Tag: Beethoven

Emerson String Quartet / Alice Tully Hall 8-3-15

Have you ever worried on entering a concert hall that your perfectly good ticket will be rejected for no reason? This actually happened to me yesterday – sort of, anyway.

I got an email from the Mostly Mozart Festival late yesterday afternoon informing everyone who had tickets for the evening’s concert that there was a pre-concert recital at 6:30, at which the Emerson Quartet would perform one of Haydn’s Op. 76 string quartets. Have you ever seen that movie Run, Lola, Run? (I think in German it’s Lola rennt). Anyway, my trip from my house to Alice Tully Hall which began slightly after 5:40 resembled that movie, in that there was some running – this is why we wear Converse to concerts, and not high heels – but it was mostly just sitting in the subway looking jumpy and then darting and weaving around people in Manhattan. So if there was a 1998 German movie about my experience, it would be probably called Ohrwurm eilt and other than my dramatic dash down the subway steps and explosion through the closing doors of an E train, it would probably actually be kind of boring.

read the rest

Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center – Alice Tully Hall 7-15-15

Sometimes I wonder if chamber music isn’t a bit like art songs – it loses its force a bit when performed in a large concert hall (as opposed to a little space where the piano makes your molars vibrate). I usually wonder this at the beginning of chamber music concerts and have entirely forgotten about it by the end, which is what happened yesterday.

There were three works on the program, the last of which, Schubert’s Trout Quintet, I missed bits of because I started thinking about the fact that I would have to move my car so as not to fall afoul of the street cleaners the next morning, and got into a bit of GOD DAMN FUCKING CAR I HATE THAT CAR mode that was difficult to snap myself out of. But the first two pieces, Mozart’s violin sonata in B-Flat major K. 378 and Beethoven’s piano trio Op. 70, no. 2, had my entire attention the whole time. Particularly the pianist, Juho Pohjonen, who was really something extraordinary. My note taking skills fail me a bit on details here – I remember the little flashes of the “trout” theme in the Andantino of the Schubert, for example, and the dialogue with the violin in the Mozart, and – well, all of the Beethoven; more of that in a minute. Anyhow, that guy can play that piano. He doesn’t have any albums out yet that I could find, but I suspect he will soon.

One thing I particularly enjoyed about the first half of the program is how the first piece set up the second. The Mozart, performed by Erin Keefe on violin and the aforementioned Juho Pohjonen was light and engaging, particularly the last two movements – it was a good preparation for the Beethoven trio, which was much heavier and richer. With this one, you really got a sense of how a trio of musicians can fit together as precisely as puzzle pieces, even though the puzzle is constantly moving. The rapport among this ensemble was excellent. The music seemed to be anchored by the piano and cello (Jakob Koranyi), though the violinist (Paul Huang), was no slouch either. I particularly enjoyed the little key shifts at the end of the second movement.

Also, have you ever noticed how sometimes some really weird shit goes down in Beethoven’s chamber music? It’s like:

Sonata: [operates within normal classical-period specifications]

Listener: [Beethoven!!]

Sonata: [operates within normal classical-period specifications]

Listener: [Beethoven!!] [mind wanders for an instant as someone unwraps a cough drop]

Sonata: [checks over shoulder to see if anyone is watching and then bolts for modernity, skids around corner, kicking up a shower of key changes]

Listener: What the –

Sonata: [operates within normal classical-period specifications]

Listener: You were –

Sonata: No I wasn’t. Here, have a cadenza.

Listener: Beethoven!!

Aeolus Quartet / 6-14-15

I have been asked recently whether I am dead because I haven’t posted much. I am not dead. Very much alive and well, and in addition to the whole not-dead thing, I had the pleasure of hearing a recital by the Aeolus Quartet yesterday at Bargemusic; the program was Beethoven’s String Quartet #13 (minus the Grosse Fugue) and Dvořák’s Op. 81 Piano quintet (with pianist Rita Sloan). The Beethoven I’ve heard many times, but the Dvořák was new to me.

There was the odd slip and squeak and a few moments where the rhythm didn’t quite seem to hold together (e.g. in the cavatina of the Beethoven quartet), but on the whole this was an exciting performance. These musicians were at their best when they had something big and exuberant to tear into, like the presto (second movement) of the Beethoven, which elicited its own little round of applause (we were cheerfully informed by the first violinist that we could clap whenever we wanted, which turned out to be often) or the furiant in the Dvořák piece, which I thought was terrific – the four strings and the piano are passing around a series of little dance themes, and they did it in a way that really clicked. There were plenty of quieter moments too, like the rippling little theme of the Dumka (second movement ) of the Dvořák that were also really compelling.

I haven’t heard a live chamber ensemble since I think last summer, and every time I do, I remember why I like it so much. You can hear the individual parts far more distinctly than on a recording, and – well, it’s just fun. (I went home and went on a bit of a ticket bender for Mostly Mozart later in the summer. Yeah!)

