Friday and Saturday: JACK and Bermel at IAS

Composer and clarinetist Derek Bermel is coming to the end of his term as artist-in-residence at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. This Spring, he’s curating several concerts that assure he’ll be fondly remembered. This Friday and Saturday, he is joined by JACK Quartet for a concert featuring Ligeti’s Second String Quartet,  Brahms’Clarinet Quintet, Bermel’s Ritornello and a new piece by Bermel:  A Short History of the Universe (as related by Nima Arkani-Hamed). I’ve been told that events on the concert series frequently sell out, so if you are planning on attending order in advance!


File Under ?’s Best of 2012: Rangell and Schiff’s Bach CDs

Bach: The Art of Fugue
Andrew Rangell, piano
Steinway & Sons CD


Bach: Das Wohltemperiete Clavier
András Schiff, piano
ECM Records CD

Those who read this site likely already know that I have a soft spot for well performed renditions of J.S. Bach’s music. That said, I’ve seldom felt as strongly about a recording of The Art of Fugue that employs piano instead of harpsichord or ensemble as I do about Andrew Rangell’s recent disc for Steinway & Sons’ label. Let’s face it, even with all of the contrapuntal intricacies and rhythmic variety that Bach employs in constructing this late masterwork, it is still a whole lot of unabated d-minor to which to listen. In their interpretations, too many pianists go too far one way or the other: pretending that they are playing a harpsichord and supplying their recording with attendant quirks or instead ignoring period practices altogether and allowing their pacing to become inert, their tone stodgy, and the work as a consequence to seem bloated. Rangell’s got the “Goldilocks solution” for Art of Fugue; with lively pacing and  rhythmic vitality but without ignoring the capabilities of the glorious Steinway grand at his disposal, the pianist’s recording seems “just right” yet still capable of affording surprises.

Another excellent recording released this year that seems “just right” in its approach to Bach is pianist András Schiff’s latest rendition of both books of the Well-Tempered Clavier for ECM Records. Schiff is a pianist I’ve long regarded as a musical touchstone: one of the finest interpreters of Bach at the piano and a necessarily solid  counterweight to some of Glenn Gould’s extravagances and extroversion. His WTC for ECM demonstrates detailed preparation as well as intimate familiarity with all of the preludes and fugues; no doubt this is abetted by a rigorous performance scheduled incorporating these pieces. Schiff is also willing to take risks and try some different interpretations this time out. He never treats the Bach oeuvre as an ossified canon, but as an evolving document in which composer and interpreter can engage in a kind of dialogue, separated by centuries but united in this stirring music.


Alisa Weilerstein Meets Elliott Carter (Video)

When I heard about Elliott Carter’s passing on Monday, many thoughts went went through my mind, including wondering whether the composer had gotten to hear cellist Alisa Weilerstein’s exquisite performance of his Cello Concerto. Her interpretation on a new disc from Decca is a distinctive one, rivaling previous interpreters Yo-Yo Ma and Fred Sherry in terms of technical acumen and bringing a dramatic heft to the piece’s solo part that is most impressive. I hadn’t yet seen the video (embedded below) of a meeting this past summer of Weilerstein and Carter, in which the composer coaches her through some of the concerto’s trickiest passages. Alex Ross posted it yesterday on The Rest is Noise and I’m grateful to see Carter in a convivial mood, wit undiminished and with musical insights aplenty to share.

If you haven’t heard the recording, I strongly recommend it. Not only is Weilerstein’s performance of the Carter noteworthy, she, along with the Staatskapelle Berlin conducted by Daniel Barenboim, also presents a beautifully vibrant performance of the Elgar Concerto and a supple rendition of Bruch’s Kol Nidre.

Thielemann’s Beethoven on Sony (CD Review)


9 Symphonies

Wiener Philharmoniker; Christian Thielemann, conductor

Sony Classical


Leonore Overture No. 3; Symphony No. 7

San Francisco Symphony; Michael Tilson Thomas, conductor

SFSO Label

One of the curmudgeonly reviewer’s cudgels, frequently wielded at recent recordings of repertory standards, is the lead off line “Do we need another recording of ____?”

Sets of Beethoven symphonies frequently get thwacked with this one. After all, any conductor with the temerity to record a Beethoven symphony when so many sets are already available is bound to be compared to any number of luminaries who’ve recorded the “canonical 9″ and already have fans of their work lined up around the block. But ill-tempered critics should take note of two new recordings of Beethoven – one a complete set and another a single disc offering. Both suggest that, with the right orchestra and an inspired conductor at the helm, even the most well known pieces can accommodate new renderings with fresh insights.

