Posts Tagged ‘Bell’Arte’

Bruckner’s First, Twice

Sunday, September 24th, 2017

Christian Thielemann conducting Bruckner’s First Symphony with his Dresden Staatskapelle at the Gasteig in Munich in 2017

Published: September 24, 2017

MUNICH — He had to abandon his Munich Philharmonic cycle, a cosmic Fifth being one of its relics, but Christian Thielemann’s Dresden cycle* of the numbered Bruckner symphonies has progressed smoothly to near completion, and with video. Oddly parts of it have been filmed here at the Gasteig — scene of the crime, so to speak — most recently on Sept. 6 when the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden turned to the Symphony No. 1 in C Minor, Das kecke Beserl, or The Saucy Wench. Meanwhile, a Thielemann successor at the MPhil, Valery Gergiev, has this month embarked on his own Bruckner loop, also to be filmed, but at Sankt Florian. For him, the First has come first: Sept. 21 in a Gasteig concert and tomorrow (Sept. 25) at Bruckner’s basilica. Both conductors opt for the engaging Linz Version (1866) in its 1877 form, although for Thielemann this means an as yet unpublished edition with slight differences from the 1953 Nowak.

Promoted by Bell’Arte, the Saxons’ program opened with a lush account of Bruch’s G-Minor Violin Concerto. Nikolaj Znaider powered the solo part, edgily at first but with eloquence in the Adagio and gutsy expression in the Finale, sending the maestro, among many others, into effusive apparent raptures. Znaider then went to sit with his St Petersburg boss, Gergiev, present to hear what wonders Thielemann would impart after the break in the still relatively rare 45- to 50-minute symphony, written the same year.

The work’s nickname may be a bizarre projection, but its confidence is certain. There is much rhythmic energy; no chorale, fugue or Generalpause impedes the momentum. It opens with a march theme of some irony, moves to a lyrical subject and soon rises to an imposing yet isolated fanfare in the trombones. The development is restrained, the recapitulation free-form and based on a new theme. This reappears in the “agitated, fiery” Finale, a propulsive construct that shifts triumphantly to C Major. In between come a solemn Adagio with fancy violin figurations and a partly songful Scherzo.

Thielemann (pictured the same day) conducted with his customary flair for counterpoint. He had memorized the music and shrewdly gauged its pulsations and climaxes, particularly in the challenging Finale, where a vein of spontaneity lit up the logic. Some hesitancy, though, in middle-movement details suggested he had not yet decided what to do with all the material, and perhaps for this reason his orchestra was not on top form.

If Gergiev took anything away, there was scant evidence Sept. 21. He sustained lighter textures and found charm in unexpected places, persuasively in the Scherzo. On the other hand, a relishing of tone colors came at cost to inner voices in Bruckner’s scheme, lessening its impact. Nothing was implied in that opening march, for example. Nor were the dance elements well served. But the maestro kept his eyes locked on the score and drew a magnificent performance from the MPhil — strings transparent and silky where those qualities counted, intense and glowing elsewhere; brass blasting and soaring with tireless accuracy. Indeed, from its steep, newly modified risers, the MPhil sounded as virtuosic as it had in the finest days of, well, GMD Thielemann (2004–2011). Scheduled for after intermission was Bruckner’s Third Symphony, alas in its late version.

[*DVDs on the C Major label: the 7th and 8th Symphonies filmed in the Semperoper in 2012, the 5th in 2013; the 4th and 9th at Baden-Baden in 2015, the 6th in the Semperoper that year; and the 3rd and 1st in Munich in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Thielemann also filmed the 4th and 7th Symphonies with the MPhil for C Major, in 2009 at Baden-Baden.]