Stewart Goodyear / Beethoven Piano Sonatas 7-6-14

One might look at the program for this recital and be forgiven for thinking that it is insane. Goodyear is performing a series of concerts at Bargemusic that will eventually include all of Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas; this is concert number three of four. So, seven piano sonatas in slightly more than two hours. I admit, by the end, my attention was wavering.

read the rest

Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra / Mitsuko Uchida / Mariss Jansons / Carnegie Hall 5-17-14

The second of my donated tickets got me in to hear Beethoven’s fourth piano concerto, and after the intermission, Shostakovich’s fifth symphony. I was particularly looking forward to hearing the Beethoven, since Mitsuko Uchida was the pianist, and she did not disappoint. I was sitting up toward the rear of the balcony (I went with a friend, and he took my original donated ticket, which was at the front of the the second tier side, in the second row – it seems that if you are in the rear row of one of those side tiers, the balcony itself that is between you and the stage muffles the sound somewhat, but he was sitting behind a nice lady who left at the interval and told him to take her slightly better spot, which made a difference) and from my location the differences in sound between the Beethoven and the Shostakovich bring out the plusses and minuses of being in a large concert hall. (According to Wikipedia, the main auditorium at Carnegie Hall is “enormously high.” Thanks, Wikipedia!)

The orchestra for the Beethoven concerto was smaller, and although I could hear both piano and orchestra just fine, I wanted to be a little closer to the stage – especially during the finale. None of the details got lost, but the edges of the notes were softened: I felt like I was hearing more reverb or resonance than I might have if seated closer in and lower down. This is not necessarily a bad thing. During the first movement of the Shostakovich, I noticed that softening effect meant that, for example, all the violins tended to blend together – you really get a sense that the sound produced by tens of violins from a large distance is a completely different animal than one violin right up close. But anyway. Distance or not, I was very absorbed in Uchida’s Beethoven. It was one of those performances where you reach the end and you realize just how deeply you’ve been sucked into it. Even from the way back of the balcony, the cadenza of the first movement, and the shape of the relatively short second movement – this is some serious piano playing.

With the Shostakovich symphony I definitely did not need to be any closer than I was. This piece can be and in this case was blindingly intense, and one thing I do like about large concert halls like this one is the sheer range of sound. The finale of this symphony is huge, but in the movement just preceding it, the largo, you can hear even the softest of the violin bits. The contrast in scale is amazing. (Also, hearing a big symphony orchestra from far above is pretty neat – during the first movement, I was listening with my eyes closed, and the contrast between all the strings, and then all the winds, is much greater than you get a sense of on recordings, and you can hear where everything is on the stage very sharply.) I haven’t heard this piece enough times to say that I have absorbed it, but it’s interesting how you can tell when the people performing it have. There is a quality to a well thought out interpretation that you can hear even if you don’t know the piece itself well enough to pick out what makes the interpretation distinct from others. As with the Beethoven, it was only when we got to the end of it that I found myself thinking about how much sense it made.

Sunday Morning Firearm Update

Remember that Beethoven quartets recording with the ominous-looking pistol on the cover? Well, it turns out that there are no pistol shots on this CD. The cause of freedom is probably set back in some way by this unfortunate fact, but I suppose that it is something we are just all going to have to learn to live with. (For non-Americans: you may never have learned about this, but every time a firearm is not discharged, baby Jesus kills a fairy. Or such is my understanding.)

read the rest

23 Minutes of Art Songs

These are the songs and the Program Notes that I sent to my mom as per earlier discussion. WordPress is being weird for some reason about displaying the player widget for the ones that are m4a and not wav files, but I think they all work. I also managed to include one very authentic Liederabend moment: before the Wolf song begins there is great hacking and wheezing from the audience.

read the rest

I did get a bit seasick, though

I decided yesterday to go to a concert and not have an opinion about it, just for a change. The concert I went to was the Leipzig String Quartet playing Mozart’s quartet in D major K. 499, Tan Dun’s Eight Colors for string quartet and Beethoven’s quartet No. 11 in F (“Serioso”). The concert was hosted by Bargemusic, so like last time there was some rolling when large vessels passed by on the river. (The encore was a brief snippet from Parsifal arranged for string quartet, with – during the cellist’s brief explanation of what the piece was – a blast of maritime foghorn at the word ‘Bayreuth’.)

read the rest

String quartets are basically the greatest achievement of Western civilization, right?

