03 August, 2020

Elim Chan Scheherazade Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5

Following Elim Chan
Streaming Classical Music (1): Full Concert Pieces in HD, Scheherazade, Tchaikovsky Symphony No.5

Elim Chan Conductor Elim Chan's meteoric rise to stardom is amazing. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she became a music professional almost by accident (see The Guardian Interview). After she won the 2014 Donatella Flick LSO Conducting Competition, she apprenticed as Assistant Conductor of the LSO. She is now Principal Guest Conductor of the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Chief Conductor of the Antwerp Symphony Orchestra, two very good orchestras. "Be the Conductor of Your Own Life" is her motto.

Since my good fortune of having heard her in Hong Kong in 2017 (here), I have become a fan. Imagine my delight when I found on youtube two (HD 1080p) full performances of warhorses, recorded in one f the world's greatest halls, the Concertgebouw of Amsterdam. I sat transfixed watching them and so am relaying these to you here. Note that despite being in the same hall, the two orchestras sound quite different. I am going to do more of this in a new series, as titled above.

Rimsky Korsakov Scheherazade This is one of the top warhorses, and beloved by audience and musicians, for good reason. It is approachable even to a layman, and we tend to foget it really is a masterpiece. NPR here has conductor Marin Alsop introduce this piece. For even more info, see the wiki entry.

Tcahkovsky Symphony No. 5 Tchaikovsky is such a great composer that everyone knows a few melodies of his. Most people who are not into classical music do no know the tumultuous part of his life, as reflected in his Symphonies No. 4 to 6. In these pieces, the dark currents shall surprise those who think of his ballets. I'll let WQXR introduce the great Symphony No. 5.

If you have never heard these pieces but enjoyed the videos, drop me a word!

21 June, 2020

NCPA Spring Season 20 and thereafter

Reported by Vivek R.

Concert 1: February 16th: An evening of second movements

Augustin Dumay, conductor
Maria João Pires, piano
Mozart: Concertone for two violins in C major, K. 190
Beethoven: Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No 3 in C minor, Op. 37

The Spring season opened with Mozart, which was a bit underwhelming - played and conducted by Dumay with Jane Cho as the other soloist. While Dumay’s violin was well projected, one could not clearly hear the notes from G and D Strings of Cho. The strings also seemed a bit recessed while the winds popped out a bit too much. The second movement was the best amongst the three.

Then came the Beethoven 4th. Forget the odd and even symphonies arguments, I love the gentleness of the 4th - as long as it is not over-interpreted, it to me, plays itself. The music I have on CD is with Walter and Vanska and I enjoy both - as I did the straight ahead interpretation of the day. If I could ask for something more, it would be more of a chamber feel to it bringing out more textures - like how Rizzi did it with Beethoven’s 5th a few years ago in Mumbai. The second movement was a standout one. The orchestra also seemed to have warmed up a bit - the winds did over project a couple of times, and I was not a fan of having the trumpets in a separate row by itself - the sound pops out separately. Overall very enjoyable.

Post intermission the great Pires took to stage. I think Mumbai guessed something special was coming as a loud cough (I will recognise you in a line up buddy, I was next to you) greeted her first notes. The version I know best is Pollini/Abbado but Pires made everything sweeter and more tender. Like the cadenzas and arpeggios in the first movement.

And what a fantastic second movement - the beauty of this was it was made to sound like a Sonata (borrowing from the chamber music example of earlier).

By the time the third movement came the sound had settled down so much. Rich strings. Well behaved winds. And Pires making gorgeous music. Splendid!

Concert 2: February 18, Pires and Dumay: It takes time for the concert hall to warm up!

Schumann Romance
Beethoven Violin Sonata 1
Schubert Violin Sonata 2
Beethoven Violin Sonata 5 (Spring).

Do halls warm up like an audio system? At the start of the concert, Dumay seemed to be in finer fettle than Pires - however, I saw the magic happening at the second movement (is that just me? can't be!) of Beethoven Violin Sonata 1 (I must say I prefer the late Mozart to early Beethoven by a stretch). Suddenly the body started responding.

And then came the second half was Schubert's A minor Sonata (should Schubert be heard only in a minor key?*). Absolutely brilliant. Starting with the "soft piano, aggressive violin opening" and ending with the Allegro where the piano and violin literally hurl at each other.

What can I say about this Beethoven's 5th sonata? Firstly, an older Beethoven is so much better with all the harmonic richness making a strong appearance. I listened mostly with my eyes closed and when I opened it, I was actually surprised to see other people and musicians on stage - I had been transported! The absolute freshness of the first movement with the wonderful interplay between the instruments, the poignant second movement, the third movement (an afterthought?), COUGH COUGH COUGH (breaking previous records) and the sweet Rondo that closed it off. The chemistry between the musicians was just spot on.

I would go again, even if they played the second half alone! If they even played the Beethoven alone!

*The answer is no. I mean just listen to this opening movement, and the recording quality does not seem to matter. Also that old school style of playing where they slide into a note - wow!

February 28th: Collard and the magic of Chopin

While the world had to contend with virus and a meltdown, we were treated to a great recital by Jean Philippe Collard.

Started off with Chopin's preludes. Beautifully played with excellent dynamic shading, and great technique. If I were to nit pick, I only wish that the tempos were not so uniform through the pieces...for example, in Chopin Prelude No. 7 (1 minute plus of pure loveliness), I like to be lifted up, paused, before the final notes come. However, it was great playing, individual preferences aside.

The second half seem to play to his strengths even more. Started with Faure's Ballade, and finished with a collection from Granados Op 11 (Goyescas). The dance like stead rhythms, I feel, suited Collard's playing so much, and it was better than the versions that I have heard. Spectacular! (And who does not like Besame Mucho's inspiration!).

"Quejas, o la Maja y el Ruiseñor" Inspiration for Besame Mucho

March 1st: Fireworks are an appropriate end

Saint Saens Omphale's spinning Wheel
Saint Saens Piano Concerto 5 (Collard)
Franck Symphony in D.
Conducted by Laurent Petitgirard

This was a special concert. Texture was back with the orchestra and how!

Starting off was Omphale's spinning wheel, a piece I have not heard before. What was indeed very impressive was the conducting - very nuanced. I enjoyed the piece, though I was hoping it was Dvorak's Golden Spinning Wheel instead (now that is the kind of macabre symphonic poem that gets me going - and this one even with an "all is well that ends well").

The Saint Saens piano concerto was par excellence. So beautifully played by the orchestra and Collard - with its melodious first movement featuring runs on the keyboard, and very eastern sounding ("play piano like an Egyptian?") and filigreed second movement and the hurrah finish of the final movement - all were executed brilliantly! The strings in the second movement never did sound more silkier or precise.

The second half featured Franck. This is a piece I have never connected with emotionally - always feel wowed by the body of sound and so many instruments! This day too, was the same, but how magnificently it was played and conducted. The climaxes were all so well sorted and came together with adequate gusto and the brass section was in good form too. Overall extremely well played, and for me, enjoyable the way I enjoy Franck (like an audiophile, to be honest).

I do wish Laurent Petitgirard and Collard would come back to Bombay again.

March 11 - Not the NCPA season, but from the mouth of the babes..

I went to perhaps the last concert for a while - alas the virus has shut down concert halls. This was with Savitri Grier on the violin and Tom Poster on the piano. The concert was special although one cannot talk of it in ethereal terms. It started off with Beethoven Violin Sonata No. 3 followed by the familiar jewel Brahms Sonata 1. Though I am not so needing of a heart on sleeve approach, I wish the violinist played with a little more emotion. I felt she played very well, but more like an young person - all precision, little less emotion (the type that comes out of age). The pianist was great in that regard though the piano sounded a bit loud at times.

Post interval was Messiaen’s theme and variations which wasso all over the place that I enjoyed it after the orderly romanticism of early pieces. This was followed by Faure’s Sonata 1 - played very well. The encore was the slow movement of Beethoven’s Spring Sonata and played so well.

The charm of the two young people and their chemistry made it a very enjoyable concert. They also spoke about the pieces (why is it not done in regular concerts - sometimes the stiffness of classical concerts is stifling. It is meant to entertain too), and a fitting end (temporarily) to the concert season.

27 February, 2020

Two Mahler Fifth's

How would you like your Mahler 5th?

Even if Mahler's Universe is intrinsically huge, the varied instruments through which we gaze at it swell its size even more. Some attempt (rather improbably) to look at the big picture; others try to excavate the minutest details. Despite the detailed instructions in the scores, readings can sound astonishingly different. Among the canon, the 5th has always been the most problematic, being emotionally more ambiguous (or bipolar) than most others. That doesn't stop it from being the most performed. Here are two performances on consecutive days, presented in chronological order.

February 24, 2020, Geffen Hall
Budapest Festival Orchestra - Ivan Fischer - Gerhild Romberger
All Mahler

I adore the Budapest Festival Orchestra under Ivan Fischer and try to hear them as often as I can. The NYC audience love them too and they are yearly staples at Lincoln Center's Great Performers series (in the lousy Geffen Hall). The day before this concert, they played an all-Dvorak program that I wish I could have attended.

German Contralto Gerhild Romberger gave as perfect and sensitive a rendition of Kindertotenlieder as I have heard (on records), ecstatically received by the audience. It shows in these exquisite works, the proper inflection and diction are vitally important (even if you don't know the language, you feel it), an advantage for one native to the language - this is not to disparage her equipment, which is mighty fine, well spun on top and with just enough weight on the bottom, a rarity in contraltos.

Even though I am familiar with this orchestra in concert and on record, I was still astonished by the bigness of this performance of the Fifth Symphony. And it was not at all about punch, or delivering vital blows to impress (like what the CSO does for Solti), rather unabashed sensuality, physicality, even carnality. This would not have been possible were it not for the orchestral sensitivity and virtuosity on offer. Ivan Fischer had gone on record saying that he regards this symphony as Mahler's most Jewish, and perhaps those aspects of the performance reflect that belief.

The way the orchestra was placed and balanced (rather European) is central to its sound. Divided violins, cellos and violas in the center, and (unusually) double basses in the center back, on elevated platforms (the result was excellent, attesting to the ears of the conductor; perhaps the NY Phil should emulate). The sound can be definitely characterized as European, with a dark and solid bass foundation. Winds, brass, and strings were on equal footing - not easily achievable, as really strong and characterful wind players are needed to counter the rest of the orchestra.

As mentioned numerous times before in other reviews, Ivan Fischer has the ability of to bring out many details without hindering forward motion. This is generally true, but here and there I did think I'd have preferred a more straightforward propulsion - the constant "assault" of highlighted details can be tiring to hold on to - the listener has to have as much concentration as the musicians in order to receive what is given. The powerful orchestral sound projection also meant the divided violins, even when they were carrying the tune, were sometimes not as audible as I would like.

For further discussion, I'd like to refer you to the newyorkclassicalreview account of the same concert. I frequently read and cite this site, because the New York Times now has fewer reviews (and limits online free-browsing). Another is, I like to cross-check my views with others and align myself to reading reviews of concerts that I could not attend (like the Dvorak). In general, I have been in agreement with most of the reviews (and comments) of this site, but this time I have some reservations, though I am not at complete odds with the author's views.

Not that I think this was the ultimate performance of the piece. What is! In my following review of the Juilliard Orchestra, I shall detail the numerous disappointments of the performances of this piece that I have heard. Like that reviewer, I was not really carried away by this performance, and had some of the same reservations. However, I do think this performance showed me what I'd like to get more from this piece in performance. To me, this was one of the most illuminating performances of a Mahler symphony that I have heard, and it made me listen hard, not something an ordinary performance can do.

As I was leaving, I overheard someone say: "That was a lot of sound!" That described it well. Unfortunately, a lot of sound just made the lousy Geffen Hall stand out more for its failures. Would that it had taken place in Carnegie Hall!

February 25, 2020, Carnegie Hall
Juilliard Orchestra - David Robertson
Mackey - Mahler

I hesitated to attend this concert after the tumultuous performance of Mahler's 5th by the Budapest Festival Orchestra just a night ago, but curiosity got the better of me. So, how did the student orchestra compare? Not very well, I am afraid.

In contrast to the BFO, the performance of Mahler 5th by the Juilliard Orchestra was more commonplace. This was the first time I heard David Roberston. A little awkward and angular in his movements, he did seem attuned to the score. Surprisingly, the orchestra was seated also in the European way, differing from the BFO in that the double basses were behind the cellos, not in the center.

Sonically, this was a completely different orchestra. Despite the superiority of the acoustics, weaknesses were immediately apparent. Best were the lower brass, including a fearless trumpet (this fellow is destined for stardom!) The horns were tidy but a little characterless. The winds did not gel too well and lacked character and gravitas. The divided upper strings also struggled to be heard. But the most glaring fault to me was a lack of bass line. The cellos, with or without augmentation from the basses, simply lacked power. And so it became a lower brass dominated performance. The trajectory was clear enough, but the execution made it a humdrum performance.

Concert opened with Steven Mackey's Beautiful Passing, a violin concerto, well played by Stephen Kim. Written in an accessible style, it mixed minimalism with some surprising elements (I heard some Vaughn Willaims). Of course, there were lots of percussion, and all players did well.

As I have mentioned at the top, M5 is, for me, difficult to bring off. This blog has few entries, recording only concerts that I have gone to in NYC or Hong Kong. I don't attend concerts that often (grant you, only for big pieces, like Mahler, Bruckner and Strauss), so it amazes me that this concert marked the TENTH (!) M5 I have heard since 2008 (inception of this blog). Too many M5, not enough of the others.

And I have heard the JO play the M5 twice before. Conlon (2008) was lackluster; DePreist (2011) was better but still routine (What is it with the JO? M5 as a test drive?) Lest one thinks better results are guaranteed with professional orchestras, that is simply not so either - witness Baltimore/Alsop (2016)HKPO/Sinaisky (2014), and Boston/Andris Nelsons (2018). Better, but still not memorable, was the recent Cleveland/Wesler-Most (2019). Two of the best M5's that I have heard are: NYPhil/Alan Gilbert (2011); and, amazingly, from a student orchestra, Asian Youth Orchestra/James Judd (2010).

