Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Spirited Irish Orchestra Tackles Inspiring British Classical Rarities

Charles Villiers Stanford is revered as a composer in the UK, but is lesser known beyond his home turf. His stately organ works are frequently performed on this side of the pond. His orchestral music was an foundational influence on Ralph Vaughan Williams and falls solidly in the Romantic camp, full of drama, dynamism and colorful orchestration. Howard Shelley conducts the Ulster Orchestra in a new album comprising several Stanford works including A Song of Agincourt, which hasn’t hit the web yet.

They open with a robust, emphatic version of his Overture in the Style of a Tragedy, a relatively recent rediscovery which this orchestra premiered in 2010. From its initial Beethovenesque pulses, through numerous plaintive oboe solos, it’s evocative of the more heroic-themed work of Cesar Franck.

As World War I was drawing to a close, Stanford orchestrated his Organ Sonata No. 2 and retitled it Verdun: Solemn March and Heroic Epilogue. Its majestic counterpoint translates well to the steady, brassy processional and rather wistful interpretation which the orchestra follow with in the former, and the victorious swells and dips (and wry Marseillaise quotes) of the latter.

The women’s choir Codetta under the direction of Donal Doherty join the orchestra for a plainchant-inspired yet soaring take of Stanford’s Fairy Day triptych. The nocturnal segments of the concluding movement are particularly celestial.

The Song of Agincourt – commemorating Henry V’s invading army taking advantage of the defending French, who were struggling under one of the most corrupt regimes in that nation’s history – is a strong centerpiece. Shelley and the ensemble work Stanford’s variations on a 15th century troubadour waltz with lithe energy and surprisingly subtle foreshadowing throughout its many calm, woodsy moments, up to a brief, insistent coda. Bellicose backstory aside, this is a strikingly anthemic, optimistic piece of music that deserves to be better known.

January 2, 2021 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Catching Up On Last Month’s Concerts

In an earlier incarnation, this space was devoted almost exclusively to live music. Then the publicists found us and the deluge of albums began. If you’ve been wondering where all the concert coverage went, that’s part of the answer. But there’s more to come – and there’s been a lot happening that hasn’t been mentioned here recently, in the scramble to wrap up this year’s crop of recordings.

This blog has been a longstanding advocate for the Sunday, 5:15 PM organ recitals at St. Thomas Church on 53rd Street at 5th Avenue, whose presence in the New York music scene become more precious since the massive old organ there is slated to be replaced at some unspecified future date. The mighty beast is actually a hybrid whose innards are in a more precarious state than they sound. But organists from around the world still make it sing, particularly the church’s director of music, John Scott, a New York treasure if there ever was one. His recordings of the complete organ works of Mendelssohn are definitive; he’s done the entire Buxtehude and Messiaen cycles for organ at this very same console. His October concert there saw him pull out the stops with nimble elegance on a towering Bach fantasia and then a quietly lustrous hymn, followed by a Charles Villiers Stamford setting of a different hymn, Maurice Durufle’s transcription of Louis Vierne’s thunderously atmospheric Meditation and then Jean Langlais’ even more blazing Te Deum from his Gregorian Paraphrases triptych completed a thrilling program. Suffice it to say that any time Scott plays, he is worth seeing. In the coming weeks he’ll be busy with church choir concerts – which are also worth seeing. His next scheduled recital here is February 10 of next year.

Another concert that delivered a titanic majesty was the New York Repertory Orchestra’s late October performance of Prokofiev’s phantasmagorically shapeshifting Divertimento followed by a lush, richly dynamic performance of Samuel Barber’s Cello Concerto with guest soloist Inbal Segev at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin on 46th St. As one random concertgoer perfectly capsulized it, this was an welcome surprise. It would have been even more enjoyable to have been able to stick around for the finale of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1, but there were other things on the agenda here (and hence no fair and just way of giving the orchestra the fullscale review they deserved). They’re back here on Dec 15 with a program of Delibes, Walton and the New York premiere of Tubin’s Symphony No. 8.

Two other concerts that deserve a mention are the Hugo Wolf Quartett’s performances at Trinity Church the Thursday before the hurricane, and then a week later at the Austrian Cultural Center, where they’d been camping out since they weren’t able to fly home. At Trinity, they opened with a rousing performance of Mozart’s String Quartet in D Minor, K421. This is the second of the two Mozart quartets in minor keys; it’s focused, and as deep and dark as the composer ever got. The quartet had a ball with it, soaring through its wary exchanges with abandon and in the process almost upstaging Beethoven’s “Harp” String Quartet in Eb Major, Op. 74.

That piece is loaded with plenty of the did-you-just-hear-that cadenzas and sudden shifts between voices that the composer loved so much, well beyond the pizzicato section that inspired its nickname. A work so iconic  isn’t supposed to sound different from program to program, but this one did at the ensemble’s temporary midtown campground, and it was better. That is to say, more intimate and at the same time more energetically lush, although that interpretation might be colored by the superior sonics at the small concert hall here…and the group’s ability to roll out of bed, at least theoretically, and play. Also on the bill and delivered with meticulous nuance were Mendelssohn’s rousing early Romantic String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13 and Philippe Hersant’s 1988 String Quartet No. 2, which juxtaposed airy atmospherics with bracing twelve-tone melodicism arrayed with High Romantic rhythms and dynamic swells. A gesture of appreciation from violinists Sebastian Gürtler and Régis Bringolf, violist Gertrud Weinmeister and cellist Florian Berner to the community for having put them up at a moment of crisis, they ended up giving back far more than they could have taken.

November 17, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment