Tag Archive for ‘Mozart’
Herr Stadler’s One and Only Basset Clarinet Resurrected: Craig Hill Plays Mozart’s Concerto, also Mozart’s Violin Concerto with Madeleine Easton and Mendelssohn’s Hebrides on Period Instruments of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
It wouldn’t necessarily be very difficult for historic performance practice to degenerate into the “flavor of the month” endlessly seeking novelty, ironically enough, in newest old bizarre instrument never before heard by modern ears, or into a cliquey “earlier than thou” competition. Perhaps we are just beyond this stage, or perhaps the 20 years since Pamela Poulin’s exciting discovery of the appearance of Anton Stadler’s basset clarinet — we haven’t found a surviving original specimen of the ephemeral instrument — has given time for experimentation and to rediscover the technique and the soul of the instrument and the “novelty” part has worn off a bit. The beauty of the basset clarinet’s voice, not so much unfamiliar or even unique, as even more clarinetish than a usual clarinet, is exactly fitting to Mozart’s music, giving a fascinating insight into the idea that a period’s instrumentarium exactly befits the period’s music, and the question whether the instruments evolve to fit the new music or the music evolves to take advantage of the new instruments, or both at once. The clarinet generally speaking having such a “normal” tone between the extremes of the more penetrating and sharp older cousin oboe and small-bird-like ancient cousin flute, fills in an aching space in the orchestra and makes it hard to believe (in retrospect) that it became a regular in european orchestras as late as it did. Indeed Mozart’s life coincided with this change. His letters home from Mannheim, where he first encountered clarinets in orchestral music, read like a revelation he was so enthusiastic about them, and he immediately took to composing in the new woodwind texture. Anton Stadler (his son Johann played the other clarinet in some of Mozart’s symphonies, as in Mozart’s last public concert in early 1791) as a friend and “early adopter,” or perhaps only adopter, of the basset clarinet, such a perfect solo instrument, too perfect, at least for its virtuosic possibilities but more importantly for its expressive voice, no doubt created inspiration and opportunity to write a concerto for it. It is also thought that Mozart and Stadler intended a basset clarinet for the clarinet quintet of two years before (K. 581). Perhaps a shade of that original inspiration sparks performers today. Mozart hadn’t written a concerto for three years (the last piano concerto K. 595 was probably begun in 1788 and finished in late 1790[1. see H. C. Robbins Landon’s 1791: Mozart’s Last Year]), having practically “perfected” the piano concerto (but no doubt he could have had more ideas, judging from the depth of those he wrote), the following concerto turned out to be for clarinet. If the violin concerto would take the 19th century to “perfect” — according to conventional wisdom anyhow — Madeleine Easton’s performance of Mozart’s third violin concerto brought that notion into question (see below). And between the very human piano and violin, it is not common to hear concertos for the stringless family, so it is surprising and amazing to hear such a satisfying concerto for clarinet, as satisfying as any for piano or violin, or at the least it distracts a listener from making the comparison. This is in a large way due to the presence of the resurrected basset clarinet in such a deeply satisfying performance with such a close, understanding rapport between the less familiar clarinet and the more familiar orchestral members.
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.
Hannu Lintu Conducts the Sydney Symphony in Dutilleux and Beethoven, and Angela Hewitt Plays Mozart’s D Minor Piano Concerto
In Henri Dutilleux’s Mystère d l’instante for 24 strings, cimbalom and percussion it is easy to dwell on the cimbalom as a freak in the concert hall, but Hungarian Xavér Ferenc Szabó introduced it to the symphony orchestra in the 19th century when it was essentially gypsy folk music instrument and later Zoltán Kodály used it in the 20th century in his symphonic music. The instrument is far older, a sort of piano before the keyboard and related mechanism were invented, probably used in the middle and near east in ancient times, coming west not too much later. One music historian describes its sound “rather like a piano that has taken its clothes off!” That gives the cimbalom an unfair primitive appearance, its construction no doubt demands as much care and refined techniques as any to sound so convincing next to the usual bowed strings. It no doubt strikes the ears of a modern audience accustomed to symphonic music as antique or near eastern, at least exotic, but I don’t think Dutilleux intended to make any such avant-garde statement for its own sake, and the piece certainly doesn’t have the form of a concerto. Rather I think he wanted a windless orchestra, a study in strings, without even much plucking, mostly bowing and tapping, if we can think of the percussion instruments as two dimensional strings.
