BOSTON CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY: Beethoven Birthday Concert
PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM, Salem, MA: The Yachting Photography of Willard B. Jackson
BOSTON CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY: Kodály, Harbison, and Dvorak
BOSTON PHILHARMONIC: Schumann's Cello Concerto and Mahler's Fifth
CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE: "When a Hundred Years are Told"
CHORUS PRO MUSICA: Górecki, Murill, Martin
BOSTON BAROQUE: Mozart's Don Giovanni
ROSLINDALE OPEN STUDIOS – “Peter Bates Photography”
CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE – “To Breathe their Marvelous Notes”
The Man Who
Emerson String Quartet Performs Shostakovich's Final Three String Quartets”
CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE, “A Strain of Music in the Night”
Jordi Savall and Hespèrion XXI Perform Late Renaissance Music
Ewa Podleś Dazzles Audience
Natalia Gutman Plays Arensky, Shostakovich, Brahms
Boston Museum of Fine Arts: Ansel Adams
BOSTON PHILHARMONIC, "Wresting Art from Madness"
CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE - "And Many a Youth Entranced"
Boston Philharmonic Performs Harbison, Brahms and Schumann
Boston Chamber Music Society Opens Season with a Brisk Start with Beethoven, Paulus, Schubert
CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Performs "Une Musique Sans Commencement ni Fin"
CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Performs "While Our Music, Wild and Sweet"
Boston Philharmonic Performs Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony
CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Performs "One deep chord gave answer - A Chameleon Schubertiade"
Boston Philharmonic Performs Bruckner's Eighth Symphony
CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Performs “Mystic Moons and Dream Music"
Boston Philharmonic Performs Stravinsky, Ravel, Gershwin
CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Perform “Behind Me Dips Eternity”
Cantata Singers Perform Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust
Boston Philharmonic Performs Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde
CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Performs "Shhh. . .Whispering Trees, and now the Music"
CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Performs "In the Midst of the Quartet Singing"
Boston Philharmonic Performs Mahler's Seventh

CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Performs Russian Exile Music
Boston Philharmonic Performs Mahler's Second
Boston Philharmonic Performs Mahler's Fourth and Songs on the Deaths of Children
Chameleon Ensemble Performs Music of the Twenties
Bill Staines at Linden Tree Coffeehouse
Boston Chamber Music Society Performs Beethoven, Prokofiev, and Dvorak
Boston Baroque Performs Handel's Alcina
Boston Philharmonic Performs Mahler's First and Songs of a Wayfarer
Teatro Lirico d'Europa Performs Don Giovanni
Wagner Marathon
Interview with Richard Conrad, artistic director of The Bostonians
Boston Academy of Music Performs Tosca
Pro Arte Chamber Orchetra Features Mezzo-Soprano D'Anna Fortunato
Boston Philharmonic Presents Mahler's Third
Mozart and Brahms at the Gardner Museum
Hill House Community Choir: First Concert
Museum of Fine Arts: Cornucopia, the Italian Trio Sonata
Boston Baroque Early Mozart
Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss
Boston Lyric Opera: Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi
Emmanuel Music: Two Cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach
Boston Lyric Opera: Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart
Boston Philharmonic Orchestra: Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy
Boston Lyric Opera: The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart
Boston Lyric Opera: Aida by Giuseppe Verdi
Boston Lyric Opera: Le Nozze di Figaro by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart
Handel & Haydn Society: Jazz/Baroque
Boston Lyric Opera: La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi

BOSTON CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY: Beethoven Birthday Concert

Personnel: Randall Hodgkinson – piano, Ani Kavafian – violin, Mihae Lee – piano, Ronald Thomas – violoncello

December 17, 2006

Young Beethoven Ronald Thomas introduced this Beethoven Birthday concert, which included three of Beethoven's greatest chamber works. A full house at the lovely First Church Congregational in Cambridge eagerly awaited the concert.

The Cello Sonata in A major, Opus 19, opened the program with sonorous cello texture joined by subtle and elegant piano playing. The principal melody appeared thoughtfully, weighing passion against tentativeness. The cello playing was pitched directly to the heart and viscera! Though the piano was nicely phrased, Mihae Lee's playing occasionally overpowered the cello. In the Scherzo:Allegro molto, the duo showed a fine combination of muted energy, allowing full expression of profound emotion and contrapuntal melodies. The Scherzo was played more rapidly than is sometimes the case. The piano here was mercurial. There was a slight mismatch of tempi between piano and cello that resolved in the Adagio cantabile, where the melody developed slowly. It was wonderful to watch Mr. Thomas' face process Beethoven's emotional and spiritual intentions in the Adagio. The piano, too, was finely shaded and romantic in character. A well modulated performance.

The second sonata in the concert was the Piano Sonata in F minor, Opus 57 (“Appassionata”). Randall Hodgkinson's performance was exemplary and of recording quality level. The Allegro assai developed with restraint in a classical style. Mr. Hodgkinson's playing contained profundity in the bass and a mature, reflective power. F-minor falls, rises and moves one half step higher to G-flat. Rising storm clouds joined the treble choir. The darkness was probed more deeply as the principal melodic line returned with lamentation and a windy treble range. In the Andante con moto, Mr. Hodgkinson continued his measured and stately delivery as the music turned anthemic after the turbulence of the first movement. Lyrical variation on the melody followed, including bell-like treble clarity. At this point, Mr. Hodgkinson's playing was virtuosic. In the Finale con presto, the “Appassionata” concluded with powerful, resonant fire. Dissonance, chord key changes and great speed ensued. This performance certainly warranted a standing ovation. Fine work.

One of Beethoven's crown jewels , the Violin Sonata in A major, Opus 47 ("Kreutzer”), concluded the program. Ani Kavafian's use of a light bowing touch helped the listener enter the Adagio sostenuto though her pitch was slightly sharp at the beginning. Mihae Lee's piano work was fine. Ms. Kavafian's lyrical, sweeping playing allowed the development of musical richness, though again, her pitch was slightly sharp for a time. The Andante con variazoni included rich musical embroidery. The treble range of the violin was particularly good as a soaring flurry of notes lent luster. Ms. Kavafian treated cadenza and arpeggios with artistry. The Finale:Presto was percussive and well executed by the duo who played with consistent balance. This was an enjoyable rendition of Ludwig von Beethoven's elegant “Kreutzer”.

Carolyn Gregory

PEABODY ESSEX MUSEUM, Salem, MA: The Yachting Photography of Willard B. Jackson

Through May 20, 2007

Manchester Who would have thought a photography exhibit about just one subject could be so fascinating? Willard Jackson took photographs for roughly forty years and largely about one thing: pleasure craft. His weekends were spent photographing races between yachts and other sailboats, as well as other craft that were used in Marblehead in those days, like powerboats and smaller dories. Unlike pictorialists of his era like Alfred Stieglitz, he didn't try for artistic effects like soft focus or the mistiness that comes of bad weather. Instead, he photographed yachts like the Shiyessa IV (1911) with its beauteous poofy sails and minimally distracting background. He used considerable craft in his photographs, employing techniques like selective dodging for highlights. In shots like Oivanna (1900) he dodged the entire background to emphasize the vessel. It's hard to imagine, but he managed to get razor sharp photographs using slow film and bulky 8x10 cameras mounted on a powerboat in choppy seas. His pictures weren't perfect: there's a tonal flatness to Fritter (1904) and in some of his race shots, the boats are just too far away. But boy, did he get great angles. Look at the tilt of the Manchester (1905), and the fine varying expressions of the passengers. Perhaps one of the most spectacular shots is of the Odysseus, with its burned in grumpy sky and tilt back angle. Jackson was still proud of it, even though its glass plate negative contained a crack in the upper right hand corner. To the Peabody Essex Museum's credit, it didn't try to digitally fix the photograph. Doing so would have deprived viewers of a fine Jackson anecdote. This is an exhibit worth making the trip for, preferably by boat!

Peter Bates

BOSTON CHAMBER MUSIC SOCIETY: Kodály, Harbison, and Dvorak

Personnel: Thomas Hill – clarinet, Randall Hodgkinson – piano, Ida Levin – violin, Harumi Rhodes – violin, Wilhelmina Smith – violoncello, Marcus Thompson – viola

November 17, 2006

John Harbison The second concert of the 2006- 2007 Boston Chamber Music Society season started on solid footing with Zoltan Kodály’s “Serenade for Two Violins and Viola, Opus 12”. Considered by some to be Kodály’s greatest chamber work, it was written following the composer’s loss of his professional position at the National Academy of Music. It is one of the series written by Kodály from the 1890s, a period that includes two string quartets, a sonata for cello and piano, and a duo for violin and cello. The Allegramente was a vigorous, jubilant beginning played with lots of vivacity, followed by plucking and textured flow of lovely viola played by Marcus Thompson. Harumi Rhodes played her violin with sweet intonation. The Lento ma non troppo opened with tremolo and tentatively played viola followed by skittish violins that shifted to a poignant, high pitched range. This was emotionally stirring music. The violins became frictive and slightly dissonant with a cadenza-like section. One violin and the viola played harmonically in contrast to Ms. Rhodes’ searching, high pitched violin. The final Vivo movement was rich, athletic and a strong contrast to the second movement. The folk rhythms here were more broken and complex, cumulative and agitated as the composition returned to the lyrical, concluding with a fast pace in an imaginative realm. This was a virtuosic and excellent performance.

John Harbison’s “Variations for Violin, Clarinet and Piano”, written in 1982 came next. The Spirit-Dance opened with violin and clarinet as a spare see-saw. The piano joined with an amorphous veil of notes. Clarinet pensively returned, followed by an aspiring, strongly played violin. The Body-Dance was a more fluid section of the composition wherein the piano and other instruments were more vigorous. There was an almost jazz-like strain running with the clarinet, followed by a fragmentary, jagged accelerando and very exciting dénoument. The Soul-Dance followed much more calmly and speculatively with open phrasing. Ms. Rhodes’ violin here really sang. Clarinet and piano were clear and expressionistic, turning again toward more stridency and then contemplative, nearly somber piano. The Variations ended in a more restrained way, after the earlier calisthenics of the numerous variations. Again, a good performance.

Following the intermission, Antonin Dvorak’s “Piano Quarter in E-flat major, Opus 87” was performed. Opening with an Allegro con fuoco movement, full melodic, rich sound developed. Mr. Hodkinson’s piano playing sparkled, and partnered the violins and cello nicely. The movement ended with lingering tentativeness and closed strongly. The Lento movement included lovely cello playing by Ms. Smith and the ensemble playing was splendid. The work became effulgently romantic, again including strong cello from Ms. Smith. The ensemble continued to play with heartfelt and luminous passion. The Allegro moderato grazioso was lighter and airy, picking up the tempo with superb piano work. The Finale allegro ma non troppo w as joyous and full-bodied. The ensemble sounded like a folk orchestra in this movement. This was a completely enjoyable performance and a fine culmination to the entire concert.

Carolyn Gregory

BOSTON PHILHARMONIC: Schumann's Cello Concerto and Mahler's Fifth

Benjamin Zander, conductor

November 18, 2006

Robert Schumann This second concert of the Boston Philharmonic’s 2006-2007 season brought back internationally renowned cellist, Alexander Baillie as soloist with Robert Schumann’s Concerto for Cello in A minor, opus 129. Having heard Mr. Baillie previously perform Shostakovich’s second cello concerto with Benjamin Zander, I came to this concert with great anticipation, based on Mr. Baillie’s versatility and command of texture. He has previously recorded noteworthy renditions of Penderecki’s Second Cello Concerto and Beethoven’s Triple Concerto. My anticipation was justified.

The Schumann Concerto for Cello started with resonant and fluid cello that sustained elegant and true Romantic vigor. Mr. Baillie’s playing held a rich lower range of notes. His playing was versatile and nuanced with wonderful dark enunciation. The cello was well framed by the entire orchestra, though occasionally within the Nicht zu schnell movement, the orchestra engaged with the cello a little stridently. Horn presentation was good and subtle with diminuendo and earnestness toward the melodic theme. Once the lyric theme was completed by the cello, the orchestra offered a full-sized, large statement. Within the Langsam movement melancholic downward flowing sound emerged with the echoing by woodwinds and pizzicato countermelody carried forward by other cellos. Much quicker paced music followed the finale, and then an extended, metrically varying cadenza. Throughout the performance, Mr. Baillie’s cello work carefully complemented the orchestra at the same time as it illuminated the concert stage. His cello also conducted conversations with itself, and sometimes within individual movements. This was a breathtaking performance, followed by an encore from Johann Sebastien Bach’s prelude to the First Cello Suite, a link to Mahler’s later symphonies.

Mahler’s Symphony Number 5 opened with that piercing lone-trumpet sound. This was joined by a grand scale orchestra including lots of strong brass work, notably with the tube in two figures. Violins sedately entered as the horns continued with great resonance. There followed reverent gracefulness with a nice cello and percussion interlude. Woodwinds and horns were strong as the movement slowed down, only to gain momentum, driven by violins and violas. Full emotional resonance developed, aided by the brass section as the flutes picked up a thread of the theme. Consequently, images of collapse recurred throughout this movement. This presented the weight of the world carried on the shoulders of survivors in contrast to the clarion burst of trumpets and the life force.

Part 2 opened more tumultuously. There was a suggestion of laughter, dissolution of momentum, as a layer of cellos emerged with a lugubrious undertone. Percussive bells and drums offered nice exclamation. The waltz rhythm developed, spinning on the edge. Percussive sticks were slapped with interesting dramatic effect. Fire bursts of sound came forth as the movement pushed toward a climax. As Benjamin Zander encouraged the audience in his pre-concert lecture, this indeed requires listening with an open heart.

Part 3 began with fine cello work and good orchestral playing. The violins were resonant and sweet. Harp joined in slowly at first, contributing to the sedate and serious symphonic core. As Mr. Zander suggested during his lecture, this is music that presents fort-foot waves that throw us in the air. It includes a waltz that becomes the dance of death, suggesting complete social collapse of the Hapsburg Empire. Yet it also presupposes that the artistic and human heart by extension can break through every experience of death and love to stand tall, albeit scarred, in the face of difficult emotional events.

Carolyn Gregory

CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE: "When a Hundred Years are Told"

Deborah Boldin, flute; Anthony D'Amico, bass; Nancy Dimock, oboe; Christopher Guzman, piano; Joanna Kurkowicz, violin; Whitacre Hill, horn; Kelli O'Connor, clarinet; Margaret Phillips, bassoon; Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello; Scott Woolweaver, viola

November 11, 2006

Albert Roussel The second concert of the Chameleon Arts Ensemble's season began with a charming seven-minute appetizer, Albert Roussel's "Divertissment." In this work the unique stamp of Roussel's personal musical style slides brazenly to the forefront. The music is like a classical Mozart divertimento: cheerful, rhythmic in a cocky sort of way, transparently scored, and above all unpretentious. But unlike a Mozart divertimento, the Divertissment is a forward-looking work, in which we can see glimmerings the Neo-Classicism of the post-war years of nearly twenty years later. After its busy opening, Deborah Boldin plays a sonorous flute passage, then Nancy Dimock's oboe picks up the melody and leads into a melancholy andante. There is a sudden joyeous burst of simple tonality and the audience is transported to a promenade along the Champs-Elysées on a Sunday afternoon. And like the wheels of a carriage, the piece slowly winds down and comes to a stop.

Latvian composer Peteris Vasks and his critics both claim he writes message music. He consistently addresses and advocates, therefore his music is not classical but programmed in a literary sense: there is usually an idea, a moral, an emotional frame of reference. Like the works of fellow Baltic composer Avro Pärt of Estonia, his work has a point of view and shuns abstraction. In the Piano Quartet, he sometimes sounds like Dvorak gone awry, because he is melodic at times, and even sweetly so. The piece is an odd but diverting mixture of pathos, contemplation, and wit. Yes, wit. Listen to Joanna Kurkowicz's full-scale glissandos in the midst of presto sections and you may be reminded of Alfred Schnittke. Kurkowicz approaches the work with her characteristic bolts of energy and dense passionate precision. Another composer you may be reminded of is Shostakovich. At the opening, pianist Christopher Guzman artfully engages the audience with a dissonant dialogue with the strings; later he joins them in the profound adagio explorations of the final section.

The final work was Beethoven's Sextet, Opus 20. While it sounds quite classical in tone and structure, the piece was highly innovative for its time (1799). Most serenades of the time featured wind instruments in pairs; the Sextet has a single clarinet, bassoon and horn. And there is more: Wind English music writer Peter Holman observed: “The relationship between strings and winds is more flexible and varied than before. There is antiphonal writing between the two groups, ‘orchestral’ passages with the wind supporting the strings with held chords, florid wind solos and duets accompanied by the strings, and concerto-like passages for solo violin accompanied by the rest of the ensemble.” The Chameleon's performance of this most popular piece is spirited and passionate, with full respect for its playful tone and multifarious ornamentations. Once again, the piece came out to stretch its legs and leap into the hearts and brains of listeners.

Unfortunately, Beethoven grew to dislike this bubbly work. He felt it kept listeners away from his more transcendental works, as if there wasn't room on the stage for both types of music. Once, when approached by an admirer, Beethoven indignantly disavowed that he had anything to do with it, claiming Mozart wrote it! Shame on him. Luckily the Chameleons obviously think otherwise.

Peter Bates


Kirov Ballet. Daria Pavlenko, Igor Zelensky, Andrei Ivanov. Choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov .

November 12, 2006

Kirov Ballet Here is a ballet performance that will make you think you’ve been transported back to 1896—almost. The wondrously old-fashion momentum of the melodramatic plot, filled with brilliant ensemble dancing of the corps de ballet, is joined seamlessly to the fairytale sets (one bathed in a festive orange light, another touched with the pale blue of night). No post-modern approach here!

The only departure is the use of a happy ending, mandated by the Soviet era. Still, this production, shaped by choreographer Konstantin Sergeyev in 1950, is clear like a summer's eve near a lakeshore. If there was any clutter, I certainly couldn’t find it.

Daria Pavlenko was a consistently tragic Odette. Rarely raising her eyelids, she danced melancholically, nearly flawlessly. (The two times she slipped featured startling recoveries.) She was extraordinarily pliant and, like most of the female dancers these days, nearly as thin as a runway model. And how well she played Odile, the evil daughter of the magician Rothbart, enlisted to seduce Siegfried away from Odette. (I always wondered why: is it to eventually capture the throne?) This dual role is very appealing to ballerinas and audiences, with its implications of bipolar disorder. For Odile, Pavlenko adopted a whole different personality, with her rigid demeanor and sinister smiles.

Igor Zelensky presented a Siegfried with an evolving style and sense of self. He was indeed princely, but he tempered his dancing in the first act, no where near as flamboyant as the jester or the blue-vested party guest. But in the second act, as he becomes more confident, Zelensky exploded into an orgy of pure technique. With his marvelous leaps, his dancing seemed as airy as Odette’s. Other soloists were also extraordinary. The bundle-of-muscles Andrey Ivanov was the hyper-kinetic jester, dropping into scenes like a clown from a circus cannon, dispensing pirouettes like lightning sparks to the audience's bedazzlement.

Another well-executed classical element was the national dance sequence of the second act, with the dancers performing in both high spirits and stolid confidence that sprouted from a century of Russian tradition. The final act featured a expertly choreographed tussle between Rothbart and Siegfried, in which Siegfried fatally de-winged him and won the maiden. A fitting end to a priceless performance.

Peter Bates

CHORUS PRO MUSICA: Górecki, Murill, Martin

Conducted by Jeffrey Rink .

November 3, 2006

Henryk Górecki Chorus Pro Musica presented an intriguing vocal concert of three Twentieth century composers, Herbert Murill, Frank Martin and Henryk Górecki, in the Old South Church in downtown Boston on Friday, November 3, 2006. Old South Church is a church that is both hospitable with its large rose-colored open space and its excellent acoustics. Chorus Pro Musica’s programming was inviting to this reviewer who is a fan of Polish composer, Górecki, particularly for his First and Third symphonies, but I had not previously heard works by either Murill or Martin.

The English composer, Herbert Murill’s short work, “Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis”, opened with a full, resonant chorus that built on lovely sostenuto and poetic vocal phrasing, echoed by the organ. There was dynamic shading and precise phrasing with good control over the work. A nice concert opening.

Górecki’s “Miserere, opus 44,” written in 1981 at the height of the Polish Solidarity movement, came next. It began with penitent male voices, building a dark and monastic mood. In this music, the outer world was suspended for a time, continuing with its post-minimalist sequencing. The work developed slowly and very meditatively, including a small range of notes. The male voices slowly droned and lifted gradually as if by a power greater than themselves. The women gradually joined in the threnody as the whole work remained in a small range of notes. If one listened carefully enough, one could almost hear an accompaniment of bells, though the “Miserere” is à capella. Gradually, tranquility or perhaps acceptance of the dark world folded into the composition. Even the spiritual skeptic was drawn in over time. The composition swelled with fuller volume, filling the church with good vocal coloring. The tolling of the voices continued, building a musical layer above the chant with powerful spiritual and emotional resonance. This is a very difficult piece of music to perform and Chorus Pro Musica did well with it.

Swiss composer, Frank Martin’s “Mass for Double Chorus” concluded the concert. A tumbling, echoing swirl of women’s voices was joined by a small burst of male voices. Occasionally, there were somewhat overly enthusiastic sopranos here though the bass section was solid at the resolution of the first movement. In the Gloria, the sopranos swelled nicely. The Credo was marked by very vivid choral movement and was a high point of this performance. The incantatory Sanctus movement proclaimed the unity between heaven and earth. Unfortunately, this movement was marred by an unbalanced rhythm, followed by the more cohesive Agnus Dei. Conductor, Jeffrey Rink, had the chorus re-do the Sanctus at the end. The second go-around was rhythmically more focused, contributing to a larger sense of the colossal universe moving around the complex rhythmical pivot. Overall, this was a very enjoyable evening of musical performance.

Carolyn Gregory


Cynthia Phelps – viola, Ronald Thomas – violoncello, Mihae Lee – piano, Ida Levin – violin, Marcus Thompson – viola, Harumi Rhodes – violin, Fenwick Smith – flute; Wilhelmina Smith – violoncello.