And, lest one thinks the JO cannot play Mahler, that is not so either, witness Gilbert Mahler 9 (2011) and Roberto Abbado's Mahler 1st (2008) that I did not get to write about.

31 January, 2020

Simone Young Alban Gerhardt

Simone Young Encore!

January 31, 2020, Geffen Hall
NY Phil - Simone Young - Alban Gerhardt
Britten - Dean - Elgar

Viva Simone Young, who now is a favorite of mine! After her cataclysmal Mahler 6th with the NY Phil (here) last year, I was an instant convert. This program is not one I'd go for usually, but I'd go hear Simone Young conduct anything! This was an early concert (11:00 am), which suits me well, but there were a lot of empty seats.

Britten's Four Sea Interludes has never done that much for me, but Simone Young paced it well and elicited excellent playing from the orchestra and for once I enjoyed the orchestral colors.

This was followed by Australian Brett Dean's Cello Concerto, played by the excellent German Cellist Alban Gerhardt (website), who is familiar to me and the Hong Kong audience (my experience with the AYO concerts here), but this was his NY debut. The enjoyable concerto, for lack of a better word, features sort of long chant-like utterances from the soloist, unusually without too much pyrotechnical display. The orchestration is highly accessible, and the audience seemed to really like it. Gerhardt gave the premiere and it was obvious he knew it well. I personally enjoyed the Hammond Organ, kinda funky.

Although I am crazy about his two symphonies and many of the tone poems, somehow Elgar's Enigma Variations, despite the famous Nimrod, eludes me most of the time. Part of it is my own intrinsic reservation about the style of Orchestral Variations (Brahms, Hindemith, etc), so different from the sonata form. But in this performance, Simone Young paced it beautifully and got things moving, and nothing got bogged down. In Nimrod, the NY violins was still not the sweetest, but otherwise the orchestra played beautifully. The last three variations were quite eloquent and, credit to Young, there was only one climax, and it was very well done.

One thing about Simone Young. The orchestra sounded musical under her baton, whereas under the likes of Jaap or Daniel Harding (post below) it could be overdriven and coarse. This lady knows exactly what she is doing - superb control, just the right amount.

As I have said, I'd go hear her do anything!

13 January, 2020

Paul Lewis Daniel Harding Parker Quartet Andrew McGill New York Baroque Inc

The Biggest and the Smallest Bands: 3 Concerts

Click pics to enlarge.

Big comes at a cost, in this case literally, as I had to pay for my NYPO ticket, whereas the other were free concerts given during the holiday season. In this case, it is definitely not "you gets what you pays for".

Jan 10, 2020
New York Philharmonic - Paul Lewis - Daniel Harding
Grieg - Strauss

I am familiar with both artists' work on record. In the case of Daniel Harding, I heard him last in Strauss almost a year ago in a magnificent Ein Heldenleben with the Concertgebouw (here), so I was really looking forward to the even bigger Alpine Symphony. The stage was jam packed, and I was expectant. Alas, the woodwinds played tentatively, and the big Sunrise was just brute and piecing in sound. After that, the orchestra was not very cohesive nor alluring during the ascent. Things started to get much better around and after the Summit, which was powerful. The descent led to some foreboding, a fierce storm and then a calmer summing up. I managed to enjoy the second half of the piece, but the orchestral sound and acoustics of the Geffen Hall were not a patch on the Concertgebouw in Carnegie Hall, so perhaps it was not Harding's fault. Maybe a 2:00 pm concert is too early for the NYPO players to wake up!

Paul Lewis played distinctively in Grieg's Piano Concerto, and the orchestral contribution was very good. To me, the pianist's refinement and rhythmic emphasis sounded somewhat idiosyncratic, but not uncomfortably so. The performance was definitely not in the romantic tradition, but was dramatic. From my third tier seat I found the piano sound to be bass shy, and although I found it enjoyable I cannot be as ecstatic as another review (here).

Jan 6, 2020
Advent Lutheran Church
Parker Quartet and Anthony McGill
Salonen - Shostakovich - Mozart

I was very happy when I found out the Parker Quartet was giving a free concert! I heard them in 2011 (here) in another free concert in Flushing and was mightily impressed (it shocks me that it was almost a decade ago, as it just seemed like yesterday, sigh, how time flies!).

The Advent Lutheran is a nice church, but not very big. However, it has a substantial music program, Music Mondays, which I didn't know about until I read about the event in the NYT. On this occasion, due to the publicity (and perhaps the star attraction of the guest soloist), people had to be turned away in order not to violate the fire code. I was lucky I got there a little early.

As is usual with the Parker, there is a substantial piece of new music, Salonen's Homunculus (the word means little man, for what that is worth). It was well crafted and well played, but not quite as challenging as some of his larger works, like the violin concerto (I heard the DG version, played by Leila Josefowicz). It sounded really nice in the church though, and happily there was no undue reverberation.

Shostakovich's Quartet No. 9 is a masterpiece and part of the trilogy that is No. 7-9. This is much less played than No. 8 and undeservedly so. The Parker was thoroughly idiomatic and probing, equally captivating in quieter passages and the motoric finale.

After the intermission came Mozart's Clarinet Quintet with New York Philharmonic's Principal Andrew McGill, who played very beautifully. He was ably supported by the Parker, but overall the rendition did not quite have the "time stood still" feeling that the best performances can imbue in us. Nonetheless, the concert was admirable, and the reception afterwards, where we enjoyed a glass of red wine, certainly was a plus! I shall be attending more events!

December 18, 2020
Angel Orensanz Foundation
New York Baroque Inc.
All Bach

NYC is amazing! I have never heard of the venue nor the Band, but learnt of the free event from the NYT. I was very happy to get to hear Bach orchestral works in a church!

The Angel Orensanz Foundation is an Arts Organization that rents out its space, a former Synagogue, for events. The New York Baroque, Inc apparently is an established period-instrument band.

On this occasion, the conductor was the estimable Richard Edgarr, director of the Academy of Ancient Music. Before each piece, he gave a little speech which invariably illuminated the piece. More musicians should do this.

Orchestral Suites 1 and 3, and Brandenburg Concertos 6 and 5 were played. The orchestra was certainly not perfect, but the spirited playing and earthy sonorities of the period instruments were absolutely delightful. Highlights included the mesmerizing interplay by the 2 violas in the Concerto No. 6, and of course, the racuous Gigue of the Suite No. 3 (not to mention the heavenly Air)!

Great concerts in unusual spaces!

24 November, 2019

Orchestre Metropolitain de Montreal - Yannick Nezet Sequin - Joyce Didonato

November 22, 2019, Carnegie Hall
Orchestre Metropolitain de Montreal - Nezet Sequin - Didonato
Mozart - Bruckner

As I love the Montreal Symphony Orchestra I had high hopes for this "second" orchestra of the city, especially since their playing in the Bruckner cycle on ATMA was of a high order. I was not disappointed.

