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A spate of concerts

On Sunday afternoon we went to a Celebrity Series concert at Jordan Hall of the St Lawrence Quartet with Soprano Heidi Grant Murphy. Monday night it was Simon Rattle and the Berliner Philharmonic at Symphony Hall, and tonight it is Gabriel Chodos (pianist at NEC) at Jordan Hall.

It is rare to have a soprano with a chamber music group, but this was enticing to me because I am not a super fan of chamber music unless they are playing Shubert Death and the Maiden - actually there is quite a lot of Beethoven, Mozart, and others that I do like but I prefer when there is also a piano or something else that isn't a string instrument.

This concert culminated with the Beethoven Quartet in B-flat Major, Op 130 with Grosse Fuge, a big, and somewhat weird piece. A bit difficult to watch was the 2nd violinist who jumped around an awful lot when he was playing. Murphy and her pianist husband were quite good although I was surprised that she was reading music for everything except the four Schubert Songs; several times she was really looking down at the music instead of singing out. One of the pieces they performed was Songs from the Diaspora by Roberto Sierra, a contemporary composer. This was interesting with some very nice coloration. I'd never heard of Sierra, but I wouldn't mind hearing it again (it's not recorded yet.)

One slightly annoying thing was that the program placed the Sierra in the second half and I didn't read the lyrics while waiting for the first half to occur. Then they announced that the order was to be changed and Sierra would be in the first half but this was after they'd already dimmed the lights thus making it hard to read the program.

The Berliner did a modern piece by Gyorgy Kurtag called Stele. Quite intriguing was the way it opened with portions of the orchestra playing slightly out-of-tune and then generally resolving into rich sounds. The stage was crammed full of instruments for this piece - even more than for the Mahler which followed. Here is what the Globe reviewer says about the Kurtag:
"Stele" is a trio of connected musical tombstones. Enormous orchestral forces are required; the writing is fiercely expressive. Picture a Mahler symphony placed to simmer all day long on a low flame, producing an Austro-German concentrate of great potency. This is the world of Kurtag, and this orchestra knows it well. "Stele" was written for this group in 1993.

For the second half of the concert they did Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde and it was most beautiful. The tenor soloist was Ben Heppner who fortunately has a big voice because he had a lot of orchestra to sound over. The second soloist was Thomas Quasthoff (this part is usually done by a contralto). Quasthoff was incredible and really suited this incredible piece of music. This piece's lyrics end with:
"The dear earth everywhere
Blossoms in spring, and grows green anew.
Everywhere and forever, forever
Blue lights the horizon.
Forever... forever..."
With Quasthoff singing ewig... ewig... fading off. Rattle held the silence in the hall for at least a half minute at the end and the spellbound audience cooperated. We've heard Quasthoff before and he is really something special. On top of everything else, he is only about 4 feet tall because he is a Thalidomide baby with very short legs and almost no arms; but the effects of the drug had no impact on his lungs an vocal chords.

And tonight we hear Gabriel Chodos play the last three Shubert sonatas. I particularly like the way he plays the slow movement of the A major having heard it on WGBH recently on a replay of one of their live recordings.

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A bit difficult to watch was the 2nd violinist who jumped around an awful lot when he was playing.

Heh. The St Lawrence has been the quartet-in-residence at Stanford for some years and I've had the pleasure of attending a number of their concerts in the Stanford Lively Arts series. You must be referring to Geoff Nuttall, who appears to be the Quartet's spiritual leader. He usually takes first violin but trades off with Scott St John, the other violinist and newest member. Geoff does have quite the mobile leg when he's playing. The Wooly One and I are often seated just a few rows away from the stage so his leg movements and pointy-toed boots are hard to filter out but, upon repeated exposure, they become part of the overall experience, a symbol of the passion and energy the group brings to their music.

Yes, it was Nuttall.

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