Photo © Dresden Staatskapelle

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Gloom, Doom from the Arcanto

Tuesday, May 10th, 2016

Arms of Antje Weithaas, Daniel Sepec, Tabea Zimmermann and Jean-Guihen Queyras

Published: May 10, 2016

MUNICH — As if to unify its program of late Beethoven and Schubert last week (May 4) at the Court Church of All Saints, the Arcanto Quartet stressed gloom wherever possible. Playing of intensity and integrity supported this approach, and, to be sure, the Heiliger Dankegesang String Quartet, Opus 132, and the C-Major String Quintet, D956, do at least contemplate the end of life. It was a little much though. Beethoven intends an expression of thanks; Schubert toys with irony, perhaps accepting fate.

Partnered by cellist Maximilian Hornung after the break, the musicians projected a dark dreamlike picture of the quintet’s 17-minute first movement, guilefully detailed and relaxed, with ample soft passagework. This they paid off in the concluding Rondo, lending it surreal salon elegance. In between they plunged to grim depths. Schubert’s Adagio, sustained with formidable concentration around Tabea Zimmermann’s viola, proceeded grave, a Deathly Hallows without the wizards. Much the same was true of the Scherzo’s Trio. Anyway, great listening.

An obvious sense of purpose marked the Beethoven, with first violin Antje Weithaas adding affable stylish touches. But this reading was a tad short on energy, and in the somber guise imposed on it the central movement managed to be both sedate and precious, not as unsettling as usual. Marketing note: although Munich is saturated with chamber music, people were turned away at the door of this sold-out Bell’Arte event.

Photo © Marco Borggreve

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Pogorelich Soldiers On

Monday, March 16th, 2015

Ivo Pogorelich

Published: March 16, 2015

MUNICH — Ivo Pogorelich wants to continue to play. He has recital programs planned out till 2020. He keeps several concertos in his repertory, the Chopin F-Minor and Prokofiev Third performed here persuasively in recent seasons. He is “pleased,” he writes, about a new box of his old CDs, and he returns to the recording studio “this year” for “Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin and Balakirev.” Trouble is, the comfort zone has shrunk, and the technique, while still prodigious, suffers momentary ruptures, often of meter or rhythm. He has been as a result trashed by The New York Times (“interpretively perverse”) and, last month, London critics. But he shows a samurai’s perseverance.

Yesterday morning at the Prinz-Regenten-Theater, the pearly tones, grace and authority that have always distinguished his playing were much in evidence. Liszt’s Dante Sonata (1849) emerged in deliberate, pensive blocks, each relating to context and not without tension. A sumptuous dissection followed of Schumann’s C-Major Fantasie (1838). Its Mäßig, durchaus energisch movement, taut and powerfully executed, caused an eruption of applause and an acknowledging pianist’s smile. This distanced the third movement, helping cast it as a sequence of reflections, also beautifully traced. After the break, however, the tall Croatian failed to summon the virtuosity required of Stravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Pétrouchka (1921), producing only maddening shreds. To conclude he brought handsome character to the majority of Brahms’s Paganini Variations (1863), albeit with further rhythmic jolts. Scores were open throughout this recital, presented by 50-year-old Bell’Arte. There was nothing mannered (or perverse) about the playing. Indeed the impression was of a quest for truth in each score, hindered only by some undisclosed debility or disquiet.

Photo © Alfonso Batalla

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Bolshoi Orchestra Stops By

Saturday, May 17th, 2014

Alan Buribayev

Published: May 17, 2014

MUNICH — Something has happened to Moscow’s Bolshoi Orchestra. Perhaps steady funding? It has lost its old woolly sound, judging from an April 9 Bell’Arte tour stop here at the Gasteig, and found another: a gleaming, uniformly virtuosic persona that commands attention.

Vassily Sinaisky, overseer of this transformation, curiously lost his job as Bolshoi music director last December after clashing with front-office boss Vladimir Urin, and he was replaced at lightning speed by Tugan Sokhiev. Although less dramatic than the infamous acid attack, the sudden switch deserved more attention than it got, not least as an exemplar for slow search committees.