Mozart often opens for Bruckner, but this time it with a twist. First came the Overture to La Clemenza di Tito. The playing of the orchestra was absolutely delightful, lithe and alert, and Nezet-Sequin showed his expertise in tone painting, even in small details. Then came two arias, "Parto, parto, ma tu ben mio" and "Non piu di fiori". Although DiDonato barely was able to dip into the lowest part of the latter, in general they were very well sung. But, as with many American singers, her diction was not the clearest and, more importantly, I remain strangely unmoved by her characterization. And so, I enjoyed them rather less than her French program last year with the Philadelphia (here) and in German Opera in 2011 (here). Part of this may be due to the opera itself, which I enjoy less than, say, Figaro. This was proven when as an encore she sang Cherubino's "Voi che sapete", which I enjoyed more.

My fingers were crossed before the Bruckner 4th began. Nezet-Sequin is ubiquitously present in NY, but up to now I almost always missed something when he conducted big works. He is a Bruckner veteran, and his Bruckner cycle on ATMA has an equal number of admirers and detractors (count me in both camps). It's amazing that this marked the third time I have heard him conduct Bruckner. The Bruckner 7th earlier this year with the MET Orchestra (here) and the 9th in 2014 with the Philadelphia (here) both left me somewhat unsatisfied.

But this time around, with a fine orchestra that has been his own for the longest time, things were definitely different. Overall, the conducting was patient and the architecture very well maintained. Some of his ways with Bruckner were similar to previous outings. In the first movement, he overdrives sometimes and the climaxes are equally loud. Also, the way he moulds his strings is towards the legato side, seamless, which, though beautiful, doesn't always suit Bruckner. The second movement could have used a little more mystery, if not spirituality. The scherzo was well done. Most satisfyingly, however, was that the finale was well built up and all of one piece.

The seating was a little unusual. Divided violins, lower strings in the center. The double basses were in the last row center, flanked by horns to the left and the rest of the brass to the right (quite a hole between them and the strings on the right. The sound was perhaps a little "French", lighter than usual, especially the brass. Though the lower brass sound could have used more heft, commendably the horns were awesome and unfaltering, The finest concert I have heard Yannick done.

The same program 2 days earlier in Chicago.

15 November, 2019

Mahler Wesler-Most Shostakovich Petrenko Buchbinder

November 9, 2019, Carnegie Hall
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra - Vasily Petrenko - Rudolph Buchbinder
Weber - Mozart - Shostakovich

The Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra visits Carnegie Hall annually and gives 2-3 grueling concerts on consecutive days, a testament to their stamina. On this occasion, the previous night was conducted by director Mariss Jansons, who became unwell. Vasily Petrenko, who happened to be in town for the Met's Queen of Spades, became a last-minute substitute. And that was my fortune. Not only is Petrenko a Shostakovich expert (his Naxos series is one of the best), I have liked his conducting on a date with the Oslo in HK before (here).

Before the big piece, Petrenko showed his ware even in the first half. Weber's Euryanthe was well organized. Then came Mozart's Paino Concerto No. 23, the accompaniment of which was fluent. Rudolf Buchbinder was an unusual soloist, displaying legato playing of the first rank and staying shy of banging it out in big moments. Part of this may be due to his reduced dynamics (due to age), but his experience and ways were compelling. The audience was thrilled and rewarded with an encore of Strauss waltz.

The Shostakovich Symphony No. 10, minus an occasional glitch, was played with the utmost attention to detail and overall architecture. This was a patient reading that brought out all the unease and suspense, and enigma, of the piece, that at the same time avoided gilding the lily in the big moments. Ensemble was tight and never flashy. A great performance.

The orchestra is imho one of the world's best. In the first half, the winds were irreproachable, though they became slightly more cautious in the second half and I sometimes miss some savagery. But with Peternko coming in only on that day, this was a miraculous moment.

Here is a good review of this concert, and here is one for the day before, when Jansons became ill (read the comments too; curiously, this site, which reviews all concerts did not have one for this one).

October 4, 2019, Carnegie Hall
Cleveland Orchestra - Franz Wesler-Most - Yefim Bronfman
Widmann - Mahler

I was not expecting much going into the concert, having been lukewarm to Franz Wesler-Most's recorded works, but was genuinely surprised.

Although the ubiquitous Yefim Bronfman has never been a personal fave, the Jorg Widmann work for piano, Trauermarsch, inspired by the Mahler on the same program, was quite enticing, and sonically resplendent. I enjoyed it, but the relationship with the Mahler proved elusive to me.

The Mahler 5th was tightly argued and, of course, fastidiously played by the Clevelander's. It was a non-sentimental approach but one that was not dispassionate (unacceptable in Mahler), rather wide-eyed and a just a little weary. It was cogent and much better than the more recent 5ths I have heard (including BSO/Nelsons and BSO/Alsop). It was fluent, detailed and did not sound forced, but one struggles for descriptive words. An excellent performance, that.

Here is another report of the concert. Notice the writer, like I, don't have too many words for the Mahler.

02 November, 2019

Note from Mumbai

Note From Mumbai

Dear Readers, I am excited to have my friend Vivek R contributing occasionally. He lives in Mumbai. From what I have read the City receives some very interesting musicians. As one who has particular interest in Russian artists, I read with envy.

"...Meanwhile in Mumbai a whole season passed by. Like that! 

Lazarev conducting Stravinsky’s Petrushka was amazing. It was preceded by Barry Dougas playing a competent Brahms Piano Concerto 2 (not one of my favourites). 

Lazarev apparently conducted a brilliant Spartacus and Tchaikovsky which I missed. Underwhelming (for me) was Barry Douglas’s Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (big sound but missing drama, but many others seemed to have enjoyed it - I heard Sofya Gulyak a few years ago and man did that have all the drama) and a patchy Midori concert - an awesome Debussy being standout. 

There was also a piano for 4 hands with Roberto Prosseda and his wife - a very lovely concert with a pretty Mendelssohn and fantastic Ravel (Mother Goose) and Schubert Fantasia. 

There was also a great concert with Marat Bisangaliev and Prosseda playing Chausson concerto for violin, piano and strings and Mendelssohn which I am biased to like!  Alas I was in the throes of Office politics that evening and the mind wandered. 

Lazarev conducting Russian music. Outstanding! (editor: completely agree!)


Ps. A moment of pride for me. Someone did a bootleg recording that I don’t condone but am grateful as it features my youngest on the cello for an encore. My eldest debuted as a second violinist (first row).

29 September, 2019

Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung

Concert Review: Doublebill: Bluebeard's Castle and Erwartung

September 27, 2019, Geffen Hall
NYPO - Jaap van Zweden - Nina Stemme - Katarina Karneus - Johannes Kranzle
Schoenberg - Bartok

My penchant for one-act (or just mercifully short) operas shows I am not the usual opera lover. For me, the music ought to tell the story better than the action, which is always way stylized and will never be as realistic as in films, though that doesn't keep a never ending army of directors to try their de-constructive ways.

