Posts Tagged ‘Schubert’

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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Muti Crowns Charles X

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

Riccardo Muti rehearses in Munich’s Herkulessaal in December 2015

Published: January 14, 2016

MUNICH — Framed by an andante Kyrie and a beguiling instrumental Communion marked grave, Cherubini’s 1825 Coronation Mass for Charles X is one handsome piece of music. No, its movements are not exactly symphonic. They sound bonded to the flow of the service, so much so that unset sections can be imagined. Words are crystal clear, floating on lucid melodic ideas that never overstay. There is no congestion of texture, instrumental or vocal. The chorus, in three parts (STB), references the Trinity but no doubt also hedged against the Reims cathedral acoustics; in place of vocal soloists, choral exchanges offer contrast and illumination. In short, this Messe solennelle is a world apart from its Germanic peers.

Revisiting the score 31 years after his Abbey Road document, Riccardo Muti appeared elated to perform it live in the Herkulessaal Dec. 17 and 18 with musicians familiar with Cherubini: the BR Chor, Latin-trained by Stellario Fagone of Bavarian State Opera and singing with poise and focus (also good diction: patch-em for once, not pats-em); and the Symphonie-Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, enhanced by someone resembling the opera company’s imaginative solo clarinet, Andreas Schablas, all alert to the transparency of this Mass. (Of the seven Cherubini services championed by Muti and recorded* between 1973 and 2006 for EMI, four made their way to disc via London studios, three via live Munich concerts.) Unerringly Muti found the equilibrium and peace in the 56-minute work, an advertisement for restored royal power. His eloquent phrasing supported its structure and stressed its lyricism, and dynamic shifts were unexaggerated. He drew expressive contributions from the woodwinds, much used; conveyed details candidly, such as through the halting but pale Crucifixus; presented the elegiac 10-minute Offertoire as the score’s heart, soaring on a five-note figure; and tautly unified the sequence from the brief, plain Sanctus, through a long-breathed Thomas Aquinas setting, O salutaris hostia, to the slightly acerbic Agnus Dei. Best of all, he conjured a palpable hushed walkabout of the just-crowned monarch in that concluding Communion, a coup de concert that caught the audience off-guard both evenings.

Schubert’s C-Minor Symphony (1816) emerged in comparably grand form before intermission, note-complete, each movement infused with a distinct elegance; the BRSO may love Mariss Jansons but it plays magnificently for Muti. The visiting maestro, however, looked less agile than for previous concerts in this hall, his upper body stiff and filled out. His printed biography sprawled to three pages, two more than for anyone else, and ended with a Riccardo Muti Music notice. Whether these concerts lead to an RMM CD or one on BR Klassik to share the music beyond Munich, or none at all, remains to be seen. Muti’s many major engagements since 2006 have produced little on disc.

[*The Chimay Mass (1809, live in the Herkulessaal with the BRSO in 2003), the long Missa solemnis for Esterházy (1811, live in the same hall with the same orchestra in 2001), another Missa solemnis (in E Major, 1818, live at the Gasteig with the BRSO in 2006), the two Coronation Masses (for Louis XVIII and Charles X, from 1819 and 1825, under studio conditions in Watford Town Hall with the London Philharmonic in 1988, and in Abbey Road studios with the Philharmonia Orchestra in 1984, respectively), and the two Requiems (in C Minor and D Minor, 1816 and 1836, made in Kingsway Hall with the Philharmonia in 1980, and at All Saints Tooting with the New Philharmonia Orchestra in 1973). The service for Louis XVIII was also filmed by Sony in Ravenna’s Piazza San Francesco with the Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala in 1991, and the C-Minor Requiem has been streamed by CSO Radio in a 2012 Orchestra Hall performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.]

Photo © Peter Meisel for BR

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Mariotti North of the Alps

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

Michele Mariotti

Published: April 26, 2015

MUNICH — He will always be attached to Rossini, but Michele Mariotti, 36, can probe and illuminate a vast repertory besides. This much was evident March 23 in a refreshing return engagement with the Münchner Symphoniker.