October 21, 2006

Rebecca Clarke The 2006- 2007 Boston Chamber Music Society programs opened with a concert including one work by a lesser known American composer, Rebecca Clarke, along with two masterworks by Franz Joseph Haydn and Johannes Brahms. To honor the four hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Jamestown colony, the BCMS will feature an American composer on each of its concerts this year. Despite a spotty turnout at Jordan Hall on a rainy Friday night, the concert was a great success, deserving much better attendance than it received. Boston classical music lovers ─ take note!

The evening started with Franz Joseph Haydn’s “Flute Trio in D Major, XV:16.” Describing this work in three movements written for flute, cello and piano, Haydn called it a “pianoforte Sonata with accompaniment.” Haydn considered the work to be minor and if we took his word seriously, we would cheat ourselves of its intricate pleasures. The airy piano in the Allegro movement was joined by measured, thoughtful flute. An elegant swirl of sound developed wherein the piano was the central pivot, played with great skill by Mihae Lee. The Andantino opened more somberly, joined by deliberate, pondering flute and cello. All three instruments sustained the stately tone. Fenwick Smith’s flute playing was particularly fine as the cello emerged with sonorous depth. The composition expanded toward the end, marked by rigorous piano work, and a brilliant, crisp closure. This was a thoroughly delightful performance.

American composer, Rebecca Clarke’s “Viola Sonata” (composed in 1919) came next on the bill. The Impetuoso movement began with rich viola, bringing to mind the composer, Ernest Bloch. The movement developed with fire and romantic fervor. Low register viola was accompanied by measured piano, lending to a haunting intimacy. The Vivace movement opened with pizzicato and a folk rhythm overlayer. Piano grew highly percussive, ending on a will-o-the-wisp, airy note. The final Adagio-Allegro movement brought greater seriousness and a reflective point of view, marked by spareness. The duo playing was excellent, with continuously rich cello work by Marcus Thompson, lovely balance between opulence and restraint, sweeping from time to time into a vortex of sound. This was an exciting performance by a lesser known Twentieth century American composer who certainly deserves popular recognition.

Following the intermission, Johannes Brahms’ masterpiece, “String Sextet in G Major, opus 36” was performed. Based on the young composer’s love for Agathe von Siebold, the Sextet remains one of Brahms’ most beloved chamber works and its four movements contain a broad emotional range. The Allegro movement was dignified and romantic simultaneously with excellent violin playing, particularly notable with Ida Levin’s playing. The Scherzo/Allegro Non Troppo started on a more fanciful footing with a moderately paced 2/4 meter. The feeling of autumnal poignancy was strong here, wherein a dance rhythm returned to the primary tempo. The Poco Adagio movement developed with more tentativeness, joined by broken musical “thoughts”. The final Poco Allegro movement was quicker-paced, including a lot of sweeping musical activity around the principal theme. The cellos were sonorous and ensemble playing built fine dramatic tension. Brahms’ Sextet grew so emotional, it almost felt as if it would burst out of its scored container! Rondo and sonata linked in the final movement, bringing turbulence, full throttle Romanticism and a simple theme carried by the violins. This ensemble playing was the high point of the concert which included luminous playing throughout.

Carolyn Gregory

BOSTON BAROQUE: Mozart's Don Giovanni

Mark Schnaible, Nicolle Foland, Nathan Berg, Gustav ANdreassen, Patrick Miller, Amy Burton, Heidi Stobger, Anton Belov. Conducted by Martin Pearlman. Stage direction by Sam Helfrich.

October 14, 2006

Martin Pearlman According to Opera America, Mozart's Don Giovanni is the seventh most performed opera in North America. And why not? It has everything: a witty libretto, social satire, a great story, and some of the finest music ever composed. Boston Baroque's performance last Saturday was semi-staged, but done so well that you forgot the lack of sumptuous staging within minutes. Pearlman conducted the famous overture swiftly and efficiently with dramatic pauses and tasty intonations, particularly in the brass. As the opera progressed, his emphasis on the opera's tragic elements synthesizes both buffo and serious styles. Berg's Don Giovanni is so mercurial he remains a mystery: demonic--even murderous--one moment, full of charm the next. I have seen this work probably a dozen times, but Pearlman and Helfrich's reading made me realize something I'd missed. In the final scene, Giovanni drinks from the bottle a lot. Perhaps they're conveying one possible explanation for his bravado when the ghost of the Commendatore, the stone guest, arrives. He's drunk!

On another plane, I would have liked to have seen this production emphasize the satirical elements in portraits of the "straight" actors, the righteous Don Ottavio and Donna Anna. In their enforced chastity and bland maxims, they are no less comic than Leporello. Other productions have noted this, but it's absent here.

Stober and Belov are both excellent singers and impressive comic actors as Zerlina and Masetto, particularly in "Batti, batti," in which she mockingly chides him to beat her for her "transgression." Shortly afterwards, one of the great masterpieces, the canzonetta "Deh vieni all finestra," is sung effectively by Don Giovanni, although I wish he'd hammed it up a notch. Victor Coelho's mandolin accompaniment is sublime. Schnaible is an excellent Leporello, with a firm grasp on contrasting elements in an aria (such as his effervescent chatter vs. stately minuet in the catalog aria, "Madamina, il catalogo e questo").

By the close of the virtual curtain, this production was an enjoyable experience, one that didn't flag for a moment.

Peter Bates

ROSLINDALE OPEN STUDIOS 2006: – Peter Bates, Photographer”

To be shown: October 7 & 8, 2006
65 Westbourne St., Roslindale, MA

Lynn Fire 1981 Peter Bates has developed his photographic craft over the past thirty years in Massachusetts. His work includes both black and white and color shots. His subjects are portraits, neon cityscapes, and European travel photos. A series of black and white photos documenting the catastrophic Lynn factory fires in the early 1980s shows Bates’ skill and keen sense of history.

This current show features twenty of Bates’ representative works. “Neonization #2” is a jazzy shot of a hot dog neon sign melting like a broken scallop shell into waves of red and yellow light. “A Korean Bistro” is another neon night shot with red and blue blurring into night. Bates also photographs European urban scenes in several well-realized photos like “Avenue des Gobelins”. He captures a Paris moment in his treatment of a wall of posters advertising political campaigns, a Rolling Stones concert and a young woman in a sexy orange dress, offset by a solitary man strolling past in denim. Another of his best photos is a portrait (“Belgian Traveler”) showing a black female traveler whose faces tells a story of mixed emotions: fatigue, angst, and dignity.

Her dark skin tones are framed regally by a royal blue blouse. A couple of color shots done in Florence, Italy are also worth mentioning. “Florentine At Rest” and “Florence, 1998,” both shot with 35 mm film and telephoto lens, also show Bates’ classical frame of reference. In “Florence, 1998”, an older Italian working class woman stands with a quizzical expression on her face, perhaps trying to understand the meaning of a Maoist poster on a nearby wall.

Bates has also taken many excellent photographs in New England. His photos often are whimsical and serious at the same time (“Mitchell’s Men Shop” and “Block Island, 2003”), but they also create an historical record of the North Shore in Massachusetts. “Veis Caushe” (1981) is a very moody shot of a young bearded man walking near what might be either an abandoned warehouse or a prison. The shot suggests a story with an open-ended plot. Among Bates’ best work is the series of black and white photographs he took to document the Lynn factory fires that occurred in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1981. These photos are a magnificent document of the fires that destroyed 60 businesses in Lynn. Haunting skeletal walls of ruined shoe factories climb the night sky. A crane or two hovers like a dinosaur in the distance. The ground smolders under the wreckage. These photos are elegiac, timeless and à propos on this fifth anniversary of September 11th and the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Lynn fire. You can see them in an emblematic way, as well as for what they represent.

Carolyn Gregory

CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE – “To Breathe their Marvelous Notes”

Deborah Boldin, flute; Gloria Chien, piano; Nancy Dimock, oboe; Gary Gorczyca, clarinet; Christopher Guzman, piano; Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello; Katherine Winterstein, violin; Scott Woolweaver, viola

May 20, 2006

Paul Moravec The Chameleon Arts Ensemble has done it again: it has given us a fantastic, varied program with gorgeous playing. Those who were lucky enough to have been there on May 20 listened to Deborah Boldin’s exquisite and at times haunting flute, particularly in the Adagio section of Martinu’s Trio in F Major; Gloria Chien’s delicate piano playing, like a constant waterfall in the background of the Andante section of the same piece; Katherine Winterstein’s shimmering violin, like moonlight on still waters, in the “Prospero” section of Tempest Fantasy; and the magnificent sound that Scott Woolweaver elicited from his viola in Mozart’s piano quartet. The other musicians played with equal verve, though with somewhat less glamour.

The Chameleons, a nine-year-old chamber music group, take chances in their selection of the music and play it with passion and elegance. Miraculously, they manage the rare feat of remaining on the knife’s edge of Apollonian precision and clarity and Dionysian transport. Particularly impressive was Moravec’s Tempest Fantasy (based on Shakespeare’s play The Tempest), where we heard some excellent ensemble work. The variety of sounds in this piece was sheer delight, pleasantly challenging the mind and satisfying the spirit with its pixyish humor. In the “Sweet Airs” section, we enjoyed luminous piano playing and a pearly violin full of sheen.

Milhaud’s Sonata was a more dissonant affair, a galloping nightmare. The Chameleons, though, gave it their all with their meticulous craft. With the last piece, by Mozart, we returned to another era, a comforting and unusual way to end this terrific concert.

Dalia Geffen,
Founder and President of the Boston Wagner Society


Conducted by Benjamin Zander. Featuring violinist Caitlin Tully.

April 29, 2006

Mussorgsky Like Benjamin Zander, I too was skeptical. A high school child playing one of Shostakovich's most beautiful and anguished concertos, the first violin concerto?. How could this fresh faced girl know enough of persecution and exultation to do this marvelous piece justice? Somehow Caitlin Tully did. For 35 minutes she probed the sleek glissandos and churning dissonances of this concerto and produced a nearly flawless rendition, comparable to contemporaries twenty years her senior and -- dare I say this?-- approaching David Oistrach's landmark recording. She began the first movement with intriguing subtlety, refusing the easy effects of rubato and virtuosic fingering. She was not upstaged by the tenuous pings of the harp, nor the low rumblings of the orchestra. At one point,. I heard the mellow notes of tubist Don Rankin, which I rarely do since the tuba tends to be more of a background instrument. In the Scherzo, a notable moment occurred when the winds and the violin conspired in a bizarre interchange, tossing figures around until the famous and raucous dance theme appears. Tully handled the abrupt tempo shifts of this totentanz with consummate skill. The rest of the piece was just as stellar, with the Andante's perfect glissandos and the intense cadenza complete with angry crossbowing. In the final movement the Scherzo theme peeks out and this amazing violinist, whose performance I didn't want to end, grabs it and runs with it to the triumphant finish.

A word about programming choice. Could it be that providing another such intense work would have been too much for the audience? Does that account for the Tchaikovsky? His Fifth Symphony, with its beguiling "fate theme," served as a parachute to the Shostakovich concerto, which reared us to the heights and didn't quite let us down properly. While the Tchaikovsky piece has many memorable moments, its music seems a little old fashioned by comparison. Perhaps its graceful and nostalgic waltz in movement III is a little too well-known. However, I still find it pretty and it does remind me of the dance school I attended in my flaming youth. Zander changed the metronome markings a few times, and I think it helped free this symphony a bit from preciousness. Personally, I would have ended the season with a more brisk and elegant Russian piece, like Stravinsky's Symphony in C, but I can attribute to my perverse nature.

I forgot to mention the appetizer! The first piece Zander played was Mussorgsky's Khovanchtchyina Introduction, which is a tasty five-minute bonbon, a set of five variation on a Russian folk theme. It's a well-structured and restrained piece, comparable to some of Mussorgsky's best songs (as sung by Boris Christoff, of course). It doesn't get brisk and noisy and doesn't get gushy and sentimental,. but is delicate and flowing like an ivory-colored gown at a nineteenth century ball. Of course in no way did it prepare us for the burgeoning skill of Caitlin Tully.

Peter Bates

The Man Who

By Oliver Sacks, Peter Brook, and Marie-Helene Estienne. Starring Steven Barkhimer, Jim Spencer, Owen Doyle, Robert Bonotto . Directed by Wesley Savick. The Nora Theatre Group at the Boston Playwrite's Theater through May 7.

April 21, 2006

The Man Who

We are all one fall, one car accident away from debilitating brain damage. There are few plays I've seen that make me ponder this fact more acutely than The Man Who. It is a true horror story.

Based on Olver Sack's The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, these seventeen vignettes dramatize the many types of brain damage than can occur through strokes or other accidents are fool flesh is heir to. But the play doesn't go deeply into the why or how a person acquired "Loss of Proprioception" (a disconnection from body) or "Visual Agnosia" (the inability to recognize objects or faces). What's important is the poignancy of the characters' plights, as they are skillfully drawn by the ensemble. The tormented man in "Jargon" babbles nonsense, but is able to put together enough meaningful words so that the audience can catch the tone of his deep suffering. The actors portraying the medical staff run the patients through multiple tests, which they repeatedly score poorly on or demonstrate little improvement. One character thinks he's still 26 years old and panics when shown a mirror. "What's happened to my face?" he howls. In "Ticker," the actor performs a tour de force rendition of a man with Tourette's Syndrome, eloquently and even humorously aware of his condition. The actors frequently change roles from scene to scene: sometimes the doctor, sometimes the patient. This conveys how easily it would be for a doctor to suddenly become a patient, perhaps as a result of one winter fall on the head.

For some odd reason, co-author Peter Brook chose not to cast any women in these roles. Perhaps he was afraid of introducing sexual elements. Still, I can't recommend this engaging play highly enough. If it's between turning your brain to mush with Nunsense or trying on the half-lives of these victims, choose The Man Who. It will haunt you for days, as it is still doing to me.

Peter Bates

Emerson String Quartet Performs Shostakovich's Final Three String Quartets

Emerson String Quartet. A Bank of America Celebrity Series event.

April 21, 2006


What an appropos program for this Shostakovich centennial! The composer’s last three string quartets are his most profound, with the final one, the Fifteenth, the reigning masterpiece of emotive power. These quartets were written in the final four years of his life. His body ravaged by illnesses, he turned inward, toward forging his deep thoughts into musical form. The Thirteenth begins and ends with a somber viola figure. This unfolds into an ABA shape that confirms this theory: that the form is that of a trip—perhaps through life. Near the middle is a bizarre, sometimes dissonant foray into atonality. The members of the Emerson String Quartet play it with apropos skill, producing percussive effects by tapping their bows on the bodies of the instruments. This piece has some 12-tone elements to it, but compacted ones, like those produced by Webern in his later years.

A few years back, the Emersons penetrated the code of interpreting these quartets in a stellar recording, just like their Russian colleagues, the Borodin Quartet, did. With apparent ease, they have transferred this deft playing to this Bank of America Celebrity Series performance. Their rendition of the Fourteenth String quartet shows their irreproachable artistry, from its fevered take-no-prisoners opening to its eloquently expressed morendo ending (also shared by the Fifteenth quartet). The third movement Allegretto features a triumphant quote from his notorious 1932 opera, Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. Nothing quite prepares a listener for her first hearing of the doleful and heart-wrenching Fifteenth quartet. In it a lovely valedictory theme begins the piece, producing figures of ineffable beauty. In II, the work repeats the last glissando of the Thirteenth quartet multiple times as the players pass the technique back and forth. In one persistent four-note passage, the Emersons skillfully interpret Shostakovich’s penchant for strong sforzandos. At the end of it all, the lyrical theme gets subsumed by the ensemble’s low rumbling ostinato. A stunning evening, not to be forgotten.

Peter Bates

CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE – “A Strain of Music in the Night”

Charles Blandy (tenor), Deborah Boldin (flute), Vivian Chang-Freiheit (piano), Joshua Gordon (cello), Joanna Kurkowicz (violin), William Manley (percussion), Rafael Popper-Keizer (cello), Harumi Rhodes (violin), Marcus Thompson (viola), Scott Woolweaver (viola)

March 18, 2006

Arthur Foote The fourth program for the Chameleon Arts Ensemble’s 2005-2006 schedule included two American composers, Arthur Foote and George Crumb, and two Europeans, Franz Schubert and Arnold Schoenberg. All four compositions were dream-like, nocturnal, suggestive of the regenerative force of nature and love, and for that reason, they are well performed together. Additionally, all four compositions were highly poetic, the Crumb and Schoenberg especially powerful creations of mini-worlds or landscapes wherein vast emotional change transpires.

Arthur Foote’s “Nocturne and Scherzo” was first on the program. The melody opened with a mellifluous, Villa-Lobos’ like strain. Sweet-toned flute and excellent playing by the ensemble ensued. There was a lifting and passionate movement upward to the melodic line. Elegant, rich sound followed with a duo of violins and viola. Rich cello and viola together created a dark underlayer below the violins. Following this, the pacing picked up, suggesting a Mendelssohn-like dance movement. Here, spritely flute and rich cello contributed greatly and the playing was generally imaginative and fresh.

The notable tenor, Charles Blandy, sang Franz Schubert’s “Die Schoene Mullerein." He began the song cycle with briskness and drama. The upper range of his voice was particularly strong. Piano accompaniment worked very well. Mr. Blandy’s voice contained poignancy, with subtle shifting from dark to light, fully suggesting the tragic. He sang with consistent energy with well modulated, excellent range. In all the songs, there was a controlled sense of pathos. Only occasionally, the voice became a little pressured. The final song, a tender lullabye-like piece, included some of the best singing of the evening.

George Crumb’s “Dream Sequences: Images II” was next. The composition was peculiarly organized around three individual “circles of sound” in mind, one each for piano, percussion, and cello and violin. Offstage glass harmonica lent to the sense of a drifting state of consciousness. Layered heat rose. The instruments buzzed together, suggesting insects. We were reminded of a watery location, a shift of sound and susurration. There was the suggestion of layers of abstract color, leaves shaking in wind. iano rumbled like storm clouds and subtle thunder. Birds and wind came and went in the musical palette. The piano suddenly crashed and then backed off again like lighting or perhaps insight within a dream. The total effect was magical and almost hypnotic, with a clear mix of Eastern and Western influences. This was a wonderfully well performed and imaginative piece of music.

Finally, Arnold Schoenberg’s late Romantic masterwork, “Verklärte Nacht” was performed. Dark somber cellos opened, joined by violins and violas. There was a nice sweep here into passion. Frenzied sound settled back into greater calm. Occasionally, the six virtuosic players built the pitch to a somewhat overpowering level of sound. This can be a problem in the rather small Göethe- Institut performance space. When the ensemble played with more modulation, they played better as the piece stretched into the night stillness and high level “musical poetry” of the composition. Fanciful plucking by two violins was lovely and there was a singing lyricism toward the performance’s middle. Toward the end, balance was nicely achieved by the ensemble with a haunting sense of the fragility of time and deep, dark Romanticism intertwined. A good performance, overall.

Carolyn Gregory

Jordi Savall and Hèsperion XXI Perform Late Renaissance Music

Jordi Savall, Johanna Valencia, Fahmi Alqhai (viola da gamba), Begoña Olavide ( psaltry), Arianna Savall (double harp), Xavier Diaz-Latorre (guitar), Pedro Estevan (percussion), and the rest of Hespèrion XXI, together with La Capella Reial de Catalunya.

March 3, 2006

Jordi Savall

The ever extraordinary Jordi Saval and his Hespèrion XXI consort put on another inventive, emotive, and immensely entertaining show last Saturday. Together with singers from La Capella Reial de Catalunya, they delighted listeners with their adaptations of late renaissance and early baroque music from Spain.

They began with "Propinan del Malyor," a spirited rhythmic instrumental piece. Almost right away, we realize that this is not a one-man show for Savall, but a true collaborative undertaking, with musicians like percussionist Pedro Estevan performing amazing feats instead of just playing music. At one point he plays three instruments at once! Vocal works like "Pavana & Gallarda" were melancholic and nostalgic, with heavily religious texts. But Savall wisely interspersed the piece with lively instrumental interludes. On this one, he masterfully improvised on the viola da gamba, which was the style of the time. The instrumental "Corrente italiana" began as a stately piece and gave way to spurts of frenetic intensity. "Ritual formulario" is a monodic piece with a dark interlude, ominously sung by Capella Reial.

My only problem with this concert was the problematic acoustics. The huge Jesuit Center is a church originally designed to offer music as nectar to the service, not as the main event. As such, it is just too large to be sonically successful in every section. It was often difficult to hear the skillful guitarist Xavier Diaz-Latorre in his solo pieces, and I was sitting one third of the way back. I mentioned to the man next to me if he thought the concert should be miked and he smirked at me as if I'd suggested they perform in the nude. I've heard this "swallowed sound" effect before in a performance by this group, about ten years ago in one of the lower Newbury Street churches. Perhaps miking should be considered next time they perform in such venues.

That aside, this was a remarkable event—inventive as Ariana Savall's harp performance on "Tarantela" and as wondrously strange as Begoña Olavide's psaltry.

Peter Bates


Conducted by Benjamin Zander.

February 25, 2006

Edward Elgar The third program of the 2005-2006 Boston Philharmonic season (“The Heroic Ideal”) featured virtuoso pianist, Jon Kimura Parker, who has built an international reputation, performing concerts with the New York Philharmonic, Cleveland Orchestra, and Dallas Symphony along with orchestras in Tokyo and Warsaw. His repertoire is wide, ranging from popular compositions by Alanis Morisette to Beethoven and he has hosted a classical music television series in Canada called “Whole Notes” on Bravo! Canada. He is a Professor of Piano at Rice University at the University of Houston and he has helped promote young performers in Canada. He has recorded on the Telarc label. enthusiastic audience to this mid-November concert at Jordan Hall in Boston.

