Tag Archive for ‘Schumann’
My leading thought goes against much of what the Bard Music Festival and my own values, for that matter, stand for. And just read Keith Francis’ provocative series, The Great Composers?, the latest installment of which has just been published. I’ve missed only one Bard Festival since 2006, and I’ve heard great music by Elgar, Prokofiev, and Sibelius. And, well, Saint-Saëns was too gifted to be great, and that really didn’t interest him in any case. Of the composers included in the festival, only Wagner and Stravinsky turn up on common lists of the greatest—not that those stupid lists do anything but harm. Still, during the two weekends devoted to Franz Schubert I felt I was living with the gods, and the lingering impression of those weekends swelled accordingly.
Many of you know that my esteemed colleague Lucy Bardo is one of the first and best American viola da gamba players through her work with such prestigious and pioneering ensembles as the NY Consort of Viols and Calliope and her concertizing here and abroad. Her long career has paralleled the growing awareness of and love for the instrument among the public in the United States over the past half-century or so. I have enjoyed the privilege of performing with her on many occasions—she is a total musician whose playing blends subtlety and nuance with power and authority.
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.
Two musical instruments rise above all others in their humanity — the violin, because it comes closest to imitating the singing voice, and the piano, because it comes closest to conveying human nature. As human nature is vast, so is pianism. You can sequester yourself from territory that is too hot, cold, angry, lustful, domineering, or terrifying. Some pianists base their whole career on safely walling off the troubling aspects of human perversity (Alfred Brendel comes to mind, with his ability to make even Liszt wipe off his shoes at the door), while only one has been courageous enough to venture without a care into heaven and hell.
Robert Schumann, The Complete Works for Piano Trio – Christian Tetzlaff, violin; Tanja Tetzlaff, cello; Leif Ove Andsnes, piano, on EMI Classics
A close look at the notes for this 2-disc set will give one some insight into the splendeurs et misères of the contemporary classical recording industry. A grant from Fond for lyd og bilde, the Norwegian arts organization, and Leif Ove Andsnes’ Gilmore Artist Award funded this recording, making it possible for a major commercial label, EMI, to release a recording of comparatively little-known music by a great composer, played by internationally renowned musicians. Mr. Andsnes owns the copyright and has licensed the recording to EMI. Presumably the recording company didn’t think that the famous names sufficed to counterbalance the obscurity and dubious reputation of the music, for unfortunately the trios, especially the second and third, were lumped in with the rest of what the older literature considered “bad Schumann,” commonly disparaged as unmelodic, difficult, and confused. The rediscovery of these fascinating and very beautiful works has been one of the great pleasures of the past twenty years, once musicians learned how to play them and audiences, still slowly and partially, have learned how to listen to them.
The Modigliani String Quartet has quite a definite personality as a musical ensemble and so has Sabine Meyer in her playing. This is perhaps part of the reason they get along so well together in performance. The differences in style and color of each member of the quartet, though not great, are enough to create a consistent pellucid ensemble sound — one can hear straight through to the bottom of the music like a pristine glacial lake. Sabine Meyer’s tone slipped in without a splash, though caused interesting ripples, without any sense of the strings merely ‘setting off’ a soloist, rather her clarinet combined when the music so called for to shade the sum color of the ensemble or conversed with the quartet on equal terms, and the musicians were always looking, glancing, listening closely to one another. The group did sound perhaps as if they would prefer a somewhat brighter acoustic, but they made the best use of the City Recital Hall (which was certainly adequate either way). Their tempo changes were always well judged to let the sound rebound — however dim on its return —, catch up, and shade in the sound and their pauses and silences were perfectly judged to satisfy the local drama and drift of the melodic structure of the music while allowing as best one could hope for for the fast-fading ring of the hall.
Marlboro Music—once again—is celebrating its 60th anniversary, which I have already celebrated in an extensive retrospective article last year. The revered summer music school and festival has a peculiar double anniversary, because its inaugural year was very small indeed, and rather precarious. In the second year, everything was more organized, both in scheduling and financially, and the cherished summer event took off, to become what it is today—which, miraculously, is not terribly different from what it was sixty years ago. It is larger and more professionalized, but it still retains its original feeling of intimacy. The younger participants—they are not called students—still have the same extensive rehearsal time with their mentors. And the public can still look forward to concerts of the highest quality, in which seasoned masters and their less-experienced colleagues make splendid music together.
I well remember the 1992 Ravinia Festival, when I bought a ticket for the American debut recital of a singer I had read about, a Welsh farmer’s son who was creating a considerable stir in Europe. Although he had made a few recordings, they were not easily accessible in this country, and I came into the concert hall not having heard a single note sung by the then 27 year old Bryn Terfel. The program was simple and serious: Schubert’s Schwanengesang in the first half, and in the second the Op. 39 Liederkreis of Schumann. A huge man with shoulder length blond hair strode on stage followed by his pianist James Levine. The visual effect itself was striking enough—a Viking in full evening dress. I think that my jaw did actually drop at the first line of Liebesbotschaft: “Rauschendes Bächlein so silbern und hell.” The timbre of the voice was absolutely gorgeous and absolutely unique, dark and round and plummy, but with a cut and edge that filled every corner of the theater, the vocal equivalent of Chambertin from a great year. Never had I heard mezza voce singing of such beauty and technical command in these cycles—no question of its being falsetto; at the same time the sheer amplitude of sound in a song like Der Atlas was overpowering. Unique too was the way the voice got around the words. This is a quality that goes beyond German diction (which was perfect), but has to do with how vowels and consonants are formed and their relationship to the rhythmic flow of the music. One of the encores was Schubert’s Litanei, and I recall thinking that there could never have been a more beautiful “ee” vowel in the opening: “Ruh’n in Frieden… .” Welsh songs were among the encores, unknown to the audience, but sung with a melancholy loveliness and unaffected sincerity that had people at the end of the evening on their feet shouting bravo with tears running down their face.