Saturday, March 20, 2010

BSO — 2010/03/19-20: Review — 2010/03/25-27; -04/1-3: Preview

Listen if you can to this evening's (Boston Time) BSO concert on WCRB. It starts at 8:00 with Mendelssohn's Overture and Incidental Music to "A Midsummer Night's Dream." After intermission, they perform Rossini's "Stabat Mater." Rafael Frühbeck de Burgos is the conductor. In the Rossini the singers are soprano Albina Shagimuratova, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote, tenor Eric Cutler, and bass Alfred Walker, along with the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. The women of the chorus and the female soloists also sing in the Mendelssohn.

I was there on Friday, and I found the Mendelssohn given a light and lively performance, befitting the subject matter. It only got really loud during the Wedding March. In the Rossini, louder volumes prevailed for the most part, as is appropriate with such an emotional text. The tenor's voice seemed a little thin and the mezzo did not always project well, but it was a satisfying performance overall, and well worth hearing, in my opinion.

Here's the Boston Globe' review of the Thursday evening performance.

Now for the "Preview" part.

Next week, Music Director James Levine is scheduled to be on the podium for Debussy's "Jeux — Poème Dansé," the world premiere of Lieberson's "Songs of Love and Sorrow" to texts by Pablo Neruda, and, after the intermission, Schubert's Symphony in C, D.944, "The Great." Bass-baritone Gerald Finley will sing the Lieberson songs with the Orchestra.

The BSO program notes tell us that Lieberson's "Songs" "originated as a response to [his wife, Lorraine Hunt Lieberson's] death from cancer in 2006 — the year after she performed his "Neruda Songs" with the BSO. The "Neruda Songs" had been a co-commission of the BSO; and the new "Songs of Love and Sorrow" are a BSO commission.

Then on April 1-3, they will perform Mendelssohn's oratorio "Elijah" with Christine Brewer, Stephanie Blythe, Aleksandrs Antonenko, and Shenyang.

I expect to be at the concert on March 25, which will include the actual world premiere of the Lieberson piece. You can hear the broadcast premiere on the 27th. "Elijah" was also part of my subscription series, and I really like it and wish I could be there. But it's during Holy Week (also Passover), and I'll be in church rather than Symphony Hall. So I exchanged my ticket for one to the March 19 Mendelssohn/Rossini concert

Monday, March 8, 2010

Leonard Warren †March 4, 1960

The post-Met program on WHRB reminded me that last Thursday, March 4, was the 50th anniversary of the death of the American baritone Leonard Warren. He collapsed and died of a heart attack on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House during a performance of "La Forza del Destino" just after completing the aria "Urna Fatale." He was my favorite baritone, and I was in my senior year of high school when he died. I remember when I woke up — I think it was a Saturday morning — my mother told me, "Bad news: Leonard Warren died." I could hardly believe it.

Here are some recordings to bring back memories if you're my age, and to give you some idea of his artistry if you're too young to remember him.

Here he is in an aria from Verdi's "Un Ballo in Maschera."

And here he is with two of my other favorite singers, Jussi Bjoerling and Zinka Milanov in the first act trio from "Il Trovatore."

Those are studio recordings. Here is a live performance from the Met seven years before he died, in which he sings that last aria. I believe he collapsed at about the point of the first applause.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Gunther Schuller

On Wednesday evening, Gunther Schuller and the Borromeo String Quartet teamed up for a lecture/concert at the Harvard Musical Association. The quartet had played a piece by Schuller in December, and he suggested that he could come and explain it to us. The offer was accepted.

The proceedings began with the composer pointing out various instances of contrast and of near-repetition in the piece, with the help of the relevant parts of the score projected on a screen for the audience to follow as the quartet played the passages he had spoken about. He also pointed out a section where he had quoted Mozart and another where he had quoted Beethoven, both at the request of people involved with presenting the piece, and both somewhat disguised so the audience might not recognize it. He also demonstrated the 12-tone row he had used in this piece and many others.

After his illustrated lecture, the quartet played the piece straight through. It certainly sounded musical, rather than a jumble of unrelated sounds. Afterwards I said to Mr. Schuller that it was a very good evening, but it would not help with the works of Elliott Carter (in which I have not been able to detect anything musical except pitch — no rhythm, no harmony, no repetition or near-repetition or development of themes) and he said that if Carter came and gave a similar lecture I would understand that piece just as well.