Lucid Culture


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

Concert Review: Dmitri Atapine and Hye-Yeon Park at St. Paul’s Chapel, NYC 2/9/09

A captivating, frequently fascinating duo show by the Mexican-born cellist and Korean-born pianist. Dmitri Atapine has a warm, vividly coloristic touch on the cello and seemingly effortless command of any stylistic device he chooses: booming chords, stark washes of sound or a frenetic staccato attack. He used all these and more for considerable emotional impact throughout the hourlong performance. Pianist Hye-Yeon Park provided sturdy yet highly nuanced accompaniment while Atapine was carrying the melody, and when she took over impressed with a lyrical feel that was most apparent during the program’s most overtly Romantic moments, particularly during the second movement of their Beethoven selection and then one by Tschaikovsky.


The opening piece, Luigi Boccherini’s Sonata for Cello and Continuo in A Major, G. 4 gave Atapine a chance to explore the totality of the cello’s dynamic range: Boccherini, being one of the foremost cellists of his era, wrote frequently for the instrument. The two followed with Beethoven’s for Cello and Piano in C Major, Op. 102. No. 1 that gave Park the spotlight for some affecting cascades once the second of its five movements got underway was a big crowd-pleaser; a rearrangement of a Tschaikovsky’s Pezzo Capricioso, Op. 62  was effective in maintaining the feeling of longing and anticipation left behind by the Beethoven.


The first of two real eye-openers was a student work by Ligeti, the Sonata for Cello Solo which in fact went unpublished til the 80s, big plucked chords striking amidst uneasy ambience. The second was another rearrangement, the “Silence” section from Bartok’s The Woods, a work for piano and four hands, remarkably consonant, traditional and warmly accessible. They closed with Atapine dexterously handling some lightning-fast staccato work in cello etude specialist David Popper’s Dance of the Elves, a catchy melody something akin to Flight of the Bumblebee for cello. As with that piece, there ought to be a surf band somewhere to turn it into the rock song just bubbling under its hook-strewn surface.

February 10, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Alistair MacRae and Heather Conner at St. Paul’s Chapel, NYC 12/8/08

Those who braved the cold or who were sufficiently at liberty to spend their lunch hour at the historic downtown landmark were treated to a gorgeously Romantic performance. Cellist Alistair MacRae began solo with Bach’s Suite for Solo Cello No. 3 in C Major (BMV 1009), essentially a big, ambitious prelude followed by five dances (although one, the Sarabande, is sad, slow and in MacRae’s hands exquisitely beautiful). The cello not being the first instrument that comes to mind for dance music, the composition is one of Bach’s more puckish numbers, and MacRae gave it a robust treatment that often made it seem as if there was a whole string section playing. The Prelude was dark and majestic, MacRae taking advantage of the melody playing off a single low string for a sort of raga effect; the Allemande (first of the dances) was handled with briskness and efficiency. After the slow, 6/8 Courante and the Sarabande, he wrapped it up with the rather plaintive, multi-part Bouree (not the one made famous by NPR and Jethro Tull) and a brief, somewhat blustery Gigue that brought back the dark note on which the piece begins.


University of Utah Assistant Professor of Music Heather Conner then joined him on piano for a rich, emotional take of Prokofiev’s Sonata for Cello and Piano, Op. 119. Ostensibly the piece is in C major, but the overall effect was dark and windswept, Conner’s playing in the opening andante grave section beautifully plaintive and bell-like against the washes of cello. The piece began to brighten and scurry as the second movement got underway, both musicians carried along by the intensity of the melody, seamlessly riding out its frequently percussive fire. They wrapped up the hourlong show with Tschaikovsky’s brief Melodie from Souvenir d’un Lieu Cher (Memory of a Favorite Place), a somewhat wistful song without words which would seem to be a prime target for a contemporary balladeer searching for a catchy melody on which to hang a pop song.


The show was part of Trinity Church’s ongoing lunchtime free concerts (though contributions, all of which go to the musicians, are highly encouraged), held on Mondays at St. Paul’s and on Thursdays at Trinity, a superb way to experience topnotch artists playing a wide range of styles from classical to jazz to folk that would otherwise cost megabucks at the big concert halls uptown.  

December 8, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment