Monday, August 26, 2013

JANINE: Gripping. EMERSON: Girdled.

   A young friend recently asked how musicians form conceptions of works and how much creativity shapes performances. His request provided a framework to compare two recent recordings of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht. The Emerson Quartet is joined by Paul Neubauer and Colin Carr in an album which includes Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, and the young star Janine Jansen and her loyal, unknown friends pair the Schoenberg with the Schubert Cello Quintet.
   In classical music you need notation and imagination. There are conductors and soloists whose hopefully thoughtful interpretations are unified by their perception. In chamber music, ostensibly among equals, the level of complexity among competing aesthetics, egos and accomplishments seldom render this treacherous idiom exhilarating.

Friday, August 23, 2013


Ammonia mixed with chlorine makes mustard gas. Sauerkraut downed with sparkling water is a recipe for disaster. Cutting-edge programming used to be Schubert followed by Bartok, now it's Sweelinck paired wth Wuorinen. Tonight ICE took one (mis) step further, interspersing one or two movements at a time, of Beethoven's septet Op. 20 (1799) with the world premiere of George Lewis' Born Obbligato (2103), an ICE commission.

Might it have been better to splice the two works bar by bar, or, play them simultaneously? Despite polished star turns by violinist David Bowlin, cellist Katinka Kleijn, clarinetist Joshua Rubin and David Byrd-Marrow on horn, this juxtaposition seemed to burden the players. Intonation was not always easy. Beethoven's bumptious charm was here hard-edged and would have benefited from the subtle virtuosity of conductor Steven Schick, who directed Born Obbligato. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


Sunday 18 August 2013

ICElab’s fourth concert in their residency at Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival offered four world premieres, all written this year. Celebrating a dynamic multi-culturalism, this afternoon featured works by the African-American Tyshawn Sorey (b.1980) and the Brazilian Felipe Lara (b. 1979).
   A rising figure in the hermetic world of serious free improvisation, Mr. Sorey’s Acts II hit the ground running and hardly paused for air. The tour de force animalistic apoplexies from the brass (trumpet and horn) were led by the composer himself on the trombone. Pitted against them were the struck and pluck instruments (piano, percussion and electric guitar) which were no less frenzied. Well done in his piece is the balance of the violence of the free improvisation that ‘resolves’ to more static forms of layered rhythmically stable ostinati.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


August 15, 2013

On Thursday, Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart presented the second of the International Contemporary Ensemble’s ten concerts in their provocative residency. These superb performers' valiant efforts nearly sustained this program too dense for a summer festival. William Schimmel, the éminence grise of the accordion, set the stage with his transcription of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Distinguished by his command and charisma, this not entirely successful arrangement’s exploration of the instrument’s idiomatic polychromatic adornments whetted the palette for the rest of the program. Some could argue it contributed to Goethe’s message, but not, I think, to Beethoven's.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Oddly Billed, Mr. Bell

Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Joshua Bell

The forthrightness of this article may be condemned by some, but the phenomenon of Joshua Bell, International Superstar Violinist, seems often to impede his artistic maturity and interfere with his music-making. Blessed with the peerless Academy of St Martin in the Fields in their latest release from Sony of the Fourth and Seventh Symphonies of Beethoven, this inevitable career step oddly bills Mr. Bell as conductor and concertmaster.  

Questions spring to mind: Does he play sitting or standing? Where? If seated, how does he not stab his stand partner? Does he play from full score, violin part, or memory? If from score, who turns the pages? He has played with orchestras, but has he ever played in one? If this is meant to start a trend, could one hope for Sarah Chang’s Bruckner 6th, or Mahler’s 4th from Midori? Hilary Hahn’s The Planets

L'Attacca Entre!

Amy Schroeder, Keiko Tokunaga (violins)  Luke Fleming (viola)  Andrew Yee (cello)

The Attacca Quartet’s exciting debut release on Azica Records features the music of John Adams. This fortuitous association began at Juilliard when the group accepted the daunting challenge of presenting, on short notice, the first movement of his String Quartet (2008).

This grand work’s shape is sprawling like spilt liquid, yet bold in its transparency (could one say this two part work is in classic sonata-allegro form, whose second movement is its displaced development?) The bustling music of the opening, chattering and suave, is sleek and brash in the recapitulation, after violist Luke Fleming’s plangent, impassioned pleas inspire his colleagues to a section of tender soaring singing. The active music in the next part starts with glittering ascending passagework which transforms to a flickering repeated note fabric that supports the former’s aspirations reduced to a two note rising motif. The closings of both movements are inconclusive and disquieting – the first hushed, the second desperate. The best quartets offer a world made intimate: the cumulative effect of this masterwork is as powerful as a late Sibelius symphony.

The Tao of Pooh

Conrad Tao, piano

Voyages, Conrad Tao’s second release on EMI follows "The Juilliard Sessions" by a year.  This 18-year-old pianist begins respectfully enough with Meredith Monk’s short trip, Railroad, whose inclusion seems an unstated embrace from the official sphere of high postmodernism. 

Vivien Schweitzer of The New York Times kindly and gently mediates the words and thoughts of the young master. In the notes we are told: “Audiences should be inspired to think about musical journeys, not just from A to B, but rather between A and B.” This hermeneutic, though well and fine, reveals a failed flaw – B is not A, and if it is, what then be between a thing and itself? 

In the set of Rachmaninoff Preludes, each one begins well and some begin beautifully, but they quickly bog in the minutiae of technique and meander without destination or distinction.  Rachmaninoff judged the success and vitality of a performance by the realization of the pivotal point upon which rests the musical structure. Ultimately, Mr. Tao’s two-dimensional interpretations are DOA. 

Garrick's Gorgeous Griffes


Garrick Ohlsson, piano

Hyperion presents Charles Tomlinson Griffes’ sublime music played ravishingly by pianist Garrick Ohlsson.  Chronicling the evolution of his decade-long career from an urbane cosmopolitan Impressionism to a style of supple abstraction cut short in 1920 by his death at thirty four, this recording is sure to rectify an inexplicable neglect of this early 20th century master through the astonishing efforts of Mr. Ohlsson. 
More than his complete habitation of this music, the affinity of performer and composer is eerie – they share an overwhelmingly imaginative sensuality, rich and lush, without Debussy’s morbidity or Scriabin’s theosophy. The aural delights are tactile in these works so wonderfully written for the instrument. If Chopin is known as the ‘Poet of the Piano,’ can we call Griffes the ‘Painter of the Piano?’ Let’s stroll around the gallery.