A contemporary art dealer I know once exclaimed, as I was taking him around and old master drawings show I had organized, “this stuff has a lot of history. There’s a lot of history here…” as if history were a tangible quality that was somehow imparted to an object, whether by the artist, or by the physical touch of time, or by the many people who had successively owned it, or perhaps by something else…history! Every two years in June, history pours into the already deeply historical city of Boston in the form of historically-informed instrumentalists and singers, musicologists, historical instruments, historical instrument builders, historical editions, and manuscripts. Only a few of the historical folk—locals, most likely—knew that history was being made all around them, while some were immersed in the Roman de Fauvel and others were enraptured by Steffani’s Niobe, Regina di Tebe, as I was. As I sat down for the performance, I noticed a few more empty seat than I might have expected, and during the first intermission, I ventured out on Tremont Street for a few minutes.
I was of divided mind. Cellist, Pieter Wispelwey From the familiar opening measures of Bach’s great set of cello suites, any resemblance to performances I had previously heard (or could imagine from the score), any accordance with Baroque performance practice I had studied, and any sense of veneration to “The Bach Suite As Such” had been thoroughly dashed. I listened with jaw-dropping surprise at Wispelwey’s granular, hyper-rhetorical phrasing – now playful, now expressionistic, now rapturous, now diffident, always light-on-the-bow – and felt completely alienated by a radical departure from a performance tradition I had loved. Where were Janos Starker’s muscles? Where was the grunting and spiritually ennobling midwifery of Pablo Casals whose hulking, devotional approach attested to the phenomenon, as G. M. Hopkins said, “sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine”?
I yearn for the day when a thoroughly sympathetic view of Schumann emerges, one supplanting the lingering idea, passed on from biographer to musician to music-lover and back, insinuating that his music, while selectively inspired, was hampered by enough contrapuntal inexperience, unevenness in motivic invention, formal insecurity, and outright incompetence in orchestration that it should not be considered in the same sphere with Chopin’s, Liszt’s, or even Brahms’s.
This thoughtful and lively program of Baroque and modern music is typical of the Cantata Singers, who in recent years have been building their season programs around a single composer, this year Heinrich Schütz, the greatest predecessor of the central figure in the group’s mission, Johann Sebastian Bach. This gave me an opportunity to continue our podcast series in conversation with David Hoose, the Cantata Singers’ Music Director for the past 26 years. Since then Mr. Hoose has been one of the central figures in the Boston music scene.
Aston Magna, one of the oldest and most distinguished early and baroque music festivals in North America, opened with a magnificent concert featuring the great Dominique Labelle. It was also a significant celebration of the Haydn bicentenary, with one of the great Opus 20 quartets, his important secular cantata, Arianna a Naxos, and some wise words from Artistic Director Daniel Stepner on how to listen to Haydn.
Bach’s St. Matthew Passion functions as religious music, presenting the trial and crucifixion of Christ, setting the words of Matthew’s Gospel and adding to this choruses and solos where devout Read more…
Behind Stephen Hough’s astonishing recital in Troy, there are significant connections with two others I recently heard in Boston, both with the American pianist Jeremy Denk. In one of these Mr. Denk collaborated with the great cellist Stephen Isserlis (review forthcoming), with whom Stephen Hough often plays and with whom he has made several recordings.
My immediate reaction to Michael Miller’s commentary on the Karajan centenary [Oh no! He’s not back again, is he? – May 2, 2008] was rather choleric, but I’ve settled down a bit since then and can write this from a relatively balanced perspective.