The program opened with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 5 in E-Flat Major, opus 73, known popularly as the “Emperor”. Dedicated by the composer to the Archduke Rudolph in 1812, the concerto is one of Beethoven’s finest, emphasizing freedom and human progress in the midst of terrible chaos and war. In the years preceding this concerto’s completion, Beethoven had also completed five symphonies, the Kreutzer and Cello sonatas, the Waldstein and a host of other major compositions including Fidelio. At this point, Austria and France were at war and Beethoven was nearly deaf. This heroic and grand scale concerto’s Allegro began with fluid and nuanced piano, balanced with the orchestra. The strings were particularly good, played with restrained passion. The piano work was delicate, allowing development of bell-like tones. Woodwinds intervened with poignancy. Mr. Parker’s upper range playing was exquisite and poetic, creating the effect of an orchestra inside the larger orchestra. The Adagio un poco mosso began somberly, more slow paced. Again, the strings sounded elegant, joined by flutes and the piano, now more tentative and restrained in a backward pull into historic memory. The woodwinds played a parallel theme to the piano as the piano then boldly moved into an explosive and electric union with the orchestra. Here, the dynamic control was superb, showing boldness and discipline, moving from the melancholic to the fierce, very close to Beethoven’s own giant emotional palette. The orchestra throughout the concerto played with muscular power. This was a fine and memorable Boston Philharmonic performance.

Following the intermission, Edward Elgar’s Symphony Number 1 in A-Flat Major, opus 55 was performed. The Andante developed with deliberate pacing, becoming more vigorous with cross stitchwork of strings and the brass section. There was noteworthy strong solo work with principal violinist, Joanna Kurkowicz, in this movement. A brief interlude of harp and horns was also lyrical, as the first movement returned to its carefully paced beginning. The Allegro motto had a quicker tempo resembling a march. There was a shift to a much less dense melodic line. The march moved toward a slower meter. Here the cellos and violins were lovely and the whole orchestra sounded very mature. The Adagio marked another shift with more militant rhythm and unrest and greater use of horns and woodwinds. The harp again sounded lovely in this complex and enjoyable performance.

Carolyn Gregory


Deborah Boldin (flute), Gloria Chien (piano), Nancy Dimock (oboe), Whitacre Hill (horn), Joanna Kurkowicz (violin), Sabrina Learman (soprano), Kelli O’Connor (clarinet), Margaret Phillips (bassoon), Rafael Popper-Keizer (cello), Anna Reinersman (harp), Scott Woolweaver (viola)

February 4, 2006

George Rochberg The third program for the Chameleon Arts Ensemble’s 2005-2006 schedule included a nice mixture of modern and romantic works, drawn from American, Latin American and European composers. The Chameleon Arts Ensemble continues to perform concerts that include well known and not widely known composers, helping to inform and entertain the audience at the same time.

The Twentieth century American composer, George Rochberg’s “To the Dark Wood” was first on the program. Written in 1985, the piece was composed after Rochberg turned away from serialism and centered on use of the horn. Beginning with a subtle mood of anxiety, the flute joined vivid bassoon and horn, weaving in what resembled a quote from Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale”. Turbulence moved into a period of reflection which then returned to an anxious motif; in repetition, it became a little demonic. Eventually, nice flowing flute work shifted things. Whitacre Hill’s horn playing was consistently strong and sustained throughout the piece which included unexpected bursts of punctuated, percussive notes.

Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Quintette Instrumental” was next. Originally commissioned for Villa-Lobos’ seventieth birthday by the French National Orchestra in 1957, this is a sumptuous and varied composition, written for strings and flute. The Allegro non troppo included elegant harp playing by Anna Reinersman and excellent flute playing by Deb Boldin. The Lento opened with the harp joined by shimmering flute and subtle strings. Again, this movement included percussive flute and good ensemble playing. The cello paired with the harp sang at times here. The flute suggested falling rain and was vividly impressionistic. The Allegro poco moderato movement began more turbulently and on modern footing, including interesting dissonance swirling around the lyricism. This movement continued the elegant ensemble work which made this a recording quality performance piece.

Kurt Weill’s “Frauentanz, opus 10” came next. Written at age 23 while Weill studied with the major composer, Busoni, the text came from medieval courtly love songs from Twelfth and Thirteenth century Southern Germany. It was written five years before Weill collaborated with Berthold Brecht to produce their masterwork, The Threepenny Opera. The seven songs in the “Frauentanz” were sung with emotional resonance by soprano, Sabrina Learman. Her clear and crisp enunciation added strength to the individual pieces. Woodwinds were moody and good, weaving in dissonance and an occasional folk refrain. I particularly enjoyed the Allegretto giocoso and Tranquillo dolente for their haunting moodiness and the wandering unrest suggested.

Following the intermission, the Chameleons performed Franz Schubert’s masterwork, “Trio in E-Flat major, opus 100.” Written in the same year Schubert had completed the “Winterreise” song cycle and shortly after Beethoven’s death, the “Trio in E-Flat major” has symphonic grandness and emotional profundity. The Allegro included crystalline piano work by Gloria Chien and lovely dark cello though there was a bit of choppiness in the middle of the movement. The Andante con moto was consistently excellent from the point of view of pacing and subtlety. Passion and restraint appeared in equal measure here. The Scherzo allegro moderato included bright piano work. Rafael Popper-Keizer’s cello playing was marvelous in the Allegro moderato and the ensemble work throughout this final movement was fine.

Carolyn Gregory

Ewa Podleś Dazzles Audience

Ewa Podleś, contralto; Ania Marchwinska, piano
Solo recital, Jordan Hall, Boston, February 17, 2006
Chopin: Five songs, opus 74, nos. 4, 8, 14, 16, 12
Rossini: Giovanna d’Arco
Rachmaninoff: Six songs, opus 26, no. 6; opus 14, no. 3; opus 4, no. 3; opus 26, no. 15, opus 14, nos. 9 and 11
Brahms: Zigeurnelieder, Opus 103, nos. 1–8

Ewa Podles Rarely have the walls of Jordan Hall resounded with such sublime tones and artistry. Ewa Podleś, the world’s foremost contralto, regaled a small Boston audience with her tremendously versatile voice, terrific dramatizations, and an amazingly wide range. Making her debut for the Bank of America Celebrity Series, this consummate artist of the old school of singing also gave the audience two encores: Isabella, from Rossini’s L’Italiana in Algieri, and Tchaikovsky’s song “Scaramouche.” The audience applauded on its feet and called her back again and again.

In Chopin’s “Moja Pieszczotka” (My Sweetheart, no. 12), the graceful and expressive Podleś, singing in her native tongue, offered up ladles of dark honey for her audience to savor, with smoothly gliding, delightful portamentos. In Rossini’s Giovanna d’Arco (Joan of Arc), her large voice took on husky hues, with tenorial tones in the low notes. Astonishingly, her every note, no matter how high or low, was well placed, well-supported, and perfectly pitched. In Rachmaninoff’s “Khristos Voskryes” (Christ Is Risen, opus 26, no. 6), Podleś seemed on the verge of tears as she so ably dramatized the poet’s (Dmitry Sergeyevich Merezhkovsky) great sorrow at the “world . . . soaked with blood and tears” (translated by Diana L. Burgin). Watching her sing Brahms was an experience of total immersion in the words and the variegated music. The colors in her voice and her ever-changing (within seconds), chameleon-like characterizations of all the nuances of each piece were remarkable.

The only drawback in this amazing performance was Marchwinska’s unimaginative accompaniment, which thankfully improved in the second half of the program. Podleś definitively belongs in the Hall of Fame of the Golden Age of singing. How fortunate that we can hear her now. I fervently hope that she returns to Boston soon.

Dalia Geffen,
Founder and President of the Boston Wagner Society

Natalia Gutman Plays Arensky, Shostakovich, Brahms

January 22, 2006

Natalia Gutman Sunday night we were treated to the genius of the Russian cellist Natalia Gutman, who has never played in Boston before.

Her program in Sanders Theatre with violinist Slava Moroz and pianist Dmitri Shteinberg was outstanding.

Her rendition of Schumann's ''Five Pieces in Folk Style" conveyed the humor and vivid spirit of the piece, which we hear too seldom in this country. When she opened with Brahms's "Cello Sonata No. 1," it was easy to see we were in the presence of a master. For example, she played the stirring first movement by actually de-emphasizing the sforzandos, a hard thing for most callow musicians to do who want to make a splash.

The three musicians did a fine rendition of a less interesting chamber work by Anton Arensky, his D-Minor Trio. Moroz snapped two violin strings, but the trio quickly recovered and replayed the movement. Finally, the centerpiece, Shostakovich's " Piano Trio No. 2" (1944). The trio played this better than I've ever heard, particularly the final movement's "Dance of Death" sequence, which is reprised in the composer's "String Quartet No. 8." I couldn't take my eyes off them, particularly Gutman. She played as if her life depended on it. I wish they hadn't encored that brassy little scherzo by Arensky, though. Perhaps they should consider encoring a piece by Schnittke, like the poignant "Madrigal in Memoriam Oleg Kagan," written for her late husband.

Peter Bates

Boston Museum of Fine Arts: Ansel Adams

Until December 31, 2005

Ansel Adams Think you've seen everything by Ansel Adams? Think that you've had your fill of thrilling vistas of Yosemite National Park and "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico?" As they used to say in vaudeville, "You ain't seen nothing yet." The MFA's comprehensive exhibit of 180 of Adams' best works encompasses shots you'd never guess Adams had taken. "Old Wall Paper in House at Lundy, California" is a study in the textures of stains and rips that veers on abstraction, decades before Aaron Siskind wowed viewers with his textural experiments. (Adams never liked the term "abstract"; he always referred to such pictures as "extracts.") A photograph called "Political Sign," encouraging citizens to "Vote NO on #8" (whatever that is), is a stark Depression image, bright white against a dark grained wood. Another shot of political signs is quite arresting, as the signs ripple against a corrugated, highly shadowed wall. You can barely read them, but that's not the point.

Even some of his natural shots have a quiet eccentricity to them. "Grass and Burnt Stump" is one that forces a double take. Filling up most of the frame, the shiny black stump looks segmented like lizard skin. Only the grass in front of it pegs it as a nature shot and not a pure trompe l'oeil.

This exhibit even has excellent portraits. One candid, taken uncharacteristically with a 35mm camera, is entitled "Georgia O'Keeffe and Orville Cox." Ms. O'Keeffe has an impish smile on her face, while Cox, a rural guide, seems embarrassed at having his picture taken. "Residents, Hornitos, California" shows two old geezers sitting in front of a storefront in a phtograph almost worthy of documentarian Walker Evans.

"Almost" is an operative word here. Adams sometimes printed his pictures too dark and this one displays low contrast that seems at odds with Adams' tonal-balance "zone theory.""Winter Sunrise," printed in 1971, is also overly dark, notably in its large center swath of trees. He probably should have dodged it more in the darkroom. Also, I would have liked more information about the cameras Adams used. It seems as though there were several. What were they? A central exhibit table, similar to the one that held his first Brownie, would have been welcome.

These quirks should not impede your enjoyment of this excellent show. Experience the intoxicating beauty of "Aspens, Northern New Mexico," justifiably a favorite of the art calendar market. Revel in the twisty forms of the last photo, "Freeway Interchange, Los Angeles" (above). The man was a giant in his field and brought art photography out of the drawing rooms and tiny galleries.

Peter Bates

BOSTON PHILHARMONIC, "Wresting Art from Madness"

Conducted by Benjamin Zander.

November 19, 2005

Carl Nielsen The second concert of the 2005-2006 season of the Boston Philharmonic brought great anticipation with the inclusion of piano soloist, Gabriela Montero, who has risen rapidly internationally, having won several major competitions and with previous performances of note in London, Canada, Buenos Aires, and Hamburg. With deeply rooted training in both the Baroque and romantic traditions, she also has advanced ability in the art of improvisation. The combination of major compositions by Rachmaninoff and the lesser known but significant Twentieth century composer, Carl Nielsen, brought a large and enthusiastic audience to this mid-November concert at Jordan Hall in Boston.

The Rachmaninoff Concerto for Piano #2 in C minor opened with lush romantic flare by soloist, Gabriela Montero. The Moderato movement effortlessly swept the strings into the concerto without overpowering the piano's lyricism and power. Woodwinds punctuated the theme. Flutes were also a lovely strand here, followed by bright piano work. The musical pace throughout this movement was percussive and vigorous. Horns joined in with melancholy poignancy with excellent modulation to the rather abrupt closure of the movement. The Adagio sostenuto movement in E major, a shift from the first movement's alternating C minor and F, developed a beautiful duet between the piano and flute. The bittersweet romanticism was further enhanced when violins joined in. The oboes, too, were noteworthy. Pacing changed to a less pyrotechnic place with pensive strings and soaring piano. The third movement (Allegro scherzando) began with a more animated orchestra with fiery piano flourishes. Ms. Montero's playing in this movement was technically very accomplished but also emotionally profound. She anticipated the notes, accompanied by the enthusiastic orchestra. An exceptionally well played section stretched toward the primary melody at this point with a full hearted and big voiced orchestra.

To my mind, this was one of the single best performances T have heard by the Boston Philharmonic with an exceptional soloist. It certainly was one worthy of recording. The pairing of this fine young pianist and the orchestra was memorable, profound and technically very high level. Ms. Montero performed three encores, based on improvisation, that were also rather amazing. The first was fugal, the second rather jazzy, and the third like a tango in form. All of these were inventive and delightful. I look forward to her soon to be released CD of improvisations based on Bach themes. Definitely a musical force on the scene and to be reckoned with.

Following the intermission, the Boston Philharmonic performed Carl Nielsen's Symphony #5, opus 50, first performed in Copenhagen after World War I. The Tempo giusto opened with very busy strings accompanied by dissonant bassoons. Muted violins and cellos then entered, joined by a shimmering haze of woodwinds. Percussion grew militant. Heckling woodwinds joined, suggesting a marching band walking through a dream cloud. We can almost see the haze of flare lights in the distance, suggesting a sulfurous sky. The Adagio non troppo began almost reassuringly with very good horn work. Percussion became almost scary at times. We can almost hear guns and fireworks, particularly when the orchestra reached full volume. Drums played distantly here were very effective, suggesting the troops moving on. The piece then grew unsettled, highly energetic, with a sudden diminuendo, followed by the slipping slope of woodwinds. The composition then became more pensive. Bassoons joined strings, followed by increased percussion. The orchestra veered toward the abyss, stumbling sideways and then regaining its footing, having moved past oblivion. This performance of a conceptually difficult, not often heard composition was very engaging and timely in our current world landscape. This was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of music, from start to finish.

Carolyn Gregory

CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE - "And Many a Youth Entranced"

Deborah Boldin (flute), Gary Gorczyca (clarinet), Sabrina Learman (soprano), William Manley (percussion), Rafael Popper-Keizer (cello), Byron Schenkman (piano), Joanna Kurkowicz (violin)

November 5, 2005

Sergei Rachmaninoff This second program of the Chameleon Arts Ensemble's 2005-2006 season included a fine mix of classical and modern repertoire ranging from Beethoven to Rachmaninoff, including two not so well-known composers, Earl Kim and Daron Hagen. Guest artist for the night was the marvelous pianist, Byron Schenkman. Mr. Schenkman started his career as a harpsichordist and fortepianist and has since gone on to co-found the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and to perform in a number of chamber ensembles in Europe, Japan and the U.S. His virtuosity, mercurial range and power were all showcased beautifully throughout the evening.

The program opened with Beethoven's Trio in B-flat Major, opus 11. The Allegro con brio developed nice fluid pacing between the piano and cello played with a light touch. Byron Schenkman's piano playing was elegant with a good sense of space around the notes. The lightness of this movement sounded terrific in the Goethe-Institut's performance space. Strong cello opened the Adagio movement, joined by clear clarinet and nuanced piano, moving toward a darker song region. This then swept into melancholy which was highly reflective, again with strong piano work. The Allegretto (Theme and Variations) was joyous and playful, by contrast, with a wandering piano, accompanied by simple strands of cello and clarinet. Exuberance suddenly shifted into melancholy, then moved toward embellished exuberance. An ample performance by the ensemble.

Daron Hagen's "Dear Youth", a miniature folk opera, was next, based on letters written by several American women during the Civil War. The composition was built from several recitatives and arias. Sabrina Learman's haunting soprano lifted the storytelling aspects of the composition, lending poignancy to the music. There was wit in songs like "The Trouble with Tom" and strong anti-war sentiment throughout the composition. Deborah Boldin's flute playing propelled the piece forward, creating a connecting chord of sound and fury to the separate letters involved. Lines spoken like "Men are going the wrong way all the time" reinforced the existential plight of the soldiers and their families. Byron Schenkman's piano playing was moody, tense and very good.

Third on the program was Earl Kim's "Dear Linda", based on a letter written by poet, Anne Sexton, to her daughter, Linda, five years before Sexton's death. The ensemble included soprano, narrator, percussion, flute, cello and piano. Kim was early influenced by the major composers, Arnold Schoenberg and Ernest Bloch, and one can hear the sparse, emotionally resonant echoes of both composers in this composition. Its highly percussive beginning included fragmented piano, crazy cello, reflective flute, and a militant drum roll. The Sexton letter quoted was strange, prophetic about departure/death and elegant from a compositional point of view.

Sergei Rachmaninoff s "Trio Elegiaque", dedicated to the memory of Tchaikovsky, was the final piece performed and a high point of the program. The Moderato allegro movement joined the cello, violin and piano with passion and dark texture like a conversation between lovers. It was stunningly romantic, containing a certain amount of frenzy. All three instruments played with virtuosity. There was gorgeous lower register piano playing. The Quasi Variazone was fleeter, developing with a bell-like piano, joined by fragmented violin and cello. A fluttering of notes like falling leaves followed as the movement shifted to a tolling, funereal sound. The cello and violin sang a lament. The Allegro risoluto began with strong piano playing. Fully saturated sound followed with spectacular range in the piano. The deep-voiced, lamenting cello threaded through the final movement like a dark purple brocade. Fine and memorable performance by Johanna Kurkowicz, Rafael Popper Keizer, and Byron Schenkman.

Carolyn Gregory

Boston Chamber Music Society Opens Season with a Brisk Start with Beethoven, Paulus, Schubert

Fenwick Smith (flute), Ida Levin (violin), Wilhelmina Smith (cello), Randall Hodgkinson (piano), Lucy Chapman Stolzman (violin), Marcus Thompson (viola), Ronald Thomas (cello).

October 14, 2005

Paulus What better way to start a new season than by featuring three winners? In spotlighting early Beethoven, late Schubert, and middle Paulus, the Boston Chamber Music Society took the audience on a ride that had to have been the highlight of their weekends.

"Warm them up with a vivid accessible piece" has been the rule in Boston concerts for as long as I've been attending, and it worked its magic with Beethoven's Piano Trio in E-flat major, Op. 1, No. 1. Always a crowd pleaser, this piece from 1793 wears its 18th century garb well, but between its folds peeks the restless spirit of the questing young Beethoven. It begins with a spirited Allegro introduction, followed by beguiling imitatative intervals. The trio members didn't get creative with rubato and other effects, but performed the recapituation with vigor. The Adagio cantible was sweetly performed and featured a deft shift into a minor key for a few bars. The Scherzo was a nicely accented and simple movement, with Randall Hodgkinson amazing the audience with rapid piano figures. The finale is a zesty rondo, with the ensemble underscoring each tantalizing dip in tempo after the imitations.

The second piece, Stephen Paulus' Dramatic Suite, is best described by the composer:

After a slow introduction by flute and piano, the work opens with an "electric moment" that is extended and suspended in time through a series of oscillating, gyrating and highly charged figures. It proceeds with contrast and conflict in the second movement with dark and somewhat ponderous ideas being juxtaposed with bell-like and lyrical ones. The third movement is characterized by an abundance of elongated, lyrical ideas moving gingerly over shifting harmonies. The fourth movement is exploited and exaggerated. The work closes with a bittersweet quality that begins in a dirge-like fashion and ends in a reposeful manner with a touch of melancholy.

In the fiery opening, the ensemble playing is as tight as a timpani. Despite Paulus' evocative and reductive movement titles (Electric, Dark, Playful, Volatile, Desolate), this is not a programmatic piece. "Electric" may be high strung, but its music evokes the tension simmering under the surface. "Playful" often has a sinister sound, veering into offkey regions more than once. "Volatile" features a charming interplay between piano and ensemble. The disquieting "Desolate" has a Shostakovichian feel, with its strong piano influence and aura of resignation. Flutist Fenwick Smith plays this charming work with elan, as do violist Marcus Thompson and cellist Ronald Thomas. Violinist Lucy Stoltzman is quite bewitching, particularly in "Volatile."

Not too many quintets approach Franz Schubert's String Quintet in C-major in scope. When Schubert submitted a poignant string quintet to his publisher in 1827, death was only a month away. Worse still, the work was rejected and not published until 1850. One of the greatest works in chamber music repertoire was never heard by its composer. Instead of the traditional two violas, the quintet has two cellos, which impart an orchestral quality, particularly in the stormy Scherzo. The sublime Adagio has more than enough Weltschmerz, yet violinist Ida Levin attacked the pizzacato interludes with a bit too much spunk. Soon she realized it and fashioned her approach more subtly. There are long anguished silences before the Scherzo breezes in like a breath of Alpine air, boisterous and invigorating. There is one more bout with despair before the finale, a rollicking paean to the indomitable spirit. Throughout the piece the five players do a splendid job, reproducing the caressing intro and dazzling the audience with the dancelike finale.

Peter Bates

CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Performs "Une Musique Sans Commencement ni Fin"

Deborah Boldin (flute), David Leisner (classical guitar), Rafael Popper-Keizer (cello), Scott Woolweaver (viola), Joanna Kurkowicz (violin), Gloria Chien (piano), Nancy Dimock (oboe), Christopher Guzman (piano), Kelli O'Connor (clarinet)

October 8, 2005

Boulanger The eighth season of the Chameleon Arts Ensemble opened once more at the elegant and historical Göethe Institut in downtown Boston. It was a great pleasure to enter the concert space on a dismally rainy Saturday evening. Gabriel Langfur, Managing Director of the Chameleons, welcomed the audience by indicating that this concert would look both forward and backward, showing the power of history to link student and teacher in a direct line from Saint Säens and Fauré to Nadia Boulanger, Aaron Copland and Ned Rorem.

First on the program was Nadia Boulanger’s “Trois Pièces”, performed by cellist, Rafael Popper-Keizer and Gloria Chien on piano. Boulanger was possibly the most important teacher of composition of the twentieth century and a strong promoter of cutting edge modern and Renaissance composers. The “Modéré” piece began with a sonorous, plaintive stretch toward meaning with soulful cello, accompanied by subtle piano playing. The deeper range of the cello was particularly satisfying here. The “Sans vitesse et à l’aise” piece had a little lighter motif, shifting from the serious atmosphere of the first piece. The third piece was energetic, percussive and fiery, marked by a fluid sweep of piano and swooping cello, calling to mind a mad tango. This third piece was highlighted by the excellent pairing of the performers.

Aaron Copland’s “Quartet for Piano and Strings” came next on the program. The Adagio serio opened with a string duo of viola and violin. A slightly dissonant melody appeared, the pace picking up when cello and piano joined in interesting discord, the melody thrown off center with intensified volume. The melody was grew fractured, leading to an unsettling, questioning musical point of departure. The Allegro guisto movement sped things up, adding more percussion with vigorous strings and broken piano work, a little like we might encounter in Bartok. A very plain spoken violin followed with well played stretches of solo work by each of the other strings. A highly strident “complaint against reality” was etched, preceding a wonderfully played section of very high-pitched violin notes as though the listener encountered a singing voice in the wilderness. The final movement began with a tender, more melodic opening and continued with rich ensemble playing. This composition’s performance was the high point of the evening – rich, foreign-sounding at times and fully engaging.

Third on the concert schedule was Ned Rorem’s “Romeo and Juliet”, involving a classical guitar and flute duet. Deborah Boldin’s flute playing was airy, suggesting a bird flying through the atmosphere, involving a neat trilling blur of notes, played in a rapid stream, partnered by David Leisner’s less showy classical guitar. The spareness and breath between sections was enjoyable. Mr. Leisner’s guitar was thoughtful, sometimes hinting at loose fugal construction. There was also at times brilliant flute playing, summoning frenzy, alternating with a lyrical rising into the duo. Though both the flute and guitar performances were excellent, I did feel the composition itself was a little long-winded for this program.

Following the intermission, Saint-Säens’ “Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs” was performed. A short piece, it began dramatically with passion and elegance and a mellifluous interplay of the four instruments. The woodwinds were especially striking. The Caprice alternated with playful and passionate elements. Flute work by Deborah Boldin was bright-toned. Christopher Guzman’s piano contributed lovely rippling sonority. Again, the “Caprice on Danish and Russian Airs” showcased good ensemble work.

The last work on the program was Gabriel Fauré’s “Sonata No. 1 in A Major, opus 13.” Joanna Kurkowicz swept into the Allegro molto movement with vigor, creating a gorgeous beginning. Ms. Kurkowicz’s violin caressed the notes with a light touch, showing a balance of passion and discipline. Similarly, the Andante opened darkly lustrous with the sustained gesture of the violin. Gloria Chien’s piano accompaniment was subtle and reflective. Unfortunately, the extreme humidity caused by a solid week of rain storms in Boston took its toll on Ms. Kurkowicz’s Guarnari violin and she was forced to stop for a couple of minutes at the third movement’s beginning. Though this was offputting at first, I found myself able to reconnect with the piece pretty quickly as the re-engaged playing alternated energy with reflection, looking back toward the passion and melancholy of the first two movements. The final Allegro quasi presto movement brought the piece back to deep passion with strong violin and piano. Ms. Kurkowicz’s playing here was superior, showing good dynamic control for the full range of the instrument. Despite a little down time, this was a fine performance, ending an enjoyable evening of music.

Carolyn Gregory


Deborah Boldin, flute; Vivian Chang-Freiheit, piano; Daniel Chong, violin; Nancy Dimock, oboe; Gary Gorczyca, clarinet; Sabrina Learman, soprano; William Manley, percussion; Roberto Poli, piano; Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello; Anna Reinersman, harp; Scott Woolweaver, viola

May 14, 2005

Paul Hindemith Back in the smaller but lovely Goethe-Institut, the Chameleon Arts Ensemble performed their final concert of the 2004-2005 season. Diverse and exciting, the program ranged from the classical to romantic, modern and world music periods Both ensemble playing and solo parts were among the best this reviewer has heard in the past two years of regularly attending the Chameleon Arts Ensemble concerts. As usual, Rafael Popper Keizer and Gary Gorczyca played admirably. Daniel Chong, violinist, joined the group for this concert, and he added versatility and lovely playing to the Mozart Quartet.

First on the program was Mozart's "Quartet in F Major, K. 370" which opened with a nice blend of the four instruments in the Allegro movement. Violin and viola joined highly fluid oboe and rich throated cello. Daniel Chong joined the Chameleons for this performance. His playing was versatile and very sweet, particularly when he allowed himself a little breathing space to soar. The Adagio movement opened languorously and mournfully with nice oboe flourishes. Deeply felt darker cello joined in; all four instruments contributed to a Schubert-like lyricism in this section of the composition. In the Rondo:Allegro movement, joy and restrained exuberance returned with excellent playing, particularly by Mr. Chong and balance among the other players.

Next on the program was Johannes Brahms' chamber masterwork, "Trio in A minor, opus 114". The Allegro movement showcased Rafael Popper Keizer's soulful cello playing with clear awareness of the space between phrases. Gary Gorczyca's lucid clarinet joined in sympathy with the refrain. Roberto Poli's piano was passionate and well matched to the cello. The Adagio started thoughtfully, highlighting the singing quality of the cello, so characteristic of Mr. Popper-Keizer's best work as the cello and clarinet alternated at the forefront of the movement. There was a weighted, profound sadness here. The Andantino grazioso included plucked cello, a simple line by the clarinet, more elaborate piano work like a minor key variation on a child's song, moving toward a large Brahmsian crescendo. The Allegro contained electric quality playing by all three performers. Mr. Poli's piano was excellent. The trio burst open like a large red tulip with a small empire of resplendent sound. A wonderful concert experience.

Following the intermission, Scott Woolweaver (viola) and Vivian Chang-Freiheit (piano) performed Paul Hindemith's "Sonata in F Major, opus 11, no. 4". The piece was dark, slightly dissonant and airy at the same time. The melody moved forward, backward and returned to a level of serenity. Modernist elements, occasionally reminiscent of Erik Satie, entered with staccato, increasingly dissonant viola. There was a striking, turbulent, plumed quality of the piano playing which was occasionally a little overbearing for the concert salon space. The percussive, fractured sound of both the piano and viola returned again to the melody and sense of relative calm. Very engaging performance.

The modern Italian composer, Luciano Berio"s "Folk Songs" concluded the concert. The composer wrote the piece for soprano and an ensemble of six instruments. Beginning with the two well known American folk songs, "Black is the Color" and "I wonder as I Wander", soprano Sabrina Learman sang with a lovely, sustained voice that was effective with folk style viola and plucked harp, creating a raw sort of Celtic spareness. Other folk songs drawn from Armenia, France and Italy followed, with noteworthy and original performances on "Motettu de Trustura" and "La Fiolaire". Though Ms. Learman's voice was sometimes too large for the performance space, she had a keen sense of the drama inherent in each song and the instrumentalists were spare and plain spoken, appropriate to the songs.

Carolyn Gregory

Boston Philharmonic Performs Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony

Conducted by Benjamin Zander.

May 1, 2005

Sergei Prokofiev This concert, entitled "War and Peace," marked the final concert of the 2004-2005 season performed by the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. As is typically the case, the program choices were varied and consistently engaging, including works by three modern composers: Penderecki, Frank Bridge, and Prokofiev. The concert included noteworthy solo cello work of Alexander Baillie who accompanied the orchestra on Bridge's Oration and Concerto Elegiaco. Mr. Baillie's playing was lyrical and deeply emotional, in contrast to the orchestral theme of mechanized war. Additional excellent solo "strands" included the trumpets, drums and tuba in the Prokofiev symphony. First on the program was Krzysztof Pendereciki's Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, composed in 1960. Penderecki was a 12 year old child in Poland at the end of World War II who had experienced great trauma during his youth. His Threnody consequently is a song of lamentation for the dead and casualties of war. The composition requires a peculiar definition of orchestra  Each of the fifty two stringed instruments plays its own part instead of playing in unison. The instruments' sounds tend to resemble the effects of the bombs dropping with no harmonies or melodies. Instead, timbre assumes priority as instruments play the edges of sound. Glissando and complex rhythms are essential. The Boston Philharmonic started their performance with a shriek of strings followed by staccato, percussive movement lending to a windy landscape haunted by sirens and discomfort, a "tilted" sense of musical reality. Private images float through our collective consciousness  water falls, a bus turns over, walls of a school cave in. With the suggestion of animals torn asunder, the whole orchestra becomes totally charged. This performance contained marvelous modulation, profound sense of loss, consistently good movement from diminuendo to full orchestral volume. Penderecki's use of cluster pitches separated by quarter tones was powerful, painful and transcendent, suspending the listener in the morass of atomized matter and spiritual anguish. A beautiful achievement.

For his Oration-Concerto Elegiaco, composed in 1930, Frank Bridge quoted British poet Wilfred Owen: "The subject is war and the pity of war. The poetry is in the pity." In this piece, a lyrical solo cello, suggestive of the pastorale, is set against mechanized modern war. The performance began with rumbling drum, woodwinds and cellos, followed by solo cello played by Alexander Baillie. Mr. Baillie's dark melodic, flowing line was then joined by the bassoons. The orchestra continued with measured pacing, with striking embellishment by drums, basses and trumpets. A frenzied ascent by the solo cello followed with greater orchestral volume. Noteworthy here was some particularly expressive playing by the clarinets and oboes. After a musical interlude, the composition became more strident and militaristic. The solo cello detached itself, returning to an introspective, lyrical mode which was joined by the flutes (which perhaps represent nature). The solo cello then became more agitated, including more percussion, bowing and lower register notes. The entire piece is poetic and powerful, a song of the individual soul at odds with mechanized, modern society engaged in war. Though humor is lacking in Oration, irony, despair, passion and beauty are certainly there in abundance. Mr. Baillie's solo cello work was essential to the success of this performance. His sense of dynamics, passionate lyricism and grace sharply contrasted with the orchestral movement and contributed to a moving musical experience.

In Sergei Prokofiev's Symphony 5 in B Flat Major, the Andante opened tranquilly with sweeping strings and introduced the melodic line which in turn was further defined by the horns. The orchestra grew turbulent with emphasis on the horns and bassoons. There was some occasional murkiness in the overlayers of instruments. This was sometimes apparent when the movement grew more dynamic. The tuba's playing was excellent in conjunction with the drums and other percussive instruments. The Allegro moderato began like a runaway horse. There was plenty of imaginative and quick pacing with nice playing by the horns and woodwinds. Unfortunately, I again noticed a slightly brassy ending to the second movement. The third movement or Adagio was terrific. Beautiful string work included dynamic cellos, good shifting from lyricism to a more percussive interlude. The use of the full orchestra suggested a horizon of doom, edge of catastrophe which returned to a transcendent, almost ballet-like form. A good balance between lyrical and dissonant strands. The Allegro giocoso began in a more leisurely fashion with nice cello work, shifting to quicker paced bassoons and violins. Again, there was excellent emphasis on tuba and drums, leading to a solid, q uick paced, percussive conclusion, bringing the symphony back to the B flat major key it began with. With the exception of the occasonial brassiness heard, this was a well wrought performance of the modern Russian masterwork.

Carolyn Gregory

Chameleon Arts Ensemble Performs "One deep chord gave answer - A Chameleon Schubertiade"

Joanna Kurkowicz, violin; Gary Gorczyca, clarinet; Roberto Poli, piano; Deborah Boldin, flute; Joshua Gordon, cello; Gabriel Langfur, trombone; Margaret Phillips, bassoon; Scott Woolweaver, viola; Nancy Dimock, oboe; Alyssa Coffey, horn; Richard Watson, trumpet; Anthony D'Amico, bass; Katherine Winterstein, violinist..

April 2, 2005

Edgar Varese

The Chameleons returned to Boston's First and Second Church for this fourth program on their 2004-2005 concert schedule and the acoustics suited them beautifully for this Schubertiade. First performed was John Harbison's November 19, 1828: Hallucination in Four Episodes. The composition was created while Harbison spent time in Genova and was inspired by a book entitled, Theory and Practice, written by Alfred Mann, wherein a lesson Schubert had with the music theorist, Sechter, was described. Harbison very ably and originally links the past and present in his four movement quartet by including dynamic piano, dreamlike strings and the suggestion of Schubert wandering in a hall of mirrors. Pianist Roberto Poli's ruminative piano was joined by violin, viola and cello wherein an aspiring movement was counterposed against a kind of despondency  so characteristic of the brooding Schubert. In a hall of mirrors, what is familiar comes to Schubert upside down. The composer then recalls a rondo fragment from 1816 and the quartet becomes more hallucinatory as it proceeds till moving into further darkness. In the fourth movement or Fugue, Joshua Gordon's deeply resonant cello is joined by passionate and excellent ensemble playing. The quartet continues in more formal fugue structure, again showcasing Roberto Poli's fine piano work. This performance of the Harbison quartet was excellent, both dreamlike and measured at the same time, humorous and profound.

Edgar Varese's Octandre, a three movement composition for woodwinds, horns, and bass, was next on the bill. The first movement (Assez lent) opened with substantial mystery. The four woodwinds were joined by three horns and a bass. The movement was both dissonant and percussive. The single clarinet cut through a fair amount of cacophony, lending to an unsettling quality. The second movement (Tres vif et nerveux) placed the trombone and trumpet in the foreground against repetitive woodwinds and highly animated flute. The bass entered briefly and darkly, contributing to the composition reminiscent of Stravinsky by virtue of the dissonance and potent stridency. The second movement, in fact, reminded me of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, structurally. The Octandre was very well played by the Chameleons, though oddly, when the flute hit a very high note, my back molar throbbed!

Last on the program was Franz Schubert's masterwork, the Octet in F Major, D. 803 in six movements. The Octet opened with majesty and balance. The bassoon (played by Margaret Phillips) was a strong presence and Gary Gorczyca's clarinet playing was fluid, sustained and beautiful. Lyrical strings with nuanced phrasing contributed to the musical flow. Horn and bassoon flourishes extended the musical metaphor. Cello work was lovely. Complex pacing was managed well in the first movement. The second Adagio movement marked possibly the best playing I've ever heard by the Chameleons. A mellifluous opening with bell-like clarinet was joined by subtle violins and cello. The playing here was absolutely first rate, graceful and melodic  it should have been recorded. The Allegro vivace movement was spirited and optimistic with spritely violins, threaded with percussive cello. The Andante movement followed, more sedate and stately. Again, Mr. Gorczyca's clarinet work was particularly fine. The composition then moved into a darker stretch of melancholy which shifted back toward the light. The Menuetto included elegant playing by the clarinet and violins, added to by modulated horn and bassoon. The final Andante molto allegro movement opened with rumbling dark bowing by the cello. This complex Schubert Octet was a very satisfying, artfully played piece that showcased the Chameleons' very best ensemble playing.

Carolyn Gregory

Boston Philharmonic Performs Bruckner's Eighth Symphony

Conducted by Benjamin Zander.

February 12, 2005

Anton Bruckner Boston Philharmonic Orchestra's conductor, Benjamin Zander, prepared the audience for composer Anton Bruckner's symphonic masterpiece, Eighth Symphony in C minor, by distinguishing Bruckner from Gustav Mahler. He contrasted their senses of the cosmos. While Mahler introspectively dealt with the “drawing room”, Bruckner “dealt with the cathedral”. In typically enthusiastic and informed style, Zander spoke of Bruckner's historical context. Many critics during his lifetime did not know what to make of him. One, in fact, said his music was the “anti-musical ravings of a half wit”. Brahms, too, made highly derogatory comments, perhaps based on some form of rivalry. The modern audience now needs patience to listen to him which is, in turn, rewarded by leaps and bounds with his tremendously original vision, anachronistic musical notation, and enormous energy.

Bruckner's symphony stylistically builds blocks of sound using quarter notes and triplets. There are elements of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, some pizzicato and a menacing theme, all interwoven together. The symphony proceeds majestically from key to key. The second movement (Scherzo) builds titanic energy, as Zander said, “like a mighty piston” and two harps are used for the first time with great dramatic effect. The third movement (Adagio) shows Bruckner to be an “adagio composer par excellence”. The Finale movement marks the composition's tortuous movement to a final climax. At the end, the violin section is left with one final gesture. A beautiful, sonorous cadence ends the symphony. The Finale, in fact, joins all four major earlier musical themes in an “exultant affirmation”. Throughout, spiritual renewal is central to Bruckner's vision here and heaven is seen as the natural providence of human existence.

Movement one began with a nice building momentum with very strong cello work joined by the violins. A demi-crescendo developed early on, followed by limpid, more tranquil playing. There was brief solo work by the English horns and clarinets. Movement I was noteworthy for a nice hovering quality of the orchestra, like a large soaring bird. There was good tension as the orchestra grew dynamic, interrupted by unexpected interludes of bright playing by the flutes and horns.

The Scherzo movement started with great energy and percussive momentum, followed by restraint. Two beautifully played harps introjected a celestial strand at this point. The whole orchestra played particularly well when moving toward a semi-climax. Cosmic forces appeared to be on hand when all the orchestral components came together in a manner not dissimilar to Wagner, though perhaps less grandiose. The Scherzo included marvelous tempo shifts and general playing.

The Adagio movement opened with a sweeping, almost languorous mood. Reflective, noble harps re-entered the landscape. Very sonorous violins played, adding a serene overlayer, joined by the cellos. Horns and woodwinds became more engaged as the violins and cellos proceeded with lovely lyricism. A sense of musical wandering continued to build with streaks of bright tonal color. There was a dynamic buildup followed by further restraint and movement away from the musical eye of the storm. Suddenly, we are greeted by a climax section with powerful string work. The orchestra showed well nuanced control at this point, harps and horns particularly noteworthy.

In the Finale, a singing quality emerged. The orchestra is energetic and active and played on a grand scale. Ascending chords stretched heavenward before the orchestra returned to a calmer, more open space. As before, the percussive and lyrical alternated. Sweeping strings and woodwinds were strong at this point. As typical with Bruckner, there was an ascent and deconstruction from the climactic, played respectfully and powerfully by the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra. This performance was a triumphant and joyous experience for this reviewer. There's never a flat moment with Bruckner! And the orchestral playing was excellent that night. Spacious-melody techniques, changing key notation, multiple climax points. What a large cosmos is developed here! As Michael Steinberg commented in the concert's program notes in “the very last bar of the symphony is a musical figure found in the symphony's first phrase,” like the universe reflected in a single drop of rain.

Carolyn Gregory


Deborah Boldin (flute), Gloria Chien (piano), Vivan Chang-Freiheit (piano), Joanna Kurkowicz (violin), Rafael Popper-Keizer (cello), and Anna Reinersman (harp).

February 5, 2005

Alan Hovhaness This third concert in the 2004-2005 series was again held in the beautiful and historic Goethe-Institut, noteworthy for its excellent acoustics and intimate seating.

First on the program was Boston composer, Alan Hovhaness' "Garden of Adonis", opus 245. It opened with shimmering, constant playing by the harp, joined by reflective flute playing, a lovely opening by Deborah Boldin and Anna Reinersman. The second movement featured a luminous and more percussive harp, accompanied by fluid flute with an Asian melodic line. The fourth movement began with a breathy, bird-like flute, settling back into a dreamy duet. The entire composi tion was very enjoyable, linking a new classical form to world music with a multicultural panorama; multiple rhythms and complex melodies were very much part of its success.

Ernest Bloch's Sonata Number 2, "Poeme Mystique", was next. Fantastic sweeping violin played by Johanna Kurkowicz suggested a spiritual ascent, twisting and turning virtuosically, accompanied by Gloria Chien's subtle, fluid piano playing. The violin played in a haunting upper register with unpredictable movement into a more frenzied pace. There was excellent piano understatement. Ms. Kurkowicz played with masterful technique and good sense of breath between the notes. The pairing between violin and piano lent strongly to the composition's dynamic stretch between soulful, profound lyrical depth and the simpler melodic sections. A very satisfying performance, indeed.

Next was Israeli composer, Tamara Muskal's "Dmamah" (Absolute Silence), played by flute, cello and piano. The piece opened with a percussive "slap in the face" followed by the entrance of a nervous cello and unsettled flute. Repetitive piano and cello were joined by flute that sounded like an angry bird. There were elements of a dissonant tango and interesting fusion points where the instruments appeared to melt into each other. The cello briefly basked in a little gypsy flare, joined by the other players. The composition ended with a repetitive, jarring screech, resembling an air raid siren, repeated by the flute and piano. This reviewer found this composition to be an interesting piece by a young composer trying to portray deep and global angst. Unfortunately, its various musical elements did not work.

Instead of Messiaen's "Chants de Terre et de Ciel", Ken Sullivan's "Irish Lullabye" played next. At first this reviewer was disappointed that the Messiaen would not be included due to Sabrina Learman's illness but I was pleased to note that the Irish Lullabye was a mellifluous and enjoyable alternative. There was a wonderful punctuated section followed by a shaded chord-like interval including thoughtful playing on the harp. Many variations on the theme were involved in this tribute to the blind composer's brother's death.

Finally, it was time for Beethoven's Trio in D Major, opus 70, number 1 (the "Ghost"). It began in turbulent, passionate allegro vivace, all instruments playing full throttle. The cello and violin especially were sonorous. The piano showed good pacing and intonation with nice dark and light contrast. The second movement included funereal pacing by the piano. Thoughtful lyrical cello was joined by mournful violin. The cello (as played by Rafael Popper-Keizer) was central to this movement and indeed showed more comprehensive understanding of Beethoven's emotional darkness than did the other two instruments. With the third movement, the trio shifted sharply from the lubugrious to the vital. The third movement, in fact, marked the best ensemble playing in the piece. Bold strokes by cello and violin and strong piano contributed to its singing quality. Pianist Gloria Chien included lovely glissandi in her playing, contributing to a successful performance of this masterpiece.

Carolyn Gregory

Boston Philharmonic Performs Stravinsky, Ravel, Gershwin

Conducted by Benjamin Zander. With pianist Kevin Cole

November 20, 2004

Maurice Ravel Conductor Benjamin Zander started out this performance of Twentieth century orchestral masterpieces, stating that “Each work (on the program) has a different color and demands a different posture” on the part of both the conductor and individual orchestral instrumentalists. Stravinsky’s Petrushka announced the beginning of the Twentieth century, using folk motifs and radical dissonance. It incorporated a short piano concerto, polyrhythms,dissonance and bitonality and was built around a conflict between magic and the real world–its philosophical meaning much more profound than the story of a Russian winter fair and three puppets. Ravel’s waltz using an homage to Johann Strauss builds on a continuous crescendo, and moves toward light from lugubriousdarkness. There’s a dance of death in it, a pull toward Armageddon–the tension between the elegant waltz and chaos sustains its art.George Gershwin, American composer extraordinaire, straddled Tin Pan Alley and the concert hall. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra commissioned the piano concerto as a classical piece. Within it, there’s an American blues, trumpet solo and fabulous solo piano work. Zander’s lecture as usual was both informative and very enthusiastically imparted to the audience!

