Posts Tagged ‘Bach’

Gerhardt, Osborne Team Neatly

Friday, May 19th, 2017

Cellist Alban Gerhardt and pianist Steven Osborne

Published: May 19, 2017

RAVENNA — Sometimes a musician just needs a good partner. Cellist Alban Gerhardt and pianist Steven Osborne work magically together but have a habit of starting their recitals apart, as if to establish credentials. So it was April 11 here at the Teatro Alighieri, home of the Ravenna Festival in summer and a base for warmly social chamber-music offerings by Ravenna Musica year-round. Gerhardt ran through Bach’s D-Minor Cello Suite (1718) cursorily, and Osborne, with rather more engagement and much handsome phrasing, offered Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 30, Op. 109. But the cello sonatas that followed made for an exceptional recital defined by inspired and mutually responsive playing. The duo’s crisp, neat approach to Beethoven’s D-Major work (1815) pointed up its lyricism and suited its layout, not least the allegro fugato ending. In Debussy’s captivating wartime sonata (1915) they sustained a vibrancy and degrees of ambiguity from start to finish, with whiffs of humor lacing the Sérénade movement and skill on Gerhardt’s part in realizing various timbral tricks. Brahms’s Cello Sonata No. 1 (1865) had great intensity and winningly concluded things before the visitors gave their large crowd an aptly flirtatious reading of Cassadó y Moreu’s Requiebros (1934). A colorful night, and free of expressive exaggeration.

Photo © Benjamin Ealovega

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St John Passion Streams

Friday, May 27th, 2016

BR Chor’s St John Passion filmed in Nuremberg in June 2015

Published: May 27, 2016

NUREMBERG — Tired of paying for digitized concert-hall privileges? Here is a sumptuously sung, gloriously gratis (for the moment*) St John Passion from this city’s Lutheran Lorenzkirche, filmed in June 2015 as part of a drawn-out Bavarian Broadcasting project to mark “500 Years of the Reformation”:


Maximilian Schmitt is the Evangelist. Tareq Nazmi sings Jesus. Christina Landshamer, Anke Vondung, Tilman Lichdi and Krešimir Stražanac make up the SATB quartet for the arias. The BR Chor and Concerto Köln are conducted by Peter Dijkstra.

The corresponding Munich performances of Bach’s favorite work, from three months earlier, have merged their way onto an excellent BR Klassik CD set, but with Julian Prégardien as the Evangelist and Ulrike Malotta singing the alto arias.

[*As of May 17, 2017, this remained the case, although in early 2017 the video was issued as a BR Klassik DVD set that went on to win the Preis der deutschen Schallplattenkritik.]

Still image from video © Bayerischer Rundfunk

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Kuhn Paces Bach Oratorio

Sunday, February 8th, 2015

Austrian conductor Gustav Kuhn

Published: February 8, 2015

ERL — Conceivably for the first time someone has conducted Wagner’s Ring and Bach’s Weihnachts-Oratorium, complete, in the same year. Gustav Kuhn, the someone, brought stylistic fluency to both cycles, apparently unfazed and undiminished by the chasm in between. The Bach opened the Tiroler Festspiele’s winter activities in this Austrian village (Dec. 21 matinee). Unlike last summer’s Nibelung saga here, it benefitted from the acoustical clarity and smooth resonance of Erl’s two-year-old, 862-seat Festspielhaus, an architectural stunner near the Munich-Innsbruck freeway.

There should have been snow on the ground, given the setting. Alas, no white Christmas Oratorio. But an uplifting one, to be sure, presented intelligently with 30-minute Pausen after the Second and Fourth cantatas so that every measure of music counted in full and the cycle could breathe. Not that Kuhn dawdled. His tempos were brisk for the most part, his rhythms pointed. The orchestra of some three dozen players consistently found elegance in the writing, executed tidy contrasts and kept textures transparent. Vibrant continuo work and pristine trumpet runs added satisfaction; the principal oboist played angelically from start to finish. (Oddly the program book identified none of the instrumentalists, and festival staff, when asked, did not release names or provide details about tuning or the types of oboes and trumpets used.) In his Erl festival plans, going back nearly two decades now, the Salzburg-born conductor has tended to skimp on vocal soloist fees, avoiding big names. So it was on this occasion, but to less detriment than in the Wagner: four proficient young soloists (Joo-Anne Bitter, Svetlana Kotina, Martin Mitterrutzner and Frederik Baldus) served the lyrical lines appealingly, as did the glowing Chorakademie der Tiroler Festspiele.

The pleasure was to hear Bach’s scheme in its entirety, paced so well in a 3¼-hour arc, with long breaks to walk and refresh and consider what had just been heard. All six cantatas sounded indispensable, the pastoral Second (Und es waren Hirten in derselben Gegend) brimming with curiosity, the lightly scored Fourth and Fifth (Fallt mit Danken, fallt mit Loben and Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen) having keen musical sway and narrative power. One could only marvel at the score’s diversity of means, its balance of inwardness and D-Major exuberance. Even without the white stuff, everyone left on a high.

Photo © Tom Benz

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BR Chor’s St Matthew Passion

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

Peter Dijkstra

Published: March 28, 2013

MUNICH — Bayerischer Rundfunk chose to film Bach’s St Matthew Passion last month in the Herkulessaal, in blue light. Drafted for the mood-enhanced venture were Karina Gauvin, Gerhild Romberger, Maximilian Schmitt and Michael Nagy, the vocal quartet; Julian Prégardien and Karl-Magnus Fredriksson as the Evangelist and Jesus; the Cathedral Sparrows (actually boys) from Regensburg; and the authentically inclined orchestra Concerto Köln from Köln. The broadcaster’s own estimable BR Chor anchored the proceedings under its Dutch artistic leader Peter Dijkstra. Instantly (Feb. 16) their efforts poured out over the Internet and to watchers of the Franco-German TV network Arte. No doubt a DVD will follow to match the BR Klassik label’s equally azure Christmas Oratorio of 2010.

