Okay, four concerts down, two to go, and I'd say it deserves that exclamation point. All of you who went to the Attila and Magic Flute openings or who have Nixon or Yuja tix tomorrow: ur doin it rong. Swap them right now and come in for the last Ojai programs, which are tomorrow at Hertz Hall at UC Berkeley. I grant a dispensation if you're on stage at the Opera, of course.
Here's where we are.
Tuesday, 7 p.m.
A program of two works I've never heard and one I know rather well, albeit in a vastly different version. Mezzo Christianne Stotijn and Leif Ove Andsnes led off with a gripping and extremely intense performance of Shostakovich's 1973 Six Poems of Marina Tavetaeva. Whoa: if you heard Andsnes and Goerne perform some of the composer's Michaelangelo settings in April, this was in that class and of that musical intensity. I'd say the settings and presentation were more operatic than than what I heard in April, which might be the works or the performers' disparate styles. No matter; Stotijn has a gorgeous rich mezzo and was magnificent in these works. Andsnes was right there with her, a marvelous performing partner. I especially loved the last setting, of a poem to Anna Akhmatova, the great Russian poet.
After this, four members of the Norwegian Chamber Ensemble and Andsnes played Schnittke's 1976 Piano Quintet. I believe I have two recordings of this and have not yet heard either of them (yes, it was an accident). I'll be remedying that real soon. The piece is simply fantastic, quirky and almost a contest between the pianist and the quartet. It is somewhat episodic, very intense, sardonic, and deeply moving.
Second half of the program, Marc-André Hamelin joined Andsnes for a savage and rousing performance of The Rite of Spring, using Stravinsky's piano-four-hands version but modifying it for two pianos by adding details that weren't possible to execute in the four-hands version. This version sounds almost alien, the orchestration is so closely tied to my knowledge of the piece. It was rather like seeing the skeleton of Le Sacre without any flesh on its bones. Their encore was Stravinsky's witty Circus Polka for a Young Elephant, about as far in tone from Le Sacre as they could have gotten.
Tuesday, 9:30 p.m.
A performance of Janacek's String Quartet No. 1, "Kreutzer Sonata," arranged for the Norwegian String Orchestra and with actor Teodor Janson reading selections from the Tolstoy story that provided the emotional basis for the work. It certainly was interesting to hear the story, or its outline, along side the quartet; I am just not sure whether it added that much to the experience. The work is tremendous and was played with great focus and intensity....that got interrupted every five or ten minutes for more reading.
I wish the actor hadn't been amplified. I would have found it easier to understand what he was saying without it. And on the whole, I think I would have preferred to hear the quartet uninterrupted.
Wednesday, 7 p.m.
Here we got the other Janacek quartet, No. 2, "Intimate Letters," one of the musical results of Janacek's obsessive passion for Kamila Stosslova. Again, an arrangement for the strings of the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra; again, played with matchless intensity by the conductorless orchestra, this time with no artificial interruptions.
I am still chewing over the second half of the concert, and undoubtedly will for the next week or so; I expect it will be the only controversial work on the program. It's the Dutch composer Reinbart De Leeuw's Im wunderschoenen Monat Mai, from 2003, and if that sounds familiar, it's because you know Schumann's song cycle Dichterliebe. What De Leeuw has done is to take 21 songs from Dichterliebe, Schubert's Winterreise, and other Schubert lieder and arranged them for two violins, viola, two cellos, double bass, piano, horn, bassoon, alto clarinet, clarinet, English horn, oboe, flute, harp, and speaker (Sprecher). The 21 songs are arranged in 3 sections of 7 songs each, and if that sounds familiar, Schoenberg used the same numerical grouping in Pierrot Lunaire.
De Leeuw's arrangements are absolutely gorgeous, an enrichment of the lieder that works beautifully, and enriches the works. They're the opposite of the two-piano version of Sacre du Printemps, which strips that work down to its rhythmic and harmonic essentials, taking away color.
But...but...I have some reservations about the Sprecher. The melodies are arranged as cabaret songs, in the Pierrot style or the style a 1920s singer. The speaker occasionally sings, but more often recites in Sprechstimme, while wandering around the stage and sometimes acting the action of the songs or obviously responding directly to what she's singing. She's also amplified, so the vocal lines don't sound quite the way you'd expect because the Speaker uses microphone rather than classical technique.
I dunno. The style is not really my thing and the ways the texts were transformed or shortened didn't usually appeal to me. Lucy Shelton, a last-minute replacement for the creator of the speaking/singing part, and did fine with it, but I had a mild sense of vertigo throughout. The songs were and were not the songs I know, so deeply were they transformed. Apparently I was more or less alone in this; the work got a standing ovation.
Wednesday, 9:30 p.m.
Marc-André Hamelin plays the Concord Sonata. Incredible playing and he hardly broke a sweat. Need I say more?
Brian at Out West Arts has a few things to say about the SoCal performances of these programs. More tomorrow, when there's Beethoven, Bolcolm, Kurtag, Berg, Hallgrimson, Sorensen, Debussy, and Grieg. If you've forgotten that tickets are $20 or $10, here's a reminder.