Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A Harp on a Boat Near Despair Where the Sea Seeks the Sun Through Intractable Clouds

It’s as though some dank and damp late October day you sent someone down to the village seeking solace from members of the Berlin Philharmonic. Only Schubert could assuage your Weltschmerz. To your castle they sent their soloists: harpist Marie Pierre Langlamet, cellist Ludwig Quandt and their guests Anna Prohaska, soprano and Lara St. John, violin. Such a fantastical and improbable evening was seemingly captured in a beguiling release from the Ancalagon label, sumptuously recorded and presented.
   This recording belongs to Ms. Langlamet who plays on on every selection. Appropriately opening with the three Gesänge des Harfners the harp’s discretion invites a gloomy intimacy to Ms. Prohaska’s pure, sensitive tellings of despair. The D major Violin Sonatina, with all of its noble restraint, within the strictest of classical parameters paints a haunting world of ever subtly changing moods and shades.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Witches, Fairies, Storms and Saints

   The Orchestra of St. Luke’s, with their principal conductor Pablo Heras-Casado, presented a refreshingly unusual program spanning three centuries of well-known composers’ more peripheral works, united by literary themes, in Carnegie Hall on November 6th.

   The most polished and refined performance was Dallapiccola’s Piccola musica notturna, inspired by a poem of Antonio Machado’s, which opened the second half. This night music with a still sense of foreboding was an ideal showcase for one of Mr. Heras-Casado’s greatest strengths: his transparent lyricism. Flickered with many fine solos, one can up the ante, and principal horn Stewart Rose’s shapely contribution inspired his colleagues to this evening’s expressive heights, including the outstanding pliancy of clarinetist Bil Jackson.
   Tchaikovsky’s poem on Shakespeare’s The Tempest provided this night’s most thrilling music, and the solo horn richly deserved his solo bow in this veritable concertante part, where he intoned Prospero’s voice with a mature masculine wisdom, endless in breath and width of range. Caliban’s music was appropriately boorish, but Miranda and Ferdinand’s love seemed more tentative than filled with ardour, and never quite blossomed.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Mahler’s Testament According to Yannick

Conductor Yannick Nézet-Séguin is a figure that commands our respect, and frankly, adulation. He is serendipitously matched with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which Carnegie Hall presented in a nearly stupendous performance of Mahler’s Second Symphony on October 31st. This colossal work represents nothing less than the triumph of life over death, and the transitive relation of universal themes to the individual. Mr. Nézet-Séguin manifested this correspondence with outstanding assurance to invite the orchestra’s best playing. This was grandeur without grandiosity, a single-minded dedication to the task at hand without a trace of ego or pomposity.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

David Leisner: Supreme Guitartist

David Leisner, one of the most illustrious American guitarists, was presented by Guitar Plus at Symphony Space on the evening of September 12, 2014. Joined by his friends Tara O’Connor, flute and Philippe Quint, violin, it was titled “Sonic Stories,” perhaps a bit heavy in its divertissements.
   Opening with a quaint period transcription of Rossini’s La Gazza Ladra Overture for the three musicians, any uncertainty in regards to direction and overplaying were dispelled in Ned Rorem’s duo for flute and guitar Romeo and Juliet; so transparent at times to be thin. Ms. O’Connor played as lovingly as she was dressed. In the other duo, Osvaldo Golijov’s Fish Tale, one might wish for a more colorful poisson, or a bigger tank. Concluding with a lively reading of Piazzolla’s Histoire du Tango with the violin, these four movements can wear out their welcome. Mr. Quint played with dash, his style splashy as his shoes were shiny.

   Mr. Leisner was featured as a collaborator, superb to a fault, perhaps. It brought back memories of his all-Britten program last autumn in the same hall with tenor Rufus Miller, which won my vote as the most moving and memorable recital of the season. These artists drenched us in the glorious fruits of tenderness, loss and sorrow intrinsic to this music. Their Sally Gardens encore was beyond the sphere of comparison. Their efforts did not have the intimacy of an embrace, nor a handshake; but a hand on the shoulder with a gaze into each others’ eyes as if into a mirror.
  Ms. O’Connor and Mr. Quint did not always share in the guitarist’s debonair elegance, nor in his old world high-towering love of comrades kind of warmth.

   We are lucky to have David Leisner ensconced in Manhattan. Last June at the Barge he gave the third NYC performance of David Del Tredici’s Facts of Life. If this 40 minute unidiomatic work in a conservative language does not fit this solo guitarist’s hands like a glove quite yet; rest assured, he is the worthy champion, dedicatee and commissioner. This work might benefit from some editing. The many olés! enthusiastically shouted by the performer at the end of the suite could be pruned, or exclaimed by an optional dancer, or by the audience roused and cued by his partner!

David Leisner next plays in Manhattan at March 28th at the 92nd Street Y.  Highly recommended.


Saturday, September 20, 2014

CrackCritic's Indianapolis Violin Competition Results

1: Tessa Lark
2: Dami Kim
3: Jinjoo Cho
4. TIE: Ji-Yoon Lee Ji-Young Lim, Yoo-Jin Jang

Zwilich prize: Suyeon Kang or Stephen Waarts.