I amused myself last night listening to the Shanghai Quartet play Beethoven’s Op. 130 string quartet. It’s a live recording from the Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw in 2004. (The booklet people are very precise – I am told that not only was it recorded on 4 April, 2004, but that it was recorded on 4 April 2004 at 12pm.* Possibly this may allow us to identify the source of the chiming sound that is audible during the andante. It sounds somewhere between a phone alert and a percussion instrument – as if someone sneaked onto the stage with a triangle and managed to knock out one “ping!” before getting dragged off again.)

read the rest

Bargemusic – Masterworks series 6-21-13

Last night I went to a program of Beethoven’s chamber music hosted by Bargemusic. It was three pieces by Beethoven – variations for cello and piano on the theme from the “Bei Männern welche Liebe fühlen” duet from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, violin sonata no. 10 and the archduke trio. The performers were Mark Peskanov (violin), Nicholas Cannellakis (cello) and Nina Kogan (piano). I learned two things from this performance. One was that maritime performance spaces have their ups and their downs. (I mean, have you ever stopped to wonder what the operational constraints are on a piano trio, as far as the pitch of the performing platform is concerned? I can now say, proudly, that I have wondered this.)

read the rest

This week in tiny satisfactions

Memory of music can be such a weird thing. I was listening to one of Beethoven’s string quartets the other day (number 10, Op. 74) and in the second movement there is a shift from one chord to another that reminded me of a different little snippet of music, but all I could get at of what it reminded me of was that it was 1. from an opera and 2. about sadness and irreparable loss of something beautiful. The bit of Beethoven wasn’t sad and didn’t evoke a sense of loss, but this was definitely the emotional content of whatever it was it reminded me of. I sat there and cycled through possibilities – the emotional vibe was wrong for Mozart or Handel; it was something from the 19th century, but it wasn’t Verdi. Eventually I figured it out. It was a bit of Smetana’s The Bartered Bride, most likely Marie’s “O welch ein Schmerz!” aria.

Now, if I only knew enough music theory to indicate what the chord/s were!

Music for Rush Week

I have been listening to some of Schubert’s string quartets over the last few days – more cheap but high quality recordings from the lovely people at Naxos. In this case, the Kodály Quartet playing his String Quartet No. 15 (D887) and a different CD on which they perform D112, 18 and 46 (I love catalog numbers! I remember being very pleased as a young person finally figuring out what BWV stood for. Small triumphs, you know?).

read the rest

Music for a twisted ankle

Not twisted by anything exciting, either, like rock climbing or skateboarding. No. I managed to gimp myself up by . . . stepping off a curb. So I have both the twisted ankle and a bruise on my other knee that looks like someone whacked me across the leg with a lead pipe. I’m feeling slightly stupid as well as a little sore, so I distracted myself by listening to the Kodály Quartet minus one violinist play Beethoven’s Op. 3 and Op. 8 string trios. One of those deliciously cheap (and good) Naxos recordings.

read the rest

Beethoven – Fidelio / Heppner, Mattila, Pape / Metropolitan Opera 2002 (3)

(Previous section here.)

So what does this sound like? I enjoyed Karita Mattila’s performance as Leonore – her voice here has a weight to it that contrasts very nicely with that of Jennifer Welch-Babidge as Marzelline. The latter sounded a little fluttery early in Act I, but by the first quartet she has warmed up and the sound is very pleasant. René Pape is not used to full advantage as Rocco – I know Pape can bring the big guns both vocally and in terms of acting and this role doesn’t quite give him the chance to do that. Ben Heppner as Florestan was appropriately heroic-sounding. The men’s chorus has some stirring moments during Act I – there’s some really nice chorus/orchestra interplay here (I noticed it during “O welche Lust”). Finally, remember that production of Mary Stuart from Houston a while back? The tenor singing Leicester in that instance, Eric Cutler, appears here as the First Prisoner. I don’t have much to say because he doesn’t have much to sing, but – well, there you are. I guess there really aren’t that many opera singers in the world, are there?

read the rest

Beethoven – Fidelio / Heppner, Mattila, Pape / Metropolitan Opera 2002 (2)

(Previous section here.)

Listening to this was a strange experience in some ways. Like (many? most?) other people who are into this kind of thing I went through a phase as a young person during which I listened to Beethoven’s symphonies and overtures over and over again. It was both kind of startling and really interesting to hear that same language or style or palette or whatever applied to opera. Given the story, I kept expecting the music to feel darker than it does – this may be the performance, or it may be my faulty expectations, but it was only at the introduction to the second act that the performance evoked the feeling of grim shadowy threatening space that I kept looking for. Sections of this reminded me, oddly enough, of Die Zauberflöte – serious, but not dark and threatening in quite the same way as, say, Don Giovanni is. But I am talking about Beethoven, not about Mozart, so never mind.

read the rest

Beethoven – Fidelio / Heppner, Mattila, Pape / Metropolitan Opera 2002 (1)

I have a vague memory of seeing Beethoven’s Fidelio on stage at some point. It may have been a concert or a semi-staged performance – I associate it for some reason with Symphony Hall in Boston, so if I am actually remembering this rather than somehow imagining it, the performance took place somewhere between 1998 and 2002. I remember Rocco’s song about money. However, it may be that I am imagining this, or that I had a dream that I went to see Fidelio at Symphony Hall – but why I would dream that I am sure I do not know. (If I’m going to dream concerts, you’d figure it’d be something more exciting, like some sort of festival that involved recitals by Röschmann and Kasarova on successive evenings, followed by a great big fully staged performance of Don Carlos with the cast from that Bavarian State Opera performance broadcast a few months ago. And maybe the day after, Joyce DiDonato could sing some Rossini, or maybe some Handel . . .)

But where was I? Right. Fidelio.

read the rest