In any case, Sokhiev could not take on last month’s nine-city Middle Europe tour, and duties fell instead to the perky Alan Buribayev (pictured), principal conductor of Dublin’s RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra. Program backbone: Dvořák’s Cello Concerto and D-Major Sixth Symphony. Results: mixed.

The Kazakh maestro and the soloist, Mischa Maisky, conspicuous in a saggy mustard jacket, ran breathlessly through the concerto’s first movement but better paced the rest. The Adagio sailed along on Maisky’s full ripe tone and graceful phrasing. The Finale gelled well enough that the composer’s key modulations and guileful dynamic markings could work their wonders, capped by a potent last solo crescendo and an emphatic Allegro vivo.

Buribayev beat time energetically through the symphony but, released from the need to accompany, appeared short on ideas. The Furiant sections of the Scherzo came off best. Elsewhere, eloquent woodwind contributions mitigated a loud-or-louder, inflexible reading.

Photo © Simon van Boxtel

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Arcanto: One Piece at a Time

Friday, January 31st, 2014

Arcanto Quartet

Published: January 31, 2014

MUNICH — The 11-year-old Arcanto Quartet, heard here last Friday (Jan. 24), is everything a chamber group shouldn’t be for promotional purposes. There are no family ties. Their instruments don’t match. They share no doctrine about period practice. They don’t grind out whole cycles of anyone’s music. Not surprisingly their U.S. debuts in 2010 passed with only modest fanfare: the Washington Post reviewer found himself split yet intrigued while The New York Times gave no coverage at all. Happily the Arcanto’s record label, Arles-based Harmonia Mundi, favors substance over flack and has documented their work in Mozart, Schubert and Bartók. The latter disc took a Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik.

Anchored by Jean-Guihen Queyras’s nimble cello and the resonant viola of Tabea Zimmermann, the group produces a centered, refined, light sound. Three centuries happen to separate the instruments used by these two members: Queyras, longtime soloist at IRCAM in Paris, plays a 1696 Cappa. But this detail seems incidental. Antje Weithaas, artistic leader of the Camerata Bern, and Daniel Sepec, concertmaster for the Deutsche Kammer-Philharmonie Bremen, are the sweet-toned violinists. Twenty-five months ago, here at the Prince Regent Theater, the Arcanto achieved minor miracles in Ravel’s Quartet in F Major before partnering Jörg Widmann for an ardent, haunting traversal of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet. The finicky Bavarian crowd roared its approval.

Last Friday’s visit, with the final quartets (1826) of Beethoven and Schubert, took place in the cool vaulted milieu of the Court Church of All Saints, diligently filled by presenter Bell’Arte. Versatile, nuanced playing proved that each work had been considered on its own terms: the F-Major Beethoven (Opus 135) characterized by nonchalance, the grander G-Major Schubert (D887) by an emphasis on fractionalized ideas that shadow late initiatives of the elder composer.

Beethoven’s Lento assai, cantante e tranquillo ruminated in a contented, consoling way. Queyras launched the lyrical second subject of the Muss es sein? movement with spry point, matched by Zimmermann. As Weithaas danced gleefully over the music’s last measures, after the shared pizzicato, the ensemble built cheerful true resolution not only of the immediate material but of the whole score. The Schubert received an intriguing performance. Ghoulish drama laced its Andante; delicate understated voices emerged lucidly in the Trio. In the passionate sections of the last movement, Allegro assai, the players found power in especially intense collaboration. The same composer’s Quartettsatz of 1820 (D703) served as recital opener, guided with spontaneity and considerable elegance by Weithaas.

Photo © Marco Borggreve

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Volodos the German Romantic

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Arcadi Volodos

Published: December 22, 2013

MUNICH — Somewhere between the patent introspection of his new Mompou CD* and the tags of his early Stateside career — “big bravura pianist,” “new Horowitz” — lies an accurate description of Arcadi Volodos. It may simply be this: German Romantic, as in Schumann and Brahms, with impressionist flair.

