Jon Sobel – Blogcritics https://blogcritics.org The critical lens on today's culture & entertainment Tue, 05 Feb 2019 12:35:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Concert Review: Boreas Quartett Bremen and Han Tol – ‘Il flauto magico’ (NYC, 27 January 2019) https://blogcritics.org/concert-review-boreas-quartett-bremen-han-tol/ https://blogcritics.org/concert-review-boreas-quartett-bremen-han-tol/#respond Wed, 30 Jan 2019 19:19:46 +0000 https://blogcritics.org/?p=5495319 The concert featured a closetful of varied recorders, most copied from original instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque periods.

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Was it in third grade when our school lent every kid a recorder on which to pipe out some music? With no reed, the simple instrument makes it easy to learn to play a melody. Then in fourth grade we got to choose among trumpet, clarinet, and violin, and diversified from there – leaving the recorder in the toy box.

I knew recorders were more than playthings because my parents owned and occasionally played a set of four different-sized instruments that lived in (to me) exotic- and antique-looking velvety boxes. And upon hearing a very young Michala Petrie in concert, in the early 1970s, I discovered real recorder virtuosity.

I don’t think I’d been to another concert centered on the recorder since then, though – until the marvelous German ensemble Boreas Quartett Bremen appeared in New York City on its first North American tour, presented by Music Before 1800. Joined by the eminent recorder maestro Han Tol, the four young musicians transformed Corpus Christi Church into a temple of the blockflöte on Sunday night.

Aptly titled “Il flauto magico,” the program featured a closetful of assorted recorders, most copied from original instruments of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. There were diminutive sopranino recorders, and the standard soprano pipes familiar to all schoolchildren. There were larger instruments too, with lower ranges, all the way up to a huge bass recorder the size of a contrabassoon. A boxy outlier came out for the evening’s one modern piece, the four-movement African-inspired Ixesha by Sören Seig.

The music in the first half spanned the 16th through the 21st centuries, opening with a concerto by Vivaldi that established immediately the ensemble’s great group virtuosity. Played on a range of small recorders, it took on a ghostly sound that hushed the audience: One didn’t want to counterpose so much as a stifled cough or a rustle of paper against the music’s pure-toned delicacy.

Han Tol joined the quartet for a number of the works, including three devotional pieces by the 16th-century organist Christopher Tye, a distinguished composer and the music teacher of King Edward VI. In the Tye piece, five recorders sized from small to huge together suggested the sound of a pipe organ – which, in a sense, they were. The music took unexpected harmonic turns that now and then bordered on the weird and made me want to seek out more of the composer’s music, though sadly not too much of it survives.

Tol was also on hand for a pairing of John Dowland’s beautiful “Lachrimae Antiquae Novae” pavan, more commonly heard on a plucked instrument, and a Galliard by Thomas Simpson that uses the same famous melody. Both revealed rich textures in the consort setting.

A similar pairing consisted of a set of variations on the familiar melody of “Une jeune fillette” by Eusctache de Caurroy, a composer new to me, and “La Monica” by Hans Leo Hassler, in which you can discern the same tune. Three selections from J.S. Bach’s The Art of Fugue were reverently and superbly played, showing off the ensemble’s amazing synchrony, as did a Concert for 5 Flutes by French composer Joseph Bodin de Boismortier.

On the more playful side were two charming little pieces by Anthony Holborne, and Seig’s Ixesha. Boreas Quartett Bremen premiered the latter recently in Germany. It proved a bubbly, rhythmic delight, starting with the lively, playful “Circle Dance” movement, which incorporates shoe percussion. “Sad Song” rides along lovely motives and gorgeous harmonies, and the swinging “Consolation” put me in mind of the African folk tune that gave us “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” Polyrhythms and odd time signatures made “Simple Solution” a marvel of togetherness and transported me to a sophisticated drum circle of the mind.

Boreas Quartett Bremen’s website lists their impending U.S. concerts with Han Tol, Feb. 1 in Boston and Feb. 3 in New Haven. If you’re within reach, go. You’ll never look at the humble recorder the same way again. 

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Exclusive Interview: Pianist-Composer and Honens Winner Nicolas Namoradze on His Carnegie Hall Debut https://blogcritics.org/interview-pianist-composer-nicolas-namoradze/ https://blogcritics.org/interview-pianist-composer-nicolas-namoradze/#respond Mon, 28 Jan 2019 21:51:19 +0000 https://blogcritics.org/?p=5495285 Fresh off winning the 2018 Honens International Piano Competition, the New York-based pianist and composer will be making his Carnegie Hall debut Feb 10.

