Sunday, January 30, 2011

Music roundup: Lyrical Haydn, revelatory Korngold, daring Links

Cellist SuJin Lee.

Boca Raton Symphonia‭ (‬Sunday,‭ ‬Jan.‭ ‬23,‭ ‬St.‭ ‬Andrew‭’‬s School,‭ ‬Boca Raton‭)

The eminent American composer and educator Gunther Schuller was joined by a very young cellist Jan. 23 in a concert by the Boca Raton Symphonia that was one of the most polished this group has offered in some time.

From the tightness of the‭ ‬Cosi fan Tutte overture that opened the concert at St.‭ ‬Andrew‭’‬s School‭’‬s Roberts Theater to the sparkle of a comic suite by Jacques Ibert that closed it,‭ ‬the Boca Raton-based chamber orchestra seemed to be doing its utmost to play well for Schuller,‭ ‬who was guesting for music director Philippe Entremont.

And there was plenty of evidence of it,‭ ‬beginning with the Mozart overture,‭ ‬which had little to none of the usual test-tuning‭ ‬you often hear in the usual slow Classical introduction,‭ ‬but was clean and sharp right off the bat.‭ ‬Schuller conducts with a loose beat,‭ ‬shaping the music rather than beating time,‭ ‬and he gets good results.‭ ‬This was limpid,‭ ‬clear,‭ ‬vital Mozart,‭ ‬and it was played with‭ ‬gratifyingly solid intonation and accuracy.

The young South Korean-born cellist SuJin Lee,‭ ‬currently a Columbia University undergraduate,‭ ‬has been‭ ‬concertizing in public since age‭ ‬7,‭ ‬and for reasons that become plain once you hear her play.‭ ‬She has a thorough and large technique that allows her to handle virtuoso difficulties without apparent strain,‭ ‬and she has a‭ ‬lovely,‭ ‬dark tone that has a mature,‭ ‬noble aspect.

Lee joined the orchestra in the Cello Concerto in D‭ (‬Hob.VII/2‭) ‬of Haydn,‭ ‬in a mostly leisurely,‭ ‬genial reading of the work that stressed its lyricism.‭ ‬This was elegant listening,‭ ‬supremely accomplished technically,‭ ‬and Lee did her utmost in the second movement to evoke the movement‭’‬s passion,‭ ‬with the Boca Symphonia nicely holding back and letting her sing.

Schuller opened the second half of the concert with his own‭ ‬Concerto da Camera,‭ ‬written‭ ‬40‭ ‬years ago for the Eastman School,‭ ‬and‭ ‬prefaced it by asking the audience to‭ “‬close your eyes and just listen‭”‬ to the music rather than get distracted by‭ ‬watching the players tackle this gentle serialist score.‭ ‬And it‭’‬s a good piece,‭ ‬with jazz influences perhaps highly sublimated but undoubtedly still there.‭

This is not the kind of atonalism that accompanies randomness,‭ ‬but is an atonalism that is an exploration of other harmonic worlds from a clear narrative structure.‭ ‬The Symphonia did a fine job with‭ ‬it,‭ ‬giving the slow first movement‭’‬s crushed harmonies a Gil Evans kind of cool,‭ ‬and‭ ‬deftly handling the bubbly rhythms of the speedy second with careful attention to Schuller‭’‬s focus on instrumental color.‭ ‬– G.‭ ‬Stepanich


Gary Graffman.

Gary Graffman‭ (‬Jan.‭ ‬15,‭ ‬Wold Performing Arts Center,‭ ‬Lynn University‭)

The eminent American pianist Gary Graffman lost his original career to focal dystonia of his right hand more than‭ ‬30‭ ‬years ago,‭ ‬but he has remained a champion of the small left-hand repertoire,‭ ‬especially that written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

In the second half of his recital Jan.‭ ‬15‭ ‬at the Wold Performing Arts Center at Lynn University,‭ ‬Graffman was joined by violinists Elmar Oliveira and Carol Cole,‭ ‬and cellist David Cole,‭ ‬for Korngold’s‭ ‬Suite for two violins,‭ ‬cello and piano left hand,‭ ‬written in‭ ‬1930.‭ ‬Although it could have been an oddity,‭ ‬merely meant to add a novelty to an already unusual program,‭ ‬the‭ ‬Suite‭ ‬turns out to be nothing sort of a masterpiece.

And it was winningly played by the foursome on stage.‭ ‬On the first entrance of the fugue subject in first movement,‭ ‬the three string players carved out the subject in a bold and precise way that made the subsequent mutations easy to follow.‭ ‬The second-movement‭ ‬Waltz was delicious and sensuous,‭ ‬and the third-movement‭ ‬Groteske saw Graffman rattling off the opening bars with laudable precision and clarity.‭ ‬Cellist David Cole gave a powerful reading of this movement,‭ ‬which gives the cellist a strenuous workout.

Oliveira filled his spotlight turn in the fourth-movement‭ ‬Lied with huge,‭ ‬beautiful tone,‭ ‬and all four players gave the closing Rondo a joyous,‭ ‬athletic swing that demonstrated definitively that the group had been firing on all cylinders throughout.‭ ‬It’s hard to see why this piece shouldn’t be a chamber music staple for adventurous groups‭; ‬Graffman and his partners made a marvelous case for it in this recital.