Let’s do the twist! The Count sports a Sgt. Pepper mustache and velvet brocade bell bottoms. The Countess is dressed in a caftan that looks like William Morris wallpaper. Cherubino wears a skin-hugging flowery shirt. Yes, Glyndebourne has dared to set The Marriage of Fiagro as a romp through London in the swinging Sixties, and after holding your breath for the first ten minutes, it begins to work because it’s funny — a ridiculous sartorial period marries into the world of Marie Antoinette. Like a drunk uncle at the wedding, the swingers loosen everybody up. Once Countess Almaviva stops feeling sorry for herself and begins to frug — or is it the swim? — infectious absurdity wins the day.
The most accurate way I can sum up Hubbard Hall Opera Theatre’s Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is that it is direct. This is in fact, a compliment of the highest order. There is no pretension here, no fussiness. Paul Houghtaling’s direction is self-effacing. The clean, pure lines of the opera are brought to life in the practicality of the set and the actions of the singers. A circular walkway encloses the orchestra, making Mozart’s music the central player. The performance itself seemed to me a splendid and solemn ritual, enacted around the players, ably led by conductor Kelly Crandell and concertmistress Irene Fitzgerald-Cherry. The comic elements were, for once, in balance with the more serious tone to which the music returns incessantly. Brian Kuhl’s steadfast Tamino and Mary Thorne’s clear-voiced Pamina were priest-like in their steadiness and pristine vocalism. Charles Martin as Sarastro sang instead of orated, and in his second aria showed tenderness as well as strength. Of course, Andrew Pardini stole the show as Papageno — Schikaneder knew what he was doing.
Father and Son Mozart: Kurt and Ken-David Masur conduct the Boston Symphony, with Gerhard Oppitz Playing Mozart’s C Minor Piano Concerto, K. 491
I have read that Kurt Masur has shared concerts with his estimable son, Ken-David, several times over the past year or so, before his fall from the podium in April caused an interruption in his concert schedule. This concert at Tanglewood is, I believe, the only appearance he will make until his broken shoulder blade heals entirely. Mr. Masur is looking forward to a full recovery, and we can only wish him a rapid and complete one. Meanwhile, Ken-David is in his second summer as a Conducting Fellow at the Tanglewood Music Center. Last summer, he made a strong impression on me with Beethoven’s Leonore No. 3 Overture with the TMC Orchestra in Ozawa Hall. Unfortunately I missed his other concerts then, but this year I have heard more, with some very challenging pieces among them, including Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto and Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques. Everything augurs an important career ahead for Ken-David Masur and a cherishable contribution to our musical lives.
The Emerson Quartet at Tanglewood: Mozart, Adès, and Late Beethoven, the B Flat Op. 130 with the Große Fuge
The Emerson Quartet have been among Tanglewood’s most admired attractions for many years now. A cloud of nostalgia is beginning to gather over them right now, since it has been announced that cellist David Finckel will be leaving the group at the end of 2012-13. He will be replaced by Paul Watkins, so it is clear that the quartet has no intention of disbanding. However, it will be the end of what is not quite the founding members.
The Mohawk Trail Concerts have been taking place in the Federated Church in Charlemont, Massachusetts since 1969, when Arnold Black, the distinguished violinist and composer, discovered the outstanding acoustics of this attractive old church. Since then, the festival has presented a rich variety of standard repertoire, modern, contemporary, and less familiar older works. Regulars look forward to the annual concert of Joan Morris and William Bolcom, who will celebrate Bastille Day this year.