The Pesaro-born maestro’s podium technique and constructive manner recall another Rossinian, the late Claudio Abbado, both men omnipresent in Bologna over the last decade. His knack for lifting out seemingly banal musical lines and turning them to instant expressive effect, combined with a certain metrical rigidity, suits him to the opera composer. But like Abbado he savors structure and injects passion somewhat clinically: the ethos is Classical rather than bel canto, Haydn over Bellini, and therefore impossible to delimit.

The Prinz-Regenten-Theater subscription concert followed a same-program runout to Kempten in Bavaria’s cheese-making Allgäu region. Ray Chen provided buoyant pleasures in Mozart’s G-Major Violin Concerto (1775) using a loaned Stradivarius associated with Joachim. If the outer movements sounded generalized, the Brisbane soloist’s ardor in the Adagio compensated.

In the opening Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt Overture (1828), Mariotti gave character and point to even the briefest of Mendelssohn’s phrases, audibly pushing the technical limits of all sections of the cooperative orchestra. After the break, Rossini’s Guillaume Tell Overture (1829) was a study in contrasts, properly stormy, emotional, and detailed in its texture. To conclude: a Schubert Third Symphony (1815) of Beecham-esque charm and Adriatic sunshine, ideally paced and neatly played.

The orchestra’s strings registered greater cohesion than in December; perhaps Kevin John Edusei has less work to do than previously imagined. Flute and oboe passagework tended to be strident, however, with the winds up against a safety curtain at this venue.

The Münchner Symphoniker took its name in 1990. It earns 24% of its annual budget of €4.5 million. The Free State of Bavaria contributes 55% in return for certain services; sponsors, including a savings bank and the region of Upper Bavaria, with Munich, underwrite the rest. By budget the ensemble ranks fifth in this city.

Photo © Rocco Casaluci

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Salzburg Coda

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Academy of St Martin In the Fields

Published: October 31, 2014

SALZBURG — Alexander Pereira is now gone from the main festival here, and two tenuous summers are in the offing before Markus Hinterhäuser replaces him as Intendant in 2017. His exit, under a cloud, ends a budget tempest but threatens reversals of worthy initiatives he took: lengthening the schedule to six weeks, deepening the commitment to sacred music, insisting on fresh stagings for opera. Pereira did not adapt to the old-boy (and old-girl) Salzburg bureaucracy but he restored an element of decisiveness that had been lacking since Karajan and later Mortier ran things. And despite fiscal overages and gripes about casting, his programs were a Karajanesque blend of tradition and vetted novelty, exemplified on three August days in the paired artistry of Vilde Frang and Michail Lifits; concerts by the Mozarteum-Orchester and the Academy of St Martin In the Fields; and new productions of Fierrabras and La Cenerentola.

Peter Stein, wise yet out of fashion, told Schubert’s 1823 Carolingian tale straight, using monochrome flats and simple lighting tricks to paint and speed between differentiated, handsome scenes (Aug. 22, Haus für Mozart). His target: the seated theater audience, not roving DVD cameras. He stressed Christian values of compassion and peace, contrasting the vehemence of the Moors; Fierrabras was Fierrabras, destined for conversion, not an impersonation of the composer. But coarse horn playing marred the presentation of a score much dependent on that instrument, and conductor Ingo Metzmacher tended to allow the Vienna Philharmonic winds to swamp the luscious strings, the orchestra to swamp the singers. Of the six principal roles, Julia Kleiter’s silvery-voiced Emma did the music fullest justice. The Vienna State Opera Chorus sang magnificently, also magically.

Taking for La Cenerentola the opposite but these days routine path, Damiano Michieletto deployed hard-surface, camera-friendly sets and updated Perrault’s story (Aug. 23 matinee, same venue). His homey cafeteria, “Buffet Don Magnifico,” buzzed with credible characters and tightly calibrated action; a startling scenic transformation added depth. Angelina, in her middle years, found love at first sight while busing tables, and goodness triumphed at the close through gifts to her wedding guests: rubber gloves, buckets and soap; as those guests were put to work, she blew bubbles. In a probable farewell to this signature role, Cecilia Bartoli (48) exerted feisty charm, her sound opulent, the vocal ornaments expressive and fresh as ever. Mirroring her comedic sincerity, Javier Camarena sang a stylish Ramiro and a modest one, too, until Sì, ritrovarla io giuro. This he peppered with loud highs and a long last C brightened in a timbral arc. The basso roles were contrasted: Enzo Capuano a bully of a Magnifico with lucid patter and smooth legato, Ugo Guagliardo a cupid-magician Alidoro of rich tones but somewhat graceless phrasing, and Nicola Alaimo a robust Dandini who overplayed his comic hand. Jean-Christophe Spinosi and the Brest-based Ensemble Matheus rose to the witty occasion.

