Saturday, August 31, 2013

Pittsburgh in Berlin; The PSO plays in the Digital Concert Hall

Manfred Honeck and Anne-Sophie Mutter
The Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra began its European Festivals Tour this weekend, and after performing in the Grafenegg Festival on Thursday and Friday they played the opening concert of the Musikfest Berlin 2013 earlier today, in an event transmitted free on the Digital Concert Hall.

PSO Music Director and Conductor Manfred Honeck led the orchestra in a colorful and engaging program that began with strings only. The infrequently heard "Suite for String Orchestra" by Léoš Janáček opened with a "Moderato" that balanced dramatic and delicate ideas with music that brightened and darkened with surprising rapidity. It was a challenging quality to capture at the  opening of a concert, and the connecting phrases did not always click into place.

But with the muted trio for violins and violas that comprises the second movement the orchestra found its voice. They played the third movement "Andante con moto" like a Pennsylvania Barn Dance, and took the fourth movement presto at breathtaking speed.

Honeck conducted the fifth movement adagio without baton and with the help of lovely solo cello playing, this troubled hymn became the expressive centerpiece for the work.

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter joined the orchestra as soloist in "Chain II. Dialogue for violin and orchestra" by Witold Lutosławski. This work was written for her in the 1980s, and she brings out dimensions of it that younger players often miss. The work depends upon making "ad libitum" passages sound improvisational--not like notated music, then contrasting this sound with the precision and intensity of clockwork. Mutter brought out the chaotic potential of the ad libitum music, and the lyrical side of the notated music. In the third movement there was a wonderful moment after the drums, and just before the piano entered, where the orchestral strings played a fabulous dialog with her. This kind of careful listening is all too often missing from this style of music.

After intermission the orchestra played Ein Heldenleben. Concertmaster Noah Bendix-Balgley played the famous violin solo with wit and precision, and the horn solo and dialog with the concertmaster that closed the work was unusually tender and dolce.

There were two encores. The first was Max Reger's transcription of "Litanei auf das Fest Aller Seelen 'Am Tage Aller Seelen,'" D343 by Schubert, and this was followed by the last waltz from the Rosenkavalier suite.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Rattle Conducts Mozart in the Digital Concert Hall

It is common in orchestral concerts to hear one of the last three symphonies that Mozart wrote. It is less common to hear all three on the same program. Simon Rattle inaugurated a new season of live concerts by the Berliner Philharmoniker transmitted in the Digital Concert Hall with a program of these last three symphonies, written within a span of six weeks in the summer of 1788.

When hearing the symphonies in succession the differences in orchestration and in the particular color of sound in which each of them is cast seems worlds apart. The timpani sound in the E-flat major symphony that opened the event was played with a hard mallet that brought a military drum feel to its presence.

Rattle conducted on the floor of the stage, without a podium, without baton, and without scores. When he concluded the first symphony, he barely left the stage for applause before he returned to begin the great G minor.

We don’t normally hear the absence of sound, but because of the close juxtaposition of these symphonies, and the unusual color they had in the E-flat symphony, we were especially aware of the absence of timpani in the G minor symphony. The addition of oboes (which were not present in the symphony No. 39) made an impression and led to differing insights during the symphony No. 40.

Rattle seemed to extend the sudden silences that appear within the first two movements of Symphony No. 39 and he darkened its melancholy passages. This made the G minor symphony seem to develop ideas that were already hinted, or suggested, in earlier passages.

After intermission, the “Jupiter” symphony connected back by its use of timpani, and completed the amplification of double reed sound with the absence of clarinets. Mozart thought of sonic transformations like these in his operas, perhaps these connections were not simply chance.

It is a “new year” for the Berliner Philharmoniker, and those of us who teach are thinking about new students, new classes and new opportunities. What better way to celebrate the “new year” than with a concert of the last three Mozart symphonies in the digital concert hall?

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Refreshing Rigoletto in Clinton

Alok Kumar, Amanda Hall, and Galen Scott Bower
Clinton, August 6—It was soooo refreshing, after an over-hyped Met production based in Vegas, to hear Rigoletto set in Mantua. Verdi’s opera was given a compelling performance by the Opera Theater of Connecticut, now in its 28th season, in the intimate setting of the Andrews Memorial Theater.

Production Director Alan Mann often subtly shifted our expectation to alter the web of connections. For example, when the Duke declared to Gilda that “Love is the sunshine and spark of creation,” in the second act he did so by singing these words from Gilda’s diary, making the tune an articulation of her thoughts instead of his. This was a performance that systematically gathered intensities to culminate in an effective quartet and a thrilling trio that launched us toward the riveting ending.

This opera has several significant secondary and small roles, but seldom are any as memorable as the performances given by Nicholas Masters as Sparafucile and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Feinstein as Maddalena.

Masters channeled grim-reaper energy when he entered in the second scene of Act I and was able to bring out the complex shades of this professional killer in the third act. Sparafucile will kill anyone for the right price, but don’t call him a thief. Masters was aggressive enough to be believable but also thoughtful enough to be particular about his character’s role in life.

Feinstein entered with a fresh voice in the third act and immediately drew attention. She sings with charisma and her deep, rich voice never got lost in ensembles.

The chorus was also excellent and contributed clean diction that made their Italian understandable without supertitles. They also produced a wonderfully spooky sound during their off-stage singing in the final act.

Among the principals, baritone Galen Scott Bower was impressive as Rigoletto. He shaped the brooding, bitter, icy qualities of this role, but his love for his daughter Gilda was believable.

Tenor Alok Kumar slightly ornamented his line “di che il fato ne infiora la vita (they make my life so exciting)” from “questo o quella” and this kind of enthusiastic detail gave the character an air of confidence that made his seductive art believable. Several times during the evening his powerful and effortless high register blew us away.

Soprano Amanda Hall sang Gilda with beautiful colors and many enchanting technical ideas. Her “Caro nome” was elegant and filled with graceful connected lines. But there was much more room for the character arc of Gilda to develop, from restless naivety to nobly conceived suicide, than happened in this particular performance.

The orchestra was too loud during much of the first scene and sometimes covered the singers. This allowed us to discover the voices later than would typically be the case in this opera, but many of the subtleties of that wonderful scene were lost. After this first scene, everything worked.

This production was an opportunity, increasingly rare, to hear this opera in our own backyard. It was a chance to discover how impressive this opera is in a cozy hall among friends.

Performances of this production will continue on Thursday, August 8, and Saturday, August 10 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, August 11 at 6 pm at the Andrews Memorial Theater, 54 East Main Street, Clinton.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...