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Fresh off winning Canada’s 2018 Honens International Piano Competition, New York-based pianist and composer Nicolas Namoradze will be making his Carnegie Hall debut Feb 10. Concerts at London’s Wigmore Hall, Konzerthaus Berlin, and other international venues are also upcoming, along with recordings on the Honens and Hyperion labels.

The Honens prize, a triennial award considered one of the classical music world’s most prestigious, includes a robust artist development program as well as prize money. Namoradze emerged victorious from a field of 50 quarterfinalists.

At his Carnegie Hall recital Namoradze will play music by Scriabin, Schumann, and J.S. Bach, along with his own Etudes and the world premiere of his Arabesque.

He was kind enough to speak with us about his background, musicianship, and composing.

nicolas namoradzeYou were born in Georgia (the country) but grew up in Budapest. You’ve said Hungarian composers have influenced you, and so has Georgian folk music. How so?

My interest in Georgian folk music was, interestingly enough, partly a result of my time at the Liszt Academy in Budapest, where ethnomusicology was a mandatory subject: studying the relationship between Bartók and Hungarian folk music made me look at Georgian folk music in a different light, and later on it began influencing my own compositional style. As for Hungarian composers, perhaps Ligeti has had the greatest impact — I’m fascinated by his oeuvre, so much so that my doctoral dissertation is about his late piano etudes!

Where and how did you begin your music studies? And when did you become interested in composing?

As a child I was always obsessed with music, and often spent hours on end glued to the record player. I was seven years old when I decided I wanted to begin learning an instrument, and felt piano was the right choice. After a few years of private instruction I moved to the pre-college program of the Liszt Academy.

I constantly scribbled in the first few years of my musical studies, but stopped writing as a teenager. I only began studying composition properly during my Master’s [studies] at Juilliard, where the atmosphere of experimentation and interdisciplinary collaboration encouraged me to look beyond the piano. It was also at Juilliard that I studied electronic music, which has since become a significant part of my activities as a composer.

You’ve studied piano with Emanuel Ax among others, and composition with John Corigliano. I had the opportunity to interview Emanuel Ax about his Variations CD, and he talked about the “emotional scope” of the works. Is that something you look for in your concert programs?

It’s certainly a central concern when I construct a concert program. When looking at the emotional scope of the works, I’m especially interested in how the pieces relate to one another, in order to create a kind of dramatic narrative across the entire program — rather than it being merely a selection of works I happen to like.

Your repertoire of solo, chamber, and concerto music is quite large and varied for a young pianist, ranging from Bach, Brahms, and Liszt to Ligeti, Rautavaara, and even Conlon Nancarrow. (I’m listening to your Honens performance of Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 as I compose these questions.) All these works encompass a vast emotional as well as stylistic range. Am I correct in surmising that you’re an artist who likes to explore widely and challenge himself?

Absolutely! I’m a voracious learner with a fascination with the entire body of music written for the piano, including its less-explored corners. This appetite has actually extended beyond my instrument: I used to study conducting due to my love of the symphonic repertoire. However, I’ve set aside the baton for the time being — piano and composition is more than enough for now! I’ve also always been a bit of a daredevil, constantly challenging myself to learn pieces considered prohibitively difficult, such as the Godowsky Studies on Chopin Etudes and the Ligeti Etudes, which I began studying in my early teens.

How did you work out the program for your upcoming Carnegie Hall debut?

This recital program explores a number of interesting cross-temporal musical relationships. Some of the pairings I had already tried out in previous programs, such as the Scriabin and Bach, and juxtaposing my own Arabesque with the Schumann Arabeske felt natural, as there are structural similarities between the two pieces. Though the ordering of the works is hardly conventional, it in fact weaves a thread from one work to the next in a manner I think is interesting.

What draws you to Scriabin, and particularly to the “Black Mass” Sonata? What’s the significance of pairing it with Bach’s Sinfonia in F Minor?

Scriabin is actually one of my favorite composers. I am fascinated by the uniquely gradual yet dramatic stylistic transformation across his lifespan, from the early musical language influenced heavily by Chopin all the way to a highly experimental approach that stretches, and eventually steps beyond, the boundaries of traditional tonality. The music at each stage of this evolution is astonishing, and I have learnt a great deal from studying his compositional procedures. I am especially drawn to the later works, such as the “Black Mass” Sonata, with its remarkable juxtaposition of tenderness and terror.

What’s interesting about pairing it with the Bach Sinfonia in F Minor is that it highlights features in the work of one composer typically associated with the other — in this case, the intricate polyphonic textures in Scriabin’s Sonata and the daring chromaticism of Bach’s brief Sinfonia. There are also further relationships between the two pieces, such as those of key centre, that makes this a revealing pairing.

Along with your three brief Etudes, you’re premiering a new original Arabesque. Does it look back to Debussy?

