Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dear Friends

Hello All You Beautiful People!

For once, this is neither a rant nor review, but instead, gratitude for the appreciation and acknowledgement you have given us over the past few months of our nascent weblog.

We are now at over ten thousand page views, a milestone for this fledgling endeavor.  A delight it has been to see just how many of you have interacted, commented on, and supported our efforts.

Your encouragement has provided us with the impetus to continue to speak fearlessly.  Strange it is that many of you agree that much music criticism is corrupt.  We (and a few others), bound only by a sense of decorum, have decided to keep it straight and unburdened by lucre.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Not A Fan

   Mitsuko Uchida is a pianist that has baffled this listener for a quarter of a century. Her latest release of three of Schumann’s works on Decca could be heard as a pinnacle of her artistic efforts, the culmination of a lifetime’s cultivation. Admirably presuming to muscular intellectuality, her precise measurements of all dimensions musical could perhaps be visionary in this digital age.
It could be argued that this is her vision of an un-medicated Schumann, but this reveals a fundamental misunderstanding - classical music should always please. Like listening to graphs, her expression ranges from the abacus to the adding machine, the calculator, and perhaps, if a computer were fed Schumann’s oeuvre it might produce interpretations similar to our pianist.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pretty, Yes, And Musical

   About pianist Jan Lisiecki, Canada’s frankly adorable golden boy, circumspection would be the better part of valour. It would be wrong to discourage this fine pianist at the start of his success and disparage his considerable accomplishment of recording the Chopin Etudes for Deutsche Grammophon, so this article is proffered as an aside. I sincerely hope this does not come to the attention of someone who possesses a delicate sensibility; a young man who clearly loves playing his instrument. One wonders if, in the middle of a hopefully glorious career, he might think back to this recording and blush.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Elgar Cello Concerto - Four Recent Recordings

Weilerstein: B-,  Bailey: D+*, Clein: A, Queras: B
(*Indianapolis Symphony: B+)
Alicia Weilerstein’s sincere telling that Daniel Barenboim’s invitation to record the Elgar with the Berlin Staatskapelle fulfilled a lifelong dream, hints at this performance’s undoing.  His well-documented dishonorable relationship with Jacqueline Du Pre, whose interpretation of the Elgar has ensnared the imaginations of young cellists for three generations, provides a clue to this recording's predilection.  An unhealthy partnership was established between soloist and conductor in that Ms. Weilerstein, whose assured playing harkens to Boccelli’s beautiful young girls, scrupulously observes Mr. Barenboim’s every prescription regarding nuance, shape and structural bearing. This detailed style is touching at the beginning, interesting, then tedious, and the Lento sinks from its heaviness (why do cellists make their shifts more important than the notes?).  Vulgar is the variation in the last movement when Ms. Weilerstein joins the lower strings in unison, which sounds like a chorus line of bearded bears in a BDSM club.  Mr. Barenboim, though sure of mind and hand, dominates this music to the point of bludgeoning it.  Overwrought, and hued with a bright technicolored palette, around this endeavor is a haze of creepiness suited more to the imaginings of Richard Strauss. 
More natural and balanced comes Carter’s Cello Concerto. In Mr. Carter’s mature style of lean textures and transparent dialogue the crystalline structures of this music are not exactly realized, though well pitched are its gargles and gutterances.  Ms. Weilerstein earns her wings as a ‘serious’ musician by championing this work.  Alisa writes that parts of these seven sections are ‘fun’ to play: Carter’s work is seldom if ever fun to listen to, so kudos to her.  
Zuill Bailey’s skills at self promotion perhaps eclipse his achievements in Elgar’s Cello Concerto. The tendency towards sharpness, glib tempos and vanished orchestral accompaniments confirm that the center of the world is not the phallus, but Zuill Bailey’s. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Great Danes, Not Great Works

  The Danish Quartet’s appealing and considerable abilities were squandered in a post modernist program proffered by Lincoln Center’s Chamber Music Society Two. The evening’s concert, of the American Peter Lieberson’s Piano Quintet, the Dane Hans Abrahamsen‘s Ten Preludes for String Quartet, and the Argentinean Osvaldo Golijov’s The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind for clarinet and String Quartet should have been bracing, refreshing and soulfully meaningful. Through the weakness of the selections, it was a night of constriction, triteness and exasperation. Mr. Lieberson’s Piano Quintet is written in a post-serial language spiked with consonances and melodic contours with plenty of various intervals larger than an octave. The plethora of quarter and eighth notes of the first movement, Celebratory and Joyful, was as rousing as falling bowling pins. In the second movement rhythmic interest was more developed, but not so harmonic. The concluding fugal section was a gloss on Cape Breton fiddling music that the composer heard in Nova Scotia where he was a director of a Buddhist meditation program. Though somewhat enlivening this grey porridge, it still lacked enlightenment. The pianist was the dynamic Gilles Vonsattel.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