Tour appearances by the 55-year-old London orchestra (same day, at the Felsenreitschule) haven’t always validated the high standards of its early records. This one did. Tomo Keller’s work as guest concertmaster blazed with virtuosity and seemed to ignite all desks. Although uncredited by the festival, he led Mendelssohn’s D-Minor Sinfonia (1822) by himself, finding elegance and mature ideas as well as precision in the four movements. Seven winds and conductor Murray Perahia then joined the 24 strings for an exceptionally refined reading of Haydn’s Symphony No. 77 (1782) filled with neat contrasts and fresh turns of phrase; the airy Andante sostenuto could have spun for an hour without losing appeal. After the break, Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto (1809) emerged in fluid streams of sound, the rhetoric measured, the attacks vivid. Perahia deftly balanced poetry and drama, piano and orchestra, signaling with his arms when not occupied at the keyboard.

Ivor Bolton, beloved Chefdirigent of the Mozarteum-Orchester, sandwiched ardent arias of Gluck and Mozart between G-Minor Sturm und Drang symphonies (Aug. 24 matinee, Mozarteum), packing quite a punch. Resilient rhythms, vigorous angular themes and tidy dynamic shifts enlivened Haydn’s Symphony No. 39 (1765), capped by an Allegro di molto that expertly whirred along. In Mozart’s Symphony No. 25, written eight years later and inspired by the Haydn, Bolton elicited equal cohesion and propulsion, favoring tautness over repose, but the volume of sound pushed the limits of the 800-seat hall. Rolando Villazón brought astounding degrees of verbal expression and ample vocal luster to his three Mozart arias — Per pietà, non ricercate (1783), Or che il dover (1766) and, as vehicle for clowning, Con ossequio, con rispetto (1775) — buoyed and gamely resisted by Bolton and the orchestra. In Gluck’s Unis dès la plus tendre enfance, from Iphigénie en Tauride (1779), the tenor delivered the French words with operatic flair.

After the recital by Frang and Lifits (same day, same venue), one woman asserted aloud that Frang couldn’t possibly play the violin to full potential for lack of flow in her body movements, while another attendee bemoaned pianist Lifits’s gum-chewing facial mannerisms. What was certain was that two unique personalities had made music. They combined best in the pieces that opened and closed their program, Brahms’s Scherzo for the Frei aber einsam Sonata (1853) and Strauss’s similarly confident and classically formed E-flat Sonata (1888). Results: clear lines, passionate phrasing, ideal balances, a definite sense of structure. Lifits could be heavy in the left hand and seemed not always aware of his partner, but she proved able to enlarge her tone when she chose, adding volatility. The stylistic jump from Brahms to Mozart’s Violin Sonata in E-flat, K481 (1785), had the effect of Frang receding: Tashkent-born Lifits played as if on solid ground and the Oslo violinist looked happy to let him dominate, especially in the crisply articulated Allegretto. Beethoven’s A-Major Sonata, Op. 30/1 (1802), after the Pause, suffered slow tempos and a lack of drama.

Where the Salzburg Festival goes now, post Pereira, will be partly evident next month when the 2015 summer plans are announced. In all likelihood there will be cost-cutting to counter past overages, such as for 2013 when a reported $5 million went out the door beyond the approved $76 million. Once Hinterhäuser fills the Intendant void, the danger is of a well-bookkept but artistically dithering institution — a return, in effect, to qualities of the ten summers preceding Pereira’s 2012 arrival; Hinterhäuser, a pianist, participated in management for some of those years and is not known as a forceful character. The compass at present is with Sven-Eric Bechtolf, grandly styled “Artistic Master Planner 2015 and 2016” (a promotion from heading just the theater programming), and the festival’s indomitable Cost-Cutter-in-Chief, a.k.a. Präsidentin, Helga Rabl-Stadler.

