Posts Tagged ‘jessye norman’

Mostly Mozart/Some Stravinsky

Friday, August 12th, 2011

by Sedgwick Clark

Lincoln Center’s attempt to add variety to Mostly Moz is just fine with me, especially if the variety is Stravinsky. Audiences seem to agree too, for a Saturday afternoon of Stravinsky films and two concerts of his chamber music by the spiffy International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) were packed.

The first of the films was the familiar CBS New Special on the composer, narrated by Charles Kuralt. There’s a lot of good material here (unfortunately in a washed-out video source so typical of the 1960s), particularly an appearance in Paris’s Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, where Le Sacre du printemps received its scandalous premiere on May 29, 1913. The aged composer tells of that infamous occasion and walks to the seat in which he sat that night. But not for long, as the audience’s catcalling began almost immediately and the infuriated composer arose from his seat, shouted “Go to hell,” and headed backstage.

The second film documents a powerfully emotional 1963 Budapest performance of the composer leading the Hungarian Radio Orchestra in his Symphony of Psalms. Ensemble is iffy, tuning of the winds is wishful, and the orchestra is obviously following the concertmaster rather than Stravinsky’s jerky beats. But none of this matters in light of a mesmerizingly slow third movement that never loses its rapt concentration and buoyant rhythm. How could he ever have said — even to make an anti-Romantic point — that “music is powerless to express anything”?

The third film was choreographer Pina Bausch’s 1978 rendering of Le Sacre (to Boulez’s Cleveland recording), overpowered by the music as usual. The fourth film was Julie Taymor’s fanciful production of Oedipus Rex, which was about as far from the composer’s austere conception as could be imagined, and presumably welcome to those who find the music marmoreal. Jessye Norman and Philip Langridge sing well, with Seiji Ozawa leading the Saito Kinen Festival Orchestra.

Stravinsky on ICE

The pair of ICE concerts on Monday, August 8, offered rarely played works in sterling performances. The 7:30, in Alice Tully Hall, was all Stravinsky, and the 10:30 concert in the Kaplan Penthouse was Stravinsky and several short works written in memoriam to him by Denisov, Berio, Carter, Finnissy, Schnittke, and Zorn. (The complete listing of works is at the end of my previous blog.) So, let’s talk about the guest conductor, Pablo Heras-Casado. The day after this concert, my friend Mark Swed, music critic of the Los Angeles Times, called to ask if I had heard these concerts (silly question) and what I thought of Pablo. To tell the truth, I hadn’t heard of him before reading Steve Smith’s Times review on Monday of an earlier concert in which H-C reportedly set very fast tempos in Mozart’s Symphony No. 40, which is the only way I can abide the piece (after all, Wolfy did specify Molto Allegro and Allegro assai for the outer movements). But now that I have I won’t miss his next local appearances. His bio says he’s “A champion of contemporary music” and that he has the imprimatur of Pierre Boulez. Oddly, however, there’s no mention of his home country and age. He’s 34, hails from Granada, Spain, and has a bush of dark, curly hair that rivals Gustavo’s. He, too, is blessed with matinee idol looks. From the Tully balcony he looked to be all of 20 when he smiled, but seemed closer to his given age in the intimate Penthouse.

He certainly knows his way around a score. Stravinsky’s Ragtime, “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto, Eight Instrumental Miniatures, and the Octet downstairs zipped along delightfully. He might have reined in his ICE players a bit and achieved crisper textures, but such sins of youth are forgivable in light of such clean rhythms and lively tempos. Only the thorny Concerto for Piano and Winds disappointed; had I not heard the revelatory performance last season at Zankel by Jeremy Denk and John Adams conducting the Ensemble ACJW, the performance in Tully would have seemed impressive. But Peter Serkin’s technically unimpeachable yet comparatively monochromatic solo work paled next to Denk’s fleet-fingered, balletic romp.

Perahia’s Bach

A Sony Classical re-release in a three-CD set (88697 82429 2) of Bach keyboard concertos played by Murray Perahia is so darned musical that one wonders where nearly everyone else went wrong. So warm, expressive, joyous, naturally paced—if you don’t have these recordings already, don’t hesitate.

Contents: Keyboard Concertos Nos. 1-7; Concerto for Flute, Violin & Harpsichord in A minor, BWV 1044; Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050; Italian Concerto in F major, BWV 971.

Looking forward

8/12-13 Bard Music Festival. Sibelius and His World.