Of course, recording Beethoven with the Vienna Philharmonic may, at first blush, seem like the musical equivalent of  taking a thoroughbred  out for a canter. The greatest challenge may be surmounting  potentially ingrained habits inculcated in performers who have played these pieces hundreds of times already in a solidified, traditional manner. Christian Thielemann appears to have little interest in provocative interpretive choices. Thus his approach is no doubt a sympathetic one for Vienna’s musicians. That said, there are plenty of nuanced choices that will cause listeners to hear passages afresh. Indeed,  Thielemann opts for a very detailed rendering of the scores in performances that are finely shaded dynamically and include myriad small tempo shifts that make the symphonies seem supple, vibrant, and still capable of surprises. Throughout, the Vienna Phil is a responsive partner in these efforts. It certainly doesn’t hut that the recordings sound excellent and are packaged in a compact yet handsome boxed set. For those interested in an educational component, the set also includes a “Making Beethoven” documentary on DVD.

While Leonore Overture No. 3 is hardly one of Beethoven’s best pieces, the San Francisco Symphony, under the direction of Michael Tilson Thomas in this live recording, provide it with a slow boil intensity that eventually gives way to tempestuous tutti. With this kind of assured treatment, which makes the most of the score’s contrasts and heightens its somewhat latent dramatic potential, it’s not hard to connect the dots between this overture and the overtures one hears in early Verdi operas.

The main course here, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, is given similarly energetic treatment in a sweeping performance that contains fireworks (and explosive fortes) aplenty. However, Tilson Thomas never sacrifices detail in order to provide a convincing musical narrative. In particular, the poised and perfectly paced rendition of the symphony’s second movement is a thing to cherish. One of several recordings SFSO is releasing this year, it’s well worth seeking out.

Saturday 6/2: Vierne 2012 in New York

This Saturday, Christopher Houlihan brings his Vierne 2012 project to New York City, performing all six of Louis Vierne’s organ symphonies at Church of the Ascension. At 3 PM he plays Symphonies No. 1, 3 and 5; and at 7:30 PM, Symphonies No. 2, 4 and 6.

Houlihan discusses his passion for Vierne over on the Lucid Culture blog.

Vierne 2012

JUNE 2nd
at 3PM and 7.30PM

The Church of the Ascension
36 Fifth Avenue at 10th Street

Ticket info here.

Simone Dinnerstein plays Bach and Schubert (CD Review)

Something Almost Being Said

Works by J.S. Bach and Franz Schubert

Simone Dinnerstein, piano

Sony Classical CD

Simone Dinnerstein sometimes serves as the Bach pianist antipode of the late Glenn Gould. Where Gould set the pace for Bach playing at an often prestissimo, sometimes frantic, clip, Dinnerstein often seems willing to exult in elegant turns of phrase and luxuriate in legato lines, requiring a more stately pace. This observation is not meant to suggest that Dinnerstein isn’t capable of her own moments of presto-infused abandon, as one can hear on Something Almost Being Said in the sprightly movements of Bach Partitas Nos. 1 and 2. But these are balanced by cantabile sections that accentuate breaths between phrases. As the Sony CD’s title suggests, Dinnerstein seeks to emulate the phrasing of vocalists and extol the melodic suavity of both J.S. Bach and Franz Schubert. This goal is never achieved through mannered playing or fussily implemented rubato. Rather, Dinnerstein successfully captures the elusive fluidity that tempo fluctuations require in order to seem organic.

Schubert is represented by the four Op. 90 Impromptus, pieces in which the composer provides seamless linear trajectories of his own. Dinnerstein makes the widely contrasting dynamics and the more bravura passages of these works stand out in stark contrast to their effusively shimmering legato passages. Notably, her traversal of the famously challenging chestnut, No. 3 in G-flat Major, is spellbinding. While instrumental music can, at best, provide us with unspoken communication that is “almost said,” metaphorically at least this recording “speaks” volumes. Recommended.

2/1: Israeli Chamber Project debuts at Carnegie’s Weill Hall

The Israeli Chamber Project performs at Weill Hall on Wednesday, Feb. 1. In addition to warhorses of the chamber music repertoire by Brahms and Shostakovich, the group performs two Twentieth Century pieces that are less frequently heard on New York stages as well as one from the cusp of the millenium, Night Time (2000), a duo by Sebastian Currier.

Below is a video of the ensemble performing Matam Porat’s “Night Horses” at a 2008 concert in Tel Aviv: an evocative and unerringly paced work that they play superlatively.

