Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Miori Sugiyama Plays Chopin at Bargemusic, Brooklyn NY 2/6/10

A fresh, vigorous, potently counterintuitive interpretation of iconic Chopin works for solo piano. Miori Sugiyama’s formidable technique is matched by an equally fine-tuned emotional intelligence- she gets this music – and a hair-trigger detector for devices that might cross the line into cliche. Those she wanted nothing to do with. No disrespect to Chopin, but Romantic piano music can be just as stylized as any other genre and there are places where it’s hardly difficult to figure out what he wrote to pay the bills, and what came straight from the heart. Sugiyama wasted no time in going for authenticity of emotion. From a contemporary perspective, it wouldn’t be completely accurate to describe how she tackled the program as radical – no electronics or rock band were involved – but sixty years ago it would have been. When a familiar trope loomed, she’d get a running start and go sailing over it, sidestep it with a jump or a quick turn or simply trample it in a stampede to get to the good stuff. It was as effective a performance as it was personal and individual.

The Ballade No. 1 in G Minor, Op. 23 benefited vastly from a strikingly rubato approach: Sugiyama didn’t let the courtly waltziness of much of it fake her out a bit, uncovering every raw, resonant tonality she could find. A pair of nocturnes (F Sharp Minor, Op. 15, No. 2 and C Sharp, Op. 27, No. 2) gave her less of an opportunity to mine for that kind of treasure: in her hands, they glimmered comfortably but not complacently. By contrast, the Scherzo No. 1 in B Minor, Op. 20 was a breathtaking showcase for a lightning sostenuto attack, rushing rapids punctuated by pregnant pauses, if ever so brief before the torrents returned. Ironically, the one piece that might have benefited from a straight-up reading instead of an attempt to find its inner menschkeit was the Scherzo No. 2 in B Flat Minor, Op. 31, a staple of classical radio for decades whose martial theme stops just short of bombast (with that one, the temptation is to ham it up Victor Borge style). Sugiyama wound up the program with an inspired, fluid precision that defied another kind of serious rocking as river waves got the barge swaying, definitely not in time with the music. The Andante Spianato et Grande Polonaise in E Flat, Op. 22, more of a real nocturne than anything else on the bill, was given the chance to build gracefully. Sugiyama then blasted through a minuet passage, got it out of the way and brought the intensity to redline with molten-metal glissandos leading inexorably to a fiery conclusion.

Miori Sugiyama is also playing the big upcoming Chopin marathon at the World Financial Center, March 1-5: watch this space.

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February 7, 2010 Posted by | classical music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Ghost of Cesar Franck: Soo Bae and Reiko Uchida in Concert at Pace University, NYC 6/22/09

Monday evening seemed to have been curated by the ghost of Cesar Franck, one of the most underrated composers ever, both during his life and afterward. Throughout the Belgian-born Romantic tunesmith’s impressively diverse repertoire of symphonic, chamber, organ and piano compositions, there are echoes of the best of Bach, Handel and Beethoven’s deeper and more mature works, along with hour after hour of pioneering ideas that foreshadow both Rachmaninoff and rock music. In a brilliant stroke of programming, cellist Soo Bae and her frequent collaborator, pianist Reiko Uchida chose Franck’s Sonata in A Major as the centerpiece of their concert downtown at the Pace University auditorium. The theme of the bill was love, which in most cases portends a lot of schlock. But this performance vividly and completely unselfconscious gave life to the more intense portion of the emotional spectrum. The two Bach pieces that bookended the program were warm and familiar, the first an old gradeschool favorite of the Long Island-bred cellist and the encore a deceptively complex, perfectly paced, contented reflection.

The highlight of the show, in its elaborate, practically 40-minute magnificence called for a vastly more expansive array of emotions: longing, anguish, reverence, joy, passion, breathless anticipation and a lot more, not necessarily in that order. Bae told the crowd that Franck had written it for fellow composer Eugene Ysaye’s wedding – it’s hard to think of a more dramatic or painstakingly crafted gift. The first of its four movements began poignant with call-and-response between the two instruments, growing to a crescendo that was equal parts anguish and passion – Franck obviously knew all too well that love is a dangerous occupation, and to the musicians’ credit, rather than going completely over the top, they both held back, Bae’s knotted brow testament to how intensely she’d been taken in by the composition – yet, both musicians’ interpretation was gently, knowingly nuanced. The second movement began almost as a boogie (this was written a century before the rock era), shifting to one of Franck’s signature anthemic passages, a nocturne, an almost baroque section and an intense, percussive coda. After that, one of Ysaye’s pieces, the Child’s Dream (arranged by Bae herself) couldn’t have been anything but anticlimactic, although the duo did a good job shifting it from an almost cloying, stererotypically Romantic introduction through an increasingly apprehensive series of permutations, like watching a child mature, knowing how much more trouble they’re going to cause everyone as they get older.

