Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Winterreise Review

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Many thanks to Baltimore Sun critic Tim Smith for this review of the performance of Winterreise by baritone Wolfgang Holzmair and pianist Russell Ryan. Now it’s your turn – tell us what you thought of the performance!

http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/entertainment/classicalmusic/2012/02/wolfgang_holzmair_offers_inten.html

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Shout-out in today's Sun

Posted by: sjacobsohn

In the Friday, February 17th Baltimore Sun op-ed column Shriver Hall Concert Series gets a terrific 'shout-out' by New York-based commentator Eileen Pollock. You can read the whole article here and the excerpt is below. Tell us what you think!

"The New York Philharmonic is sublime, but the high prices mean I listen to it on classical radio. In Baltimore, I could subscribe to the symphony and actually attend performances.

Shriver Hall produces a top-notch classical series, with many of the legendary performers who are playing this season at Carnegie Hall. And the prices — I have sticker shock in reverse. Les Violons du Roy, the renowned Quebec baroque ensemble, is discounted for $25. Les Violons du Roy is playing Carnegie Hall this March for $63 to $85. The brilliant pianist Richard Goode is playing Shriver Hall (Mozart and Chopin) for a modest $38. Richard Goode will play at Carnegie Hall in April, and comparable tickets range from $67 to $99. This season, Angela Hewitt, the marvelous interpreter of early music, is playing Rameau at Shriver in May. I'm tempted to take the train to Baltimore to hear her. She is not scheduled to play in New York this season."

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

More Praise for Les Violons du Roy

Posted by: sjacobsohn

Ionarts

Something other than politics in Washington, D.C.

Les Violons du Roy in Charm City

available at amazon
Mr. Corelli in London, M. Steger, English Concert, L. Cummings
(2010)

available at amazon
Handel, Water Music, Les Violons du Roy, B. Labadie
(2008)

Our last chance to hear Les Violons du Roy in the area was in 2005, so we were not going to miss the chance to hear the Canadian early music group when they played on Sunday afternoon at Baltimore's Shriver Hall. The group plays on modern instruments, so they produce a plush sound, but with reproductions of 18th-century bows that changes the nature and precision of the attack, which produces a refined unity in spite of relatively small numbers of players. While music director Bernard Labadie does favor the crisp, fleet approach to Allegro movements, typical of historically informed performance (HIP) conductors, he also approaches the music with considerable liberty of phrasing, heard in the Largo introduction to Handel's B? major concerto grosso (op. 6/7, "Hornpipe"), a piece last heard from the Australian Chamber Orchestra in 2009. Placement of the archlutenist, Sylvain Bergeron, in the front row, helped his decorations of the exquisitely soft third movement come to the fore. Labadie guided the players through expertly pointed phrases in the the fast movements, especially the folksy vigor of the "Hornpipe" last movement, where harpsichordist Richard Paré, the instrument wisely placed at the back to reduce its tendency to dominate, shone in his inventive continuo realization.

Recorder player Maurice Steger lived up to his reputation as a daredevil virtuoso in a Telemann suite (A minor, TWV 55:a2), featuring alto recorder, that is well worth a listen. Steger was up to all of the composer's many virtuosic challenges, giving clean, precise articulation to the many cascading runs, ear-piercing clarity on the high notes, and astounding breath support and finger work. The only deficit, if it should even be called that, is the lack of a truly luxurious legato, heard in the somewhat impatiently rendered Largo movement. Much the same effect was produced by an inferior piece of music, Giuseppe Sammartini's F major concerto for soprano recorder. The soloist dazzled in many sparkling runs, and the archlute had another pleasing turn decorating empty spaces in the middle movement, but it was not a piece that warranted its resurrection.


Other Reviews:

Tim Smith, Les Violons du Roy, recorder soloist Maurice Steger light up Shriver Hall (Baltimore Sun, January 30)

Susan Isaacs Nisbett, Maurice Steger, Violons du Roy offer thrilling baroque playing at Rackham (Ann Arbor.com, January 29)

Of greater interest on the second half were two pieces drawn from Steger's recent album, a blockbuster, of music by Arcangelo Corelli, adapted and made even more brilliant by his student, Francesco Geminiani, who packaged many of Corelli's works for English audiences during his time in London. Although Steger made that disc with a different ensemble, the English Concert, Les Violons du Roy took Geminiani's version of Corelli's famous variations on the Follia tune and ran with it, with lead violinist Nicole Trotier and the other musicians each getting virtuosic moments in the spotlight. The rhythmic verve of this performance was spirited and ferocious, especially in the fastest sections, taking on the spirit of dances like the fandango. Steger returned for a final solo turn in Geminiani's amped-up version of a Corelli recorder concerto (op. 5, no. 10), incorporating extremely ornate ornamentation dreamed up by leading recorder virtuosos in London at the time. Such written-out embellishments are an invaluable resource for HIP musicians, giving precious evidence of just how florid the process of ornamentation could be. As rewarding as the recording is to listen, to hear that level of virtuosity in live performance was an overwhelming experience.

The next Shriver Hall event is a free concert by 15-year-old pianist George Li, at the Baltimore Museum of Art (February 11, 3 pm).

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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Les Violons du Roy Rave Review

Posted by: sjacobsohn

Les Violons du Roy, recorder soloist Maurice Steger light up Shriver Hall

I don't think of the typical Shriver Hall Concert Series crowd as very likely to do a lot of enthusiastic hooting and hollering over baroque music, but that was the reaction given Sunday evening to Les Violons du Roy. No wonder.

This ensemble of 15 from Quebec City delivered a sterling demonstration of period instrument panache, and had the extra advantage of a Pied Piper-like soloist who worked his magic on three concertos.

The whole program had an infectious energy. And, for all of the obvious discipline and fine-honing in the execution, there was an air of spontaneity, too.

If you never thought a "historically informed" performance could be fun, this concert would have turned your ears.

Les Violons du Roy, conducted by founding artistic director Bernard Labadie, got things started with Handel's Concerto Grosso in B-flat (Op. 6, No. 7).

There were pianissimi of the finest grade. Every crescendo, accelerando, ritardando and other expressive device was achieved with great finesse.

The overall sound of the orchestra was quite warm, far from the dry tone of early music groups in the first days of the authenticity movement; tempos, too, felt more flexible.

When speed was desired, as in the most spirited variations in the "La Follia" Concerto Gross by Geminiani (after Corelli), it hit unabashedly supersonic levels, yet never left a single player in the dust. Solo playing within the ensemble was uniformly impressive, at whatever speed.

The rest of the program was devoted to …

works for recorder and orchestra.

The recorder is one of those instruments that isn't always taken seriously, and isn't always heard to its best advantage. 

(That's one reason there was so much comic mileage in the vintage Saturday Night Live skit about a dicey French restaurant where "for your entertainment pleasure, our daughter Francine will play the recorder.")

Swiss-born Maurice Steger could disarm the most recorder-adverse listener with a single phrase. He combines a startling level of technical bravura with an ability to breathe sincerity and purpose into even the most floridly decorative phrase.

The personality in his playing proved quite persuasive, especially in Telemann's A minor Concerto. Steger's disarming charm made each movement of that work more animated and involving than the last.

The soloist also made much of the Haydn-worthy wit in the music, aided at every step of the way by Labadie and the ensemble.

The Telemann piece was so rewarding on so many levels that it would have been better placed at the end of the evening. The concertos that came after -- by Sammartini and Geminiani -- had their fine points, but paled by comparison, in one way or another.

Still, Steger's delivery remained full of character, and the beautifully dovetailed contributions of Les Violons du Roy remained equally delectable.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Bernard Greenhouse and the Beaux Arts Trio

Posted by: sjacobsohn

On this day 41 years ago the legendary Beaux Arts trio graced the stage of Shriver Hall Concert Series in the second of 14 visits spanning from 1968 to 1995. The trio's name has recently been prevalent in the news again because of the sale of one of the greatest cellos in the world - an instrument owned by the late Bernard Greenhouse, founding member of the Beaux Arts trio. The instrument, a magnificent Stradivarius from 1707 that sold for over $6 million last week, was played by Mr. Greenhouse for over a half a century and the touching story of the bond between instrument and artist has been wonderfully told in a serious of New York Times articles:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/magazine/bernard-greenhouse-cello.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/23/arts/music/stradivari-cello-sells-for-more-than-6-million.html

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