Bartok's Buebeard's Castle is an absolute favorite and I own many important recordings, but I have never seen it on stage or even in an orchestral program (later this year, Rattle will also conduct one in Carnegie Hall). As for Schoenberg, although I like the even more hysterical Pierrot Lunaire even more, Erwartung appeals too. Although I went in doubting Jaap was the person to carry it out, I was both pleased and annoyed by the results, which has nothing much to do with the music - this was a staged concert, but director Bengt Gomer's effort was definitely pedestrian and distracting.

The protruding wedge of the stage was not big, and the singers had to maneuver carefully, lest they drop off the precipice (I hate that kind of constraints). Well, OK, space was at a premium. But that ghastly rectangular screen just read like a large iPad. It flickered and emitted patterns more appropriate for Close Encounter of the Third Kind, that we were supposed to decipher. The paleness and fluorescence supposedly is more suited to to Erwartung, which takes place under the moonlight. But, hey, moonlight and shadows, even when threatening, have beauty, whereas this doesn't. Katarina Karneus sang perhaps too well, and the orchestra was totally committed too. I actually missed a more manic perspective (more sense of struggle), more sprecht than sing, that I think would be more appropriate to the drama.

Even worse was the pretense of the autopsy/surgical table. Many "artists", past or present, seem to delight in taking a stab at doctors (Wozzeck, very much related to the works here, is an example), but the metaphor of the doctor as cold and ruthless is simply false and have been re-hashed just too many times to not make one yawn. In this case, it seriously erred by detracting us from the torment/plight of the woman. The music is about her mind, not about the dead body, but that was forgotten. Karneus had to hold and threw flowers, and crawl on the floor - for what?

Bluebeard was very well sung by Nina Stemme (who HK audience would be familiar with) and Johannes Kranzle. The NYPO played with feelings, though not much Hungarian flavor (one would not expect that of Jaap). The magnificence of Bartok's incredibly colorful score came shining forth nonetheless. What truly bothered me again was the staging. This is an opera with much blood on the walls, so to speak, so some red color was allowed, but the staging was completely static and failed miserably to reflect the kaleidoscopic world of the music. The conceit of staying in sepia, or diluted colors, just failed the music. But that was not the worse. The most upsetting thing for me was the demeaning of Bluebeard, who was directed to become a much smaller, pitiable and perversely comical character. Murder or not, Bluebeard was high up in society, and would not have behaved like that. A more grisly and lurid staging would have been much better. That the music rose above the direction was indeed a testament to Bartok's magnificent score.

Guess what? I actually think the screen and all that gratuitous staging represent the director and his cohort. Most unfortunate.

Two ushers were discussing the program. They detested it, while heaping praise on the earlier Psycho. Ah, the great Bernard Hermann's score.

15 June, 2019

MET Orchestra - Yannick Nezet-Sequin - Elina Garanca

Elina Garanca performed Mahler's "Ruckert-Lieder" with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Met Orchestra Friday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Steve J. Shermanpic from the review of newyorkclassicalreview.

MET Orchestra - Yannick Nezet-Sequin - Elina Garanca

June 14, 2019, Carnegie Hall
MET Orchestra - Yannick Nezet-Sequin - Elina Garanca
Mahler - Bruckner

The MET Orchestra returned with this challenging program, which opened with a very fine rendition of Mahler's Ruckert Lieder, exquisitely sung by Latvian mezzo Elina Garanca. Here is a real mezzo with everything: a full range, power, diction and tonal allure. She certainly put last week's Isabel Leonard in the shades and one could not expect more. Although the full brass was too loud in Um Mitternacht, the orchestral contribution was equally ravishing.

As is usually his wont in large symphonic works, Yannick Nezet-Sequin's loving ways and batonless conducting was considerably less successful in Bruckner's Symphony No. 7. Although the playing, in particular the strings and winds, was very fine in general, and the brass chorales in the finale were awesome, there were moments of insecurity. But none of this would have been a problem were it not for the conductor's savoring too many details along the way. Tempi were slow and, beauty notwithstanding, the first movement did not really ebb and flow, as a great Bruckner performance must, and the coda felt like just another episode. Under Nezet-Sequin, the Brucknerian pauses did not feel organic enough to make one anticipate what came next. As the adagio went on, one did start to feel funereal and the dreaded longeur. As a whole, despite fine moments, it was bit disappointing.

13 June, 2019

Philadelphia Orchestra - Yannick Nezet-Sequin - Beatrice Rana

Philadelphia Orchestra - Yannick Nezet-Sequin - Beatrice Rana

June 7, 2019, Carnegie Hall
Philadelphia Orchestra - Yannick Nezet-Sequin - Beatrice Rana
All Russian Program

Concert opened with a rarity - Stravinsky's Funeral Song. The Philadelphians played with the utmost beauty and atmosphere, indeed throughout the concert.

Then came Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3, rendered effortlessly by Italian pianist Beatrice Rana. Brilliant as it was, as usual I'd prefer an even more accented and biting performance.

I grew up with Ormandy's Rachmaninov set, but this Symphony No. 1 was far removed from that lush recording. Despite Yannick Nezet-Sequin's brilliance and drive, much of it came across as episodic, though I shall concede that the finale was well built and thrilling.

05 June, 2019

MET Orchestra - Yannick Nezet-Sequin - Isabelle Leonard

Isabel Leonard performed with Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Met Orchestra Monday night at Carnegie Hall. Photo: Richard Termine pic from newyorkclassicalreview.

MET Orchestra - Yannick Nezet-Sequin - Isabelle Leonard

June 3, 2019, Carnegie Hall
MET Orchestra - Yannick Nezet-Sequin - Isabelle Leonard
Debussy - Dutilleux - Ravel

Two Song Cycles sung by mezzo Isabel Leonard, who is apparently very popular with the NY audience, bookended the intermission. We heard first Dutilleux's Le Temps L'Horloge, crafted with the composers usual scintillating palate. The flight of imagination of the poems in French at their relatively fast tempi is demanding for the singer, and here just too many syllables were dropped (a usual and perhaps necessary practice for singing French) for me. The voice is not particularly big and one often misses something at the top or bottom when it comes to mezzi, as was the case here. Unlike the Dutilleux, Leonard sang Ravel's Scheherazade without score, and the difference showed - a better command of the words and more fluidity, which of course is equally attributable to Ravel's jewel of an orchestration, which also lets the singer rest more.

Concert opened with Debussy's La Mer. The MET Orchestra's rendition of color, nuance and detail was superlative, as it has been, as evidenced from the last concert, but the difference here was the much greater control Nezet-Sequin was able to achieve. Coloristically, it was irreproachable, and the climatic perorations were uncommonly lucid, say, symphonic in its approach. Ditto Ravel's Daphne and Chloe Suite No. 2, which closed the program. However, in both pieces (particularly the Ravel), no matter how spectacular the playing, I missed a sense of pushing and pulling, of coiled tension, that I know is there.

