Monday, November 16, 2015

Appomattox at WNO

I wrote about the new production of Phillip Glass's Appomattox at WNO for Parterre Box:
Saturday’s Washington National Opera premiere of a new version of Philip Glass and Christopher Hampton’s opera Appomattox had everything going for it: the long-overdue appearance of the work of America’s greatest living opera composer on a Kennedy Center stage, timely and important subject matter tied to recent historical milestones, even a sexy policy hook (that’s a thing). Everything, as they say, but the opera... 

Read the whole thing here.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Bach Collegium Japan at LOC

Got to see Bach Collegium Japan for the first time at the Library of Congress last night, in a seemingly rare DC appearance. There's a certain electricity generated by the major league period bands, an expectation that you're going to hear something entirely new that you're unlikely to hear again, and Masaaki Suzuki and his forces delivered in memorable fashion in a program of Bach, Vivaldi and Handel.

The Collegium anchored the evening with Brandenburg Concerto No. 2, an exciting taste of the period brass and wind delights to come. The highlight here was trumpeter Guy Ferber playing a coiled baroque trumpet that cooperated only intermittently, but when it did produced a unique gentle tone that blended beautifully with the buzzy, cacophonous sound of the band. Idle googling of baroque trumpets this morning (as one does) turned up this Nikolaus Harnoncourt quote which sums up the appeal quite nicely: "Bach wrote a concerto [2nd Brandenburg] for four different but equal instruments: trumpet, recorder, oboe, violin. The art was to create a dialogue among these four instruments, and this is obviously only possible when the trumpet plays as softly as the recorder and the recorder as loud as the trumpet."

The meat of the program was dominated by two Vivaldi concertos for solo winds. The first, the Concerto in C major for recorder, strings and continuo (RV 443) featured what can only be described as a completely gonzo recorder solo played by Andreas Bohlen that inspired a raucous mid-half standing ovation. The second, the Oboe Concerto in C major (RV 450), presented Masamitsu San'nomiya in a dizzy, elegant oboe solo that showcased the great expressive possibilities of the instrument. Rounding out the wind offerings, was something a bit less flashy, Bach's Sonata for flute in E minor (BWV 1034), with soloist Kiyomi Suga on the traverso flute. The mellow sound of the wooden flute was welcome for a non-flute enthusiast and Suga delivered long, sighing phrases in the third movement.

After the Branderburg, the Collegium's biggest forces were assembled for two works with soprano Joanna Lunn. The second, Bach cantata "Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!" (BWV 51) was the biggest attraction, featuring Ferber on spinning out long trills on another baroque trumpet, and a series of energetic tempi. The first, a recently discovered and disputed setting of the Gloria attributed to Handel, wasn't terribly distinctive but included some sparkling passagework. Lunn had her work cut out for her in carrying these pieces and did yeoman's work throughout, though hampered a bit by that soprano volume knob thing--a bright, very loud (though nice sounding!) top that jarringly alternated with a more anemic middle register.

Kissin plays Beethoven, Brahms, Albeniz

I procrastinated writing about that nice Kissin recital last week, so I'm afraid he gets the bullet point treatment:
  • Not really sure what I'm looking for from Mozart in recital these days but Kissin's opener, the Piano Sonata No. 10, didn't quite have it. At times it feels like Mozart is not a great fit for Kissin's gifts, as if he is working over time to inject character into the piece, only really connecting where the Sonata takes a darker, more expansive tone.
  • The Appassionata was monumental, staggering--a rendition to easily best any in recent memory and people program it a whole lot in DC. Kissin doesn't just want to give you an exciting take, he wants you to hear the symphony orchestra thrashing around in the piano as Beethoven surely heard it, and he has the technical gifts and commitment to deliver.
  • Was very glad to see three Brahms Intermezzi programmed (Op. 117), which found Kissin in a somewhat subdued mode after intermission. The first was maybe a bit ponderous, but he found wonderful colors in the second and third rounding out the set.
  • The real revelation in the second half were four pieces of Isaac Albeniz. Perhaps not repertoire we're used to hearing from him but they were handled beautifully, Kissin bringing out gorgeous singing melodies while imbuing even smaller details, like the rippling water figure in the first piece, with trademark polish.
  • The first two encores offered more opportunities to hear his skills with Spanish composers in two pieces of Granados, plus a suitably rousing Brahms' Hungarian dance No. 1.
The DC crowd tried their best to eke out a 4th encore, but we'll have to wait until 2018 for our next chance to hear him. Very tempted now to make good on my plans to catch that program of Hebrew poetry and composers from last year that he is repeating at Carnegie in December...