Ravel’s La Valse and choreographic poem opened with an ominous rumble as a phantasmagorical waltz strand moved through a swirl of woodwinds and strings. The waltz suddenly got very brassy and then moved off center again. It swelled in an abrupt crescendo with lots of drums. There was lovely flute and clarinet introjection as the waltz became more mainstream before it again grew dark and expressionistic. Ominous “wind” swooshed through, followed by a brief, bright horn solo. The waltz then accelerated in speed like an out of control record, spinning into space. A very satisfying and exciting performance.

Next was Gershwin’s Concerto in F which opened on a very jazzy phrase with bassoons and strings. From the first notes played by pianist, Kevin Cole, the audience knew it was in for a noteworthy performance involving nuanced, subtle Gershwin interpretation. Cole had an impeccable way of anticipating notes, adding greatly to the jazzy orchestra accompanying him. Movement one was dotted with lovely glissandi through which Cole showed a lot of versatility and confidence. He was not afraid to alternate playing in the forefront and letting the orchestra take over when appropriate. His left handed playing was especially strong. Movement two began with a sinuous trumpet solo picked up by the woodwinds. The horn and woodwinds mimic each other till the piano entered on a jaunty phrase. The first violin played a brief lyrical solo, followed by the return of the trumpet, playing with mournfully bright notes like a cloudy New York morning. There was very elegant piano work with a real sense of “breath” and life force. Pyrotechnics opened movement three. There was a very urban feel to this, strengthened again by Mr. Cole’s left handed playing and a heart wrenching return to the principal melody with the full orchestra. A wonderful performance of the concerto which was followed by an unexpected and syncopated encore by Mr. Cole of Gershwin’s piano piece, “Fascinatin’ Rhythm.”

The final composition on the program was Stravinsky’s Petrushka which opened with a very animated full orchestra. We’re introduced to the fair, the signature flute and dancers. When the puppets first appear, there is wonderful solo violin work mixed in with lots of percussion. Emotional turbulence and confusion emerged through dissonance. There was very nice horn work when the ballerina puppet held a trumpet and danced for the Moor puppet. A dissonant waltz was very appealing, suggesting something larger than what it represented in itself. There were wonderful folk-based motifs and a striking dance involving a large bear lumbering through the fair. A devil danced with the masquers dressed as pigs. The music was dark and lively, cosmic at times and well played by the Boston Philharmonic. When Petrushka’s ghost rose above the theatre, mocking the magician, an excellent trumpet solo followed. We were left to wonder just what is magical and what is real in the world, a much more philosophical question than what is suggested on the surface here. Though the performance of the Stravinsky was very good, I did not feel it quite meshed with the other two shorter and freer form compositions on the program. Perhaps this was due to the highly structured nature of the Stravinsky work and its relentlessly intellectual nature. In any case, it was well performed and individual soloists such as the trumpet, bassoon, flute and piano were excellent.

Carolyn Gregory

CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Perform “Behind Me Dips Eternity”

Deborah Boldin (flute), Gloria Chien, Nancy Dimock (oboe), Gary Gorczyca (clarinet), Joshua Gordon (cello), Joanna Kurkowicz (violin), Sabrina Learman (soprano), Margaret Phillips (bassoon), Roberto Poli (piano), Kenneth Pope (horn), Katherine Winterstein (violin), Scott Woolweaver (viola).

November 5, 2004

Amy BeachChameleon Arts Ensemble at the Goethe Institut, Boston, MA – “Behind the Dip’s Eternity”, November 5, 2004 This second concert of the Chameleon Arts Ensemble’s 2004 – 2005 season included work by women composers, ranging from Americans, Amy Beach and Libby Larsen, to Nineteenth century French composer, Louise Farrenc, and Finnish and Russian Twentieth century composers, Kaija Saariaho and Galina Ustvolskaya, respectively. The concert was profound and whimsical, lyrical and engaging throughout, largely based on both the diversity of the repertoire and the cohesive ensemble playing by various personnel.

Farrenc’s “Sextet in C minor” opened the program with nice woodwind playing by flutist Deborah Boldin backed by piano and clarinet. There was a latter day Romantic feeling to the composition – each instrument answered by the others – and a sustained richness reminiscent of Schubert’s chamber music. The second movement of the piece was more sedate, linking oboe, flute and clarinet. The clarinet, in particular, was lovely and mournful. The third movement returned to more turbulent, Schubert-like dynamics, led forward by the excellent piano playing of Gloria Chien.

The Saariaho composition, “Je sens un deuxième coeur”, was written last year in five parts. The cello began with heart beat like notes followed by minimal violin bowing and strange echo-like effect of the piano. A fair amount of cacophony followed with broken, repetitive piano, continuing to uncertainty which then led to percussive insistence. The piece ended with greater temperateness. This was a difficult, abstract composition, played with great passion. Next was Libby Larsen’s “Songs from Letters from Calamity Jane”. Soprano, Sabrina Learman, sang accompanied by pianist, Gloria Chien. The tone poems performed were haunting and odd, representing different moods and ages of the mother, Calamity Jane, as shared with her daughter, Janey. Learman’s singing was a beautifully modulated performance, one of the high points in the concert.

Balina Ustvolskaya’s 1949 “Trio” came next. It opened with a long, fluid line played by the clarinet, followed by deep piano notes and full-voiced violin. A wandering quality of unrest reminiscent of the composer’s mentor, Dmitir Shostakovich, ensued. The dolce movement began in contemplation. Ethereal violin moved to fugal piano which was joined by then bolder violin playing. The clarinet then played an almost different melodic line. This was a wonderful dynamic and meditative performance, the most enjoyable on the program.

Finally performed was Amy Beach’s “Quartet in F sharp minor”. Composed in 1908, sweeping strings opened the composition with a swirl of Brahmsian romantic effulgence. The piece was played with great passion, including terrific violin playing. There was subtle cello and delicate viola work by Scott Woolweaver though this reviewer would have preferred having this piece performed earlier in the concert and a more sedate piece to conclude the very well performed concert.

Carolyn Gregory

Cantata Singers Perform Schumann's Scenes from Goethe's Faust

Mark Andrew Cleveland (Mephistopheles and Peter Profundis), Jennifer Foster (Gretchen and Una Poenitentius), and David Kravitz (Faust and Dr. Marianus). Cantata Singers, conducted by David Hoose.

November 7, 2004

Robert SchumannMost noteworthy at this fine concert performance of Robert Schumann’s “Scenes from Goethe’s Faust” was the continuous drama sweeping through the work, lending to an operatic intensity at times and the consistent excellence of the several soloist parts. Mark Andrew Cleveland , Jennifer Foster, and David Kravitz were especially good, contributing to the dramatic composition and singing well together.

The composition opened with a spirited Prelude, marked by good color dynamics with nice oboe and horn interpolation. Part One began with lovely interplay of voices of Gretchen and Faust. Foster’s soprano had a noteworthy tremulo quality along with resonant strength. The especially bright upper register of her voice emphasized the anxiety of Gretchen’s dramatic plight. Operatic elements grew more complex with the entrance of Mark Andrew Cleveland’s evil spirit and his marvelous rich bass. At this point, the Cantata Singers as a group entered the script with great tumultuous strength. There was good pacing between the large chorus and two soloists, lending to dramatic, operatic fullness.

Part Two began with a pleasant orchestral interlude and Charles Blandy’s resonant tenor. The soloists clustered around a lilting, graceful choral grouping, washing into night until Blandy’s Ariel returns. Unfortunately, the Day of Reckoning arrived for Faust who returned to the stage. Kravitz’s lower register baritone was very satisfying at this point. The music became more agitated as we are left to wonder whether we speculate over love or hate when “All of our life is color reflected Splendor.” Four gnarled women entered the scene and vanished again like phantoms. Majie Zeller, representing Sorrow, had a particularly lovely voice, contributing to the music’s tension. As Sorrow, she breathed on Faust who was instantly blinded. The orchestra swelled with full dynamics as Mephistopheles returned, calling on animal spirits, leading to the ensuing race between labor and annihilation. At the end, Faust’s untrammeled idealism sinks to the abyss with his death.

Part Three, Faust’s Transfiguration, was satisfying from the performance standpoint, but less satisfying as a complete Schumann composition. More diffuse than Parts One and Two, Part Three is not entirely cohesive with the whole composition. On the other hand, the solo work continued luminous. The choral power in Part Three was sometimes reminiscent of Brahms. There is a marvelous pairing of the cello and tenor in the rapturous “arrows of fire” song. The prayerful tone of this final section uplifted the composition until its completion. This was a well sung, consistently engaging performance of a rarely performed Schumann work. Kudos.

Carolyn Gregory

Boston Philharmonic Performs Mahler's Das Lied von Der Erde

Jane Struss, soprano, Thomas Young, tenor. Boston Philharmonic, conducted by Benjamin Zander.

October 16, 2004

Alma MahlerDas Lied von der Erde is one of Mahler's most affecting works. The piece began with the lied "The Drinking Song of the Earth's Sorrow, which quickly erupts into crashing conflict between the tenor and the orchestra--a compelling interpretation by conductor Benjamin Zander. In the end, with the line "Dark is life, is death,"neither has the last word: it's as if the piece ends in a wary truce. Tenor Thomas Young holds his own amidst this orchestral onslaught. The even numbered lieder were sung by contralto Gigi-Mitchell-Velasco. In "The Lovely One in Autumn" she displayed wondrous tone and timing, particularly in the doleful stanza beginning Mein Herz ist mude." In this and the other pieces, she admirably handled sudden shifts in tempo. Zander's conducting made sure her voice never disappeared into the orchestral maelstrom, but blended well. Her final lied, the monumental "The Farewell," she displayed nary a wrong note or inflection. The last lines, "Forever . . . forever" were both heartbreaking and chilling. Of course Peggy Pearson's repeated oboe was hauntingly effective throughout.

Young did a fair, yet not spectacular job with his lieder. His voice, while effective at times, sometimes lacked personality and invention. He was best in "The Drunkard in Spring," where his voice showed its true power, particularly in the cynical line "For what matters Spring to me!?"

There is something affecting about Mahler's Tenth Symphony, even if unfinished. Perhaps it's because it involves a fourth hammer blow of fate--the discovery of his wife Alma's liaisons with the young architect Walter Gropius. (The previous three had been the death of his daughter, his dismissal from his job due to anti-Semitism, and the discovery of his fatal heart ailment.) I am glad Zander tackled this symphony. When I spoke to him last year, he didn't foresee a time when he'd be performing it in the future. Between then and now, he obtained a copy of Remo Mazzetti's excellent reconstruction of the Adagio, and here he does wonders with it. The soaring first theme was well-modulated and Mazzetti's daring effects, like the high screech of a violin amidst the din, as well as later echoes of Mahler's early symphonies. The pianissimo moments are well-contrasted with the fortissimo sections. There is also a dramatically jarring nine-note chord unlike anything else in Mahler. Rumor has it that Alban Berg had something to do with suggesting it be in the score. The final high note that first violinist Joanna Kurkowicz plays is extraordinary. Perhaps someday Zander will play Mazzetti's entire reconstruction, which I believe is the best.

Peter Bates

CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Performs "Shhh. . .Whispering Trees, and now the Music"

Deborah Boldin, flute; Gloria Chien, piano; Scott Woolweaver, viola; Joanna Kurkowicz, violin; Gary Gorczyca, clarinet; Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello.

October 4, 2004

Chameleon EnsembleForget the loopy title. This concert had little to do with "whispering trees" and everything to do with the art of music, splendidly performed.

The group opened with Robert Schumann's late work "Märchenerzählungen 'Fairy Tales', Opus 132." This is one of his last works, composed a year before he was committed to the asylum at Endenich, where he died two years later.

The four-movement piece begain with a whimsical Lebhaft ((Allegro), with the clarinet clearly a dominant force. Gary Gorczyca played I with considerable alacrity, effortlessly sliding through the various energetic ascents. More whimsical than I, II produced moods that shifted effortlessly from daunting to wry. Pianist Gloria Chien played with sharp emphasis on the modern Steinway, which rumbled a bit in the bass. (It's too bad the First and Second Church doesn't have a less rowdy instrument, like an earlier Steinway.) The players created a mood of haunting wistfulness in III, with free associative figures and mood pictures painted by the clarinet. In IV, the piano once again asserted itself with a confident tone, giving way to a lyrical second theme. The piece wrapped up with a feeling of tenuous triumph, perhaps marking Schumann's undue faith in the life of the imagination over harsh realty. While Gorczyca was skilled, he was a bit too dominant, particularly in his duets with Woolweaver's viola.

Schnittke's "String Trio" is a complex, wry, mostly sardonic work that drew several smiles from the cognoscenti. At times a festival of "wrong notes," the work delights in constructing a lyrical melody and demolishing it with dissonance and harsh figures, like a parental rebuke. In this rendition, a driving allegro arrived to carry the piece to musical heights, but it stumbled and was soon pulled out of shape like taffy. Like much of Schnittke's quirky music, it was like the restless night of an insomniac, plagued with intermittant nightmares and short bursts of sentimental notions. The players quickly found its core, an entertaining series of musical jokes and punctured expectations.

Judith Shatin's "Secret Ground" had its Boston premier on this evening. Like a new pair of shoes, it took some getting used to, with its mysterious duets (cello/clarinet, violin/flute) and rapidfire chatter between players. Suddenly Raphael Popper-Keizer played an astounding cello solo and lead into a duet with Joanna Kurkowicz, one whose jazzy figures took the piece high into the stratosphere. Flutter tonguing on Gorczyca's clarinet and impish pizzacattos on the strings added to the complex timbre of this artful piece. The crowd applauded enthusiastically, as well they should have.

But nothing prepared these listeners for the final work, Shostakovich's "Piano Trio No. 2." A fabulously creepy opening set the mood for this war-time work and lead into a developmental section that was tight, rhythmic, emotional--a real crowd-pleaser. Kurkowicz, Chien, and Popper-Keizer played the Allegro (II) faster than I've ever heard it, life being lived on the edge. But what really knocked my socks and garters off was a truly great rendition of IV, the famous Jewish "Dance of Death" (repeated to great effect in the composer's Eighth String Quartet). As famous musicologist Ira Braus said, "here nineteenth century macabre becomes twentieth century sardonic." Perhaps more compelling with their twentieth century renditions than their nineteenth century ones, the Chameleons have nevertheless produced an impressive debut season concert.

Peter Bates

CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Performs "In the Midst of the Quartet Singing"

Deborah Boldin, flute; Gloria Chien, piano; Vivian Chang-Freiheit, piano; Heidi Braun-Hill, violin; William Manley, percussion; Sabrina Learman, soprano; Scott Woolweaver, viola; Nancy Dimock, oboe; Joanna Kurkowicz, violin; Kelli O'Connor, clarinet; Margaret Phillips, bassoon; Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello.

May 22, 2004

Chameleon EnsembleIn the final concert for the 2003-2004 season, the Chameleon Arts Ensemble performed this concert as a benefit book drive for the Metropolitan Boston Housing Partnership. As always, this program was varied and innovative, ranging from composers of the Baroque to the new Classical Asian music, from Robert Schumann to Lukas Foss' modernism.

The group opened the concert with Georg Phillipp Telemann's “Quartet in G Major from Tafelmusik”. The piece began in a spirited manner with especially enjoyable oboe playing. Lovely, deep-voiced Baroque violin was accompanied by flute. There was nice modulation in the Vivace-Moderato movement and the individual instruments played well in ensemble. Nancy Dimock's oboe playing was noteworthy. It was a piece full of spirit, summoning the sound of bird songs and elegant French parlors.

The next piece performed, Phan's “Beyond the Mountains”, was a Boston premiere and a dramatic shift from the Telemann preceding it. It began with turbulence with dissonant piano and clarinet, accompanied by lamenting violin and cello. Broken piano notes interrupted the flow and movement and lyrical thrust of the cello. The piece alternated between scorching discomfort and disturbed lyricism, sometimes successfully and sometimes not quite so successfully. There was a degree of diffuseness in the composition which made it occasionally unwieldy. A Bartok-like repetitive motif played by the strings lent an obsessive aura to the piece.

Next on the program was Lukas Foss' immensely innovative treatment of Wallace Stevens' major poem, “ Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird”. The composition began with stuttering flute and soaring soprano. The piano was played in the Foss manner with the top askew. The soprano, Sabrina Learman, sang with excellent modulation and range, alternating with whispered phrases and full voice. Foss was wise enough as a composer to bring the music directly back repeatedly to the Stevens poem. Magical percussive instruments were introduced. The flute was highly suggestive of a blackbird in flight or despair. It was really a superb treatment of the poem – windy, atmospheric and humorous, while also conveying the ominous under layers of the poetry.

Following intermission, the Chameleons next performed Jean Francais' “Quartet.” A light-hearted opening was followed by tightly measured playing, in turn followed by a more relaxed Andante movement. The oboe and clarinet playing was particularly rich. Generally, this was an optimistic piece marked by good ensemble playing.

Finally, the group performed Robert Schumann's “Quartet in E-Flat Major, opus 47.” The piece began in medias res , opulently romantic and very energetic, moving to a slower speed, which again built to a heightened pitch. The first movement's Sostenuto Assai, which was very passionate and unrestrained, shifting to the Scherzo's mercurial beginning. The Andante Cantabile movement on a much calmer frame, marked by rich cello and very sweet, singing violin, achieving an elegant, romantic melody accompanied by clear, measured piano playing. The Andante Cantabile movement was large with immense swatches of feeling. The final movement (Finale-Vivace) emotionally recapitulated the first movement. This was a record-worthy performance of the Schumann quartet played with passion, virtuosity and dramatic color – tremendously enjoyable.

Once again this concert showed how good these young players are. Their programs continue to show considerably virtuosity within their ensemble playing and program choices that are considerably more eclectic than many comparable groups in the Boston area.

Carolyn Gregory

Boston Philharmonic Performs Mahler's Seventh

Jane Struss, soprano. Conducted by Benjamin Zander.

May 1, 2004

MahlerThe Boston Philharmonic Orchestra performed Gustav Mahler's Seventh Symphony at Jordan Hall on Saturday, May 1, 2004 . This fourth of the Mahler symphonies performed in this twenty-fifth anniversary season of the Boston Philharmonic conducted by Benjamin Zander was an amazingly complex symphony written toward the end of Mahler's life. Comprised of five movements, the symphony is symmetrical with first and last movements built on a grand scale, the three central movements (two "night music" movements and a scherzo) are more character movements. Mahler composed the Seventh Symphony after completing his immensely tragic Sixth Symphony. Some critics have compared Mahler's musical parallels with Beethoven and Wagner's progression from tense, passionate compositions (Beethoven's Fifth Symphony) to greater tranquility (Pastoral Symphony). With the Seventh Symphony, Mahler's emotional universe opens once more from night to day, despair to cautious optimism. Nature and the human world become the focus of the Seventh. Moving from the first movement's adagio-allegro con fuoco through the three middle movements (andante and scherzo) to the final allegro ordinario movement, the Mahler Seventh Symphony appears to be tempestuously romantic and modern, though its underlying structure is classical.

The first movement opens boldly with tenor tuba accompanied by sweeping strings. Full-hearted horns push the movement to crescendo, followed by a lilting, lyrical slide into greater intimacy which again builds to the full voiced orchestra. Movement one is an amazingly complex tapestry of moods and textures which continues its alternation between grand sized and lyrical. Early on, singing violins are joined in horns and woodwinds, a celestial harp is introduced. Then the movement turns back to a chilling crescendo which rises and falls like waves on an ocean shore. The first movement almost becomes an entire symphony in itself. This performance had totally engaged conducting by Benjamin Zander.

The second movement ("night music") begins in a much more measured way. An echoing opening between trumpet and clarinet mimics birdsong, including percussive, engaging use of violins. Less tempestuous and cataclysmic than the first movement, the second movement has a lighter mood. It includes inventive use of cowbells, dotted notes of bassoons, and highly mellifluous flutes.

The third movement ("spectral") opens with anxious strings, like a danse macabre. The swirling stirring of spirits includes lovely brief solo work on violin by concert mistress, Johanna Kurkowicz. The movement is schattenhaft (like a shadow), moving in a flowing though not quick manner. It's a surrealistic waltz. There's a tug of war created between the timpani's minor movement and the contradictory B-flat in the cellos and basses. It's engaging, visually suggestive and complex.

The fourth movement (night music, andante amoroso) begins with a folk motif. Solo mandolin contributes a simple, lovely repeating melody. A solo violin leaps an octave vigorously and surprisingly. "Heavy with passion, the violin solo falls, like a turtledove aswoon with tenderness, down onto the chords of the harp", as critic Michael Steinberg writes in the program notes.

Following the four very different night movements, the fifth movement develops on a grand scale, once more a recapitulation of the first movement's turbulence. Full use of the orchestra includes a great deal of percussion alternating between a degree of cacophony and the lyrical realm. Reference is made to Wagner's "Die Meistersinger" at several turns and in the C-major finale. There are lovely flourishes of the celesta, multiple drums, chimes. It's a triumphant, celebratory movement, built again with full use of the orchestra--horns, violins, trombones and tuba, trumpets--the return to the march of the first movement, no longer so ominous, perplexed and restless but now triumphant and glorious.

Following the Seventh Symphony, mezzo soprano, Jane Struss sang "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen" ("I am lost to this World"), one of Mahler's Rückertlider. Very slow paced and contemplative, Ms. Struss sang this song with great majesty and dark toned beauty. Her performance was memorable, in particular, when her voice soared, opening up to capture the song's polyphony: "I live alone, in my own heaven, in my love, in my song."

This was yet another splendid concert performance by Benjamin Zander and the Boston Philharmonic. It capped a memorable and historic season. May there be at least fifty more to come!