Photo © Silvia Lelli

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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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Liederabend with Breslik

Tuesday, July 9th, 2013

Pavol Breslik

Published: July 9, 2013

MUNICH — With the brightness of his voice working against him at every turn, Pavol Breslik blazed and sweated his way through Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin last Friday (July 5) here at the Prinz-Regenten-Theater. By the end, drowned in Wilhelm Müller’s creek, he had somehow won over the packed house.

Tension built up often disagreeably. Six or seven of the twenty songs were rushed. Breaks for bottled water upheld a stagey tautness, and yes, nervousness. But in reflective settings, once the voice had warmed up, the neatly groomed lyric tenor found beauty and tonal variety. Des Müllers Blumen and Tränenregen, already at the cycle’s mid-point, introduced the first degrees of poignancy and due expression. Not until Der Müller und der Bach and the concluding lullaby, however, did Breslik imaginatively tap the tension instead of adding more, leading to rapt applause.

Born in Slovakia in 1979, with early training at the Academy of Arts in Banská Bystrica, this artist delivers a smooth Belmonte or ardent Lensky on other nights. He can immerse himself in a long musical line and endow it with supple legato phrasing. On this night he took no artistic shortcuts, betrayed no mannerisms, and seemed genuinely lost in the moment during much of the cycle. His sung German sounded fluent; he is clearly passionate about the words he sings. Only when he spoke (about bottled water) was an accent discernible.

Amir Katz, born in 1973 in Ramat Gan, Israel, provided cagey, fleet support, which seemed a reasonable approach — perhaps the only approach — given Breslik’s avid absorption.

Photo © Neda Navee

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Muti Taps the Liturgy

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Precious mosaics above the apse of the Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe, Ravenna, consecrated in AD 547

Published: January 8, 2013

RAVENNA — Sacred music has lent gravitas to Riccardo Muti’s career since the 1960s. Settings of the Ordinary and the burial service by Bach, Mozart, Cherubini, Schubert, Berlioz, Brahms and Verdi have drawn his attention and received, more often than not, a disciplined performance.

No, this is not the repertory that leaps to mind when discussing the maestro from Molfetta. The operas of Verdi come first, and peer names like Arturo Toscanini, Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado are soon raised. Muti the Verdian enjoys high standing — so high that he will be valued long after his own burial service for a trove of Verdi readings wider than Abbado’s, more eloquent than Karajan’s and better sung than Toscanini’s. (In context, it is worth hoping that his new biography of the composer will offer greater insight than his patchy 2010 autobiography.)

But music for the church points to the heart of this artist more directly than any opera. Where Abbado sees himself as a gardener, Muti’s alter ego is equipped as historian. Muti studies and diligently performs Mass settings — and antiphons, canticles, hymns and oratorios — out of a perceptive sense of their place in history, in a composer’s output, in the genesis of compositional technique and thought.

The effort is somewhat thankless. Sacred scores, particularly whole services, lack sway in a secular society and often lack musical balance too because of the characteristics of the liturgical sections. Many are front-loaded by a euphoric Gloria. Most end soberly, Haydn’s Paukenmesse being an exception to prove the rule. An established conductor who is not a choral conductor needs no Mass setting to boost his reputation, impress authenticists, sell tickets or oblige a record company. Yet Muti has forged ahead, Pimen-like, documenting scores others have not deigned to read. In one championing example, he has chronicled in sound no fewer than seven services by Cherubini.

In 2012–13 three sacred-music projects occupy him. Last August with the Vienna Philharmonic he persuasively reasserted his advocacy of Berlioz’s flamboyant, long-mislaid Messe solennelle, which he sees as a tribute to Cherubini, and this April in Chicago he revisits Bach’s B-Minor Mass.

Three weeks ago in Munich came Schubert’s A-Flat service, a non-commission from 1822 (D678). The songsmith struggled with its form. He did not follow early polyphonic precedent in imposing thematic unity; did not enjoy Bach’s or Haydn’s flair for satisfying church provisos while enhancing structure; did not write his own rules as would Berlioz and Verdi. Five handsome musico-liturgical sections were the result. A serene Kyrie and a radiant Agnus Dei, each with inventive, contrasting subsections. A protracted and prodigious, finally portentous, Gloria. A Credo that covers its narrative ground with storyteller fluency. A pastel-pretty Sanctus sequence. Call them Mass movements in search of containment.

