Posts Tagged ‘Schumann’

Two Quartets for Mendelssohn

Monday, October 16th, 2017

August Everding Saal in Grünwald, south of Munich

Published: October 16, 2017

GRÜNWALD — In mixing-bowl terms, Berlin’s Armida Quartett and Paris’s Quatuor Modigliani combined rather than blended in a standing-room-only concert Oct. 11 here at the August Everding Saal. That is as required for some recipes, possibly including Mendelssohn’s E-flat String Octet (1825), which received a convulsive, unnuanced performance that seemed to want to come apart in loud, fragmentary gestures, pleasing the crowd anyway. More enlightening were the program’s two other half-hour works, before the break: the Mozart String Quintet in G Minor, K516 (1787), staffed by the Modigliani, and Brahms’s B-flat String Sextet, Opus 18 (1860), centered on the Armida, with the violas and fine Modigliani cellist François Kieffer doing triple duty. The French group, now in its fourteenth year, had the tighter, more reserved ensemble and sound, suiting the Mozart; the German quartet, new in 2006 and adept at winning prizes, offered more character (violist Teresa Schwamm), resonance (cellist Peter-Philipp Staemmler on a larger instrument than Kieffer’s 1706 Goffriller) and visceral abandon (first violin Martin Funda), enhancing the Brahms. Not that anyone was competing. The sextet flowed with boldness and conviction, opulent tones throughout, a warm, lyrical traversal, swept along by Funda. The cellists delighted in each other’s timbral contrasts. In the Mozart, a precise rapport among the Modigliani musicians produced intriguing balances, with Schwamm adding gradated charm. But here, as in the concluding Mendelssohn, Amaury Coeytaux’s pacing and deft fingerwork drew attention. He is the Modigliani’s new first violin: at 33 the only man on stage with a pot belly, and apparently traveling without a hairbrush. (Coeytaux joined ten months ago, in time to lead the group’s probing, pliant survey of the Schumann quartets recorded by Mirare at Evian in April. Although written together in 1842, the three Opus 41 pieces go their separate ways in terms of form and even style, something conveyed with discernment on the 79-minute disc.) Gemeinde Grünwald itself presented the concert. This leafy little city on Munich’s southern fringe, home to Bavaria Film and once home to Carlos Kleiber as well as stage director Everding, boasts a median personal income of U.S. $147,000, as compared to $64,000 for Landkreis München and $45,000 statewide. Enough for the fanciest mixing bowls.

Photo © Richie Müller

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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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A veteran Maestro and a DSOB Debut

Monday, December 1st, 2014

By Rebecca Schmid

Last week at the Philharmonie featured the debut of the young conductor Joshua Weilerstein with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin alongside a guest appearance of Riccardo Chailly with the Berlin Philharmonic. It was an interesting opportunity to consider the qualities that can make or break a leader at the podium.

A rumoured candidate to take over the Philharmonic when Simon Rattle departs in 2018 (although he takes over as music director of La Scala this January and remains with the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig through 2020), Chailly is one of today’s most sought maestros, bringing elegance and authority to repertoire from Brahms, to Puccini, to Zemlinski.

The centerpiece of the evening, seen Nov.29, was Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A-minor with piano doyenne Martha Argerich. Perhaps today’s most seasoned interpreter of this work, she kept the orchestra in tow with hardly a glance toward Chailly. A combination of acute listening skills and perceptive body language allowed soloist and conductor to wander through Schumann’s imaginary landscape with emotional freedom but also relaxed precision.

Chailly infused the playing of the Philharmonic with fiery passion while never allowing focus to wane. The opening Allegro, vacillating between chamber-like dialogue and triumphant Romantic outbursts, captured the now playful, now demonic qualities of the work. Argerich’s gentle but incisive playing might have found a rounder counterpart in the strings during forte passages, but Chailly struck an ideal blend in the following Intermezzo, sculpting lines of beauty and tension.

In Mendelssohn’s Ruy Blas, a short overture based on the eponymous Victor Hugo play about the love story of 17th century Spanish Queen and her slave, the orchestra performed with an unusual level of enthusiasm and focus, clearly inspired by the maestro’s serene but firm air.

In Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony, which closed the program, he drew shapely phrases while maintaining incisive rhythms in this often densely contrapuntal score, now using swooping, downward gestures to keep energy flowing in the strings, now standing erect and thrusting his hands upward for blows in the brass.

While the composer’s musical ideas tend toward the long-winded, the score is a moving testament to his personal conflict in American exile, vacillating between mourning and exaltation, late Romanticism and neo-primitive simplicity. The macabre dance of the inner Adagio seethed with tension through every false cadence until the music wound down like a clock back to an earthly realm, with allusions to Orthodox church song in the plucked strings.

DSOB Debut

If the evening emphasized mature artistry at the highest level, the DSOB concert on Nov.26 was a test of young talent. Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, as performed by the up-and-coming soloist Diana Tishchenko under Weilerstein, emerged with mixed results.

Tishchenko revealed an intuitive grasp of the work, from her dark tone and understated vibrato in the searching lines of the opening movement, to her sweet sound in counterpoint with the woodwinds in the inner Passacaglia and her stamina through the harsh harmonics of the Cadenza, even if there were occasional intonation problems.

Weilerstein, despite holding the orchestra together with crisp rhythms and drive through fast passages such as the closing Burlesque, was not as confident a presence. The strings were not as homogenous as I have heard it on other occasions, particularly during the opening Nocturne, when he beat his baton with little emotional investment.

In Schumann’s Concert Piece for Four Horns and large Orchestra, he coordinated well with the soloists (Maciej Baranowski, Peter Müseler, Bertrand Chatenet, Juliane Grepling, blending impressively but with recurrent intonation problems) and built fine climaxes in the final movement. The strings’ flowing legato in the opening Lebhaft, however, had little to do with his gestures.

The programming of Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini was an unfortunate choice, as Weilerstein—at least based on this performance—does not yet have the emotional maturity necessary to shape this profound, sensuous work. The orchestral sections were not particularly well blended in the opening Andante (the blaring brass seemed intent on showing the young maestro who is boss throughout the work), and the music only scratched the surface of the story’s hellish passion.

Matters improved in the final two movements, with moments of tenderness in the Andante cantabile and elastic phrasing in the final Allegro which finally allowed Weilerstein’s musicality to shine through. Young conductors may need of opportunities to learn, but based on his insecure expression, Weilerstein did not appear to be enjoying himself—and surely that is an important ingredient in good music-making.

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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A Stirring Evening (and Music)

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Lakeside at the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing

Published: April 24, 2013

MUNICH — Members of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra venture six times a year to Lake Starnberg, some 20 miles southwest of here, to play chamber music at the Evangelische Akademie Tutzing, or EAT, as its website favicon reads. A mid-season program (Feb. 24) paired quintets by Mozart and Schumann in the venue’s airy music room, drawing skilled performances. But extra-musical ghosts disturbed this particular offering: concert tickets include a guided tour of EAT — once a lone lakeshore chapel, later a castle, palace and U.S. Army HQ — and our evening began with docent tales of, among other matter, a 1945 American troop obliteration of the palace library, Dwight Eisenhower’s name being dropped for good measure.

What? The troops fight their way into Bavaria, set up at Tutzing Palace to administer a new basis for democracy, and are remembered for trashing books? So much for perspective. Then again, Tutzing can seem stuck in the 1920s and 30s: Adolf Hitler’s beer-hall putsch buddy Erich Ludendorff is grandly buried there and the former fishing village memorializes “Hitler’s pianist” Elly Ney — Carnegie Hall attraction in 1921, ardent Nazi by 1933 — on its much-visited Brahms Promenade. Physically the town has changed little over the decades.