Carolyn Gregory

CHAMELEON ARTS ENSEMBLE Performs Russian Exile Music

Deborah Boldin, flute; Gloria Chien, piano; Alyssa Coffey, horn; Nancy Dimock, oboe; Gary Gorczyca, clarinet; Joanna Kurkowicz, violin; Kelli O'Connor, clarinet; Margaret Phillips, bassoon; Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello.

March 27, 2004

This Boston-based group performed an all-Russian music program. Not only were the four compositions performed written by “Russian” composers, but all four composers also lived in exile from their homeland. Giya Kancheli, considered the most important composer to emerge from the old Soviet Union since Dmitri Shostakovich, was actually born in the Republic of Georgia, but since he lived under Soviet rule most of his life, might also be considered a “Russian” composer.

The group opened the concert with Igor Stravinsky's memorable L'Histoire du Soldat. Its spritely entrance was marked by a highly measured rhythm, showing excellent balance between the dissonant melody and the highly structured meter. The second movement, “Le Violon du Soldat”, focused on the violin's journey with a soldier, partnered by a mellifluous clarinet. Here Joanna Kurkowicz played her violin with both tense and bold strokes. “Petit Concert” reintroduced the dissonant melody line with the clarinet and piano duo. It was a highly turbulent movement, well played and tight as a coil. The next movement, “Tango-Valse-Rag”, was an offbeat, almost expressionist, melting tango, including a peculiar lyrical underpinning of melody. There was a plodding, measured piano accompanied by acrobatic clarinet and violin. What followed was a wonderful thrust into a “modernist” line. “Danse du Diable”, the final movement, almost manic in intensity, was played with fluid virtuosity. This was an entirely satisfying performance of this often performed piece.

Next on the program was Giya Kancheli's Piano Quartet in L'istesso Tempo, introduced with a quote from the composer: “(I) have no faith that beauty will save the world.” He wrote this piece and many others “to turn away indifference.” Tolling strings opened the composition followed by an immediate shift to greater tentativeness. Very nice piano modulation that's broken and lyrical at the same time, heightening the pensive, yearning thrust of the movement. The “busy” playing of the violin contributed to the turbulence to a point where the music felt as if it might explode. Then it returned to breathier space. What became a waltz-like tempo moved to a crescendo reminiscent of Bartok which then shrank down to increased tentativeness. A sweeping, tempestuous crescendo then ended on a broken offbeat march. This was a very well paced piece with superb shift between tempi and emotional textures.

Elena Firsova's Perpetual Return, written in 2000 and commissioned by Ensemble Pyramide and first performed in Zurich, followed. It opened with a haunting solo flute, joined by cello and the other strings and oboe. Poignant flute was followed by an introjected harp. Pensive cello helped to stretch the range of all the instruments to a point resembling a chorus of birds, marked by particularly lovely intonation by Joanna Kurkowicz's violin and Anna Reinersman's harp.

The final piece on the program was Sergei Rachmaninoff's Sonata in G Minor, Opus 19. performed by cello and piano. This began with romantic, flowing piano and deeply resonant cello. The allegro movement started with Beethoven or Schubert-like energy, more “classically” inspired than we often associate with Rachmaninoff's work. There was lovely treble work here, followed by a deeply emotional andante movement. Particularly striking was the dark, lower register cello playing by Rafael Popper-Keizer. The allegro mosso started with fluttering piano and cello which swelled and then slowed. Throughout the composition, there was excellent mix of the dynamic and ruminative, contrast between the restrained and uncontrolled, passionate heart.

The Chamelon Arts Ensemble continue to perform dynamic concerts that include a range of well known and lesser performed composers engaging different historical periods. Several of the players are really among the very best in Boston. This reviewer would definitely include Joanna Kurkowicz, violinist, and Rafael Popper-Keizer, cellist, in that elite group. An absolute high point of this all-Russian concert was Mr. Popper-Keizer's cello playing in Rachmaninoff's Sonata in G Minor. Dynamic, passionate, sustained and gorgeous playing. I am really looking forward to the next concert the Chameleons offer. It is bound to be inspired and memorable. .

-Carolyn Gregory

Boston Philharmonic Performs Mahler's Second

Susan Platts, mezzo-soprano, Ilana Davidson, soprano. Conducted by Benjamin Zander.

February 22, 2004

MahlerBenjamin Zander began his lecture for Mahler's Symphony #2 (or Resurrection) saying that each instrument in the composition is part of the composer's “emotional counterpoint”. Zander instructed the audience that the way to listen to this particular music is to “listen to everything.” By the time Mahler write his Second Symphony, he'd lost nine siblings; he was well acquainted with mourning and the full palette of emotional expression. In this symphony composed to five movements, the first long movement is followed by three intermezzi, shorter movements, culminating with a long movement. The whole symphony becomes a passionate Death and Transfiguration. Zander poetically stated that at Boston 's Symphony Hall “music lives like it does in a violin”, that the entire orchestra sings together as if it is a single instrument.

Mahler's Second Symphony's first movement represents a “knife to the heart” followed by the second movement, a glance backward or image of a long moment of bliss like a shaft of sunlight. The second movement's lighter than the rest of the composition containing a country dance-like rubato lending some relief from the first movement's dark proportions. The third movement's marked by a violent beginning. In it, elements of meaninglessness, sarcasm and the playful alternate. Clarinets and cellos create lots of “odd sound” and there's a scream of anguish similar to the anguish in Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique and in Liszt's Witches' Sabbath. In the fourth movement, a soprano sings “Man lies in deepest need. . .I would rather die in Heaven.” At this point, the key moves from A major to D flat minor and the tam-tam and glockenspiel alternately represent Death and life or Heaven. The fifth and final movement represents a symphonic tour de force. Here Mahler notes that the :Last Judgment is at hand. Ten musical motifs are represented that include a cry in the wilderness (oboes), day of judgment, resurrection and pleas for belief. There's an opening of the graves of the dead with a giant orchestral crescendo supported by a range of percussive instruments. The march of the dead souls includes an orchestral march and screaming woodwinds with a tritone interval (previously verboten, as it was considered to be the devil's signature). With the fifth grand movement, the human audience is assured that “What you have struggled against. . . will lead you to God.”

The symphony opened on a contemplative, large canvas. There was a lovely sonority shift between shadow and the luminous involving a vigorous cello section followed by horns and violins, a dynamic and shifting terrain. Sun streaks the canvas, only to go into hiding again. A large full orchestra grows and then becomes more tentative. The orchestra swells and then stops on a dime. Underlying all this, there's an ominous march of time. The second movement opens with a lovely, waltz-like motif in strong contrast to the large, troubled themes of movement one. The waltz shifts rather suddenly, nonetheless, to an airy pacing, reminiscent of Mendelssohn which eventually returns to the dance. The lyrical and gentle music includes delicate pizzicato and harp. Movement three opens with sinuous, wonderful use of the woodwinds, clarinets and oboes, in particular. There are broader musical strokes with more horns and greater dynamism among the strings. There was chilling crescendo-decrescendo work here. There was a solo interlude performed by mezzo-soprano Susan Platts like a cloudburst of song struck by light. Movement four opened more tentatively. An ensemble of horns, flutes and drums played from an offstage balcony location, suggesting an eternal region. Very striking, powerful music that captivated the large audience. With movement five, the orchestra was joined by a large chorus and soloists (Platts and soprano Ilana Davidson). The passionate duet of the mezzo and soprano in conjunction with the chorus restored peace to the symphony (and to the audience). The proportions of the final movement were operatic, written around the philosophical idea that “I die in order to live.” The symphony comes to a close, soaring upward with full use of every section of the orchestra – strings, horns, woodwinds, percussive instruments and bells. This was a deeply inspiring performance by the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and certainly one that warrants recording. Symphony Hall was a perfect location for this particular symphony, allowing use of the offstage ensemble work and large choral arrangement. Again, an absolutely wonderful afternoon of first rate music.

-Carolyn Gregory

Boston Philharmonic Performs Mahler's Fourth and Songs on the Deaths of Children

Mitsuko Shirai, mezzo-soprano,Heidi Murphy, soprano. Conducted by Benjamin Zander.

November 23>, 2003

MahlerBenjamin Zander prefaced this second concert in the Twenty Fifth season of the orchestra, letting the audience know that this would be an “extraordinary concert – all about children”, one showing the extremes of Gustav Mahler's emotions. As a child, the young Mahler lost nine siblings, witnessing several of their deaths close up. The poems inspiring the “Kindertotenlieder” (“Songs on the Deaths of Children”, text by Friedrich Ruckert) were written from the point of view of the despairing father, alternating in a fundamental way between light and darkness, hope and despair. Zander said that “every instrument plays a part in the drama” of tragedy in the songs, from the oboe central in the first two songs, to the cello and horns predominant in the fourth song. The singing throughout is “tragically sublime”, supported powerfully by a mezzo soprano. As always with Mr. Zander's lectures, a strong case was made for the connection between the composer's personal history and the symphonic, in this case reinforcing Mahler's stance as the German composer linking late German romanticism and modernism. The concert began with a nuanced opening of the Kindertotenlieder. Mezzo soprano, Mitsuko Shirai, has a voice full of tears that, when fully sustained, is powerful. Ms. Shirai performed Kindertotenlieder #3 beautifully in balance with the orchestra. This particularly poignant song is about the candle-lit memory of a child's face returning from the dead. Ms. Shirai's voice on this song expressed a fuller range than she had in #1 and #2, in which the cellos and bells overpowered her. Again, in #4, Ms. Shirai's upper vocal range soared, though its strength was sporadic. Following the intermission, #5 of the “Song of Earthly Life”, was performed. This is an immensely poignant song, based on three motifs: anxiety, rising angst of a starving child, and final resolution. Perhaps because of the dramatic tension, Ms. Shirai's voice soared. Her performance was very satisfying and operatic in timbre, partnered beautifully by the anxiety and sustained orchestral pace. The Fourth Symphony in G major began with signature sleigh bells, soon joined by violins and cellos. Mid-movement, there was bolder use of horns, followed by nearly strident woodwinds and flutes. The full orchestral playing showed dynamic movement from full volume to quieter restraint. The first movement ended on a lovely ascending flow, attended by horns. The second movement opened with a peculiar offbeat dance rhythm. The strings, French horns and trumpets were strong here. The third movement (or the “Serene”) began with plaintiff strings, leading to a transparent expansiveness. Joined by oboes and bassoons, the orchestral colors were layered gracefully. The violins were particularly lyrical. This was a luminous movement, building an emotional pitch that made me weep. Soprano Heidi Murphy joined the orchestra in the fourth movement. Both the sleigh bell motif and sense of urgency returned. Ms. Murphy sang with an expressive and resonant voice. I found her voice full, pretty and very well suited to Mahler. Once again, this rendition of a complete Mahler symphony by the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra was a great success. . -Carolyn Gregory

Chameleon Ensemble Performs Music of the Twenties

Deborah Boldin, flute; Gloria Chien, piano; Alyssa Coffey, horn; Nancy Dimock, oboe; Gary Gorczyca, clarinet; Joanna Kurkowicz, violin; Sabrina Learman, soprano; Kelli O'Connor, clarinet; Margaret Phillips, bassoon; Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello.

November> 15>, 2003

SykesThe Chameleon Arts Ensemble, a group of locally assembled and excellent young musicians, performed their second concert in this season's series at First and Second Church , Boston on Saturday, November 15, 2003 . This concert, “Forever Is Composed of Nows”, focused on Twentieth Century American and European composers. The first piece, George Antheil's Sonata Number 2, was composed by Antheil in 1923. He had previously written Ballet M é canique, a futurist score for percussion ensemble, and some of the same stylistic flourishes in that composition also appear in this violin-piano sonata. There's a strong Bartok-like introduction that is percussive and sly, joined by a playful violin. The piece was lyrical and dissonant at the same time – like a disjointed tango that jumps to a jukebox tempo afterward. Joanna Kurkowicz and Gloria Chien played it admirably well and were joined by D. Boldin on drum near the end. This was a terrific concert opener, thoroughly whetting this reviewer's appetite for more! Next on the program were a set of six American songs entitled, “Love Impressions: American Art Songs, 1921-1925”. This was an interesting set of pieces including Aaron Copland, Charles Ives, and Amy Beach, three of this reviewer's favorite American composers of the period. Soprano, Sabrina Learman, and Gloria Chien, pianist, performed these songs with great flare and style. Ms. Learman's voice has a pretty good range. Her occasional soaring high range was noteworthy as was the emotional range of her performance. Additionally, I liked the lyricism of the poems and the match between the music and poems. Charles Ives' “ Housatonic at Stockbridge” was based on a very good poem, matched by the music's strongly suggestive sense of flowing water. Gloria Chien's piano playing was particularly satisfying here. Manuel de Falla's “Concerto for Harpsichord”, was the first ensemble piece on the program. It opened with quicksilver speed, marked by the multiple voices of clarinet, violin, cello, flute and harpsichord. The beginning was followed by a more formal, incantatory and solemn harpsichord which in its way, showed the influence of classical European composers on de Falla. This lento movement was sustained by the harpsichord with fluid woodwind movement. The vivace final movement turned the composition back in a more playful direction with an undercurrent of lyrical violin and flute, combining a folk theme with the abstract. Leos Janacek is widely accepted as the most important Czechoslovakian composer of the Twentieth Century. The Chameleon Ensemble performed “Mladi (Youth) Suite for Wind Sextet, written by Janacek in 1924. The composition began with a nice “depth charge” from the horn. The second, andante movement began with slower pacing and a building crescendo of flute and clarinet. The vivace movement started with a sweet melodic line, showing lovely work from the oboe and flute. It shifted in an interesting fashion between the lyrical and fast paced, suggestive of youth's quick passage. This was an interesting, diverse composition, a harbinger of later trends that developed in both jazz and minimalism. The final composition on the program, Fauré's Piano Trio performed by violin, cello and piano, was a lovely piece that at times, reminded this reviewer of middle period Brahms, based on its highly expressive emotional range. The pure lyrical cello opening was joined by a passionate violin and exclamatory piano. The andantino was a quieter movement with a flowing, melodic line, played by solo violin, then picked up by the excellent cello playing of Rafael Popper-Keizer. There's a swelling ascent in the composition, culminating in the allegro vivo movement marked by marvelously expressive running chords on the piano. This piece was a wonderful culmination to the concert. After now attending two concerts by the Chameleon Arts Ensemble, this reviewer continues to be impressed with the versatility and range of this Boston-based group. I thoroughly enjoy the variety of their performances. I can only hope that their audience size will grow as they continue concertizing. They are most definitely a force on the local scene that I hope will continue and flourish for a long time to come. -Carolyn Gregory

Bill Staines at the Linden Tree Coffeehouse

With Debra Cowan. Linden Tree Coffeehouse, Wakefield, MA.

November> 15>, 2003

Boston Chamber Music SocietyBill Stains has been performing over thirty years and has lost none of his spirit. In fact, talkin' blues songs like "Old Pen," written about a hobo musician, take on more authenticity when heard from this grizzled veteran of many gigs. He performed other favorites like "Roseville Fair" and "Wild Wild Heart" (with unsolicited audience accompaniment) displaying none of the world-weary anomie that other older singers often project. In his introductions he is often humorous and self-deprecatory, like when talking about senior moments he's been experiencing lately. He even had the courage to perform his work-for-hire songs, done for commercial documentaries and decidedly a rung lower in quality than his more deeply felt personal songs, like "Bridges." As an added treat, he sang Eric Andersen's "Thirsty Boots," written by a young man through the eyes of an older one, weary of traveling and being jailed for his beliefs. Traditional folk singer Debra Cowan opened for him, singing mostly acapella ballads about country life. -Peter Bates

Boston Chamber Music Society Performs Beethove, Prokofiev, and Dvorak

Ida Levin, Ronald Thomas, Mihae Lee, Peggy Pearson Thomas Hill, Ruggero Allifranchini, Haim and Joan Eliacher, Marcus Thompson, and Edwin Barker.

November> 14>, 2003

Boston Chamber Music SocietyThe Boston Chamber Music Society's second concert of the season scores high points for its interpretation of Beethoven, Prokofiev, and Dvorak. Ida Levin, Ronald Thomas, and Mihae Lee performed Beethoven's early C-minor Piano Trio with requisite brio and charm. It's not hard to hear the edges of early Romanticism poking through the Haydn-like structures. Ironically, it was rumored that Haydn himself did not like this piece, perhaps because of its "daring" lyrical structure. No matter, its youthful exuberance carries it through to the whirling finale. Prokofiev's Quintet for Winds and Strings was a rare treat. Rarely performed, this sardonic and slightly disturbing piece reminds me a little of Bartok's Contrasts (for clarinet, violin, and piano). While musically quite different, it has a similar anarchic sense of play he learned from living in Paris in the 20's. This six-movement piece also toys with atonality in the oddly structured Adagio pesante, which is infused with a rumbling strain of dread. A few demi-folk melodies slither in, notably at the Moderato and the Allegro precipitato. Hats off to oboist Peggy Pearson and clarinetist Thomas Hill for contributing to the off-kilter Dadaist mood of this subversive piece. No wonder Prokofiev felt necessary to recant it to the Stalinist commissars twenty-five years later. To their credit, the Society restores the Intermezzo (Nocturne) to its rightful place in the Dvorak String Quintet. (It was removed by a tone-deaf publisher.) Achingly beautiful, this four minute piece spins a dreamy mood throughout, but avoids sentimentality by including a subtle tempo speedup halfway through. The Scherzo and the Andante cantabile also contribute to the success of the piece. However, as one musician said, the piece is more successful in its center movements. The finale is problematic and lacks keenly articulated ideas and musical consistency. Nevertheless, the Society handled the piece admirably. -Peter Bates

Boston Baroque Performs Handel's Alcina

Twyla Robinson Margaret Lattimore , Lauren Skuce , John Tessier , Amanda Forsythe , Stephen Salters, Christine Abraham. Conducted by Martin Perlman. Stage direction by Jennifer Griesbach.

October> 17>, 2003

Young MahlerBoston Baroque's thirtieth anniversary production (semi-staged) of Handel's popular opera Alcina was a light and pleasing affair. The vocalists, for the most part, were excellent. Robinson's vocal technique and pure timbre matched Handel's music perfectly; yet she seemed too guileless in her role as an enchantress who lured men to her magical island only to turn them into rocks, twigs, and animals. Forsythe as Oberto was plaintively poignant in Act 1, her light and resonant coloratura full of feeling. Abraham's Bradamante was exquisite in her tenderness as she sang “Son quella ” (Act 2). Lattimore as Ruggiero (originally sung by a countertenor) had a pleasantly rolling vibrato, with competent glissandos. Toward the end, the numerous da capo arias yielded to a lovely trio by these three singers, followed by brief solos from chorus members. Martin Pearlman's conducting was spirited, and the small orchestra, which included a harpsichord and a theorbo , was in top form. Vocal purists, take note. The acoustics on the right side of the balcony at Jordan Hall leave a lot to be desired, and the singing in the lower ranges sounded distorted. Once a move was made to the orchestra section, however, the singers in the mezzo-soprano and tenor ranges seemed to improve dramatically. -Dalia Geffen

Boston Philharmonic Performs Mahler's First and Songs of a Wayfarer

William Sharp, baritone, Johanna Kurkowicz, concertmaster. Conducted by Benjamin Zander.

October> 12, 2003

Young MahlerCelebrating the twenty fifth anniversary season of the Boston Philharmonic, the orchestra performed the first of four sequential Gustav Mahler symphonies (and other major compositions) on Sunday, October 12th at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge. As always preceding the Boston Philharmonic's concerts, conductor, Benjamin Zander offered concertgoers a pre-concert lecture that was richly instructive, both about Mahler's complexity and the evolution of his music as the bridge between German Romanticism and Modernism. Zander painted Mahler's life and music in bold strokes, claiming that "everything about him was amazing". At age three, for example, Mahler knew 200 songs! His "Songs of the Wayfarer" were written at the young age of 23, though their level of sophistication would indicate a much more mature composer. Indeed, Mahler's First Symphony came (to use Zander's words again) "fully armed like Athena into the world", evolving from a short work, Blumine, written previously for his great lost love, Johanna Richter. And on to the music, itself. The "Songs of the Wayfarer" began with subtle use of horn and orchestra in pianissimo mode, slowly waking with moody, mellifluous oboes. From his first song notes, baritone soloist, William Sharp, was magnificent. His voice was nuanced, lyrical and emotionally resonant. Most notable to this reviewer was the beauty in his upper range. These four songs were written by Mahler in a state of despair at being jilted by Johanna Richter. Despair is set against the great and restorative beauty of nature, replete with its bird songs and bursts of thunder - subtly melodic - yet Mahler pushed the form toward Modernism with his persistent key shifts from minor to major keys. The songs were admirably performed with passion and poetic restraint. This was a moving performance of the songs and worthy of note. The First Symphony was next and what a new world we entered. Starting out with a view of lost innocence, we're surrounded by birds in out journey to the countryside. The second movement grew more complex. An active Viennese country dance starts energetic, full sail, then becomes a waltz with lots of lyrical rubato. The orchestral playing was terrific in this movement, balancing the strings, woodwinds and horns consistently throughout. The third movement was rather like a sustained poem. An ominous folk song played on the bass was then picked up by English horns and oboes. The song was then shared among orchestral sections, moving into a Klezmer tune, then winnowed down with lovely strings and woodwinds in dialogue. There's the sense of time marching forward on repeated, sustained heartbeats toward the tumultuous climax. The concert was a smashing triumph! From the subtle beauty of William Sharps' solo singing to Johanna Kurkowicz's delicate and refined violin work to the subtle double bass playing in the First Symphony, this was a first rate performance of Gustav Mahler. The orchestral dynamics were consistently excellent. From the introduction of the cuckoo motif to the well defined transition into the lyrical, melodic main theme to the use of the whole "Mahlerian orchestra", the performance was very satisfying. There was good crescendo-decrescendo control throughout, nice shifting between the light and pastoral into the dark and tumultuous, giving further credence to Mahler's bold and large universe. I look forward very much to the next concerts in this Mahler series. Kudos to the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and to Boston musical natural resource, Benjamin Zander. -Carolyn Gregory

Teatro Lirico D'Europa Performs Don Giovanni

Vytas Juozapaitis, Stefano De Peppo, Steffanie Pearce, Su-Jin Lee, Vesselina Vassileva, Gabriel Gonzales, Hristo Sarafov, Vladimir Pochapsky. Conducted by Metodi Matakiev. Artistic and stage director: Giorgio Lalov.