Though Debussy was not a conscious model, given that my piece is based on principles that define arabesques in visual art — those of ornate, spiraling and interlacing patterns — one can find similarities with the undulating textures of the first of Debussy’s two Arabesques for piano.

The Laureate Prize at the 2018 Honens International Piano Competition includes an artist development program, with management, concert bookings, and recordings, including your debut CD with Hyperion. What are some highlights of your upcoming schedule, and have you made decisions on what you’ll record?

Following my upcoming recital at Carnegie Hall, I’ll have debuts at venues including Wigmore Hall in London, Koerner Hall in Toronto, Konzerthaus Berlin, and Tokyo Bunka Kaikan, and appearances with orchestras such as the London Philharmonic. Selections from my performances at the competition will be released on the Honens label in a few weeks, and in March I’ll be recording Schumann and some of my own piano works for Steinway. As for the Hyperion recording, I’ll be doing a disc of previously unrecorded pieces by York Bowen — a wonderful composer whose music deserves to be played and heard much more often!

Visit the Carnegie Hall website for tickets to the Feb. 10 recital. 

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Music Review: Pablo Aslan – ‘Contrabajo: Works for Bass and String Quartet’ https://blogcritics.org/music-review-pablo-aslan-contrabajo-works-for-bass-and-string-quartet/ https://blogcritics.org/music-review-pablo-aslan-contrabajo-works-for-bass-and-string-quartet/#respond Sun, 27 Jan 2019 15:02:57 +0000 https://blogcritics.org/?p=5495279 Great musicians often speak to us most sincerely when they put genre aside and write and play what's in their own distinctive hearts.

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Bassist Pablo Aslan presents his fabulous new album of music for bass and string quartet, Contrabajo, at the loamy juncture of jazz, classical, and Argentinian tango. Working with the musicians of Cuarteto Petrus, Aslan and producer/arranger Gabriel Senanes offer a pleasantly dizzying set of pieces by some of the great names in Latin jazz, some written and all arranged specifically for this recording.

The airy polyrhythms of “Confluencias” scamper like ghostly winged creatures. The somber dance of “Reflejos” combines jazzy chords and bass solos with an avant-classical and dreamily minimalist theme, building to an almost unbearable tension.

Aslan’s own sprightly “Tanguajira” recalls Astor Piazzolla himself as guest Paquito D’Rivera lays on a delicious clarinet solo and Aslan thunks out meaty bass lines. I can’t help smiling at the percussive effects, and at the dry humor when the piece dips into a 1-4-5 major mode amid the dark repetitions of the minor-key theme.

Two works by Aslan’s fellow tango specialist and frequent collaborator Roger Davidson dive into romance. Senanes’s Beethovenian arrangement makes “Te extraño Buenos Aires” a standout, while “Tango para cuerdas” becomes truly danceable – except for its bass cadenza. Interestingly, the only track without much fire is the most familiar tune, Duke Ellington’s “Come Sunday” (though I do appreciate Aslan’s deep glissando at the end).

Senanes displays his affinities for both modernism and Argentinian folk rhythms in two compositions of his own. Bird-like strains from the strings, a transformation of the bass into a drum kit, and a questioning lack of resolution give “Contratango” a curious, serious charm. In the invigorating and boldly multidimensional “Riendo suelto” the ensemble makes the most of Senanes’s innovative writing for strings.

To open the album, the musicians render Heitor Villa-Lobos’s “Preludio No. 1” with fluid tempi and a graceful conversational feel, a sensitive tribute to the composer’s Latin American classical guitar music. To close it, Raúl Jaurena contributes an arrangement of the Uruguayan tune “La cumparsita,” adding his bandoneón to the mix.

And thus, throughout, the album perambulates from tradition to tradition even as it builds a fresh sonic world of its own. It demonstrates that great musicians often speak to us most sincerely when they put genre aside and write and play what’s in their own distinctive hearts.

Contrabajo is available at Amazon.

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Theater Review (NYC Off-Broadway): ‘Trick or Treat’ by Jack Neary https://blogcritics.org/theater-review-nyc-off-broadway-trick-or-treat/ Sun, 20 Jan 2019 22:08:04 +0000 https://blogcritics.org/?p=5495141 The specter of his wife's advancing Alzheimer's disease throw Johnny (Gordon Clapp) and his family into a dizzying whirlpool of anxiety as family secrets threaten to bubble to the surface.

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On stage, as in medicine, dementia is the topic du jour. Broadway productions of The Waverley Gallery and The Father both focused on Alzheimer’s. A pivotal character in the smash The Ferryman suffers from severe dementia. Off of the Great White Way, recent productions of Terminus at New York Theatre Workshop and The Net Will Appear with Richard Masur at 59e59 Theaters centered on the delusion and confusion that afflict dementia sufferers and the sorrow the disease inflicts on their loved ones.