CrackCritic’s Rant The First

Dear Friends,
   Crackcritic was ill on a recent sojourn to visit his mother in Texas, and so can only rant deliriously about a dinner with old friends, all successful musicians.

   In what Texan capital city did the broadsheet actually print this line in a concert review: 
“’This is stressing me out,” someone said in the seats behind me. She was reacting to the just-finished first movement of Bartok’s violin concerto, and it was a fair response to a composer who is rarely soothing to listen to.

Who is the prominent composer that, after writing a critical private letter to the editor regarding this review, received this snide, tart dismissal: “You guys are elitists.” (He told us, “I will never speak to her again. They’ll trash me in that rag, and so what?” He also canceled his season subscription to this city’s fine regional orchestra.)

Who is the the newest board member who used this review as justification for her new ‘Program Committee’ to censor pieces deemed unsuitable to the public (hers)? Her musical discernment apparently ends at Suzuki Book 4.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Horn Ruled The Evening

Of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s season opening concert in Carnegie Hall Wednesday October 23rd, the most anticipated piece on the program was Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings. Ian Bostridge was the big name draw, having the reputation as the greatest English tenor recitalist today. The undisputed hero of the evening, though, was French horn player Stewart Rose, St. Luke’s solo horn. With a deep sensitivity to the ambiguities of the music and its far ranging texts, Mr. Rose’s seemingly instinctive commitment and vivid volatility put Mr. Bostridge’s pat professionalism to shame. The solo horn call in tones of natural harmonics harken to prehistory. Somber here, Mr. Rose’s most subtle tempering made this savory to the modern ear. Mr. Bostridge, a lovely long-limbed lad, lithe of voice and shape, has a naturally pure and clear voice that hangs well on high; his pitch is pristine, and his legato lightly honey-hued. A glaring technical defect, however, is his diction, crisp as overcooked alphabet soup. Perhaps this is fashionable. One of the tenor’s memorable moments came in the second song, Tennyson’s Nocturne, at the lines:

               “Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
               “Blow, bugle; answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.”

To hear comprehensible words, and beautiful ones, was like the opening of a window in an airless room, and thrilling was the tumbling of voice and horn.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fried and Biss, Violin and Piano, Mother and Son

Violinist Miriam Fried and her son Jonathan Biss 
were presented by the 92nd Street Y as a part of its Distinguished Artists in Recital series last Saturday November 2nd, offering a lovely program of four marvelous sonatas. My response to what began in this duo’s foolhardy opening choice with Leos Janacek’s terse, challenging Sonata (carelessly described by the NY Times as “delightful”) quickly evolved from stunned to baffled, settling on detestation.

The violinist was clearly audible in exactly three places this evening; the opening of the Janacek, and in the opening bar of the first movement and the little cadenza in the final movement of Beethoven’s last violin sonata. These are the moments when the piano doesn’t play.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Sven’s Symphonies Lost in Pockets

 (….from the liner notes…)
    “When furnaces turn into fairy castles, memories take over. We know that we could ideally shape and mould what lies ahead and everything past remains mercilessly incomplete.”
   “When the smaller clock hand has moved around those 12 numbers twice, it is the start of a new day. Always. Without exception.”
   “Whole chapters of life become snapshots from Polaroid’s epic paintings.”
  “12 symphonic seals that leave an imprint on our stamps of longing for meaningful sensitivity behind.”
   Behind? Whose behind?
   Of these mind numbing, jaw clenching dicta from the tortured attempt of the annotator (who will remain unnamed) to make sense of Sven Helbig’s Pocket Symphonies, let’s call his efforts valiant. However, this slick project released by Deutsche Gramophone stains this distinguished firm’s reputation. The cool shades of grays and blues for the photographs of the fine musicians make them look like the well-tended sons and daughters of organized crime bosses, and well matched to this music I call contemporary overproduced classical Muzak.