The Korngold occupied the second half of the program by Graffman,‭ ‬who filled the first with some of the more familiar left-hand repertoire,‭ ‬which as he points out is not large to begin with.‭ ‬The two Scriabin Op.‭ ‬9‭ ‬left-hand pieces were played with a big,‭ ‬warm sound,‭ ‬as was a left-hand arrangement of the composer’s celebrated C-sharp minor Etude‭ (‬Op.‭ ‬2,‭ ‬No.‭ ‬1‭)‬.‭ ‬It’s a fairly awkward piece to play in the original version,‭ ‬and it sounded a little labored here in Jay Reise’s recasting.‭

Carl Reinecke is little-remembered today despite his large output,‭ ‬but his C minor Sonata for piano,‭ ‬left hand‭ (‬Op.‭ ‬179‭)‬,‭ ‬which has become a Graffman specialty,‭ ‬is an attractive and spotlessly crafted work.‭

This is a kind of writing that requires a much more Classic approach,‭ ‬and Graffman’s performance of it was a model of Haydnesque style,‭ ‬with the minuet in particular sparkling with a folkish verve,‭ ‬and the slow movement an essay in good tone production and interpretive restraint.‭ ‬Not a weighty piece,‭ ‬by Beethovenian standards,‭ ‬but an honest one,‭ ‬and Graffman does it good service.

The recital ended with the Brahms left-hand arrangement of the Chaconne in D minor from Bach’s Violin Partita No.‭ ‬2‭ (‬BWV‭ ‬1004‭)‬.‭ ‬This is a monstrously difficult arrangement,‭ ‬and it,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬sounded heavy and hard to move at times.‭ ‬But Graffman has a keen sense of narrative arc and how to play it up,‭ ‬and he brought out the work’s breadth and majesty with great effectiveness.‭ ‬– G.‭ ‬Stepanich


Joshua Roman, Yuki Numata and Bill Kalinkos.

The Links‭ (‬Jan.‭ ‬12,‭ ‬Stage West,‭ ‬Duncan Theatre,‭ ‬Lake Worth‭)

It sounded like a train exiting a long black tunnel,‭ ‬and it seemed to go on forever.

It was the sound of‭ ‬‘Night,‭ ‬a piece by the American composer David Stock‭ (‬b.‭ ‬1939‭)‬,‭ ‬and it was the harbinger of things to come:‭ ‬serial music,‭ ‬wittily played,‭ ‬as The Links trio opened its concert Jan.‭ ‬12 ‬at Stage West in the rear of the‭ ‬Duncan Theatre.

The three members of the trio‭ ‬– violinist Yuki Numata,‭ ‬cellist Joshua Roman and clarinetist Bill Kalinkos‭ ‬– are brilliant soloists all,‭ ‬but were sadly lacking in diction and stage presence when attempting to describe to the aged,‭ ‬silver-haired audience what the music had to say.‭ ‬Interestingly,‭ ‬there was little virtuoso playing from the clarinet.‭ ‬Violin and cello did most of the hard work until the last piece by Ingolf Dahl.

Noticing,‭ ‬a piece by Matthew Schreibeis‭ (‬b.‭ ‬1981‭) ‬was given its second performance ever:‭ ‬Quiet passages were interrupted with violent outbursts from the violin.‭ ‬Coming Together,‭ ‬a musical joke by Derek Bermel‭ (‬b.‭ ‬1967‭)‬,‭ ‬was all glissandos,‭ ‬a cacophony guaranteed to turn audiences away unless they got the joke.‭ ‬This audience did,‭ ‬with laughter all round when the players finished.‭

Cello and violin joined forces to end the first half with Ravel‭’‬s Sonata for Violin and Cello,‭ ‬written in‭ ‬1922.‭ ‬This is a magnificent piece with a range of dissonant harmonies,‭ ‬grounded by sensitive playing from cellist Roman,‭ ‬ethereal in its loveliness.‭ ‬The military march of the last movement had echoes of the Swedish composer Dag Wiren,‭ ‬with violin and cello passing the theme back and forth.

Rogatio Gravis,‭ ‬by Sydney Hodkinson‭ (‬b.‭ ‬1934‭)‬,‭ ‬tried hard to find its way in a mass of discordant warlike sounds with jagged interruptions,‭ ‬one instrument over another.‭ ‬This kind of composition has all been‭ “‬said‭”‬ before,‭ ‬and I found it tedious.‭

Saving the best for last,‭ ‬the‭ ‬Concerto a Tre by Ingolf Dahl had clarinetist Kalinkos earning his keep.‭ ‬From the opening bars,‭ ‬one knew this music had depth and structure worthy of Dahl‭’‬s teacher,‭ ‬Igor Stravinsky.‭ ‬The Links offered tight-knit playing,‭ ‬fine support of one another,‭ ‬and some lovely duets between cello and clarinet overlaid with sweet violin playing.

Dahl even gives a nod to Stravinsky‭’‬s‭ ‬Dumbarton Oaks in this work,‭ ‬in an‭ ‬hommage to the master.‭ ‬The Links,‭ ‬a trio of fine young players,‭ ‬gave this concerto a superb performance,‭ ‬and were thanked with a standing ovation.‭ ‬ ‭ ‬– Rex Hearn

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