The subject hits the stage at 59e59 anew with Jack Neary’s Trick or Treat. This worthy import from Vermont’s Northern Stage is a crackling family-secrets drama built from surprise twists, black humor, and craftily imagined and realized characters and performances.

Gordon Clapp of Hill Street Blues fame heads a vibrant cast of five as Johnny Moynihan, the grouchy, thin-skinned paterfamilias of a small clan with a very big skeleton in its closet. The specter of his wife’s advancing Alzheimer’s disease throw him, his daughter Claire (Jenni Putney), and his tempestuous policeman son Teddy (David Mason) – joined by Teddy’s busybody ex Hannah (Kathy McCafferty) – into a dizzying whirlpool of anxiety.

The reason for the outsized fuss, made clear in Act II, neatly harkens back to something established at the beginning: Johnny avoids ever sleeping when his dementia-stricken spouse is awake. Clapp renders Johnny as a vibrating bundle of nerves and emotions, especially raw when his stay-awake vow lapses.

One minute he’s asserting dominance over his daughter, the next he’s cowering before his angry son. At still others he’s weeping with utterly convincing sensitivity over Nancy’s condition and fate.

His interaction with unseen trick-or-treaters at the outset establishes the comic tone even as it reveals key facets of his personality, a twistedly magnetic one that carries much of the action. It’s a deeply striated performance of edgy granite and raw discomposure.

Mason is both touching and terrifying as Teddy, a police captain about to be promoted to Chief – providing his family’s dark secret stays hidden. More than once he makes us fear that a murder is about to occur before our eyes as Hannah persists in trying to restore to rationality a rapidly escalating situation. As for Putney’s Claire, we’re with her all the way as shock after shock shakes her carefully constructed togetherness. And McCafferty’s Hannah is a fiery yet vulnerable delight, like the Halloween jack-o-lantern perched on the console organ (a nice touch) in Michael Ganio’s gorgeous living-room set.

Carol Dunne’s taut direction in tandem with Neary’s script and a superb technical and creative team support the cast in turning the Moynihan living room into a living hotbed of laughs and pains, love and loss, and sins-of-the-sons generational conflict that seems extreme only if we avert our eyes from the bruised undersides of our own lives and families. Trick or Treat runs until Feb. 24. Visit the 59e59 website for schedule and tickets.

Read the next and final spoiler paragraph only if you’ve seen the play already.

 

SPOILER ALERT

 

As I noted above, theatergoers have in the past few years had numerous opportunities to see the awfulness – and occasionally the magic – of dementia memorably depicted on stage. Kathy Manfre’s poignant portrayal of Nancy ranks with the very best. Calm in her good moments, painfully frustrated in others, it’s a multilayered portrait that those who’ve dealt with the phenomenon will recognize all too well.

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Music Review: Jason Ringenberg – ‘Stand Tall’ https://blogcritics.org/music-review-jason-ringenberg-stand-tall/ Sat, 19 Jan 2019 15:00:06 +0000 https://blogcritics.org/?p=5495185 Inspired by California's giant sequoias, the new solo album from Jason and the Scorchers' Jason Ringenberg has its thumb on the pulses of our hurting planet and our aching human race.

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jason ringenberg stand tallStand Tall, the new solo album from Jason and the ScorchersJason Ringenberg, opens with a spectacular instrumental. This title track, a steely composition of orchestral Americana, is a majestic, wordless paean to the equally wordless giant sequoias that inspired and soar behind the album.

Those three minutes of grandeur give way to a bright novelty country-rocker. Such contrasts carry through this whole project, on which Ringenberg reunites with early bandmates. “This mind I’m driving ain’t got no kind of brakes,” he sings in “Lookin’ Back Blues.” It’s evident both musically and thematically that while his muse does know how to stop, she doesn’t know the meaning of getting stuck in a rut.

“John the Baptist Was a Real Humdinger” recalls the country-religious crossover songs of the likes of the Louvin Brothers, and its pounding beat and cathedral-sized echoes signal seriously colorful storytelling. The lyrics picture the saint “spitting words like a punk rock singer.” It’s a perfect lead-in to “God Bless the Ramones,” which Ringenberg recollects his band’s opening dates for the punk-rock legends in 1982.

The tone goes Celtic for the epic “I’m Walking Home.” Reaching back into history, this Civil War survival tale in an implied forward reversal looks ahead to Vietnam: “They loaded me into a shoddy old freight car / To fight in a cause that I just couldn’t see.” The antiwar theme continues in a sharp take on the bitter Hugh Deneal song “Almost Enough.”

