codrut Birsan

Such restrictions meant some sacrifices, such as the symbolic three chords of Freemasonry. Indeed, much of Mozart’s Masonic imagery was bypassed for a simplified story of the main characters. In the inevitable cutting, we lost the Three Boys, and the two Armed Men, along with a few musical numbers.

The spoken dialogue was gone also, with a narrator (Tom Kastle, below on the far right) filling in the context for the numbers.  With all that, we were still left with a big bundle of Mozart’s wonderful music.  And, marshaling his solo singers, Birsan was able to deliver some of the important choral work.  Indeed, his clever trimming and adjusting resulted in a very enjoyable show.

Tom Kastle far right

As usual, he could draw upon a lot of young vocal talent from the Chicago area.  Their names will be unfamiliar, but–who knows–some of them might develop into famous singers.

The men were a mixed group.  Their standout was Dan Richardson (below top), who has a very appealing baritone voice, and who displayed real acting talent as the comic birdman Papageno. Tenor Javier Bernard has a pleasant voice, but needed a bit more strength and projection as Prince Tamino. Bass Neil Edwards had the vocal dignity of Sarastro, but lacked full power in the crucial lower notes of his solos.  With a limited tenor voice but a lively acting flair, Eric Mason (below bottom) was delightful as the wicked slave Monostatos.

Dan Richardson

Eric Mason USE BW headshot

More uniform were the women. Soprano Amanda Compton (below) was pert and winning as the birdgirl Papagena. Remarkable strength, ensemble, and stage presence were displayed by the Three Ladies (Leila Bowie, Marci Wagnon Jackson, and Robin Bradley).

amanda compton

As the Queen of the Night, soprano Amanda Kingston (below) had ringing tone and strong personality.  Her command of the fearsome high-range pyrotechnics was somewhat challenged in her first big aria, but was much more secure in the second. 

Amanda Kingston

The star of the show in general, however, was Chelsea Morris (below) as Pamina: her firm, truly beautiful voice, with absolute technical confidence, offered consistently lovely singing.

Chelsea Morris soprano

The staging (below) was, even more than usual, minimal, with the sequence of numbers indeed like a standup concert progression.  Still, some interaction of the singers, lots of body language, and some simple movements, all sustained the sense of theater.

Candid Concert Opera 9

Birsan’s CCO deserves support and delivers satisfaction in bringing opera in direct ways to wider audiences.  Next season it will offer Rossini’s “La Cenerentola and Mozart’s “Così fan tutte.”  Watch for them, wherever they turn up.


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