Our thoughts stirred by the guide’s earful, we crossed the yard for musical respite. Mozart’s G-Minor String Quintet, K516, resounded in handsome proportion and balance. Antonio Spiller, first violin, stressed the cheery second theme of the opening Allegro emphatically enough to prepare for Mozart’s abrupt turn in the closing movement. Leopold Lercher, Andreas Marschik and Christa Jardine partnered him attentively throughout, even if they couldn’t quite match his poise and confidence. Cellist Helmut Veihelmann intoned with care, but the ear craved more of a grounding, more cello volume. In the Schumann Piano Quintet, after a coffee break and snowy stroll by the lake (pictured), unrestrained collegial exchanges and pianist Silvia Natiello-Spiller’s buoyant passagework found color aplenty, even kitschy color. Marschik took the viola part.

EAT’s buildings date to medieval times. The small chapel got wrapped in a castle in the 16th century, its watery and Alpine views appropriated. Sundry owners and architects later morphed the premises into a modest post-Baroque palace. In 1947 the Lutheran Church assumed control, followed by ownership two years later in a 350,000-Mark deal. Tranquil seminars and coffee-table conferences now prevail along with occasional music events, such as those of the BRSO ensembles.

Given the pre-concert assertions and the irksome notion of book destruction, this U.S. listener decided on a little post-concert research. Quick findings: Eisenhower did spend time in Tutzing in the 1940s, returning there repeatedly for off-duty art lessons in 1951, but where he stayed isn’t clear; and the palace library did vanish during the 1939–45 war, but whether the honors fell to the U.S. Army isn’t clear at all. And regardless of what happened to the books, the American presence achieved positive results in Tutzing starting immediately.

Indeed, one life-saving story would well serve EAT’s docent and his Bayerischer Rundfunk (BR) pre-concert narrative. On the night of April 29, 1945, a train of prisoners — Russians, Romanians, Hungarians and Poles — pulled into Tutzing station. 800 in number and mostly men, they had been dispatched from Bavaria’s newly wound-down Mühldorf concentration camp, east of Munich, to the Tyrol, and to slaughter at the hands of waiting SS personnel. But a providential delay occurred — Tutzing is 90 minutes from the Tyrol — attributed variously to a faulty locomotive, a righteous local flagman, and even a prescient German commanding officer.

The next morning, on the same day that Hitler turned the lights out and Munich fell to the Allies, the XX Corps, part of George Patton’s U.S. Third Army, reached the town. Little fighting ensued because Tutzing was a Red Cross safe zone. The troops soon located the Benedictine Hospital crammed with wounded German soldiers, and the makeshift care beds arrayed in the high school and other buildings. Then they found the train, confronting directly the horror of camp survivors and at first wrongly concluding that Tutzing itself had been a camp location. The prisoners were told of their freedom, and the weakest removed from the train for treatment.

Decisive action followed. The American command seized a number of Tutzing homes for emergency use, instructing the locals to double up with their neighbors. The less seriously wounded of the German soldiers now lost their hospital beds to Mühldorf survivors in critical condition, the majority of them Jewish Hungarians. Although educated by the Reich to resist the enemy to the bitter end, many Tutzingers waved white flags for the U.S. troops, engendering whistles of censure from their more determined neighbors.

On May 1 the troops located a Nazi school campus on high ground in the next village, Feldafing, and rapidly commandeered it to serve as a new home and care facility for the former prisoners, now officially “displaced persons.” (Novelist and social critic Thomas Mann had owned a condo retreat in one of the campus buildings. He lived in Munich for 40 years before fleeing the country upon Hitler’s ascendancy in 1933.) On the morning of May 2, a working locomotive having been procured, the Todeszug crept back three miles the way it had come and transferred the survivors, giving them real beds and room to roam. Months later, after it became clear across Germany that ethnic groups among former prisoners did not always get along with each other, each displaced-person facility would become designated for a specific group, Feldafing for Jewish Hungarian survivors. With a population that eventually climbed above 4,000, the site would gain a reputation as “a place … to find missing people.”

The war raged for another five days before tacit German surrender May 7 at Reims. American troops requisitioned Tutzing Palace on June 7, setting up Army of Occupation HQ there three days later. This remained operative until the end of 1945, a pivotal command center at the very start of the 10-year Allied Occupation of Germany. In context, the books seem inconsequential.

Photo © Evangelische Akademie Tutzing

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