“Hobo’s Last Ride” switches to a respectful high-lonesome mode to tell a more personal tale. Earnestness (not a word I’d normally use in connection with Jason and the Scorchers) of another kind manifests in the sweet, simple “Here in the Sequoias,” those “giant angels” under which “the daily greed evaporates” and “peace pervades.” The band cranks it up to rock hard honoring a pioneering environmentalist in “John Muir Stood Here.”

The disc closes with the old-timey gem “Many Happy Hangovers to You” and a reverent acoustic cover of Bob Dylan’s “Farewell Angelina,” in which Ringenberg seems to channel Townes Van Zandt’s wobbly sensitivity.

Though not a concept album, this wonderful collection keeps its thumb on the pulses of our hurting planet and our aching human race, with Ringenberg’s unmistakable voice diving and leaping with focus and flash from song to song and mode to mode, backed by a top-gun band. Releasing Feb. 7, Stand Tall is available now for pre-order. 

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Opera/Theater Review (NYC): ‘4.48 Psychosis’ by Philip Venables, Based on the Play by Sarah Kane https://blogcritics.org/opera-theater-review-nyc-4-48-psychosis-philip-venables/ Thu, 10 Jan 2019 01:15:53 +0000 https://blogcritics.org/?p=5494858 Philip Venables' opera based on Sarah Kane's last play, '4.48 Psychosis,' is a raw, energizing dive into the maelstrom of mental illness.

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Philip Venables’ opera based on Sarah Kane’s last play, 4.48 Psychosis, is the first musical adaptation of Kane’s work. The opera’s original 2016 London production is receiving its U.S. premiere January 5-12 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center. It’s a marvel, one of the most original and impactful pieces of stagecraft I’ve seen. A multimedia collage of opera and drama, a cry for help from a ghost, a naked digital-age gesamtkunstwerk, a howling, raw, yet technologically advanced dive into the maelstrom of mental illness, this dark depiction of depression paradoxically energizes and even elevates.

Kane (1971-1999) was a noted playwright at 25 and a suicide at 28. A litany of treatments had failed to alleviate her suffering from severe depression. Her play 4.48 Psychosis is a subjective, expressionistic, and freeform depiction of depression that dispensed with traditional narrative and characterization. It premiered in 2000, after her death. Her plays have seen many revivals, especially in Europe, in the years since Kane herself departed the world’s narrative, one of countless victims of what poets once romanticized as “melancholy” and William Styron more accurately termed “darkness visible.” Through her work, and now through this marvelous adaptation, her own darkness remains starkly conspicuous.

Aggravatingly monotonous waiting-room music sets the tone before Gwen (soprano Gweneth-Ann Rand) struggles on stage. Hugging the wall of a sterile medical office, she sings a theme of gloomy half-step-down intervals that establish her somber state. Then the medical interventions and the epic struggle begin.

Though the five other characters have names, they serve – aside from the doctor – mostly as aspects of Gwen’s personality and internal monologue. The all-female cast boasts superb voices with different tonal qualities that help dimensionalize Gwen.

One of Venables’ most clever conceits has two percussionists in the orchestra bang out the process of Gwen’s therapy sessions. Alternately frightening and funny, their accents and rhythms accompany the doctor-patient dialogue that’s projected onto the featureless rear wall. Live and processed spoken word supplements the aria-chorales. Some of the music is stunningly beautiful, some wracked with pain.

The story, such as it is, barrels from drug to drug and one therapeutic technique to another. Gwen acts out extremes of anger and shame, attacking her alter egos, cutting herself, describing her proposed suicide with details that presaged Kane’s own.

After much struggle, descending half-tones give way to ascending minor thirds and Gwen achieves a moment of clarity. But the bliss of being “in my right mind” instead of feeling adrift in a meaningless life – “Now I am here” – can’t last.

Cold scenic design and simple, standardized costuming frame director Ted Huffman’s captivating staging. The mostly slow blocking suggests ballet and is as important as the music to this pulsing, complete work of art. the score, played by the ensemble Contemporaneous conducted by David Bloom, is intricately woven together with the voices and sound effects, whether it’s a faintly keening accordion, a trio of jabbing baritone saxophones, or a saw being driven through a piece of wood.

4.48 Psychosis the opera is a wordy piece, but words on a screen can’t do it justice. This Royal Opera House production is presented by PROTOTYPE and New Vision for Opera NYC and runs through 12 January 2019. Visit the Baruch Performing Arts Center website for schedule and tickets. 

