Tag Archive for ‘Brahms’
Three at Tannery: David Finckel and Wu Han; Todd Palmer, Elizabeth Futral, and Ran Dank; and the Harlem String Quartet
On looking over this program of familiar works for cello and piano, the last thing one would call it is challenging. Yet, this past Sunday evening, David Finckel and Wu Han made it into something extremely challenging and enlightening. The duo — a husband-wife team, as is well-known — put so much feeling and energy into each piece that each became a world unto itself, formed by such radically different personalities, that it seemed miraculous that the players could make the transition from one to the other within a single evening. As for listening to such performances, I found myself so deeply immersed in these varied planets, that the journey between them seemed vast. Finckel and Wu Han approached them as differing thought processes in different languages.
The Kuss Quartet and Naoko Shimizu Play Quartets and Quintets by Mozart, Brahms, Kurtág and Gordon Kerry
It is always fun when a new string quartet comes to town, especially when they bring strange and different music with them. György Kurtág is not very strange, but nonetheless somewhat rare around here, and more importantly excellent listening, so I’m grateful to the Kuss Quartet for bringing it, even if short, though holding its own among the more usual fair. And the encore of Mozart’s Cassation in C was entirely beyond the call of duty in such an enormous and dense program, especially considering the concentrated, caring manner of their playing.
There was a certain amount of mystery surrounding this concert since the Tannery Pond season was first announced earlier this year. Venues usually have Emanuel Ax’s programs in plenty of time to include them in their advance season previews. Even if a musician’s repertory is generally familiar, audiences begin to feel insecure, if they don’t know what they’re going to hear in advance, but Emanuel Ax is one of the few musicians who can sell out a house without a program, and that is what happened. The delay made it possible offer a very special surprise, the return of the great violinist, Pamela Frank, to the concert stage after an absence of over a decade. In 2001, she received acupuncture treatment for a hand injury, and this in turn damaged nerves in her arm.
As it turns out, the impression that Brahms himself was performing his own piano music at Tanglewood this summer proved to be illusory, compounded of the modest and Brahmsian demeanor of the actual performer, German pianist Gerhard Oppitz, his serious and total identification with the voice of the composer, and a certain hypnotic spell cast by his unhesitating progress from work to work, as if to say “and then I wrote…”. Oppitz’s performances showed characteristics that would be easy to ascribe to Brahms himself: a completely unfussy treatment of details to keep attention on the large structural sweep of each composition, of which he maintained a clear and magisterial vision at all times; a coloristic differentiation between secondary harmonic figuration and foregrounded contrapuntal activity; and a refusal to be brilliant simply for the sake of being brilliant.
In this the last performance of this program, the Tinalley String Quartet with their usual polish and serious, concentrated approach dipped into distant points in, without any futile attempt to span, romantic chamber music. The all minor key pieces each stood out distinctly by virtue of the composers’ individual emotional and intellectual language, while comfortably yoked together under the Tinalley’s distinctive voice. The subtler sense of humor, perhaps broader range of experience held in Brahms’ music made a very satisfying conclusion to the evening fitting so well the group’s very human tone — warm, but well-rounded and very clear, though at the same time they have a certain relaxed attitude, coloring the group tone as fits the music and their idea of the whole, rather than scrabbling for fleeting spectacle, which makes the performance very memorable. Kristian Chong, the invited pianist, got along very well with the group. Managing to get a remarkably sultry tone out of his Steinway, he seemed to expand the existing coloring of the group for that grand Brahms’ quintet, contributing as much oscuro as chiaro. No multiple-source fluorescent globes here. In the more individualistic writing which brings out each five of the players at some point, each showed an unforced and personal expression yet were always aware of the quintet as an expressive instrument in which their individual thoughts would fly on, the larger group picking up and carrying on the curve of their solo line.
Wiederkehr ans Leben: Brahms’ Piano Music, Part I (a Hoffmannesque fantasy with assistance by Gerhard Oppitz)
So Brahms is in the next world, lounging around the heavenly Viennese café drinking beer, eating liver sausage, and listening to the band play Gypsy music and Strauss waltzes, when St. Peter arrives with a message: Tanglewood programmers are praying that Brahms return to earth to perform his piano music, some of which is in danger of being totally forgotten. They feel that, of all the great music by all the great composers, Brahms’ early work has been the most egregiously neglected, and furthermore, Brahms’ unique style of playing has been long out of fashion and is almost forgotten, replaced by note-perfect, squeaky clean but emotionally sterile performances of pianists stamped out by the conservatory music factories for the purpose of being recorded digitally and listened to on cell-phones. Tanglewood can promise that there will be an elite group of music lovers and dedicated students who will sit worshipfully at the master’s feet if he would only agree to share his music once more on earth. St. Peter himself can think of no more important reason to breach the boundary between heaven and earth than to offer loyal music-lovers this worldly/other-worldly experience.
Do we live in a golden age of romantic conducting? Last summer I praised Christoph Eschenbach’s performance of Brahms Fourth Symphony for its vivid projection of every nuance, phrase-shape, and color, and last week I enthused about Miguel Harth-Bedoya’s high-tension drama in Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. Now comes Andris Nelsons, a potential future BSO music director, bringing his own brand of physical activism to the podium in order to micro-manage the details of Brahms’ Second Symphony and Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms. Afterwards, as one enraptured audience member accurately pointed out, “He knew exactly what he wanted from each measure, and got it!” Compare this with James Levine’s comment on the conductor’s role in a performance (I’m paraphrasing): if you work the nuances out in rehearsal, you really do not need to do much more than show the beat. Of course, rehearsal time at Tanglewood is limited, what with three different programs to present every weekend; so Nelsons’ vividly demonstrative mimetics may be the most efficient way to birth a performance capable of reaching the back row of the Shed. This is Mr. Nelsons’ usual modus operandi (attested by You Tube videos) and it clearly delights both musicians and audiences.
Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Strauss’ Zarathustra, Brahms’ Violin Concerto with Lisa Batiashvili, Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Sydney Symphony
The concert pulled us away from a particularly beautiful sunset over Sydney with Cray-Pas pink-crimson streaks and squiggles and a new moon following closely behind the sun, sparing us the feeling of mono no aware of a finished sunset. Zarathustra gave us maybe a more conventional sunset’s “riot of color”, or rather sunrise, to complete Vladimir Ashkenazy’s three concert series of Germanic music which opened the Sydney Symphony’s 2012 season. This small selection of major Strauss symphonies if not totally satisfying and complete in itself, gives one an urge to seek out more Strauss in order to seek out more in Strauss. Then again symphonic music can be enjoyed as a riot of marvelous sounds. Ashkenazy’s pairings in the three concerts of a tightly formed Beethoven piece — The Ninth Symphony, the Fourth Piano Concerto and the Coriolan Overture, respectively — with a more spread-out Strauss piece (with the exception of Metamorphosen), perhaps more fun to conduct than to listen to at times, and the music with Vladimir Ashkenazy’s enthusiasm for it, speaks for itself and justifies itself. Anyway, it is hard to speak generally about Strauss since he is quite varied even within one piece.