That was the take, anyway, from a commanding, technically flawless Bell’Arte recital Dec. 12 here at the Prinz-Regenten-Theater, and it is buoyed by the disc. The 41-year-old pianist from St Petersburg stands distant from the trajectory of his rise: 1998 Carnegie Hall debut, Berlin readings of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concertos (1999 and 2002). He still plays with strength and vision, but what distinguishes him now is a command of form and the willingness to disturb it in expressive ways.

Stardom, meanwhile, has improbably blurred thanks to the presence of another St Petersburg pianist with what trademark authorities might term a confusingly similar name, Alexei Volodin, 36. (No also-ran, the latter gave a recital himself Dec. 15 at the Mariinsky.) Even so, allegiance to Volodos has held firm, particularly here in Germany, and to its credit his record label Sony Classical has stayed with him.

Schubert’s 1815 C-Major Sonata opened the recital, stitched up with its Allegretto (D279/D346). It seemed a weak choice until Volodos testily hammered and carved his way through, knowing exactly what he wanted from the music. We heard the sound of Beethoven.

The pianist stressed formal commonalities in the standalone pieces of Brahms’s Opus 118 (1893) and allowed contrasts to make their point without emphasis. Full, deep tone colors throughout, and natural lyricism in the framing sections of the A-Major Intermezzo and in the Romance, lent due character. In the final measures of the E-flat-Minor Intermezzo, as poetic cap, Volodos mustered a monumental stillness. (His reported recent success in Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto, with longtime collaborator Riccardo Chailly, is consistent.)

After the break and a fluent Schumann Kinderszenen, Volodos boldly energized the same composer’s C-Major Fantasie (both 1838), its three movements speaking with phenomenal power and passionate unity. For the Finale (Langsam getragen, durchweg leise zu halten), he coaxed a mood of poignant reflection unmatched even by Pollini in the famous 1973 recording (made across town here at the Herkulessaal).

The CD* of miniatures by Federico Mompou (1893–1987), recorded last December in Berlin, is a worthy issue in these times of superfluity. Few distinguished recordings have been made of the Spaniard’s music, and Volodos commits himself intensely to it, judging from his liner essay as well as his playing. Although the output is often related to Satie, Mompou’s late imaginative world (not the style) lies closer to Debussy in his Préludes.

Volodos declares the four Música callada sets (1951, 1962, 1965, 1967) to be peaks of achievement: “ … the music [Mompou] spent all his life moving towards … wrested from eternity, as if it already existed in the Spheres … .” He plays eleven of the pieces, from the total of 28, drawing on all four sets in a sequence his own. This “quietened music” is both abstract and personal, the product of an old solitary man, but not one at death’s door; Mompou lived another twenty years after completing Set 4. Many pieces are “Lento,” a marking that satisfies the composer for divergent exercises in peace (VI), pain and emptiness (XXI), and generalized remoteness or stillness. Others, such as the Moderato XXIV of 1967, flow so plainly and concisely that a marking is hardly needed. The many chilly passages in the Música callada tend to be broken by warm chords in unexpected places.

Volodos revels in the myriad nuances of these valued miniatures and, as in Brahms, downplays contrasts in favor of coherence. He finds fantasy here and there, catches the fleeting moments of excitement, and instantly lets ideas go when they must. The interpretations are light of touch and magical.

Half of the disc holds short independent works, most of them tellingly shaped. In Preludio 12 (1960) and elsewhere, Volodos shows Vlado Perlemuter’s knack for placing just the right weightings in pale adjacent phrases to support a long idea, saving music that could easily sound aimless. The much earlier (1918) Scènes d’enfants suite, home of the cute encore Jeunes filles au jardin, receives an imaginative traversal. Sony’s release is strikingly packaged with photographic details of Antonio Gaudí buildings in Barcelona, the composer’s home town, although typos mar its booklet. The company might now want to entice Volodos into documenting the remaining Música callada.

[*In August 2014 the disc received an Echo Klassik Award.]

Photo © Sony Music Entertainment

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