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Music Review: Stile Antico – ‘In a Strange Land: Elizabethan Composers in Exile’ https://blogcritics.org/music-review-stile-antico-in-a-strange-land-elizabethan-composers-in-exile/ Tue, 08 Jan 2019 18:51:09 +0000 https://blogcritics.org/?p=5494801 The latest album from the celebrated English early music vocal ensemble Stile Antico, 'In a Strange Land: Elizabethan Composers in Exile,' is a beautiful sequence with works by John Dowland, William Byrd, and their contemporaries – and a decidedly melancholy affair.

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stile antico in a strange landThe latest creative album theme from the celebrated English early music vocal ensemble Stile Antico is In a Strange Land: Elizabethan Composers in Exile. With works by John Dowland, William Byrd, and their contemporaries, it’s a beautiful sequence of music – and a decidedly melancholy affair.

The “exile” here refers to Catholic composers who either physically or symbolically left England as the regime of Queen Elizabeth I enforced adherence to Protestant observance. Dowland and Byrd are the most famous.

Dowland may have been more of a troublemaker by nature than a committed Papist, but the two selections by him have a deeply tragic feel. Velvety, almost spectral textures make the choir’s performance of his 1612 “In this trembling shadow” one of the album’s most sublime moments.

Peter Philips and Richard Dering were both English Catholics who spent much of their careers in the Low Countries. The brief motet by Dering is strikingly rhythmic and dramatic. And parts of Philips’s “Gaude Maria virgo” sound downright cheery in this context. But the theme persists. “Most wise virgin, where are you going, shining gloriously as the morning?” Presumably to celebrate having “destroyed all heresies.”

Byrd’s eight-part motet “Quomodo cantabimus” demonstrates these composers’ urge to set Biblical texts that referenced exile, such as Psalm 137. The austere harmonies of Philippe de Monte’s “Super flumina Babylonis,” to which Byrd was responding, represents music of a more purely Renaissance style addressing the same theme. Byrd’s motet is softer but much more musicologically lively, particularly in Stile Antico’s inspired rendition. It’s no accident that Psalm 137 also serves as the text for one of the loveliest songs from Stephen Schwartz’s 20th-century musical Godspell. There have always been and will always be exiles, internal and external.

The album acknowledges the vitality of modern composition with Huw Watkins’s reedy 2014 setting of Shakespeare’s poem “The Phoenix and the Turtle.” Some believe the poem a shrouded allegory about Catholic martyrs. In any event it dates from the same era as the rest of the music. The choir tempers the aggression of the opening with a gingerly performance, while Watkins’s chorale-like closing section seems to pay especial tribute to his predecessors of four centuries past.

The choral music of the early 17th century remains popular in large part because of its aesthetic beauty. But following along with a translation of the text (as provided in the liner notes) deepens one’s appreciation. That’s especially so with Robert White’s setting of the “Lamentations of Jeremiah.” This 22-minute masterwork closes the album with a kaleidoscopic survey of sorrow, sung in tones ineffably sweet. A brief chorale on each section’s initial Hebrew letter begins each section, cries of woe punctuating the verbal lamentations.

Close your eyes and it’s easy to imagine yourself listening to Stile Antico in the vaulting nave of a vast cathedral. It works even for the modest modernism of the Watkins piece. It’s because of the recording’s smooth balance of clarity and cottony distance. We’re in the room with the singers – but it’s a big (and centuries-old) room.

As always, Stile Antico approaches early music with equal parts fresh energy and harmonious respect. This Harmonia Mundi recording is available beginning 11 January 2019 at Amazon.com and to UK customers via Stile Antico’s website.

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Music Video Premiere: Whisperado – ‘Bang One Out’ Lyric Video https://blogcritics.org/music-video-premiere-whisperado-bang-one-out-lyric-video/ Thu, 03 Jan 2019 14:11:51 +0000 https://blogcritics.org/?p=5494701 Blogcritics premieres Whisperado's new lyric video. 'Bang One Out' is the title track from the NYC roots-rock band's upcoming EP.

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New York City roots-rock band Whisperado returns with “Bang One Out,” its first new music since 2016’s “Mass Extinction No. 6”. The lyric video for “Bang One Out,” a hard-hitting antiwar/anti-hate track, premieres here at Blogcritics today.

The “Bang One Out” single will be followed this winter by a four-song EP, and later in the year by Whisperado’s first full-length album since 2012’s I’m Not the Road.

“Bang One Out” carries an antiwar and anti-hate message that sustains the impassioned topicality of “Mass Extinction No. 6.” The new lyric video whips around the world, taking in war memorials, political rallies, the post-election Women’s March, and more.

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Operetta Review: ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ from the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players https://blogcritics.org/review-pirates-penzance-new-york-gilbert-sullivan-players/ Wed, 02 Jan 2019 00:06:48 +0000 https://blogcritics.org/?p=5494662 With standout voices and vivid numbers, perfectly comedic costumes and musical hijinks, Albert Bergeret's glorious staging made this 'Pirates' a joy from start to finish.