CrackCritic’s Ideal Final: (in no order) based on the first and second round. This would have been an intriguing, engaging and authentic final. But hey, the sun'll come out tomorrow. 

Suyeon Kang
Stephen Waarts
Tessa Lark
Jinjoo Cho
Nadir Khashimov 
Richard Lin

Friday, September 19, 2014

Classical Oval Part II

from Thursday evening, September 18, 2014

Ji-Young Lim    Mozart 4

Her Allegro began clearly and brightly, but became labored and unfocused by the end of the exposition. The development was uncompelling, though she led the orchestra quite well. Generally all was undifferentiated; a model of accuracy, if without personality. The cadenza was calculated and careful, the ending harsh.
Her slow movement was reedy, shapeless, lacking in transparency though well controlled. Her phrases ran no more than ten notes at a time.
In the Rondeau, she had a certain upbeat mannerism; sunny, yet without variety. She has a nice profile in front of the orchestra, although she managed to forget about the winds, it seemed. There were parts in this movement that would make for great Muzak in upscale Midwestern sushi restaurants. Her cadenzas were admirably clear, but she has no sense of development, of the path of music. 

Yoo Jin Jang    Mozart 4

Her first movement was refreshing and mature musically, with breathing, phrasing, though not as tonally progressive as a soloist with orchestra should be. She had some expression in the development, but then tuned out and lost the ability to play in the center of the orchestra’s pitch. Her cadenza could have had rather more imagination and fantasy.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Classical Oval Part 1

Tessa Lark


She led the orchestra with authority, a musician most effortlessly natural.
Her first movement Adagio was slightly overplayed but the rest of her first movement was hale, healthy and spot-on, if not the freest and most openly expressive we have heard her play. She impressed by her irreproachable cleanliness and confidence. Her original cadenza was charming and brief. Her second movement was lyrical, vocal, a beautiful esquisse not quite exquisite. Her Rondo was very good, a slightly restrained performance with moments of gleam that this listener suspects she is holding in check in light of the present situation.

JinJoo Cho


JinJoo Cho’s sound is sweet, but not as delicate as her intentions. Once the Allegro started, she accented every quarter with the same emphasis, perhaps to hide her discomfort with this movement, though she marshaled and shone in the recap. Although her intonation suffered occasionally, there were not too many mishaps, and a small memory slip was handled with grace.

Monday, September 15, 2014


Posted at 10:14 PM EST


CrackCritic’s Indianapolis Final 6: in no order whatsoever

Ji-Won Song
Stephen Waarts
Jinjoo Cho
Suyeon Kang
Tessa Lark
Kristi Gyezi

Special mention:

Ayana Tsuji for a most excellent Beethoven 6.


Christine Lim
Monday, September 15, 10 PM

As endearing as Ms. Lim's persona is, one can’t deny that her sound is undersized, despite her obvious zeal for the music. Her final movement of Beethoven sonata No. 8 was a most pleasant and charming uptempo dance, and her first two movements were quite nice. Her Saint-Säens sonata was engaging, if not always exact, and a welcome new piece on the Contest Block, as was her delightful and stylish Caprice Basque.


Monday September 15th, 2014, early evening

Dami Kim

Another impressively technically accomplished violinist was Dami Kim, whose repertoire selections did not always show her strengths. Ill-advised was the Schumann D minor - a most unforgiving, methane-filled work that can seem eternal in any hands. In her Beethoven sonata No. 3, second movement, she managed to spin some beautiful long lines.
Her Zwilich was contained and never quite got off the ground.

In Sarasate’s Carmen fantasy, though spirited, she often altered the opera’s rhythm to suit her own technical comfort. If she is going to play a warhorse showpiece arrangement with little knowledge of the original, she needs to have more accuracy.


Indianapolis Violin Competition: Half the Last Lap (THIS AFTERNOON)

Monday September 15th 2014. AFTERNOON

Suyeon Kang

As performers there are times when the gods smile down on us. If Suyeon Kang’s Beethoven No. 7 this afternoon was disjunct from the pianist, her Zwilich Fantasy was the most convincing and brilliant thus far. Empowered by her commissioned piece performance, this listener was then entirely overwhelmed by her Prokofiev F minor sonata. Her Waxman “Carmen” was excellent, if not entirely consistent, but one could feel throughout the warmth of the audience towards this unassuming young woman with such a great emotional range. Spectacular.

Ji-Won Song

Ms. Song deserves only the highest respect as an instrumentalist. Honorable and excellent in execution was her Beethoven No. 7, with good ensemble. Her interpretation was facile, correct, appropriate, and not significant.
Her Ysäye No. 6 was quite clean, vibrant and impressive, although lacking in dynamics and panache. Valiant and over-emphatic was her Zwilich, though well-played.

Ach, the Brahms – her best playing and yet not so. Her tone was throbbing and her vibrato sometimes not. This was unconvincing due to a lack of direction other than vertical slashes, though there were some great moments.