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Tag: chamber music

Thoughts on Schumann and the 2nd Symphony

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.

Tannery Pond 2010, the Twentieth Anniversary Season, with a look back at 2009

Over the past few years, my enthusiasm for the Tannery Pond Concerts has been no secret. Where else can you hear a unique combination of the most celebrated soloists and chamber groups together with handpicked young musicians of extraordinary promise? And in a handsome Shaker tannery from the early nineteenth century with glorious acoustics. All this thanks to its director, Christian Steiner…

At Tannery Pond: Joan Kwuon, violin, and Teddy Robie, pianist, in Copland, Ravel, and Franck

In spite of all the excitement over Simone Dinnerstein’s Bach recital in Great Barrington, Tannery Pond attracted an impressive crowd for one of the great concerts of the season, an America-French program played by two splendid young musicians, violinist Joan Kwuon and pianist Teddy Robie. The unique, richly varied tone she brought forth from her magnificent 1734 ‘Spagnoletti’ Guarneri del Gesù (lent by Elliott and Mona Golub), her astonishing technique, her mature musicality, and deep feeling give her all the qualities of a truly great musician. Joan Kwuon is the rare sort of violinist who commands the highest virtuosity, but uses it without the slightest sense of slickness or display for its own sake.

Tannery Pond Concerts Season Opening: Carter Brey cello and Christopher O’Riley piano

The Tannery Pond Concerts always start early, and, as I walk across the Darrow School lawns on a Sunday afternoon, encounter friends I haven’t seen for months and greet others I see all the time, I feel that the summer season has really begun. Even Nikolai the Sealyham Terrier war scurrying about the entrance to the old Shaker Tannery, checking out the concert-goers. He knows most of them—both by sight and by smell. I could imagine myself in a scene from Renoir’s La Règle du Jeu. With this particular concert, the season began in earnest, with a brilliantly assembled program and playing of the highest order, but I don’t mean earnest in the sense of “heavy.”

St. Petersburg String Quartet and Daniel Epstein at Music Mountain

Music Mountain has offered extraordinary chamber music since 1930, when it was founded as a summer home for the Gordon String Quartet. Audiences loyally drive up the winding country road to enjoy the beauty of the grounds and its surroundings, its long, narrow hall with its superb acoustics, and the major chamber groups who play there. Jazz is also a major component of the season, and there is also choral music. On the lawn which spreads out down the hillside from Gordon Hall, you will also find a tent with books for sale, a snack bar, wooden benches under the trees, as well as some rather funky abstract sculptures. There had been a violent storm the week before, which snapped the trunks of several large trees surrounding the lawn. The season, called “Borrowed Melody” this year, because works with themes borrowed from outside sources or the composer’s own works will be worked into most of the programs, got off to a strong start with a special benefit concert featuring the great St. Petersburg String Quartet. Charles Rosen was to have joined them for the Schumann Piano Quintet. He was unfortunately unable to play, but Daniel Epstein filled the gap with intelligence and sensitivity.

Biava Quartet, Clark Art Institute, Haydn, Kodály, Mendelssohn

It is perhaps not entirely accurate to call the Biava Quartet (named after the distinguished Philadelphia violinist and conductor Luis Biava.) a “young” quartet, since it is already ten years old. During that time they have collected an impressive array of prizes, including the Naumberg Chamber Music Prize and a first at the London International competition. Today they hold the Lisa Arnhold Quartet Residency at the Juilliard School, serving as graduate quartet in residence and teaching assistants to the Juilliard Quartet. This Juilliard connection is not without significance, since, as cellist Jason Calloway mentioned while introducing the Kodály, the Juilliard Quartet were their mentors. During the Biava’s Sunday afternoon concert, the relationship was constantly apparent, not only in their tight ensemble and disciplined rhtyhm, but in their sound, which recalls not so much the mellowed timbre of the Juilliard Quartet today, but the brilliance and bite of their earlier years. On the other hand, the Biava Quartet’s approach to ensemble textures is quite different. They are more interested in the changing, varied textures created by contrasts among the four instruments. The violinists and violist play standing, while the cellist sits on a podium, which gives them a little more acoustic space around each instrument, not to mention brilliance. This was particularly striking in the works on the first half of the program, which of course must reflect their musical interests, especially since both works are seldom played.

Hector Berlioz, L’enfance du Christ, Sir Colin Davis, London Symphony Orchestra

Sir Colin has a long history with L’enfance du Christ. He made his first recording of it in 1960 at the age of 34. It was well-received in its time and is still respected today, but the current performance, part of the London Symphony Orchestra’s brilliantly successful series of live concert recordings made in the renovated and sonically improved Barbican Hall, is an absolute triumph.