Undeterred by the implicit challenge, Muti for his Dec. 20 concert with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra chose an 1826 revision that caps the Gloria with a bulky fugue, for Cum Sancto Spiritu. He made no attempt to harness Schubert’s ideas: sectional detachment and stylistic incongruities spoke for themselves, often elegantly.

Vocal and instrumental forces cooperated under tight reign, temporal more than dynamic. The BR Chor sang with customary refinement, applying Teutonic conventions in the Latin text. Ruth Ziesak and Michele Pertusi reprised the parts they took when Muti led this music in Milan’s Basilica di San Marco ten years ago. Still fresh of voice and keen to give notes their full value, the soprano found her form promptly after a grainy opening to the Christe eleison. Pertusi, in the modest bass part, blended neatly with his colleagues. Alisa Kolosova contributed an opulent alto, Saimir Pirgu an articulate, secure tenor; he participates in all three of the conductor’s Mass projects in 2012–13. On the Herkulessaal program’s first half, Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony received a mundane traversal except in its agitated fourth movement, where taut rhythms left a lingering impression. The orchestra played attentively in both works.

Tepid applause followed the Mass, a contrast to the cheers that had erupted in Salzburg after the Berlioz work. Was this foreseen? Disappointing? In Italy they say Muti is addicted to applause. More likely is that audience reaction is beside the point for him: he simply wants clean execution, and he received it in Munich. Muti: “ … non siamo degli intrattenitori. La nostra professione è di un impegno maggiore … .” Pimen turns another page.

Toscanini and Karajan, those fellow Verdians, are not remembered for works destined to fall flat in concert. Both built careers on small sacred repertories: some half-dozen Mass settings each, beyond the not-quite-liturgical requiems of Brahms and Verdi. Beethoven’s hyper-developed and intimidating Missa solemnis had pride of place. Karajan revered the Bach as well (29 performances) and occasionally turned to Mozart’s Great C-Minor Mass and Requiem.

Abbado has, like Muti, taken up two Mass settings by Schubert: the tuneful early G-Major, which Muti performed in Milan twelve years ago, and the resourceful, variegated E-Flat Mass, the composer’s last. This work he paired with Mozart’s Waisenhausmesse (1768) in a jolly two-service concert in Salzburg six months ago. Both conductors have performed the two mature Mozart works and the Brahms and Verdi, but curiously neither man has tried a Mass setting by Haydn or Beethoven, casual research suggests.

To be sure, sacred music is not the mainstay of Muti’s career. His commitments to the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma, to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and to Italy’s young-professional Orchestra Cherubini pull the emphasis elsewhere. But the passion for historical context that drives his Mass projects also shapes his priorities in symphonic repertory and opera. Instilled surely during formative years in Naples, it accounts for starkly independent programming choices and probably explains his famously firm way with the details of a score: the chronicler demands accuracy as well as loyalty to the composer. A tempo, però!

By happenstance this post is being drafted a few yards from the home of Muti and the tomb of Dante. They lie in opposite directions.

Photo © Soprintendenza per i Beni Architettonici e Paesaggistici

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To Thine Own Self Be True

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

by Edna Landau 

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

This column was prepared with the assistance of Neale Perl, President of the Washington Performing Arts Society, and Ruth Felt, President of San Francisco Performances. Both are valued longtime colleagues, to whom I am very grateful.

Dear Edna:

I am a pianist and have just completed my second year at an American conservatory. I am hoping that I will be fortunate enough to pursue a solo career. I read your article [Getting Noticed in the 21st Century] in the 2011 Musical America International Directory of the Performing Arts and have taken to heart your message that so much of the challenge of succeeding as a performer lies in getting noticed. I have been thinking about this, specifically in relation to programming. My focus has been on learning major repertoire pieces that every pianist should know. Do you think that is a mistake? Should I also be exploring works that are quite rarely performed so that I will stand out from the crowd? —K.P.

Dear K.P.:

Your question is a good one, which will probably be of interest to many other young musicians, regardless of their instrument.