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The New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players (NYGASP) affirmed their artistic and comic mastery of the Gilbert and Sullivan canon with a terrific production of The Pirates of Penzance Dec. 27-30 at Hunter College’s Kaye Playhouse. There were standout voices and especially vivid numbers, perfectly comedic costumes and musical hijinks. But fundamentally it was Albert Bergeret’s glorious staging that made this Pirates a joy from start to finish.

There’s no need to recap in detail the absurd story of this ever-popular comic operetta. Apprenticed accidentally to a band of soft-hearted pirates and their maid-of-all-work Ruth, young Frederic finds his plan to leave the brigand’s life behind him thwarted by the revelation that his leap-day birthday means technically he’s not 21 but only five. Cowardly cops, not-so-maidenly maidens, and a foppish Major-General round out this spirited melée of a tale.

The prismatic production started strong with a confidently played Overture under Bergeret’s sure-handed direction. Angela Christine Smith as Ruth delivered buttery-toned exposition (“When Frederic Was a Little Lad”) and broad comedy. Matthew Wages as the Pirate King impressed with his powerful presence and steely baritone. David Macaluso as his second-in-command Samuel threatened to one-up the whole pirate gang with superb comic timing and a fabulous voice.

Not to be outdone, the “girls” brought colorful glamour with “Climbing Over Rocky Mountain” led by strong performances by Emily Wright and Abigail Benke, with Merrill Grant doing hilarious flouncy-flirtatious duty throughout.

Sarah Caldwell Smith was a stirring Mabel. Her enunciation wasn’t always as clear at her voice is lovely, and Alex Corson’s voice as Frederic got lost in the sound of the orchestra at times. Both have the pipes to carry when it’s demanded; imperfect amplification and balance may have been behind at least some of this minor hindrance. One doesn’t expect to understand every word sung in operatic voices, even in one’s own language.

The gist of the story (such as it is) never wandered, nor did Smith’s sublime coloratura in “Poor Wandering One,” one of the production’s most glowing moments. Their duet “How Beautifully Blue the Sky” quickened by Bill Fabris’ graceful choreography was another.

James Mills’ stunning performance of the classic “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General” was a marvel of bubbling energy and focused comedy. The very model of all that NYGASP does so well, it epitomized the crisp dancing and staging and the rib-tickling comic business that enlivened the entire production.

If anything the show picked up even more steam in the second act. Chorus-line loopiness and Monty Python-esque shtick made the policemen’s ridiculous numbers riotous fun, led by David Auxier’s marvelous Sergeant. After further charming duets between Frederic and Mabel, Mills’ mock-ballet with Macaluso’s Samuel further raised the pitch of humor.

All the while the excellent orchestra kept pace beautifully – except when it wasn’t supposed to. And the ensemble, loaded with fine dancing and strong voices, turned the stage into a whirlwind of droll excitements and boisterous passions.

The house for The Pirates of Penzance was packed. There are only a few performances of each production during NYGASP’s NYC season. These very short runs makes their very high levels of both polish and vigor especially remarkable. Visit the website for information about upcoming New York City and out-of-town performances. NYGASP will be touring the country this winter and spring with full and small-ensemble productions, and in March staging an unusual NYC program of two short G&S-like Savoy curtain-raisers, Ages Ago (1881) by W.S. Gilbert and Frederic Clay and Mr. Jericho (1893) by Harry Greenbank and Ernest Ford.

Cornwall’s warm and fuzzy pirates are sure to be back sooner or later, of course. Meanwhile, anything NYGASP stages is bound to be top-notch. Catch them sooner or later – better yet, both.

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Music Review: Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations – ‘Terpsichore’ https://blogcritics.org/music-review-jordi-savall-le-concert-des-nations-terpsichore/ Fri, 28 Dec 2018 15:35:39 +0000 https://blogcritics.org/?p=5494603 In France in the early 18th century, minuets, sarabandes, and gigues were written to be literally danced to, sometimes by popular professional dancers. Jordi Savall and Le Concert des Nations recall those days with music by Telemann and Jean-Fery Rebel.

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jordi savall terpsichoreTerpsichore, the new album from Le Concert des Nations led by Jordi Savall, offers early 18th-century dance suites by George Philipp Telemann and the less well-known French composer Jean-Féry Rebel. The music is wonderful to listen to and – especially in the case of Rebel – fascinating to learn about.

So much familiar baroque and classical music takes ostensible dance forms. But we know that these notations are merely suggestive. We may be aware on some level that minuets and sarabandes are (or were) dances. But no one expects to see a ballroom full of bluebloods dancing to Chopin’s “Minute” Waltz or a Gigue (“jig”) from one of Bach’s French Suites. The titles simply indicate a piece of pure music’s time signature, rhythm, and perhaps mood.

But there was a time when such pieces were written specifically to be danced to, sometimes by popular professional dancers who appeared before large audiences. While ravishing viewers with their choreography and costumes, they popularized the music as well. Jean-Féry Rebel (1666-1747) composed suites of short pieces meant for the stage in this way. With Terpsichore, Jordi Savall brings Rebel out of relative obscurity.

Though best known as a master of the viola da gamba, Savall has always been a scholar and pedagogue, with an infectious enthusiasm for ancient music. I never fail to learn something significant about music history from his recordings. Gaining familiarity with ancient composers, forms, and milieus deepens one’s appreciation for music from particular times and places, and helps place it on the continuum with music of all regions and eras.

The liner notes by Catherine Cessac recount that Rebel (1666-1747) was part of a renowned musical family connected with the French court, a violin virtuoso, and a disciple of Lully. After writing numerous sonatas he created one unsuccessful “musical tragedy” (i.e. opera) and then progressed to “highly original instrumental pieces in which dance was liberated from the sung action” – in other words, music written purely for the sake of dance. Cessac also refers to these as “choreographed symphonies.” Unlike ballets, they don’t tell stories; they exist to accompany dance-for-dance’s-sake.

The album opens with two such suites, La Terpsichore (1720) and Les Caractères de la Dance (1715). The musicians play the brief component dances (most are well under a minute) by flowing one into the next with extraordinary ease. (Caveat: While the CD plays perfectly, I found that the flow from track to track makes ripping tracks off the CD problematic.)

Les Caractères de la Dance was choreographed variously by the most celebrated dancers of early-18th-century France. Most of its movements are dances explicitly named as such: Gavotte, Gigue, Sarabande, Bourrée, Passepied, and so forth, along with less-familiar types like Loure (a “slow gigue,” apparently not a contradiction in terms) and Rigaudon.

Rebel brilliantly worked a dozen or so of these different dances into under nine minutes. Pickup notes to the Courante flow from the skirts of the Prélude. Out of the heavy tread of a majestic Bourré tiptoes a delicate Chaconne, whose final chord shifts to minor to begin a Sarabande. Time and tempo shifts take place just as smoothly.

In case you’ve forgotten your Muses (I sure had), Terpsichore was the Greek goddess of choral song and dancing. In the suite named for her, Rebel uses abstract notations for some pieces, such as “Vite,” “Grave,” and “Gay,” but dance forms appear as well, with two Siciliennes and a Gigue.

The performances feature estimable work from the handful of woodwinds as well as the more numerous strings. This is lively music full of emotion, drama, celebration. Never fear: You needn’t study the titles and cross-reference them with images from ballroom scenes in TCM costume dramas to thoroughly appreciate and enjoy these wonderful renditions. There is something to be said, though, for learning about the famous dancers who popularized these pieces and the circumstances under which people saw them.

Les Plaisirs Champêtres (“Garden Party Pleasures”) premiered at the opera house in 1734 and was performed there every year until 1741. This later work has a more stately air overall, with longer dances. To my ear, they look forward to Handel’s celebratory suites. The dainty Passepied, its airy flutes spiraling with a solo violin, is remarkably lovely.

The 1729 Fantaisie rounds out the Rebel selections, with its gracious “Mineur” movement, chirping “Tambourin,” recurring Chaconne, and Loure that sounds like it wants to become a fugue.

Telemann, though German, loved the evolving French dance music tradition and wrote much music in that vein. Savall has selected two representative “Ouverture-Suites à la française.” In the first, La Bizarre, named (I have read) for textural oddities in the Ouverture, Telemann indulged in somewhat more extended compositions while retaining many dance forms. These include Courante, Gavotte, Menuet, and Branle, an ancient chain dance, here suggested by looping violin melodies accompanied by guitar.

Ornamental scales lift the gentle Sarabande. The “Fantaisie” gallops forthrightly into the sunset. The suite finishes with “Rossignol,” a speedy movement named for the nightingale.

In the other Ouverture-Suite Telemann stayed mostly away from the most common dance forms, but without going abstract. The titles include “Badinage” and “Flaterie.” Somewhat longer, these pieces, like those in La Bizarre, are spacious and fully realized. As with the whole album, the orchestra maintains historical accuracy while infusing the music with contemporary energy.

Terpsichore is released by Alla Vox and available in hybrid SACD and digital form. I recommend purchasing the physical disc for its smooth track-to-track flow and for the lavish six-language booklet it comes with.

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