September 28, 2003

Despite a rather static and lackadaisical staging (even the orchestra seemed lethargic at first, but then gained momentum), this performance of Mozart’s ever-popular opera had much to recommend it. Vytas Juozapaitis as the eponymous villain regaled us with his antics and handsome appearance. His light, breathy baritone successfully transitioned into Leporello’s deeper chest notes when the two characters swapped roles. Stefano de Peppo was somewhat unconvincing as Leporello, but while masquerading as Giovanni and harassing Donna Elvira he was quite comical. Steffanie Pearce as Donna Anna was an artful singer with regal acting skills. Her Ottavio, Gabriel Gonzales, sang “Il mio tesoro” with a smooth crescendo but was wooden and without any affect. Su-Jin Lee’s excessive vibrato led to inaccurate intonation, with scant breath support during her portamenti. But in Act 2 this Donna Elvira seemed to hit her stride. By far the best artist was Vesselina Vassileva of the Sofia Academy of Music. Her lively lyric soprano perfectly suited Zerlina. Like a purring panther cub, she soothed her irascible fiancé, Masetto (Hristo Sarafov), with her feline ministrations and sweet, precise enunciations. Vladimir Pochapsky as the Commendatore sang with deep, expansive notes that passed the frissons test. This production also displayed nice ensemble work. -Dalia Geffen

Wagner marathon by the Bostonians

September 20, 2003

The newly formed Bostonian Opera and Concert Ensemble (the Bostonians for short), with founder and artistic director Richard Conrad at its helm (see the interview), presented a rare musical event of excerpts from Wagner’s entire operatic oeuvre plus two of his piano pieces. Wagnerian music making of this caliber has rarely been heard in Boston (if at all). From the first thrilling notes of the trumpet (the Siegfried fanfare) to the last mournful cadences of Götterdämmerung, this ensemble of twenty-three singers and fourteen instrumentalists surpassed all expectations. Most of the singers, who donated their time and effort to this six-hour fundraiser, are eminently worthy of being on the Met stage or at Bayreuth. Bonnie Scarpelli’s Siegliende was astonishingly good, among the best I have ever heard on any stage or recording. The contralto Marion Dry sang both Erda and Waltraute (an indication of her wide range) with excellent musicianship and a commanding stage presence. In Lohengrin’s “Das süsse Lied verhallt,” one of this opera’s high points, Alan Schneider equaled the golden-age Heldentenor Franz Völker. With a little more softness and subtlety, he should soon surpass him. His partner, Jane Leikin, was a delightful Elsa, sweet and poignant, and in the end crestfallen, as befits the role (her Elisabeth was equally delicate). David Cushing, who sang the Holländer with great care, is a bass-baritone to watch. His big, sonorous voice might prepare him for Wotan some day. Philip Lima’s Wotan was too low for this velvety baritone, but he had the perfect timbre for Wolfram; his “Abendstern” (Tannhäuser) seemed somewhat affected, but his musicianship was never in question. Andrea Matthews, who sang Ada in Die Feen, is endowed with a true Wagnerian voice. This dramatic soprano glides from a gorgeously produced, tender pianissimo to the most passionate note with great ease. In “Mein Arindal,” she was enchanting as she swooped over the notes with her accurate and well-supported modulation. Her true fach may well be the Wagnerian repertoire.During the “Ride of the Valkyries,” the ensemble of eight women filled the hall with joyous voices (to the accompaniment of Thomas Hojnacki’s able piano) that thrilled the audience. The quintet in Act 3 of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg was magical. The two violinists in the Siegfried Idyll (Hilary Foster and Heidi Braun-Hill) were outstanding, and although the conducting by Dirk Hillyer needed a small infusion of energy, the sounds he elicited from the players was terrific.Given the dearth of good Wagnerian singers on the world’s stages, this outstanding undertaking proves that a fully staged Wagnerian production in Boston is well within the realm of possibility.-Dalia Geffen


The Don Quixote of Opera: An Interview with Richard Conrad

Fighting windmills comes naturally to Richard Conrad. A long-time fixture on the musical scene in Boston, this Don Quixote of the opera world recently founded a new company called the Bostonians, short for the Bostonian Opera and Concert Ensemble. On September 20, the company will make its debut with a six-hour fund-raising marathon of Wagner's music beginning at 12:30. Every artist, including instrumentalists, is donating his or her services in this unusual event.

Q. When did you start the Bostonians and why?

A. I was the founder and artistic director of the Boston Academy of Music (BAM) for twenty years. I broke off because of political machinations. Almost all singers with the Bostonians are from BAM. I named the Bostonians after a wonderful late-nineteenth-century touring company famous for the quality of its singing. I see myself as trying to follow the precepts and philosophy of that company, which ended in 1917 when the singers got old. They were quite something. I am also interested in staging. I do staging that highlights the singing and music. I don't like to inflict a concept.

Q. Why did you choose the music of Wagner? A. I don't want to be another organization redux. I want to bring to Boston repertory people don't usually hear. And BAM did marathons of Rossini (75 operas), Gilbert and Sullivan, Bellini, Mozart, verismo composers. People adored them. I'm a big fan of Wagner and sang in Meistersinger von Nürnberg with Sarah Caldwell.

Q. Was it difficult for the singers to make this drastic change in repertoire to Wagner?

A. No. My philosophy about Wagner is that he didn't have Wagnerian singers [back then]. Only after a century did the Wagnerian style develop. I tell singers to pretend to be singing Bellini music about drugs.

Q. How do you hope to contribute to the Boston music scene?

A. I want to display New England artists in a variety of repertory, bringing a different view of music, the kind that Boston doesn't usually hear. I want to glorify the human voice. I am adamant about using singers from New England. I am a Don Quixote fighting windmills.

--Dalia Geffen

To learn more about the Bostonians, visit

Boston Academy of Music Performs Tosca

March 23, 2003

Lori Phillips, Ray Bauwens, René de la Garza, Jay Baylon, Drew Poling, Miguel Angelo Rodriguez, Steven Pence, Steven Serpa, Paul Phillips, conductor.

In this coproduction, the Boston Academy of Music and Opera Providence make a valiant effort to evoke the time (1800) and place (Rome) of this beloved opera by multiple projections of slides depicting Italian architecture and paintings. This simple technique effectively diminishes the need for more elaborate set designs. A simple sofa, a rudimentary parapet, and a few benches seem sufficient to infuse the opera with a tragic realism that transports the viewer to a distant time and place.

Musically speaking, though, the results were rather mixed. The best performance was by the bass Jay Baylon, who as the fugitive Angelotti regaled us with some accomplished singing. In addition, De la Garza gave us a delightful Scarpia, whose joy at arousing Tosca’s jealousy is palpable. He was particularly effective at portraying Scarpia’s slow and imperceptible escalation of his maneuverings, although occasionally he seemed to get out of breath.

Phillips as Tosca evinced a good range and secure low notes, but her intonation, particularly during the high notes of “Vissi d’arte,” was somewhat distorted. Another drawback in Phillips’s singing was her unvarying tone. Her voluminous voice went from forte to fortissimo, without any discernible attempt at shaping it into a piano or pianissimo at any point. Bauwens as Cavaradossi had a firm hold on his legatos, and his high notes rang out loud and clear. His low notes, however, were for the most part muddy, especially in “E lucevan le stelle,” and his voice was not as flexible as it could have been.

The weakest part of this production was the clunky, ragged orchestra. The musicians and conductor seemed more concerned with producing the right notes than with shaping the music in an artistic manner.

--Dalia Geffen

RATING © © ©

Boston Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra Features D'Anna Fortunato

February 17, 2003

Boston Pro Arte Chamber Chamber Orchestra of Boston, Isaiah Jackson conductor. D'Anna Fortunato, mezzo-soprano.

The concert began with Café Neon, a tasty musical melange of traditional Greek rhythmic songs. Not a particularly profound piece, it was a good appetizer for the more substantial fare to come. Composer Steven Karidoyanes wrote in the notes that the pieces owe much to Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly. Clarinetist Jan Halloran artfully performed the spunky melodies. It is not very often that we hear Berlioz's charming Les Nuits d'été. This melancholic song cycle was composed to the poems of Théophile Gautier and deal with traditional romantic themes of longing and loneliness. Mezzo-soprano D'Anna Fortunato masterfully conveyed the mood of each of these six songs, despite the challenging acoustics of Sanders Theatre. Unlike the songs to follow, "Villanelle" is jubilant and joyous. "La Spectre de la Rose" features a striking descent to the low register in the final line, "Here lies a rose that every king might envy." "Sur les Lagunes (Lamendo)" has a monochromatic angst that Fortunato fills by varying the character of each of the strophic verses. She ends with a sigh of resignation. My favorite is "L'ile Inconnue." The piece has nicely varied musical ideas, which Ms. Fortunato conveys not only with her voice, but with her expressive face and gestures. It is seldom that we hear Beethoven's Fourth Symphony performed by a chamber orchestra. Yet this "feminine" symphony yielded well to Jackson's compact and vivid interpretation. The interplay between string sections in the first movement was notable, as was the deft creation of tension and dissolution in the fourth movement. Jackson's most notable effect was the famous (and sudden) tempo drop at the coda, Beethoven's tribute to Hayden's sly sense of humor.

--Peter Bates

RATING © © © ©

Boston Philharmonic Presents Mahler's Third

November 25, 2002

Boston Philharmonic, Benjamin Zander conductor. Chorus Pro Musica, Boston Boy Choir.






As the world's longest symphony (almost two hours) Mahler's Third Symphony sometimes needs special skills to keep up audience interest. This was Seji Ozawa's dilemma, when he conducted (and recorded) a rather pedestrian version of this work several years ago. Happily, no such problem confronted Benjamin Zander at a recent concert at Sanders Theater. The performance was stirring, bold, and exciting. The first movement has been accused of being "long and drawn out," perhaps a bit thick and effusive. It does account for more than a third of the six movement symphony's length. Yet Zander begins its ebullient opening with gaity and brio. His interpretation of the march melodies are filled with unusual delicacy, even sublety. Two thirds of the way through, the movement adopts a swaggering, scherzo-like feel and Zander revels in it. The finale is played with an alarming and exhilerating celerity. Wisely, he plays the second movement minuet with the requisite dash of sentimentality, but also injects an undercurrent of darkness. The third movement features the wonderfully atmospheric posthorn solo, which the conductor justly places far in the distance, where its melancholy strains transform into song. The fourth movement features the "Midnight Song" from Friedrich Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra, a philosopher whose works initially attracted, then repelled the religious Mahler. Mezzo-soprano Jane Struss does a good job with this spartan text and sings quite tenderly. The Chorus Pro Musica and the Boston Boy Choir are also exemplary. Why is it that adolescent boys sing so well together but tend to be shakey when singing individually? A sensitive Langsam ends the symphony, with a coda as lovely and drawn out as that in the Eighth Symphony. I am looking forward to the inevitable Telarc recording, which will probably include Mr. Zander's spirited lecture as a bonus disc, like the others he has recorded.

--Peter Bates

RATING © © © ©

Mozart and Brahms at the Gardner Museum

September 8, 2002

The Borromeo String Quartet with Kim Kashkashian, viola.






The concert began with Mozart’s Quintet in C Major, K515. The Borromeo plunged into the allegro, showing instant rapport. There was no warm up or adjustment of strings needed here! The encore was sweet, marked by a deep voiced, rich cello, and excellent attention paid to the “breathing spaces” in the music. The emotional resonance created by Mozart was reminiscent of the young Beethoven or even Schubert. The cellist, Yeesun Kim, held the movement together with her virtuosity. The menuetto opened with an immediate dance rhythm, counterbalancing light and dark motifs that suggested a solo dance couple. This movement reinforced the ensemble’s seamless playing. The andante began with a marked shift in tone from relatively light dance to more somber contemplation. The song-like quality of the movement was sustained by first violinist, Nicholas Kitchen, and held by violist, Mai Motobuchi. The sprightly and bright allegro movement was led by insistent violins, again marked by the super ability of each instrument to “listen” to the others.

This was an excellent rendition of the Mozart quintet. I hope to hear more Borromeo interpretations of Mozart in the future.

Brahms’ String Quintet F Major, opus 88 opened with Brahms’ characteristic vigorous romanticism. Sweeping bowing with high energy moved into a more subdued, open weave of the five instruments. Then Brahms threw a large bumblebee of turbulence into what’s become familiar to the listener. The Grave began much more calmly with dark, weighty cello, which is then picked up by the violins and violas with a quicker tempo. The cello and other strings shifted the tempo, then returning to a more introspective ending, solemn as Shostakovich. Finally, the composition picked up speed, becoming higher octane, similar to the exuberant beginning, like a dance gone wild. The allegro energico was very brief and dynamic, played with great gusto by the quintet.

The concert was a very satisfying performance by the Borromeo String Quartet with world-class violist Kim Kashkashian playing emotively, yet assuming an oddly subdued role as second violist. The Mozart and Brahms compositions complemented one another nicely, showing off both the virtuosic and high level of ensemble playing represented. I look forward to hearing the Borromeo String Quartet again soon. It would be very enjoyable to hear them take on Prokofiev, Hindemith or Bartok in the near-future!

--Carolyn Gregory

RATING © © ©

Hill House Community Choir: First Concert

June 17, 2002






Various show tunes and traditional songs, accompanied by pianist/director Miranda Loud.

It's always refreshing to witness the birth of a new amateur singing group. This group of six singers performed earnestly and passionately. While a few singers may have had voice lessons, a few hadn't. Yet they all carried the tunes and were able to propel the twenty minute event forward without any embarassing pauses or egregious flubs. This after only ten sessions together. The opening number was Lerner & Loewe's "On the Street Where You Live," with its charming and inventive Kirby Shaw arrangement. Unlike the other popular songss "Cheek to Cheek" and "I've got the World on a String," this piece demanded a complex sense of timing and ensemble singing. "Cheek to Cheek" was perhaps the most immediately appealing number, with its perky, foot tapping rhythm.

I have a few suggestions for the group.

This event signals an auspicious beginning for the new choir. Hopefully, we'll see more of them in the fall.

--Peter Bates

RATING © © ©

Boston Museum of Fine Arts: Cornucopia--The Italian Trio Sonata

May 12, 2002






Various Renaissance and Baroque works performed by the Boston Museum Trio with Etienne Abelin (violin)

It's true--the Italians invented the trio sonata in the late Renaissance. But it's equally true that these fine performers provided us with a cross-section of the genre that was at once sober and giddy. Using original instruments, the musicians played progressively more complex pieces until they ended with those two masters, Vivaldi and Locatelli. The three Renaissance pieces by Giovanni Cima, Salamone Rossi, and Biagio Marini are surprisingly inventive. Rossi's piece, "Sonata detta La Moderna," begins simply, almost guilelessly, but soon its complexity snags you like a motley fisherman's fly. A confident man, he once wrote an opus entitled "Songs of Solomon," which referred to him, not the Hebrew king. Guest violinist Etienne Abelin sensitively interprets Corelli's "Sonata in C Major for Solo Violin and Basso Continuo." The Adagio features wondrous slurs and dazzling demisemiquavers. The echoes in the final Allegro are ingeniously and subtly varied. The Vivaldi Sonata a tre in D Minor, while not the expected cornerstone of the concert, is unique and engaging. In the Grave, the cello provides an impish four-note responses that's as memorable as the "dog barking" passage in the second movement of "Spring." The irregular rhythm that ends the piece should have woken all the dozers in the audience. Finally, the Locatelli Sonata a tre in D Major opens with full rests so delicious you can almost bite into them. Oddly, the Vivace was not that lively, but the concluding Andante, with its stately and lyrical dance theme, made up for any previous restraints on the part of these excellent musicians.

--Peter Bates

RATING © © © ©

Boston Baroque Early Mozart

May 3, 2002

Divertimento in F Major, K. 138, Concerto in D Major for Flute and Orchestra, K. 314, Mass in C Minor, K. 427
Conductor: Martin Perlman
Soprano: Juliana Rambaldi
Mezzo-Soprano: Patricia Risley
Tenor: Stanford Olsen:
Bass-baritone: Kevin Deas

It was an excellent choice on the part of conductor Martin Perlman to perform these three works together. They show three distinct culinary sides to Mozart's development: the string quartet/divertimento, the mass, and the flute concerto. The Divertimento in F Major, originally an early string quartet, is a tasty appetizer with intricate textures, particularly the pianissimo passage just before the coda. The soup and salad came as a surprise--Mozart's second flute concerto instead of his first. Flutist Jacques Zoon gave it a jaunty, breezy interpretation, especially during the solo passages. The third movement cadenza was adventurous and improvisatory in a baroccoco fashion. Zoon has an independant, risk-taking attitude that Mozart may have admired. The main course, the unfinished Mass in C Minor, although missing some portions, had moments of grandeur untained by the pious late romantic readings so many orchestras give it (usually in some echoey church). Soprano Juliana Rambaldi and mezzo-soprano Patricia Risley are mercifully given their own solos in which to shine; not so for the men, who sing only ensembles with the women. The two women particularly are glorious together during the "Domine Deus" duet. Later, joined by tenor Stanford Olsen, they do a harmonious and vivid rendition of "Quoniam tu solus Sanctus." Only during the "Benedictus" does the power of Kevin Deas' bass-baritone voice get a chance to rain down. This mass is one of the finest performances at this period orchestra in my memory.

--Peter Bates

RATING © © © ©

American Repertory Theater: Marat/Sade by Peter Weiss

March 6, 2002

The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat
Marquis de Sade: Thomas Derrah
Coulmier: Jeremy Geidt
Jean Paul-Marat : Will LeBow
Simonne Evrard : Karen MacDonald
Charlotte Corday : Stephanie Roth-Haberle
Duperret : John Douglas Thompson
Jacques Roux : Benjamin Evett
Herald: Alvin Epstein
Cucurucu: Sandro Isaack
Polpoch: Remo Airaldi
Kokol: Craig Doescher
Rossignol: Sarah Douglas
Director: János Szász

Marat/Sade is a landmark piece of dramatic work from the mid-Sixties that holds up like the best of Bertolt Brecht's plays. Back in 1964 (and 1966 when it was filmed), it had the great fortune to have struck a chord with an audience already challenging the status quo (those who saw revolution as more than a new soap brand). Despite the fact that the play questions revolutionary sentiments as often as it promotes them, Marat/Sade became a hit on Broadway and turned into a quirky and popular film, now frequently the venue of midnight shows.

The ART performance is a thrilling and scary carriage ride through the wilderness of political debate and caverns of madness. Director János Szász, who directed last year's Mother Courage so imaginatively, adeptly deals with political theater. He refuses to get bogged down with mystical effects, and never skids on hazy contemplation and puzzling character portraits. In this production of Marat/Sade, everything happens for a reason. Even the bloody ending, never specified in Weiss's play or included in the 1966 film, has its point to make about revolutions (and art itself) not always going in their proscribed directions, but veering out of control. The musical numbers are often choreographed with tongue-in-cheek technique, such as the "Song of the Tumbrel Driver" in which the inmates dance in unison as if in a rock video. As the Marquis de Sade, Thomas Derrah looks debauched and weary, with moments of twisted ecstasy, like when he relates the torture and death of Damien, Louis XV's attempted assassin. This Sade actually directs the patients in their parts, blocking for them and prompting them when they forget their lines. Jeremy Geidt's Coulmier, the director of the asylum, is shown in a wheelchair, perhaps to underscore his impotence in controlling his inmates and the course of the play itself. The set is quite effective, with its circular cage for the inmates and clouds of bathhouse steam suggesting haziness and uncertainty. Harsh metallic sounds frequently erupt, such as a crashing examination table or Sade adjusting the lighting. There is no danger of an audience member falling asleep in this play!

Stephanie Roth-Haberle plays the narcoleptic who performs Charlotte Corday's role. Her choppy enunciations are appropriately exhilarating and grating, particularly whenever she interacts with John Douglas Thompson's Duperret, who is played by an erotomanic patient. Szász lets the audience figure things out for themselves, which explains why he leaves out the Herald's descriptions of the ailments of the cast members. It doesn't explain why he omits some of Roux's and Marat's more inflammatory speeches. I particularly missed Roux's "Man is a mad animal" and Marat's admonition of future rulers developing more sophisticated weaponry "that can, with a flick of a finger, tear a million of you to pieces." No matter. This production gets most of the atmosphere and characterizations right and envelopes itself in refreshingly dark swatches of irony and innuendo. This is truly one of the most memorable performances at the ART in my memory.

--Peter Bates

RATING © © © ©


Boston Lyric Opera: Don Carlos by Giuseppe Verdi

October 14, 2001

Don Carlos, by Giuseppe Verdi
A grand opera in five acts
Libretto by Joseph Méry and Camille du Locle,
after the dramatic poem Don Carlos: Infant von Spanien, by Schiller (1787)
Sung in French with English surtitles
Don Carlos: Jean-Pierre Furlan, tenor
Thibault, page of Elisabeth de Valois: Melina Pineda, mezzo-soprano
Elisabeth de Valois: Indra Thomas, soprano
Le Comte de Lerme: Alan Schneider, tenor
Un Moine: Branch Fields, bass
Rodrige, Marquis de Posa: Gaetan Laperriere, baritone
La Princesse Eboli: Robynne Redmon, mezzo-soprano
Philippe II, Roi d'Espagne: Mark S. Doss, bass
Un Héraut Royal: Patrick Miller, tenor
Une Voix d'en Haut: Junko Watanabe, soprano
Le Grand Inquisiteur: Chester Patton, bass
Conductor: Stephen Lord

Don Carlos, one of the most respected of Verdi's operas, is a romanticized version of the true-life story of Don Carlos, the hapless heir to the Inquisition-era Spanish throne. Long and unwieldy, it suffered many cuts over the years, which left it rather patchy and episodic. In addition, the two main characters, Don Carlos and Elisabeth, never come fully alive, rendering these roles problematic for the singers.

For the most part, Furlan, as the eponymous hero, looked limp and expressionless. His voice carried some power, but unfortunately his intonation was slightly inaccurate. Thomas as Elisabeth has a warm voice but lacks the heft required for a Verdi heroine. However, with time and experience, she could gain in flexibility and power. These two singers gave their best performances during duets, trios, and quartets.