It is my firm belief that no matter what one’s objective might be, a cardinal principle is to remain true to oneself. Throughout your career,  the repertoire you choose should be repertoire you can’t wait to explore and master. There is no list of pieces that every pianist should know. You are fortunate that you have a huge amount from which to choose. In the case of concerto repertoire, it is advisable to keep in your fingers a certain number of pieces that are considered to be “standard repertoire” because that is what most orchestras will want. However, if you are drawn to less often performed repertoire or a relatively unknown concerto that you feel deserves a wider audience, this could prove to be a useful vehicle for gaining exposure. When Murray Perahia was in the early stages of his career, he decided upon the Mendelssohn concertos for his first recording. As far as I recall, he and his manager felt that he should be introduced in concertos for which he felt a great affinity but which had not been overly recorded. Pianist Marc-Andre Hamelin’s earliest concerto recordings featured works by Adolf von Henselt, Charles-Valentin Alkan, Joseph Marx, and Erich Korngold. However, this was no gimmick on Mr. Hamelin’s part. He was introduced to a great deal of unusual repertoire, including Alkan, by his father who was also a pianist.

In these times, when opportunities to play recitals on established series are fewer than they used to be, and when recital reviews for less than superstars are an increasing rarity, considerable attention should be given to one’s chosen program in hopes that it will pique a presenter’s or critic’s interest. There are various ways to do this while still remaining true to one’s repertoire strengths:

  • Round out a familiar program with an unexpected rarity. By way of example, here is a program that cellist Sol Gabetta will perform on the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Kreeger String Series at the Kennedy Center next February: Schumann Fantasiestücke, Shostakovich Sonata in D Minor, Mendelssohn Sonata in D Major, Servais Fantaisie sur deux Airs Russes. The Servais adds a nice symmetry to the program, creating a sort of “fantasy” sandwich with some “meaty” substance in between!
  • Choose a program that includes music from various periods, but not the most obvious composers or works. I like the following program, chosen by pianist Nareh Arghamanyan for her San Francisco Performances recital next April: Clementi Sonata in F# minor; Schubert Four Impromptus, Op. 90; Rachmaninoff Variations on a Theme by Corelli; and Balakirev’s Islamey.
  • If you were born in a foreign country, you might want to showcase music of your homeland or native region. Audiences always seem to welcome the introduction to something new, perhaps even exotic. The young Moroccan pianist, Marouan Benabdallah, is offering two pieces by Nabil Benabdeljalil in his Carnegie Hall (Zankel Hall) recital debut this evening.
  • Offer a program of works that have an internal connection. For his Carnegie Hall (Weill Recital Hall) debut this October, pianist Kit Armstrong is offering selections by two composers—Liszt and Bach—including Liszt’s Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor (after J.S. Bach) and his Variations on the Bach cantata “Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen.”
  • Offer a program that includes a newly commissioned work or unusual transcription. Violinist Giora Schmidt’s recital at the Ravinia Festival this summer will include a transcription for solo violin of Liszt’s B Minor piano sonata. The transcription is the work of Mr. Schmidt’s piano collaborator in the recital, Noam Sivan.

These types of programs lend themselves very well to some spoken words from the stage. Your audience wlll undoubtedly welcome some introductory comments about how you made your choices and perhaps what they might especially want to listen for.

None of the above rules out you playing a program of your favorite sonatas by Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin if that is what you feel you do best, but in the early years of your career, you might reserve that program for cities where you are returning to an audience that is already enthusiastic about your artistry. I should also mention that if you are planning on selling a recording following the performance, you might want to include one of the works on the recording in your program so as to heighten the possibility that the audience will want to “take you home with them.”

While you are still in your conservatory years, it would be wise to solicit suggestions from your teachers, as well as guest artists who may be offering master classes or conductors working with your school orchestra, regarding unusual repertoire that you might explore. If you have the opportunity to meet people who write about music or audiophiles who may be a treasure trove of information about recordings that are long out of print, they may be a source of wonderful ideas. You may find yourself planning a program that offers your favorite Mozart sonata alongside a piece by his Czech contemporary, Leopold Kozeluch, or pairing a Bach suite with Max Reger’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of J.S. Bach. The possibilities are endless, with YouTube showcasing many gems waiting to be more broadly discovered.

To ask a question, please write Ask Edna.

© Edna Landau 2011