The next afternoon (Feb. 17), by dint of planning the first Sunday in Lent, all was repeated, happily without color effects or cameras, and wonders ensued anyway. Jarringly at first, Dijkstra favored leisurely speeds for the choruses yet brisk dispatch of the arias, as if he could not settle between traditional and authentic ways with the score. But this hybrid approach soon proved enlightening: choral ideas gained transparency, also grandeur, while the music for solo voice advanced in resolute dramatic units.

Romberger’s graceful legato and neatly placed ornaments found the logic of her musical lines, with text emphases shifting in modest degrees; this is an imaginative, rich, true alto whose absorbing Buß und Reu and Erbarme dich alone justified attendance. Gauvin brought an agile, creamy soprano, although her phrasing did not always explain her renown as a Baroque stylist. Schmitt’s high, sometimes meager-toned tenor projected well. Nagy’s keen musicianship largely masked missing gravitas in the voice. A member of the Royal Opera in Stockholm, Fredriksson declaimed the protagonist’s varied part in bright hues, his voice fully supported even in sudden outbursts; though listed as a baritone, he had all the low notes. Prégardien offered an equally vivid storyteller but strained in abrupt ascents.

The bisected BR Chor sang with customary discipline and impeccable text enunciation, while the sparrows opulently held aloft Bach’s cantus firmus girders in framing Part I. Instrumentally the performance had great eloquence — in the extensive viola da gamba work (from Jan Freiheit for both groupings), in a nimble violin solo (from Mayumi Hirasaki in Orchestra II), and in the robust, confident sound of the divided Cologne ensemble.

Photo © Klaus Fleckenstein for BR

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Ruminations and reflections, Lyonnais

Monday, October 17th, 2011

By Alan Gilbert

I’ve recently tried my hand at acrylic painting, and just bought a how-to book that stresses the overriding importance of composition — i.e. form and the use of spatial elements — in a successful work of art. By that measure, I can tell you right now that this blog entry will not be successful, since for my return to this space after a series of hopelessly sporadic postings, for which I apologize and beg your indulgence, I anticipate a random series of thoughts and musings.

At the moment I am looking out the window of my sister’s sun-drenched apartment in Lyon, France. This is undoubtedly one of the great gastronomic capitals of the world, and I am looking forward to a great meal tonight at Mère Brazier with Chef Mathieu Viannay, a restaurant I’ve long wanted to try.

Last night we ate at Yomogi, a hugely popular Japanese noodle bar, of which my sister is a part-owner. I think this is very cool — in addition to being concertmaster of the Orchestre National de Lyon, Jenny followed through on a dream we have talked about for years: she actually opened a restaurant in Lyon, a city where half of all new food establishments close after six months. Yomogi just celebrated its first birthday, and from the quality of the food (the gyoza were particularly yummy) and the good vibe I experienced, it looks as if they are in for a good run.

Yomogi is going through some changes in staff, and it was interesting to observe Jenny interacting with the people she manages. In many ways the analogy of a restaurant to an orchestra could not be more apt: both rely on goodwill and effective teamwork, and when these elements are in place and functioning well, both are better able to please and fulfill their customers. I was also struck by the behind-the-scenes dimension (planning for renovation of the ventilation system, hiring new cooks, mediating tensions between the workers) that reminded me uncannily of experiences I’ve had with orchestras.

I was able to make this quick two-day jaunt to Lyon because I am between two performances with the Munich Philharmonic. The first concert was yesterday at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday, and the other is not until Tuesday evening. Jenny has left to hear a contrabass audition for her orchestra, and as I sit here alone in her flat, it feels like the first real breather I’ve had since early September (not to mention the first chance I’ve had to address my blogging responsibilities!).

That month was insane for the New York Philharmonic — many members told me that they could not remember a period in which they played so much repertoire under such intense conditions. The season opened with three wonderful programs that included Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony, an important premiere by John Corigliano, and Frank Peter Zimmermann’s first concerts in his season as our Artist-in-Residence. Frank Peter really wanted his first appearance this year to underline the collaborative spirit he likes to feel, and so the first piece on the program, preceding his magnificent reading of the Berg Concerto, was the Bach Double Concerto for two violins, for which I joined him as the other violin soloist.

Before the subscription season proper even began, the Philharmonic was already in full swing: working backwards, we had Opening Night, with the incredible Deborah Voigt in great voice; a memorable Henry V by Walton, with Christopher Plummer’s profound Shakespearean presence; and A Concert for New York on September 10th, marking the 10th anniversary of 9/11. And if this were not enough, the Orchestra also played the fiendishly difficult sound track to Bernstein’s West Side Story with the film projected live in Avery Fisher Hall, and a few days later I joined them for by an outdoor extravaganza in Central Park with Andrea Bocelli, Bryn Terfel, Tony Bennett, and Celine Dion.

All in all it was, despite the intensity, a great stretch for the New York Philharmonic: the Orchestra is playing unbelievably well and is truly fulfilling our hopes to be an important cultural force in the U.S. and abroad. During the last few days I have been struck by how many people in Europe have told me that they have been following us on European television and in the news. I think it is fair to say that for many of them the New York Philharmonic is a major icon.

For the moment that feels very far away, though: my pressing concern is what to eat for lunch, knowing that a traditionally heavy Lyonnais meal awaits tonight. See you soon!

(For more information on Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, visit