As I was tidying up the remains of last year's blogging and pagiating*, I came across the programs for no fewer than six musical events from the 2007-2008 season — all of them from 2008, as it happens. For almost a month, I shuffled these souvenirs from one pile to another, surmising that writing about long-past concerts would be difficult. When my shame reached toxic levels, and I was forced to begin trying to say a few words about, oh, the entire MMArtists series, I found that "difficult" wasn't the word. "Impossible" was the word. Unless I wanted to be inventive — which I didn't, having been shown where that leads by Patricia Highsmith's creepy masterwork, Edith's Diary.
At the same time, I couldn't just "skip it." That would be shameful, too. No: I must nail my failure to the cross, and show myself to be the philistine that I am, incapable of holding on to memories of a concert for longer than a flea's lifespan. Musical memories, that is. (I shall never, ever forget the curious, rather homespun gowns worn by the women of the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.) There were moments last season that I didn't need to write down in order to remember — Tom Meglioranza's recital at Weill; Wei-Yang Andy Lin's performances with Itzhak Perlman; Dame Felicity Lott's valiant performance of Chausson's Poème de l'amour et de la mer (see below) — but I'm glad that I caught the first two, because memory can be shifty and mutable. Or, as the following account makes clear, it can simply evaporate.
¶ On 25 January — January? I'm supposed to remember from January? — The MMArtists gave the first of three concerts that I completely failed to write up. How could this happen? More to the point, did I stay for the entire program? I don't think so. Ah, here it is. I did cut out at the interval. So: what have I got to say about John Novacek's performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto K 415? Or Leon Kirchner's Triptych for Violin and Cello? Guess.
(I see from The Daily Blague that I missed the second concert in the series, on 22 February. It was snowing or something.)
¶ On 1 April, Dame Felicity Lott joined the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra at Carnegie Hall for a performance of Ernest Chausson's rare bloom, the Poème de l'amour et de la mer, a worked-up setting of three poems by Maurice Bouchor. This far-from-valedictory piece was slightly spoiled by lush orchestral dins that Dame Felicity's lower register could not always penetrate. In the second half, the French note was taken up again for a rousing presentation (as I'm sure it must have been!) of Bizet's Symphony in C. This is one of the most mysterious works in the repertoire, combining, with a sunny geniality, the chaste economy of a classical symphony by one of Mozart's workaday contemporaries with the rich semitropic glow of afternoons in the South of France or Southern California. (The wonder of classical music is that even when you can't remember a thing about a concert you can still say more or less intelligent things about the music, and hope that nobody notices. For the record: the present writer has never been to the South of France.)
Also on the bill were two Latin-flavored works: Arnold Copland's Three Latin American Sketches and Tania León's Acana. Ms León (b 1943) was on hand to explain her celebration of Cuban textures and sonorities. As for the Copland, my notebook tells me that the first sketch ("Estribillo") made me think of Hemingway, while the second ("Paisaje Mexicano") made me think of a mural in someone's suburban dining room back in the Fifties. The third ("Danza de Jalisco") inspired no notes. I expect it was lively.
¶ On 16 April, in Zankel Hall, The Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, one of today's more stylish baroque bands, served up a mixed grill of Italian and German works with a dash of French style. The highlight came at the end: Raphael Alpermann played Bach's Concerto in d with immense élan, infusing every bar with an excitement that suggesting, without actually risking, the possibility of an upset. (I really do remember this, honest injun.) The program opened with some sparkling Vivaldi (RV 156, in g); there followed an Oboe Concerto in d, by Alessandro Marcello, that Bach ornamented for the Weimar court, ardently played by Xenia Löffler, and a Viola da Gamba Concerto in a, by Johann Gottlieb Graun, performed by Jan Freiheit with an air of deserved past-mastery. (I don't think I'm making this up.)
After the interval, we had an Overture (Suite) in F, by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach, that showed how difficult it was for German composers to imitate the content-free French style prevalent at Versailles. As one of the encores, Ms Löffler and the Akademie entertained us with an amusing going-b'roque rendition of "Strangers in the Night."
¶ Two nights later (18 April), I made it to the last of the three Musicians from Marlboro recitals at Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ah, yes, now I remember why the evening felt so gala. I had seen Hors de Prix in the afternoon, and when the program began with Mozart's Horn Quintet, K 407, I felt that I, too, must be taking in a concert at Biarritz. The Quintet is 100% not chamber music, but a concerto for few instruments. José Vicente Castello played the horn very, very well, though. The next work was Benjamin Britten's second String Quartet, Op. 36. I don't know the work and I remember nothing about the performance, except hoping, before it started, that I'd be shown how to like it. That doesn't seem to have happened. Dvorak's E-Flat Quintet, Op. 97, inspired fugitive thoughts (that is, I didn't write them down) about the persistently American quality of so much of Dvorak's music, which suggests that the pioneers brought a lot of Old World sadness with them. (See Wisconsin Death Trip.)
¶ On 24 April — the eve of my daughter's wedding — I somehow sat through two well-known Bach cantatas, BWV 67 ("Halt in Gedächtnis Jesum Christ") and 140 ("Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme"), without forming any lasting impressions. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra was joined in Grace Rainey Rogers by Members of the Handel and Haydn Society Chorus. I remember a certain mild discontent that may well have had nothing whatever to do with the music. My thoughts were so elsewhere.
¶ My notebook is more helpful for the last of these derelictions, a MMArtists concert on 16 May, again in Grace Rainey Rogers. For one thing, I overheard someone talking about the Frautschi girls, Jennifer and Laura. Having provisionally included that these gifted violinists, who don't look very much alike at all — nor do they look Swiss — must have married into the Frautschi family, I was corrected: sisters they are, or so I was told. In other personal news, it was amusing to watch WQXR presenter Midge Woolsey draw a blank when cellist Edward Arron reached back to a childhood memory of meeting her during a fundraiser for Channel 13. (This series was broadcast live, which is why Ms Woolsey was on hand.) How quickly the little ones they do grow up.
As to the music, baritone Randall Scarlatta demonstrated ownership of a collection of Old American Songs that Aaron Copland arranged, but was less idiomatic with five of Beethoven's folksong arrangements — perhaps because these works are really miniature piano trios with vocal obbligato. Also by Copland was the Sextet for Piano, Clarinet and String Quartet. I remember enjoying the acerbic quality of this music, probably because sitting through it made me feel grown-up and sophisticated.
Elliott Carter's Con Legerezza Pensosa: Omaggio a Italo Calvino, for Clarinet, Violin and Cello was given an agreeably brief performance, graced as I recall by the venerable composer's presence. I may be mistaken, though. Mr Carter (b 1908) made a lot of appearances last season, amazingly enough.
The program ended with Beethoven's Quintet in C, Op 29. How did it compare to the performance, in November, by Musicians from Marlboro, in the same hall? I bang my head in remorse — but in time with the Scherzo. (August 2008)
* writing Web pages.
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