The loveliest singing emanated from two secondary characters, Laperriere's Posa and Redmon's Eboli. Laperriere's chestnuty baritone rolled luxuriantly, like the curls of his long hair. Redmon's singing was colorful and imaginative, with some of the loveliest pianissimos I have ever heard.

Doss as Philippe II looked suitably majestic and stern, but when he unburdened himself in Act 4, his suffering lacked any grandeur and became less believable. Patton as the Inquisitor was a spectral figure of frightening intensity, and Lord's conducting was clunky and unimaginative.

--Dalia Geffen

RATING © © ½

Editor's note: While there are multiple versions of Verdi's Don Carlos, there are effectively two performing versions: an Italian and a French one. The Italian one has a ridiculous ending in which Don Carlos is dragged back into the monastery by his grandfather (or grandfather's ghost, or monk disguised as his grandfather). This betrays Schiller's original ending in which Don Carlos is led off to be executed by the Inquisition, which is the French version. To their credit, the Boston Lyric Opera used the French version.


Emmanuel Music: Two Cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach

February 28, 2001

Starring Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Conducted by Craig Smith. Directed by Peter Sellars. 

Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, a mezzo-soprano of considerable gifts, took center stage on February 26 and 28 at the Boston premiere in an unorthodox rendition of two Bach cantatas staged by Peter Sellars.

 This unusual performance of deeply religious music incongruously fuses singing with grand operatic gestures and, oddly, Martha Graham–like choreography. For those who may find  Bach a bit insipid, this entertaining combination provides undeniable relief from unrelenting piety. However, those who like their music pure and simple may find this production enormously frustrating. In it there is an implicit assumption that the human voice is not adequate to the task of conveying intense emotions, which then must be dramatized in this way. Connoisseurs of vocal music may disagree.

 In the first cantata, "Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut" (BWV 199), the artist appears in a long, flowing dress of baby blue and an even longer salmon scarf, which she then uses to great effect by obsessively twirling it, smoothing it out while lying on the floor, and knotting it over her chest, all the while singing the cantata. This ceaseless activity is accompanied by the anguished expressions of a penitent sinner. Hunt Lieberson is in full voice and well supported, but her movements and facial contortions are distracting. Without these operatic artifacts the singing would surely have been fuller, more satisfying, and powerful.

 The second cantata, "Ich habe genug" (BWV 82), showcases Hunt Lieberson's vocal powers more convincingly, as the music is less frenetic. This time she wears a hospital gown and gray socks and at times holds hospital tubes as a prop, presumably to convey a readiness to die. Behind her stands a figure clad in black, holding a large light bulb with an intense light in front of the singer, completely obscuring her face. Later, he moves it around, and Hunt Lieberson even holds it in her hands without appearing to suffer from its heat. There are intimations of power in her voice, but unfortunately these are diluted by her acting.

 This innovative performance is difficult to pull off successfully, and singing well while lying face down or on one's back must require huge reserves of energy. Hunt Lieberson deserves credit for her valiant attempts. However, I disagree with this interpretation.

--Dalia Geffen

RATING © © ½


Boston Lyric Opera: Don Giovanni by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart

November 19, 2000

Starring Matthew Burns, Charles Castronovo, Saundra DeAthos, David Evitts, Jeff Mattsey, Wendy Nielson, and Marie Plette. Conducted by Federuci Cortese. Stage Director Leon Major. Set designer Alan Moyer. 

Mozart’s Don Giovanni is as famous for its skillful mixture of dramma giocoso and opera buffa, as well as its unrepentant, convention-flaunting libertine. The great music critic Romain Rolland claims the Don’ sensuality and impetuosity, coupled with his pride and jesting spirit, closely parallels Mozart’s own character. The libretto alone is superb, far transcending the melodrama of most 19th Century librettos. Yet it is the music, the witty ensemble singing and impassioned solos that continue to move audiences as much as that in Marriage of Figaro and The Magic Flute.

The Boston Lyric Opera’s November 19th performance is a competent, faithful, canonical rendition. Most of the lead players create watchable portraits. The actors throw themselves into the comic scenes, particularly David Evitts, who plays Leporello. His famous "Madamina" aria to Donna Elvira, in which he catalogues Don Giovanni’s conquests, was done with an unusual touch. "1003 in Spain!" he sings ruefully. Other Leporellos have performed this aria in a gloating fashion, as if they’d done the deeds themselves. The thin soprano voice of Saundra DeAthos, who plays the peasant girl Zerlina, may seem disconcerting at first, but sometimes becomes her callow character. I did find her voice a bit faint during "Batti, Batti." Jeff Mattsey plays the Don as a young roué, dour, cynical, and cruel. He sings the exuberant "Fin ch’ han dal vino" with true decadence, including the final cackle so many singers omit. In his rendition of "Deh, vieni all finestra," his unforgettable serenade to Elvira’s maid, he uses a seductively low tessitura. (Mercifully, the orchestra plays accompaniment on a real mandolin, not pizzicato on a violin.) Both Wendy Nielson and Marie Plette (Donna Anna and Donna Elvira) comport themselves in a professional manner. Donna Anna’s revenge aria, "Or sai chi l’onore" comes out with blasts of white-hot rage. The scenes with Zerlina and Masetto are entertaining and sympathetic, not just played for laughs. Matthew Burns sings the role of the jealous Masetto with poignancy and dignity.

Flaws cause this production lose its wind on the foothills of greatness. Charles Castronovo is poignant in the role of the ardent Don Ottavio. His "Il mio tesoro intanto," so beloved by singers like Ezio Pinza, is sung with evocative melismas, but I would have preferred more dramatics. Alan Moyer’s staging during this evening scene consists of puzzling sharp angled shadows. Much of the opera takes place with a minimalist set built to resemble a multi-story wall in a Mexican town. I would have preferred either a more imaginative modernist set or a more naturalistic one. Some of the scenes with the statue seem to involve a puppet with a moveable head and jaw. I wanted the statue to trudge, at least stiffly, and red devils to drag Don Giovanni down to hell, like they did in Amadeus. In general though, the performers are in control of this majestic and well-written work. It even has inspired moments, such as Leporello’s prestissimo singing during several truly rousing ensemble arias.

--Peter Bates

RATING © © © ½

Boston Philharmonic Orchestra: Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring; Ravel: Piano Concerto for the Left Hand; Debussy: Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun

Conducted by Benjamin Zander with Stephen Drury, pianist.

It was a good idea to have performed the Rite of Spring at the end of one of the cruelest Aprils in current memory. The work’s bold clashing themes and dynamic contrasts, coupled with themes of ritual sacrifice and renewal seemed perfect for a chilly but sunny day at the end of April. Everyone knows the story of how Stravinsky’s work created a scandal at its Parisian premier in 1913, on the eve of World War I. But few know that the crowd was reacting as much to Nijinsky’s "scandalous" choreography, a taste of which they’d received a year earlier at the premier of the Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun. And few in the audience knew the story of Zander speeding up the rhythm of the Rite of Spring’s last section, so that it was closer to a recently discovered piano roll that Stravinsky had made after the initial performance. As he revealed in his pre-concert lecture, Zander now believes the piano roll shouldn’t be taken as literally as he did in 1991. However, his performance didn’t seem to suffer by the slowing-back-down he imparted to the piece. In the first part, he played the Russian folk tune Stravinsky’d appropriated with romantic aplomb, but reined in the sentimentality. Buzzing tubas conveyed the primitive emotions of the pagans during "The Kiss of the Earth." Just as the music seems about to topple from its volume and speed, it stops. In the second part, "The Great Sacrifice," the percussionists plunge into the work like meteorites pelting crater lakes. They are as impressive and vital to this piece as the brass. The piece climaxes, the woman dies and falls to the earth in a tutti crash. What would a modern composer sacrifice to receive an opening night one tenth as scandalous as The Rite of Spring got?

Piano Stephan Drury, decked out in leather pants, used his limber left hand to charm the audience through Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand, perhaps the most memorable piece commissioned by the maimed Paul Wittgenstein (others were Prokifiev andHindemith). Wittgenstein hadn’t been fond of the two cadenzas, but they are, if not the heart of the piece, its lungs and voice. Apart from his regalia, Drury style came from within, rather than from showing off his expertise in a rather bizarre feat. Only twice did the orchestra seem to muffle his playing from my balcony seat. Other times, they collaborated well through this triumphant and jazzy piece, with its subtle echoes of Bolero and the earlier G Major piano concerto.

Zander performed Debussy’s evocative and crepuscular Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun with the delicacy and sensuousness it craves. It is an evocative work that coaxes listeners from analysis and invites them to bath in its seductive waters. In his lecture, Zander stated that it broke the Wagnerian mold that had been binding composers for decades. It was an excellent warm-up piece for what was later to come.

Speaking of lectures, Zander has recorded several of lectures to accompany his performances. I recommend his recent recording of Mahler’s 9th (Telarc 3CD-80527). It has elegant details about the first few pages of the symphony and is peppered with charming anecdotes. There is also a lecture on his recording of Mahler’s 7th Symphony, although I haven’t heard it.

RATING © © © © 

Boston Lyric Opera: The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart

April 2, 2000

Starring Maracel Reijans, Elizabeth Carter, Many Dunleavy, Arthur Woodley, Frank Kelley, and Earle Patriarco. Conducted by Stephen Lord. Stage, Set, and Costume Designer: Mikael Melbye.

What can I tell you about Mozart’s The Magic Flute that you don’t already know? That the Queen of the Night represented Austria’s Maria Theresa and Tamino Joseph II? That it refers to no particular place or time, despite its Egyptian motives? How about this: While composing The Magic Flute, Mozart recycled the incidental music for Gebler’s Thamos, King of Egypt.

The Boston Lyric Opera’s production is stolid and, for the most part, works well. Mary Dunleavy plays a callow and idealistic Pamina in her debut role for the company. Her anguish at Tamino’s rejection is palpable. In the last act, her rapturous duet with Tamino ("Tamino mein! O welch’ ein Gluck") pulls at your innards almost as poignantly as Papageno’s "Pa Pa Pa" duet with his new love Papagena. Kudos to newcomer Mikael Melbye for his fascinating, although conservative, stage design. It is modern in an early 20th Century way, with its gossamer blue walls and Egyptian artifacts like the jackal divan. I liked the way he adapted the towering figures concept from Simon Quaglio’s drawing of the 1818 Munich production and applied it to the Queen of the Night’s opening scene. Mozart could stand a few innovative modernist touches, like video and slide projections and other high tech effects, particularly in the initiation sequence.

The production has three creaking joints: Marcel Reijans, who also debuted for the company, plays the lead role of Tamino. Although his voice is pleasant, he doesn’t project enough authority for the role. He lacks not passion, but that vital dollop of insecurity, the sense that his fate’s outcome is not so sure. And I make this next point, realizing I’m treading close to heresy: get rid of the little boys! They can’t sing individually, they can’t sing in harmony. Cuteness can carry only one, maybe two short scenes, but these wobbly warblers were in three scenes, the last of which is Pamina’s crucial suicide attempt. Next time the company should either get trained boy sopranos or dub the little rascals. Finally, Frank Kelley's voice does not exude enough menace in his role as Monostatos, nor does he play up its ludicrous aspects. Perhaps he should have hammed it up more, had more fun with it.

Stephen Lord does his usual workman-like job of conducting the ensemble, not too obtrusive but vivid and colorful in the two overtures. I’ve saved the best for last. As Papageno, Earle Partiarco was so endearing and nervy that the renowned poet Carolyn Gregory wrote this poem:


All day, I've wanted to be Papageno playing his pipes
as he scampers, bird cage over one shoulder,
singing his sweet adolescent song
in praise of food and pretty women.
I'd love to run amok, green feathered in leather pants.
Will he help Tamino save the princess?
With those dimples, he can do anything!
No, I don't think of myself as Queen of the Night,
regal and wildly vengeful in sequins
or Pamina, virginal in white
as she waits to be delivered by love.
The female roles confine.
I'm not attached to bodices!
Let me be Papageno, half bird and half man,
crazy in confinement, drunk with magical
wine as he runs through the woods
commanded by music.
Let me be Papageno, happy when evil is vanquished
and Papagena comes down from heaven,
bird girl with an open heart large enough
to accommodate all spring.
                                                                --Carolyn Gregory

--Peter Bates

RATING © © ©

Boston Lyric Opera: Aida by Giuseppe Verdi

November 16, 1999

Starring Geraldine McMillan, Maria Riadtchikova, Brent Ellis, and Jean-Pierre Furlan. Conducted by Stephen Lord. Directed by Leon Major. Choreographed by Daniel Pelzig.

With no less of a commission than the opening of Egypt’s Suez Canal in December 1871, Verdi composed Aida, one of his most beloved and dramatic works. It has survived not just because of its spectacle and its patriotic themes, but because it contains subtly observed and truthfully drawn human characters. Still, Verdi was a bit abashed by the publicity the opera’s opening garnered. "All I want for Aida is good and, above all, intelligent singing, playing, and stage production."

At last Tuesday’s performance at the Boston Lyric Opera, these conditions were met for the most part. Geraldine McMillan, who has performed the title role before, sung tenderly. Her voice lacked some definition at the higher registers and her dramatic sense, as well as her body language, seemed not in prime form. However, she sang the famous and lyrical "O Patria Mia" with such sincerity, that it almost didn’t matter that she rarely moved her body. Her varied modulation between stanzas was well-executed. In scenes with her rival Amneris (Maria Riadtchikova), her gestures seemed more passive than the role called for; her face also could have registered more than longing or sorrow. During the Act I aria in which she reveals her inner conflict between her love for Radames and her loyalty to her father, she could have plunged deeper into her heart’s desolation.

As Radames, Jean-Pierre Furlan performs with palpable passion. In Act I, he sings the notable "Celeste Aida" convincingly, without the treacly melodrama that other artists have infused in that aria.

It has been said that King Amonasro is the best baritone part that Verdi ever created. Brent Ellis make the part shine, particularly in the Act III finale in which Radames discovers him for the first time, when it is too late. Without upstaging the other two singers, Ellis makes Amonasro burn with patriotic zeal while trying to reassure Radames at the same time.

The choral ensembles were impressive. During the song to the great Ftha, there is an effective combination of onstage and offstage singing that I’ve never seen executed before. Of course the well-known Triumphal March, with its stirring martial rhythms and jubilant exultation, does not disappoint. (Would it dare?)

Stage director Leon Major did an excellent job of evoking the spirit of ancient Egypt. The sun rising over the pyramids during the overture was a daring touch, but he pulled it off. I was particularly impressed with Erhard Rom’s bas relief "scuptures" that slowly lowered after the Egyptian’s victorious battle over the Ethiopians. He depicted a feeling of desperate kinetics in their battle scenes.

Although Director Leon Major and choreographer Daniel Pelzig handle the ballet scenes with flamboyance and grace, I would have liked to have seen more continuity (or even narrative threads) in the dancer’s gestures. Some were just too abstract to make sense.

I appreciated the way the priests judge Radames for his transgression offstage, spotlighting the anguish of Amneris. In this scene and in the subsequent one in which she rages at the priests, Maria Riadtchikova reveals both subtly complex acting and a finely tuned voice. Staging her above the tomb in the final scene was also a brilliant stroke, implying that it was as much her tragedy as that of Aida and Radames.

--Peter Bates

RATING © © © ½

Boston Lyric Opera: Le Nozze di Figaro by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart

April 4, 1999

Starring Alfred Walker, Sari Gruber, D'Anna Fortunato, James Butler, Gary Lehman, and Nicolle Foland. Conducted by Jane Glover McLaughlin Williams. Stage director: Peter Watson. Set and costume design: Sue Blane for the Welsh National Opera.

Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro is perhaps the Enlightenment's best and best-loved opera. In it, the lower classes find out the truth about their betters, drawing the whole nature of society into question. It is musical evidence that Mozart shared the Enlightenment's political vision. Interestingly, Beaumarchais' play on which it is based was banned (but published) in Germany.

The famous Act II scene in which Susanna hides in the closet in Cherubino's place is handled excellently by Gruber (Susanna), Foland (Countess), and Lehman (Count).  It involves a trio in which each party -- Countess, Count, and Susanna-- are commending giudizio (prudence) to the other. With ascending drama, the word is repeated more than a dozen times. Just before the end, the music stops and the Countess and Count hiss a final Giudizio! to the other. It is a chilling moment.

Other moments are handled well. Figaro's "Non più andrai", that great parody of military heroics addressed to Cherubino, is so well staged and sung there wasn't a snoozing viewer to be found (at least in my vicinity). Patricia Risley plays the young page with convincing charm, particularly in the dressing room scene, in which she pretends she's a man walking like a woman, even descending to an occasional butt scratch. Also splendidly blocked and choreographed is the ensemble conclusion of Act II, in which Figaro finds out who his real parents are. In Act III, Susanna's chides the Count about boorish behavior, acting just like a blue jay, but with, of course, more melody. The lecherous pursuit scene is particularly well-staged in a stately library, just for contrast. Lehman's Count is both an ominous and ridiculous figure, but not overly so in either direction, which has been a common failing for many baritones who've played the part throughout history. Foland sings the Countess's famous "Dove Sono" aria, in which she hopes things will work out  between her and the count, not only convincingly, but with an orchestral accompaniment that is tight and compressed, with an unusual economy of tonal color. And  near the finale of the opera, there is a fine use of natural horns during Figaro's aria about women using men.

Kudos to Sue Blane's set design. The Act III scene in the candlelit garden was particularly eerie, with its greenish-ivory trees. For me, this was a memorable performance that lasted for days afterwards.

--Peter Bates

RATING © © © ©

Handel & Haydn Society: Jazz/Baroque

February 7, 1999

Corelli:Concerto Grosso in D Major; Handel: Concerto for Organ in F Major; Bach:Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor; various jazz duets with Chick Corea and Gary Burton. February 7.

John Finney, conductor and harpsichordist.Chick Corea, piano. Gary Burton, vibraphone.

The idea that modern jazz and baroque music have much in common is not new. Charlie Parker once said that he owed a lot to listening to Johann Sebastian Bach. But it is rare to hear a concert like this one at the Handel & Haydn Society, in which listeners have a chance to compare the two forms. On the whole, it was a successful venture.

Corelli’s Concerto Grosso in D Major is a sprightly work that Mr. Finney conducted with considerable élan. Individual instruments shone in scintillating colors, particularly the violin parts, well-executed by Daniel Stepner and Julie Leven.

Chick Corea and Gary Burton awed the audience with their performance of "Brasilia" and "No Mystery." The slight dissonance at the piano’s upper register was most appealing in "Brasilia" and in "No Mystery" there was a great deal of mystery, particularly in the splendid finale, which managed to reveal the ghost of the baroque.

It is a shame Handel’s organ concerti rarely get performed today. There are marvelous solo passages in this piece, which Finney wisely performed on an organ he’d specially brought into the hall rather than on the booming resident one. It has a marvelous period coloration.

Corea and Burton’s "Duende" and "Bud Powell," the first languid and haunting, the other lively and frenetic, are intriguing counterparts to the Handel, particular in their stunning solo passages.

Bach’s Concerto for Two Violins in D Minor, despite an occasional problem with ensemble playing and a too-quiet harpsichord, prepared the audience for the wonderful rhythmic variations of Burton and Corea’s "Tango ’95" and "Rhumbata," which, as its name signifies, combines the best of a Latin rumba and a Mozart piano sonata.

--Peter Bates

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Boston Lyric Opera: La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi

November 20, 1998

Starring Dominique Labelle, Rafael Rojas, and Hector Vasquez. Conducted by Stephen Lord. Directed by Leon Major. Choreographed by Daniel Pelzig. Set design on hire from the Scottish Opera.

It’s hard to believe that the first performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata in 1853 was a resounding failure. Audiences could accept neither the contemporary costuming, nor the inappropriate casting of the heroine, Violetta Valery. A year later, Verdi recast the opera and moved the period back to 1700 with astounding success.

Last Friday’s performance at the Boston Lyric opera may have reinstated the 1853 costuming but the casting was good enough to bring down the house. Dominique Labelle, who’d performed the role in 1990, sung with drama and conviction. She performed the scene in which she meets future lover Alfredo Germont with a comic touch, her coquettish phrasing contrasting sharply with his earnest solid tones. She even handled that most difficult coloratura aria, "Sempre libera degg’io folleggiare di gioja in gioja," with aplomb. (Her voice cracked once here, the only time in this performance.) Her acting gestures were restrained and passionate, lacking the melodrama so tempting to this role.

In the role of Alfredo, Rafael Rojas was acceptable, although not extraordinary. His voice was consistently a bit sharp in key arias, such as Act Two’s "De’ miei bollenti spiriti," in which he recalls how Violetta tamed his wild youthful passions and revealed the calm depths of mature love. However, this is a minor flaw and I soon adapted to it as the opera’s intense lyricism cascaded over me. In some scenes, he acts a bit stiffly, such as the conclusion of Act Two with his father. It’s not clear that the turmoil in Alfredo’s mind is not through anger at his father, but jealously at his rival, the Baron Douphol. However, Rojas does an admirable job in his scenes with Violetta, notably in Act Three when he accuses Violetta of betraying him. He is entirely believable as a confused young man bent on vengeance, provoked into impulsive harshness, then humiliated by his father, all within a few minutes stage time!

As Giorgio Germont (Alfredo’s father), Hector Vasquez creates the image of a conservative provincial gentleman, obsessed with appearances and propriety. With his seasoned baritone voice, he is entirely convincing as he entreats Violetta to give up Alfredo for the sake of family. His great aria, "Di Provenza il mar," which recalls Alfredo’s happy childhood in Provence by the sea, is a masterpiece of paternal manipulation. Vasquez delivers it with a compelling mixture of authority and gentleness.

The scenery, on hire from the Scottish Opera, was not only impressive, but gave great attention to detail. Act One reproduces Violetta’s drawing room, richly furnished, with period paintings festooning the walls. Yet when Violetta, impoverished through illness in Act Four, lies in bed in the same room, the paintings have been removed, leaving their ghostly marks on the walls. A chilling touch.

Stephen Lord conducts with fiery intensity and restrained poignancy, particularly during the deathbed scene in which the love theme soars, some would say, like Violetta’s spirit leaving her body. Director Leon Major and choreographer Daniel Pelzig handle the Act One dance scenes with such flamboyance that memories of swaying gypsies and stomping toreadors persist long after the opera has concluded.

--Peter Bates

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