It is particularly difficult to capture the essence of French music. The MET orchestra did a sterling job. This kind of program would never work for the HKPO.


20 May, 2019

MET Orchestra - Gergiev - Trifonov

MET Orchestra - Gergiev - Trifonov

May 18th, 2019, Carnegie Hall
MET Orchestra - Valery Gergiev - Daniil Trifonov
Schumann - Schubert

Daniil Trifonov played the Schumann Piano Concerto with his customary virtuosity, clarity and refinement but, as usual, one wondered if it was a bit narcissistic. From my seat I found the orchestral bass a little too prominent (actually part of the Gergiev style) as to be incongruent. The encore Schumann piece though was utterly compelling.

The Schubert 9th Symphony, "The Great", was notable for the sensitive playing of the MET Orchestra. I have always thought orchestras that play both orchestral and operatic works are the best, the best example being the VPO. The strings played with finesse, sweetness and detail; the winds characterful and the brass noble. Gergiev's conducting was a little surprising, somewhat restrained in dynamic swing. Although he brought out uncommon details (especially with the divided violins), as the piece unfolded, one did start to feel a little the dreaded longeurs in this very long work. I don't think it was nearly as bad as this review, but surely the piece should have a bit more momentum (in the past years I have listened to this piece twice with lesser orchestras and both times the flow was better; see here and here).

04 May, 2019

Katia and Marielle Labeque performed Bruch's Concerto for Two Pianos with Semyon Bychkov conducting the New York Philharmonic Thursday night at David Geffen Hall. Photo: Chris Leepic from New York Classical Review.

New York Philharmonic - Semyon Bychkov - Labeque Sisters

May 3, 2019, Geffen Hall
New York Philharmonic - Semyon Bychkov - Labeque SistersBruch - Strauss

The first half is a rarity, Bruch's Concerto for Two Pianos, which is basically owned and championed only by the soloists Katia and Marielle Labeque and Katia's husband, the conductor Semyon Bychkov, who have played them many times elsewhere.

I am basically not a fan of most piano duos, as most of them are not too inspiring. That goes for the Labeque Sisters as well as the much younger Jussen Brothers. There are of course exceptions, like  Robert and Gaby Casadesus, or Vronsky and Babin.

Unlike his Violin Concerto No.1 and Scottish Fantasy, this work has no memorable melody, especially for the pianos. But, the orchestral part is actually rather interestingly scored. Like many other Bruch works, it is, for lack of a better word, "atmospheric". The opening brass parts are particularly organ-like, and Bychkov brought out all the colors of the piece.

After Bychkov's recent Resurrection with the Czech PO (here), I was surprised at how incisive he was in Strauss' Ein Heldenleben. The opening, The Hero, was a little breathless and the low brass were rattling. No matter how exciting, this work needs some opulence, which was in short supply, but then this hall is definitely dry sounding. The Hero's Adversaries was almost too incisive and the same feeling applied. Then things started to turn. The orchestra played The Hero's Companion with depth of feeling and the sheen in the strings was surprising, though I found Concertmaster Frank Huang's solo too hyper-detailed and a little lean. The best was yet to come! Nothing prepared me for the absolute mastery of The Hero's Works of Peace and The Hero's Retirement. The orchestra played irreproachably, and the horn section for once was golden-toned. Bychkov's pacing was absolutely right and Frank Huang's wistful solo at the end was perfect.

This marked the third Ein Heldenleben I have heard this year. While The Royal Concertgebouw (here) had the better overall playing and Straussian opulence, this concert was even more insightful and surpassing in feeling. A TALL achievement for the NYPO!

03 May, 2019

New World Symphony - Michael Tilson Thomas - Yuja Wang

New World Symphony - Michael Tilson Thomas - Yuja Wang

May 1, 2019, Carnegie Hall
New World Symphony - Michael Tilson Thomas - Yuja Wang
Wolfe - Prokofiev - Berlioz

The New World Symphony, based in Florida and headed by Michael Tilson Thomas, is an academy for recent conservatory graduates, who receive fellowships to further train and develop. So it is not exactly a youth orchestra, like our own beloved Asian Youth Orchestra, rather, given its over 30 year history, older than something between Europe's more recent and better known Mahler Youth Orchestra and its spinoff Mahler Chamber Orchestra.

Michael Tilson Thomas has never thrilled me on records. Although he majors in romantic repertoire, unlike his mentor Leonard Bernstein he never seems to let his hair down. As a composer, he has excellent analytical power but again, unlike Bernstein, more often than not, something is missing, despite all the critical accolades.

The second-half's Berlioz Symphony Fantastique was fastidiously laid out by the conductor, architecturally superb, and very well played. The brass and percussion sections were particularly formidable. I enjoyed the playing very much, but ultimately the shade of coolness did not achieve the goal of Fantastique. Still, a very good performance.

The Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 5 featured the indefatigable Yuja Wang, half naked in a shimmering green dress, which actually mirrors her solo part, played with aplomb. However, MTT's conducting left much to be desired. He is not a Prokofiev conductor - much more punctuation and rhythmic pointing were needed. The strings in particular sounded emaciated, sometimes loud but without body, other times just vapid. As an encore, Yuja played a jazz-infused composition of MTT, which was just lovely.

Concert opened with Julia Wolfe's Fountain of Youth, an eclectic mix of motoric minimalism and the composer's "avant-garde" anything-goes Bang on a Can ensemble, extremely well played and enjoyable.

15 April, 2019

NYPO Simone Young

Simone Young conducted the New York Philharmonic in Mahler's Symphony No., 6 Thursday night at David Geffen Hall. Photo: Caitlin Ochs pic from New York Classical Review.

NYPO Simone Young

April 12, 2019, Geffen Hall
NYPO - Simone Young
Mahler Symphony No. 6


Jaap was supposed to conduct but his problematic shoulder got the better of him and Simone Young was summoned at the last minute to replace him. An that was my fortune!

As someone from HK, where one gets to hear Jaap often, I know Jaap's Mahler 6th. But nothing prepared me for Simone Young's interpretation.

I am familiar with Simone Young's work on recordings (Ohems) and she is an authority in Mahler and Bruckner. Still, nothing prepared me for this!

I agree with almost everything the NewYork Classical Review said, (the NYT is a non-review, increasingly so) and agree even more with one of the comments. She is the real thing!

Straightforward, but utterly natural and well paced. Highly detailed (like the dance elements) yet single-minded, marching inexorably to the last movement. This is one of the greatest Mahler finales's I have heard over 4 decades at the NYPO. The repeated struggle, calamity, attempt to recover, were so graphic as to be painful.

My words mean little, but I saw the Viola first chair (Cynthia Phelps) wiping her tears off just before her last notes. There cannot be higher accolade. In my decades of attending the NYPO, I have never seen a principal weep.

Make sure Simone Young returns in Mahler and Bruckner, which she does better than Jaap.

Istvan Vardai and Roman Rabinovich

Concert: Istvan Vardai and Roman Rabinovich

Official link

April 7, 2019, Town Hall
Istvan Vardai and Roman Rabinovich
Beethoven - Schubert - Rachmaninov

I only managed to attend the first half.