The Israeli Chamber Project Carnegie Hall Debut

February 1, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall

Shostakovich Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello in C minor, Op. 8

Sebastian Currier Night Time for Harp and Violin

Martinů Chamber Music No. 1

Paul Ben Haim Three Songs Without Words (arranged for clarinet and harp)

Brahms Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano in A minor, Op. 114

Tibi Cziger, clarinet

Michal Korman, cello

Sivan Magen, harp

Sergey Tarashansky, viola

Assaff Weisman, piano

Itamar Zorman, violin

Tickets: $30, $20, $15 212-247-7800/

Box Office at 57th Street and Seventh Avenue

11/11: Melissa Fogarty’s Barber CD Release Concert

Despite and Still: Melissa Fogarty Sings Samuel Barber
Melissa Fogarty, soprano; Marc Peloquin, piano
Aureole Records CD

Soprano Melissa Fogarty has an excellent voice, well-suited to interpret the songs of Samuel Barber. Her instrument possesses both the required flexibility for melismatic writing and a sumptuous legato tone for the creamy lyricism of Barber in balladic mode. On Despite and Still, Fogarty performs some of the more famous selections from the composer’s song repertoire – including the perennial favorite “Sure on This Shining Night” and the oft-programmed cycle Hermit Songs: settings of Celtic monks’ verse and marginal annotations.

Fogarty also includes the 1969 set mentioned in the title, and Op. 45, another late group of songs. These reveal a streak of melancholy that one might ascribe to some of the frustrations Barber encountered late in life: the colossal flop of his opera Antony and Cleopatra among them. Or, one might instead just consider this to be a natural stage of autumnal growth for a composer who was a consummate craftsman, fully aware of the importance of varying his oeuvre. Either way, Fogarty sings these pieces quite beautifully, with considerable grace and poignancy.
Melissa Fogarty will celebrate the release of her second solo album, “Despite and Still – Melissa Fogarty Sings Samuel Barber,” on Friday, November 11 at St Luke in the Fields, NYC.

“A Last Song, and a Very Last, and Yet Another,” will feature an all-American song program with less known gems by Barber (such as “Despite and Still”), as well as Leonard Bernstein‘s cycle “I Hate Music!,” and Tom Cipullo‘s cycle “Another Reason I Don’t Keep A Gun in the House,” among others. Pianist Marc Peloquin will accompany Fogarty.

WHEN: Friday, November 11 at 8 P.M.

WHERE: St Luke in the Fields,

487 Hudson Street, New York City


INFORMATION: 212.633.2167 |

Re: ECM beautifully re-imagines (CD Review)

Ricardo Villalobos
Max Loderbauer

ECM Records 2211

Using jazz as source material for electronica/remixing is nothing new. In addition to hip hop samples by crate-digging DJs, and several one off collaborative projects, labels have gotten aboard and opened their archives. Blue Note has released several remix albums while, for their Blue Series, Thirsty Ear frequently pairs electronica artists with avant jazzers. The former releases more or less ause jazz recordings as fodder for sampling/remixing, albeit iconic fodder. The latter are often engaging and collaborative in nature.

Re:ECM takes what I would consider to be still a third approach to jazz recorded sources. Drawing upon ECM Records’ capacious vaults of treasures, it unleashes two of today’s abundantly creative electronic musicians, Ricardo Villalobos and Max Loderbauer. Given wide latitude in their selection of material, the duo draw upon sessions by several fine jazz musicians on ECM’s roster, such as John Abercrombie, Stefano Bollani, and Paul Motian. The ECM New Series is also represented by contemporary classical composers Arvo Pärt and Alexander Knaifel.

The resulting two disc set of tracks is not made in the spirit of remixing choice ECM tracks in toto; nor is it meant to be a sample-fest that spotlights the artists rather than their sources. Instead, Villalobos and Loderbauer treat the recordings as compositional material: to be reworked and developed. Their approach is respectful; their manipulations made deftly and without the heavy-handedness one finds on some of the Blue Note remixes. Most striking here is the microscopic lens brought to details from the sources: breathy wind attacks, string noises on a harp, gently percussive articulations from a jazz drum kit. Indeed, some of Re: ECM’s best moments are accomplished via “addition by subtraction.”

While the artists themselves weren’t playing live for Villalobos and Loderbauer, there is a third presence on these recordings that bridges the gap between creators and recreators. Producer and ECM label head Manfred Eicher supervised the mastering of Re:ECM. Given his association with the source recordings the first time around, his involvement lends an air of authenticity to the proceedings. One can hear his presence as well. In virtually every respect, this sounds like an ECM disc: production values, sound world, ambience, and creative aesthetic.

Too many crossover projects end up feeling like a fish out of water. On the contrary, Re: ECM is the real deal. Here’s an idea: next time around, get Villalobos and Loderbauer into the studio with some ECM recordings artists. The possibilities are tantalizing!