Bae then did a fascinating solo interpretation of a spiritual that she’d discovered on youtube, Still, its melody as 18th century Northern European as second-generation African, and she buttressed it with lithe arpeggios that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Scarlatti piece. The program closed with a lighthearted pops tune that would work in a future soundtrack to the Godfather, Part 4: Buenos Aires if that’s ever made. After all this, Cesar Franck wherever he is would still have been smiling.

June 23, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Anne-Marie McDermott Plays Haydn, Wuorinen and Assad at Town Hall, NYC 5/31/09

Pianist Anne-Marie McDermott gets plenty of accolades for chops and versatility and this study in extreme contrasts validated pretty much anything good that’s been said about her. After the intermission at her recital Sunday evening at Town Hall, she told the audience that despite the different of two centuries and several generations of musical evolution, she found a great deal of similarity between Haydn and Wuorinen because their compositions are literally all over the place, an insight that is less obvious than it seems. She opened with Haydn’s Piano Sonata in G Major, Hob XVI: 40, warm and predictably playful and then taking off with a presto section that McDermott milked for all the laughs she could get: it’s quite silly, and the crowd was warmly appreciative. Another sonata, the C Minor, Hob XVI: 20 was even more of an exercise in judicious dynamics and phrasing, McDermott turning what could have been mere wistfulness into real poignancy throughout its andante section.

Then she switched gears (or teleported to another dimension, you could easily say) with the world premiere of Charles Wuorinen’s Fourth Piano Sonata – if anyone in the house recorded it, please let us know! With what seemed a total absence of time signature and a call for complete reckless abandon (and even percussion on the body of the piano itself), it revealed itself as an angry, almost relentlessly railing piece that when it finally calmed down went straight to despair and then back to rage again. The herky-jerky first movement was deliberately dissonant and ugly, a feel only slightly obscured with vaguely Asian tinges on the second movement, going absolutely morose and nocturnal with the third, andante passage before reverting to insistent crashing and banging with Sabre Dance echoes that despite all McDernmott’s energy was anticlimactic compared to the powerful evocation of clinical depression of what had just preceded it.

After another dynamically superb take on another Haydn sonata (E flat Minor, HoB XVI: 52), she closed with the New York premiere of Clarice Assad’s When Art Showed Up. Art, whoever he may be, is a lot of fun but also a sort of crazymaker. The opening theme was warmly romantic without a single hint of the festivities to come, all kinds of vivid appositions across the registers and a coda straight out of Cuba, 1935. The crowd wouldn’t let McDermott go without an encore, so she indulged them with a showy, Flight of the Bumblebee-esque segment of another Haydn sonata.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Karine Poghosyan at the Piano at Bargemusic, Brooklyn NY 4/11/09

The barge, tethered at the old Brooklyn Heights Fulton Ferry landing had pretty much stopped swaying by the time Karine Poghosyan settled in at the keys: for awhile, it looked like it was going to be a rocky ride. Instead, it was as if the waves parted and gave the Armenian-American virtuoso clear passage through a brutally challenging, frequently exhilarating performance. She warmed up with Haydn’s warmly consonant Piano Sonata No. 38 in F Major, Hob XVI: 23 and then tackled Chopin’s Four Mazurkas, Op. 67, beginning with a remarkably understated take on the famous first one in G. Other pianists schmaltz this up: she didn’t. The haunting G Minor Mazurka – as well as the more upbeat, gypsy-inflected C Minor and A Minor Mazurkas – were extraordinary, Poghosyan pushing to the absolute limits of rubato, bringing out every microtone of longing and drama.

 

Then she launched into Liszt’s knotty, spectacular Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C Sharp Minor, the first of two show-stoppers. She took its hammering staccato chords, spectacular lefthand leaps from the lowest to highest registers and scurrying sixteenth-note runs down the scale in the right and while she didn’t make them look effortless, she had such command that she was able to pull out all the stops and blast her way through them without ever losing her footing. That she was able to shift gears after that, with a poignant, impeccably sensitive rendition of Rachmaninoff’s Elegie in E Flat Minor, Op. 3, No. 1 was perhaps just as impressive. Then she ratcheted the intensity up to redline again and stayed there for the entirety of Stravinsky’s 1921 piano arrangement of three movements from Petrouchka: the gypsyish Danse Russse, evoking the Chopin earlier in the program; an utterly macabre, resoundingly successful romp through Chez Petrouchka and ending with La Semaine Grasse, a revelation, vastly more powerful than the ballet’s original orchestral score. Anyone with the desire to get to the root of the composer’s paradigm-shifting, deathly tonalities would do well to discover this version.  