Of particular interest to string fans is that Istvan Vardai plays the famous DuPre-Lynn Harrell Strad Cello, but I am afraid judged by this outing the instrument is not entirely in good hands.

Grant you, many of DuPre's recordings are wayward, and I have never heard her live. But enthusiasm is not something that can be faked, and her recordings, warts and all, testify to her personality (aside from Elgar, I like her Brahms). I am lukewarm about Lynn Harrell, who is always correct (but no more), but I think Vardai is a poor successor.

Vardai plays sensitively but tends to linger and smell the roses and lack drive. Also, he makes the instrument sound very dark, not a good thing in cello. The Beethoven variations dragged on, and the Schubert Appregione needed more vitality.

Rabinovich is an excellent pianist, but too deferential.

20 March, 2019

BSO Nelsons Fleming Strauss

Renee Fleming performed music from Richard Strauss's "Capriccio" with Andris Nelsons learning and Boston Symphony Orchestra Thursday night at Symphony Hall. Photo: Hilary ScottBoston Symphony Orchestra - Andris Nelsons - Renee Fleming

March 19, 2019, Carnegie Hall
Boston Symphony Orchestra - Andris Nelsons - Renee Fleming
All Strauss

I shall be brief on details. This Concert was an exact repeat of the concert given in Boston 3 days ago. The Classical Review has a detailed review (the pic is also from that article), and I agree with most of it.

Regarding the Sextet from Capriccio (in lieu of the usual overture), the lower voices were too prominent for my taste. I'd have preferred a little more rosin in the violins. It should be noted that, similarly, I found the concertmaster too subdued in the solo's in Thus Spake Zarathustra.

Renee Fleming has a huge fan base. Many in the audience went for her, as evidenced by the large number of empty seats after intermission. I enjoyed her singing, especially since there were supertitles. Listening to opera without knowing the words have never worked for me, and surely Richard Strauss would approve. Fleming is a great artist and I have listened to many of her albums (from the HK library). When it comes to Strauss though, even if she is renowned and performed regularly in Europe, I was never able to admit her into my top echelon. Perhaps all the recordings I have heard had spoiled me (Rosenkavalier is a personal favorite, and this excellent article will tell you about all the great Marchallins). Actually, in this performance, I found her characterization better than on records! But it was the encore in memory of Andre Previn that had me hooked. Now, I want to hear the whole Street Car Named Desire! It was too bad that there were no supertitles and, believe me, operas sung in English need it more than Italian or German!

As for Thus Spake Zarathustra, what can I say! A stunning performance of great detail and elegance. Most audiophiles I know just listened to the opening, but I have long loved the whole work and own many versions. Here my knowledge of all the great recordings did not spoil my experience - no audio system can reproduce the immensity of it all. And it is not just the big moments. Carnegie Hall unfortunately does not have a real organ. While the electric reproduction was good, the lowest bass notes just did not shake one as a real one would, not even quite as much as a recording, which has them highlighted. And the big percussion crashes, particularly with this most elegant orchestra, were impactful but not overwhelmingly loud (as NYPO and van Zweden would surely do). Not important at all, as the immensity of the canvas, the sheer beauty and shimmering details heard could not at all be reproduced at home. Andris Nelsons is a famous Straussian, and the concert showed why. This is the most satisfying Boston/Nelsons concert I have heard, better than even his Shostakovich, and definitely better than his Mahler. The playing and refinement of the orchestra is irreproachable.

10 March, 2019

Skride Piano Quartet

March 10, 2019, Town Hall
Skride Piano Quartet
Mahler - Mozart - Brahms

Latvian Baiba Skride, winner of 2001 Queen Elizabeth (the same year Singaporean Kam Ning placed second and Chinese Ning Feng placed fifth), is fairly well known in Europe, less so in America. The other members are also seasoned professionals. Sister Lauma Skride is the pianist. French Lise Bertaud is the violist. Dutch Harriett Krijgh, who has just become a member of the Artemis Quartet (which unfortunately seems to be in a great state of flux), is the cellist.

Perhaps because of the rain, attendance was low for a PSC concert.

Mahler's Piano Quartet in A minor, a work of his teens, has only one extant movement and is seldom heard. Judging from this performance, that is unfortunate. The foreboding opening on the piano and the soft string figures that followed had me hooked. The string players here had an ethereal quality in pianissimo. The foursome have a fanatical attention to rhythm, detail and balance that is highly cultured and, dare I say, European.

Leader Baiba Skride is unusually deferent to his colleagues, and I can see why - they are all great players and tonally ravishing. But when she does step out (she makes a slight turn so the violin projects directly to the audience), there is no mistaking that she is a player of power.

Though the pianist sometimes played quite spritely, the measured approach of the strings made Mozart's Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor come across as rather dark. During intermission, the fellow in front of me wondered how they were going to get through the second half; he said, apologetically to his female friends that some "testosterone" was missing. He was likely an amateur musician (many in the psc audience). He need not have worried.

The Brahms Piano Quartet in G minor, though superbly played, was not the kind of virtuoso display that I experienced previously with the Andsnes crowd (here). The Alla Zingarese that capped the piece was urgent, but less pungent than usual. The previous movements were well delineated and balanced, but in unearthing details and rhythm subtleties, the main melodies sometimes were not brought forth enough. Nonetheless, for me, it was an excellent and equally valid effort. Keep in mind this was an all minor-key concert!

16 February, 2019

RCO Harding Aimard

Daniel HardingRoyal Concertgebouw Orchestra - Daniel Harding - Pierre-Laurent Aimard

Feb 15, 2019, Carnegie Hall
Concertgebouw Orchestra - Daniel Harding - Pierre-Laurent Aimard
Connesson - Beethoven - Strauss

As I slowly made my way out of the hall, I said to myself: "...this separates the men from the boys..." Indeed, next to such playing, most orchestras sound emaciated.

In Strauss' Ein Heldenleben, the hall was literally awash in sound, and I was swooning and luxuriating in it all. The amazing thing was, the sound washing over you had a living feel, comprising of layers of orchestral tissue in a corporeal whole.

Compared to the Mariinsky's recent performance (here), it was like a different work. Whereas Gergiev underlined the brilliance and drama, under Daniel Harding the RCO delivered a much more  architectural, but tonally burnished and opulent account, with darker colors. Both are valid approaches, but for me the RCO is even more life-affirming.

The RCO was also heard in Chicago three days ago (somewhat different program), and I agree with the remarks on this work in the Chicago Classical Review. The Chicago Tribune is also interesting in comparing the RCO with their own, but for me the former has a deeper sound which makes the CSO seem just a little shallow spiritually. The RCO was also heard the next day in The Washington Post, and the review by Anne Midgette was decidedly negative. Incidentally, this is the same critic whose expose of #MeToo in classical music brought down RCO's last music director, Danielle Gatti.

While I can understand Anne Midgette's view of Beethoven's Emperor concerto, I enjoyed it much more than she did. Pierre-Laurent Aimard played with great subtlety and colors, making the frequent ascending and descending notes uncommonly beautiful and interesting. The finale is for sure less "rousing" than usual, but that is not the interpretive viewpoint here. For me, Harding's contribution was excellent.

Concert opened with a short piece by one Guillaume Connnesson, Eirene, ravishingly played by the RCO.


13 January, 2019

pic from NYT.

New York Philharmonic - Jakob Hrusa - Simon Trpceski

Jan 11, 2019, Geffen Hall
NY Philharmonic - Jakob Hrusa - Simon Trpceski
Janacek - Prokofiev - Rimsky-Korsakov

NY Phil Press Release

How he made them play! That was what I said to the lady next to me at the end of concert.

Jakob Hrusa is a young conductor very much in demand and on the rise. I knew him from recordings, but this was the first time I heard him live. He is now in charge of the Bamberg Symphony (an orchestra I have always liked; heard them under Jochum, in Bruckner no less) as well as principal guest conductor of The Philharmonia and Czech Philharmonic, all excellent orchestras. Here is a good interview. Judged by this concert, he is absolutely the real thing,

Concert opened with Janacek's Cunning Little Vixen Suite (arranged by Charles Mackerras), in a ravishingly played and atmospheric reading, but the piecemeal nature of the music, albeit highly interesting, still was not able to stop my mind from wandering off from time to time.

Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 received a solid reading from Simon Trpceski, who should be familiar to HK concert goers. Hrusa enabled a seamless partnership with the orchestra, which played with aplomb and vitality. Many details emerged quite naturally in this reading.

All of that did not prepare me for the sheer magnificence of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, a thrice familiar score which in Hrusa's hands seemed to reveal freshness in every page. What is truly remarkable is that all the details were revealed in a most natural way (unlike Jaap, for example), never losing the overall architecture of the music. In one stretch in the second movement, the string figures had a distinct sense of speech, and indeed the orchestral musicians overall were fully engaged in dialogue, and that is the utmost praise for a conductor. The music speaks!

The orchestra played magnificently. It goes without saying that the brass section was mighty, worthy of the Sultan! What was equally gratifying was the characterful playing of the woodwinds. And the strings on this occasion excelled themselves in nuance, refinement and discipline. Concertmaster Frank Huang, formerly of the Houston Symphony, played his all-important solo's subtly, not at all like what a reviewer made of him in a previous Houston Symphony performance with Hrusa, but the same reviewer's comments on Hrusa I could agree with wholeheartedly.

The NY Phil has had a generally good review these days from the NY Times. Yet the NYT Review that includes this concert complained of loudness without fullness. Part of that is the persistent second-rate acoustics of this hall, but from my seat, third tier and close to the stage, the problems were minimized and indeed the sound was exciting. The so called full view good seats, which a critic is likely to be seated in, more often than not do not sound too good.

A great concert.

06 December, 2018

Trio Solisti

December 2, 2018, Town Hall
Haydn: Trio in C Major, Hob. XV/27
Dvorak: Trio No. 2 in G minor, Op. 26
Brahms: Trio in B Major, Op. 8 (rev. version)

I can't remember the last time I heard a full Piano Trio recital. This is one of the most difficult formations to get right, and even on record I do not find too many favorites.

So kudos to Trio Solisti for delivering a consistently polished and balanced sound. Pianist Fabio Bidini plays idiomatically, still sometimes overwhelm things, but not often. Violinist Maria Bachmann is exceptionally steady and pure in intonation, though I sometimes wish she would play with a little more abandon. Cellist Alexis Pier Gerlach wears her heart on her sleeve and is excellent, though the dark sound of her instrument sometimes buries her in the mix.

The Haydn Trio is basically a piano sonata with string obligato, quite nice and pleasant. The following Dvorak Piano Trio No. 2 is much meatier, though rarely programmed. It is a rather concise work that nonetheless harbors all of Dvorak's mature style. The Brahms Piano Trio No. 1 is much better known and received a polished performance.

30 November, 2018

New York Philharmonic - Jaap - Lamsma 

November 30, 2018, Geffen Hall
New York Philharmonic - Jaap - Lamsma
Britten - Shostakovich

What a tough program for the musicians! I have to say, this was the most committed playing by the NYPO I have heard in a while.

Concert opened with Britten's Violin Concerto, ably played by Dutch soloist Simone Lamsma, whose CD's (Challenge) I have enjoyed. Both soloist and orchestra delivered idiomatic playing. However, for me Lamsma's tone on her strad, particularly in the midrange, was on the lean (though not gritty) side and not fully fleshed out, which does not matter that much in this piece.

The mammoth Shostakovich Symphony 7th received a gargantuan performance. The loud passages were truly epic, graphic, and terrifying - they made me uncomfortable, which was the purpose. Most gratifyingly, Jaap maintained a good flow and navigated all the transitions well. The musicians played wonderfully. The woodwinds with character, the brass fiery and strings penetrating. Perhaps the elegiac aspects of the score could have been brought out more, but I was involved.

There was tremendous applause at the end, but I somehow felt perhaps one should not. I had thought that there must be people in the audience who have lived through the siege of Lennigrad. I noticed the old lady close by did not clap, and so I said what I was thinking to her, and she replied: "...you know, I was there...". A poignant moment that attests to the success of the performance.

NYT Review

BSO Nelsons Mahler Gruber

Boston Symphony Orchestra - Andris Nelsons

November 19, 2018, Carnegie Hall
Boston Symphony Orchestra - Andris Nelsons - Hakan Hardenberger
Gruber - Mahler

The program is hinged on one thing: the trumpet. Andris Nelsons, the new BSO director and in hot demand elsewhere, was a trumpeter.

So it was not surprising that he programmed HK Gruber's Aerial, a trumpet concerto. As usual for this composer, the piece was stylistically all over the map. See the reviews on the same program in the Boston Classical Review and New York Times.

The Mahler 5th of course opens with a trumpet solo. I agree with both reviews that the Mahler was kind of disappointing. While I enjoyed very much the quality of playing, I too often found the lines sagging and tension wanting (particularly in the Finale).

18 November, 2018

Image result for amanda monaco flushing town hallAmanda Monaco Quartet

November 18, 2018, Flushing Town Hall
Amanda Monaco Quartet

Another concert in the very worthwhile Lioness series showcasing female jazz artists. Previously I reported on Roxy Coss, tenor saxophonist.

Led by Amanda Monaco, guitarist, the day's quartet's other members are Hammond Organist Brian Charette, Jeff Davis on Drums and Lauren Sevian on Baritone Sax.

They played mostly original compositions by Monaco, very much like reported here (though personnels are somewhat different). Unlike Roxy Coss, the style is straightforward, and Monaco was almost subdued, with brief soloing and mostly back up playing, ceding the spotlight generously to others, particularly Lauren Sevian, most unusually playing baritone sax exclusively. The rhythm was steady and nothing sounded edgy. Both drums and organ fit snuggly into the picture. The sound is harmonious (not so easily achieved, believe me) and I enjoyed it a great deal.