28 October, 2008

Concert Review: Juilliard Orchestra/Conlon

October 27th, 2008

Juilliard Orchestra/Conlon
Carnegie Hall

Due to the renovation of Alice Tully Hall, this marked a rare venture of this orchestra out of Linclon Center. With the excellent Mahler 1st conducted by Roberto Abbado in mind, I had high hopes for this concert which were not entirely fulfilled.

The first half was the Symphony #5 of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, conducted energetically by James Conlon. It was a pretty easy piece to digest, kind of a post-Berstein type of rhythmically strong piece with occasional percussion smorgasbord.

The first part of the Mahler 5th was excellent. Magnificent brass playing fueled the strongly played funeral march, with little sagging moment. The ensuing Scherzo was a little too straight for me, missing a lilting sense of the macabre others find here. The adagietto was perfectly suited to Conlon’s style. However, the straightforward nature of his drive deprived the finale of a little drama.

This was strongly driven Mahler in a more objective vein, balanced heavily towards the brass and bass, but aside from the Adagietto the strings did not penetrate much even when needed. Level of playing was extremely high, as usual, but the performance here and there felt a little like the efforts of EdW/HKPO, making attention wane.

Concert Review: Pollini

October 26th, 2008
Maurizio Pollini
Carnegie Hall

Last time I heard Pollini had to be more than 20 years ago, and I most remember his clean playing and the Nono piece with tape. I bought my tickets early and had great expectations for this recital. One week ago he played the Schumann piano concerto in NY with the BSO, to great critical acclaim.

Coinciding with Andras Schiff’s ongoing Beethoven cycle, the first half was all-Beethoven. The opening “Tempest” was played in much the same fastidious manner as the “Appasionata”, though the latter was more successful. Pollini’s commanding sense of structure was much the same as always. The strong left hand produced waves after waves of luxurious sound. On top of this solid foundation the right hand chants, though never really fully broke into song, as we are used to (at least) in the Adagio of the “Tempest”. Pollini has never been one to wear his heart on his sleeve, but one was able to detect a fine emotion and a sense of breathing behind the controlled façade. But fully singing, no.

After intermission, he played an excellent Fantasy in C by Schumann, somewhat more burnished and darker in hue than the excellent youthful DG account. Following were pristinely played Chopin, the 4 Op 33 mazurkas and the Scherzo #2. The applause afterwards was tumultuous, earning 4 encores of Chopin in return. Read the NY Times review.

Dance Review: Rosas (Steve Reich Evening)

Oct 22nd, 2008
Steve Reich Evening
Rosas/Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker
of Music

The difference between dance and dance-theater has always been difficult to describe. The latter implies less formalistic treatment of the dance and more theatrical elements, and hence lends itself to abuse by lesser, even incompetent, “dance” and theater “personalities” (like much, if not all, of HK’s Zuni Isocahedron). Not everyone can emulate Pina Bausch, who has really excellent dancers who are actors too.

The BAM has always played host to the European dance avant-garde. Rosas is of course established now, but I have been watching them from the start. What’s impressive about Rosas is that they are more pure dance and that they are fastidiously tuned into the music they dance to, which has a heavy classical leaning, and that’s class.

This evening features basically the live music of Steve Reich, played live by the ensemble Ictus. And it was an earful. Pendulum Music and Marimba Phase had no dance. The set pieces were Piano Phase, a pas de deux for two females; Eight Lines, for the women; Four Organs, for men; and Drumming, for the ensemble.

I basically echo the sentiment of the NY Times review, and would not elaborate too much. I rather think the men were weaker and mis-represented. The choreography for women was exemplary, clean and really into the music. Strangely, some bits of it remind me of Paul Taylor, another choreographer who really understands his music.

There is still something formalistic and intellectual about the best of the Europeans, who have not forgotten their roots (the best of them I am talking about). In comparison, much modern abstract/pure dance lacks depth.

20 October, 2008

Concert Review: Mutter/Camerata Salzburg

Concert Review: Mutter/Camerata Salzburg

Oct 13th, 2008
Carnegie Hall

I am not crazy about Mutter, but I am about Bach. I gave Mutter’s recent HK concert with the Trondheim Soloists a miss, but bought tickets for this event together with other tickets. Core of the program comprises the 3 Bach concerti, just as Mutter had recorded with the Trondheim forces on DG recently.

Mutter appeared in her maroon dress, just like in the CD cover art. The opening A minor was just too studied and drastic for my taste. Very fast in the outer movements and slow in the central one. The dynamics felt artificial and phrases don’t flow into the next quite smoothly enough.

The double violin concerto fared better. Mutter just seemd more human with the stimulus of a second violin, here Vilde Frang, a Mutter scholarship recipient, whose tone was much darker and smaller than hers, though musical.

After intermission, the E major fared better than the A minor, more romantic, though I thoroughly missed the timeless quality a better reading can bring to this (and I think of Paul Taylor’s timeless dance piece).

The ensuing Tartini “Devil’s Trill” I think I prefer in the chamber version. Mutter was quite good in this piece, but the orchestration seems neither here nor there.

Throughout, the orchestra played with great finesse and musicianship. I still remember this group with the great Sandor Vegh (heard in Taiwan). Mutter used minimal vibrato but stretched things romantically here and there, a curious combination.

Encore was Bach’s Air on G string, played by Mutter and one string from each section. Very nice.

Overall, this concert was quite a bit below the level of the unforgettable Pan Asia concert I heard many years ago in Yuen Long Town Hall. The Russian soloists then, Alena Baeva and Dimitri Kogan, got a lot more out of Bach.

08 October, 2008

Concert Review: Philadelphia Orchestra

Tuesday, Oct 7, 2008
Philadelphia Orchestra/Argerich/Dutoit
Carnegie Hall

Needless to say, a full house, but I had a very good seat way up front in Dress Circle.

Dutoit has just assumed Chief Conductorship of the PO, which is in a prolonged search for Director. Thanks to him I could hear Argerich, who seems not to perform concerti without Dutoit (we heard them in Beethoven's 1st with CISMA; what happened to CISMA??). My neighbor told me she played Prokofiev's 3rd last year and Rach 3 sometime ago. Lucky NYers.

The opening Valse Nobles et Sentimentales immediately showed the quality of the playing. What a marvelous orchestra! The burnished tone is quite different from the NYPO. The brass and woodwinds are so fullsome and together they might as well define the word "ensemble". The percussion was awesome too. Strangely, the strings initially were a little coarse when pressed. Dutoit has the full measure of this score, but the performance was much like the one he gave with the NYPO back a year or two, well oiled. But I'd like a little more excitement and premonition of La Valse.

I need not say much about the Prokofiev 1st, nor the Shostakovich 1st. These suited Argerich to a T. While brilliantly percussive when needed, she was all tenderness and stillness in the slow movements. It always seems to me that she re-invents bar-lines and group notes her way, but the waywardness is subsumed to musical meaning. She brought out the best in Dutoit, who was electric. The orchestra displayed kaleidoscopic colors while delivering frenzy with plenty of excitement. If only the trumpet soloist had more sardonic wit and bite.

The Pictures at an Exhibition was impeccably played. These fellows listen to each other! However, I missed the smoky feeling and, unfortunately, grandeur.

The two concerti were separated by the intermission. Both got tumultuous ovations, and it felt like the concert had ended several times! :_P

No NYT review yet. Shall append when there is.

Concert Review: Toronto Symphony Orchestra

Saturday, Oct 4, 2008
Toronto Symphony Orchestra/Ute Lemper/Peter Oundjian
Carnegie Hall

Let me state from the outset that this was a fantastic concert. I went in for the excellent programme and got more than I thought I would.

Weill's "The Seven Deadly Sins" had been treated by many people, including my favorite Marianne Faithful (the old one, not the pretty one), and has become Ute Lemper's calling card. This concert demonstrated why. Her lean voice was strongly amplified but it was clear Lemper had the full measure of the words, though I feel Eva Meier, wife of the German Council in HK, was even more magnetic as a chanteuse, judging from an RTHK performance. I had never heard of the male vocal ensemble Hudson Shad, but the quartet performed most admirably (they are Lemper's regular partner in this work). The orchestra accompanied well.

The excellent first half whetted the appetite for the second, but no one was prepared for the titantic performance. Peter Oundjian was the very fine leader of the Tokyo Quartet but he seems an even better conductor. Conducting in big and clear gestures and without histrionics, he did not wear his heart on his sleeve and build things up methodically. With an iron grip on rhythms and a flair for punctuation, various transitions were exceptionally well delineated and dynamically well graded. Many readings of the 11th symphony just fizzled out after the "massacre". Not here. The adagio that ensued was perfectly molded in the strings, which played like one instrument, with fastidious counterpointing. That held the attention, but what was most remarkable was the last movement, which he negotiated without a blink, all the way to a resounding and resolving climax.

The orchestra was terrific. Strings were in unison. The brass growling. The percussion had frightening quickness and ensembleship. Weakest were the sometimes subdued woodwinds. It's the precision of the whole that won the game, and I don't believe I had heard better balance and speed in the percussion and that helped deliver power to the thunderous moments.

For an encore, Nimrod from Elgar's Enigma Variations was played in an understated fashion.

The New York Times reviewed it. From my front balcony (half way up the hall) seat there wasn't a problem with shrillness.

Cesaria Evora with Madeleine Peyroux

Friday, Oct 3, 2008
Cesaria Evora and Madeleine Peyroux
Carnegie Hall

I play Cesaria Evora quite often and have most of her albums. My favorite is "Cafe Atlantico". Truth to tell, one album is enough; great as they are, there is not much variation in mood (just like another favorite, Madredeus).

However, ever since I watched a DVD of hers that can be gotten at dirt cheap price in SEZ, I was not sure I'd want to watch her in concert. The barefoot diva from Cape Verde off the coast of Africa usually just stands nearly immobile, swaying just slightly. Some of you might have heard her before as she had appeared in the Arts Festival.

When I saw she had as guest artist Madeleine Peyroux I jumped, and splurged for a good ticket.

It was a strange concert and they made strange partners. There was absolutely NO interaction between the two. Peyroux was just the OPENING act, which in fact was a full 45 minutes long. Peyroux appeared with her own band (piano, guitar, bass, drums), a really swinging one, and sang a lot of the songs from all her albums. Well, there weren't that many. The program note refers to "Half the Perfect World" as the "new" album!

The crowd really came to see Evora, so it was a tough act for Peyroux. She was in a white shirt and powder-blue suit, a guitar strutted across her chest. She was calm and deadpan. As she played on the guitar, she sang into a standing mike, and her movements meant not all words were intelligible. Nonetheless, after a little warm-up, she delivered a sterling performance with even greater focus and nuance than on her albums. She is the real thing, and the crowd warmed by the half's end.

Cesaria Evora came on with her bigger band to thunderous reception. I need not had feared. The atmosphere was good and the band cracking. Even if she was largely idle, the audience swayed in their seats and some in the aisles. Much more enjoyable than the DVD ideed. Home theater is over-rated for sure. She did her usual acts, including smoking. Of course the concert eneded with "Besame Mucho".

A good if incongruent double-bill.