 

Poghosyan’s next recital is a trio performance on April 17 at 7 PM with Bela Horvath, violin and John Popham, cello at the Yamaha Piano Salon, 689 Fifth Avenue (at 54th Street), followed by a solo show on April 27 at 7 PM at Steinway Hall, 109 West 57th Street featuring works by Mozart, Chopin, De Falla, Sirota, and Stravinsky.

April 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Llyr Williams plays Schubert, Debussy and Moussorgsky at Weill Recital Hall, NYC 3/6/09

Being what it is, the Carnegie Hall complex has seen thousands of legendary debut performances. This was one of them. Welsh pianist Llyr Williams has such command of the keyboard that he seems to inhabit what he plays. There are thousands of hotshot pianists out there, few with Williams’ seemingly intuitive sensitivity to dynamics and emotional content coupled to a spectacular technical fluency. Throughout a program matching subtlety to fire, he came across as ideally suited to play the Romantics.

 

Schubert’s Piano Sonata in C Minor, D. 958 is classic Schubertiade material, ablaze with inviting color and glistening cascades. Williams left himself plenty of headroom to let those many shades reveal themselves in their complexity, particularly toward the end of the first movement where he used an almost jarring staccato in an ascending bassline to set off a contrast with the fluidly rapidfire upper-register chromatics following close behind.

 

Debussy’s Estampes, a trio suite, were next. The first, Pagodas is a remarkably successful attempt to translate Javanese gamelan music to the piano, a difficult work with its percussive pointillisms, but Williams made it look easy. Night in Grenada, the second of the three begins as a nocturne and then suddenly the lights come on, and Williams lit into it with gusto. With its rivulets rushing up and down the length of the keys, Garden in the Rain is a showstopper. Hailstorm would be a better title – by the time it’s over, the kale is shredded and the parsnips are half-unearthed by the torrents, and Williams barreled through it with a confident abandon.

 

The second half of the program was Pictures at an Exhibition, and it was nice to revisit the old warhorse. Ravel’s orchestrated version is the one that most audiences know, and that’s too bad because that one subsumes the creepiness in the original solo piano version, which isn’t simply phantasmagorical: most of it is flat-out morbid. Williams found all that, but he also gave its many caricatures depth and dignity. The Gnome in the opening section was menacingly substantial, the Old Castle as filled with fleeting ghosts as a castle can be, and when the Great Gate at Kiev came around, Williams had held enough in reserve to let its crashing fortississimo resound in all its towering majesty. He encored with a comfortably familiar Chopin piece, which was perfectly fine for what it was but couldn’t help but be anything other than anticlimactic. Now that we’ve seen what this guy can do with the 1800s, it would be interesting to hear what he does with Bach. Or Maxwell Davies.

March 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Trio Threed at Trinity Church, NYC 2/26/09

There was a nip in the air, but inside the church the atmosphere was beckoning and warm – just as it should be. In yet another demonstration of the parish’s dedication to bringing strikingly diverse and often brilliant music programming to the downtown community, Trio Threed, a new wind ensemble including oboeists Kathy Halvorson and Mark Snyder as well as English horn player/oboeist Katie Scheele, treated the afternoon crowd to a seamless program of old and new material.

 

They opened with German baroque composer Johann Quantz’s Sonata in D Major, K. 46. Quantz, a flutist, wrote mainly for that instrument, but this five-segment partita had more of an orchestral feel. Its best sections were its upbeat, Vivaldiesque opening prelude and the plaintive aria that followed. Beethoven’s Trio for Two Oboes and English Horn, Op. 87 was next, warmly atmospheric with a similar baroque feel. From the opening largo through the rather boisterous adagio that closed the piece, the group maintained a fluid, conversational legato even in its sparser passages. As often is the case with new groups, it’s apparent why they play so well together: they clearly enjoy each other’s company, and this carried over to the audience.

 

A trio originally written for 3 flutes by Russian composer Alexander Tcherepnin proved amusing and silly in places with its romping oompah melody; Gordon Jacob’s Two Pieces for Two Oboes and Cor Anglais was a gorgeous, obviously more modern work. It was an auspicious way for the trio onstage to go out: an atmospheric, circular, Alpine intro, followed by a brief, lively dance ending on a somewhat stark, adagio note, then bitter and restless but eventually rising to a clever, playful, rapidfire chase sequence. The group played with an effortless dexterity, as if the piece had been written for them. If chamber music is your thing, keep your eye on this talented trio.

 

February 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mendelssohn in the Romantic Century: Gail Archer at the Organ at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University, 2/18/09

Organ virtuoso Gail Archer is no stranger to regular readers here: her series of Messiaen recitals around New York last year drew a lot of notice, the final concert making our Top 20 concerts of the year list, and sharing the #1 spot on Time Out NY’s list (nice to see our colleagues over there paying attention!). This year, she’s moved from the haunting, otherworldly tones of Messiaen to the vigorous, optimistic melodicism of Mendelssohn, this being the 200th anniversary of his birth. The series, titled Mendelssohn in the Romantic Century explores the composer’s place in his era, which is interesting because although these days he often gets lumped in with the Romantics, he was retro at the time. Mendelssohn once remarked that he thought it ironic that it would take the son of a Jew to ressurect interest in Bach, and his organ works, including two sonatas that Archer tackled with playful abandon, look straight back at old Johann Sebastian (there’s actually a family connection: Mendelssohn’s mother studied piano with a J.S. Bach protege).

 

The first of these recitals at Central Synagogue last month saw Archer pulling out a rare, all-too-brief piece by Mendelssohn’s sister Fanny. Last night, the Barnard College Music Department Chair ran through a strikingly different program of mostly happy, upbeat material. Mendelssohn’s Sonata #3 was aptly ebullient, ending on a quieter yet equally warm note with the adagio; Sonata #2 was a methodically confident stroll through somewhat darker territory. Then the program got truly Romantic with a choice trio of Brahms Choral Preludes (One, Two and Ten), old hymnal melodies and variations ranging from wistfulness in the first to a more mysterious vein in the tenth. She closed the evening with Max Reger’s Morningstar Prelude, a knotty, cerebral, difficult tour de force and met the challenge with aplomb, even pulling out all the string stops for a spine-tingling crescendo at the very end. Archer continues the series on March 11 at 7:30 PM at Central Synagogue in midtown: classical music fans would be crazy to miss it.

February 19, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Makoto Nakura Plays Bach, Osada and Bunch at Trinity Church, NYC 2/21/08

Interpretation has never been more fresh than it was this afternoon, as Japanese expat marimba player Makoto Nakura played a fascinatingly imaginative, spectacularly virtuosic program of classical and modern works. Although Nakura didn’t seem to even break a sweat, the passion of his performance matched his precision. He began with his own arrangements of two etudes and then two preludes by Villa-Lobos. Playing the marimba or vibraphone requires equal amounts of athleticism and meticulous skill, and Nakura nailed it all, both during the baroque-inflected studies that seemingly served as a warmup, and the more complicated, lyrical two works that he followed with.

Next, he tackled a piece written for him by Japanese composer Moto Osada, entitled Sylvan Lay and Pastoral Air. From traditional Japanese mythology, it’s a narrative of confrontation and forgiveness involving a couple of medieval warriors, although there was absolutely nothing remotely antique about this difficult, tonally challenging, intensely cerebral work. There were some striking passages, including an ominously percussive series of tritones early on, and one particularly impressive, rapid run down the scale midway through, but this is a piece that requires repeated listening.

After that, Nakura played his own arrangement of Bach’s popular Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Minor. This is one of those NPR Bach pieces, a well-known composition frequently heard around Christmastime during pledge drives, but Nakura made it all his own, from the sad tonalities of the adagio that opens the piece, to the interesting, Vivaldiesque “Siciliana” that serves as a third movement, to the rousing Presto that wraps it up. Following this with the Fugue from one of Bartok’s final compositions, the Solo Violin Sonata, was ambitious, but the move fell flat: as can happen in Bartok’s work from time to time, the piece is fussy and overworked, and the new arrangement did nothing to compensate for the lack of emotional compass.

To close the show, Nakura invited composer Kenji Bunch up to the mic to introduce his recent composition Triple Jump, also written for Nakura. Written specifically for the marimba, it’s an intriguing, smartly arranged three-part suite, the first evoking Chicago lounge-psychedelia instrumentalists Tortoise, the second being a thoughtful, somewhat pastoral evocation of stones skipping across a placid pond, the final being an impressively upbeat portrayal of muscle and sinew in action. A program like this might at first glance seem far better suited to something like the Next Wave Festival or an outsider jazz club like the Stone, but Trinity Church has incredible acoustics, the tones of the marimba bouncing around gorgeously, creating something of an organ effect especially when Nakura was using his soft mallets. Adventurous listeners got a real treat this afternoon. Three cheers for whoever booked this winter’s series here. And there wasn’t a single bus alarm blasting in from outside and disturbing the concert, either!

February 21, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, experimental music, Music, music, concert, New York City, NYC Live Music Calendar, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment