Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir and Alexandra Joan at Trinity Church, NYC 12/10/09

Cellist Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir and pianist Alexandra Joan wrapped up this year’s chamber music series here on a note that began fluidly and warmly and ended with riveting intensity, a performance that managed to be both cutting-edge and true to the spirit of the compositions, no small achievement. Throughout the hourlong concert, they displayed a remarkable chemistry, each musician clearly tuned in to the other. After a heartfelt, coloristic take of Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, their keen sense of interplay became most evident on the show’s middle number, Beethoven’s Sonata in A, Op. 69. It’s something of throwback to the baroque, a trio suite loaded with call-and-response that seems straight out of Haydn. When a boisterous pizzicato passage arrived for Thorsteinsdottir, she attacked it with a raw, percussive abandon that threatened to snap the strings on her 1790 cello. It was a lot more punk rock than early Romantic, and the fiery treble tonalities she achieved were marvelously effective. Alexandra Joan provided vivid, sustained rivulets alongside her, but there’s an undercurrent of darkness, even gravitas in her style and at the end of the allegro vivace that concludes the sonata, she let loose an insistent, impatient staccato, as if to say, bring on the night. And when the night came she made it her own.

And so did Thorsteinsdottir. Messiaenesque, defiantly neither major nor minor, unwilling to offer resolution and utterly inconsolable, Benjamin Britten’s Sonata in C, Op. 65 was bone-chilling and utterly impossible to turn away from, cello again slamming out against the darkness, particularly during the pizzicato scherzo that comprises the second movement. The duo encored with the second movement of the Janacek cello sonata, meant to evoke the occult, and it was a powerfully apt choice, maintaining the darkness but raising the energy level to the point where the crowd could exit under their own power. That’s how effective their rendition of the Britten was.  

Saeunn Thorsteinsdottir’s next New York concert is with the ACJW Ensemble on January 19 at Paul Hall at Juilliard, a Romantic bill featuring both Schumanns, Robert and Clara; one can also wish for a reunion with Alexandra Joan, playing something similar.

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December 21, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joyce Jones in Concert at Trinity Church, NYC 7/24/08

The reliably superb, annual summertime festival of organ concerts at Trinity Church always has a theme, and this year’s is “Organ Divas.” The artist who played today is perhaps the prototype. A legend in organ circles, Baylor University Professor Joyce Jones is something of a ham, a performer just as likely to play a supersonic Flight of the Bumblebee on the pedals as she is to keep the audience in stitches with a seemingly endless supply of puns, some of them pretty corny, delivered in a deadpan Texas accent. Self-effacing, down-home persona aside, Jones reaffirmed what an extraordinarily imaginative, sensitive and original a player she is.

Virtually every organist good enough to tour major cities has superior chops, and Jones’ are among the best. But what invariably impresses the most is how different her approach is, and how much fun she clearly has playing. Today “The Accidental Organist,” as she bills herself – a piano major in college, she hurt her hand and only turned to the organ as a way to practice to keep herself sharp until it healed – opened with Leo Sowerby’s Pageant. As the title implies, it’s a big, stately, optimistic piece that opens with the kind of pedal figure that Jones has made her trademark. She followed that with an idiosyncratic but absolutely brilliant version of the famous Bach Passaglia and Fugue in C Minor (BMV 582). Introducing the piece, she told the crowd that while a student, her playing had come to sound “like it was sprayed with Lysol disinfectant” due to overwork and perhaps overthinking. But this was anything but sterile. A lot of organists hurry through it to get to the big crescendos, but Jones took her time, making it a casual but deliberate stroll through the work’s swells and ebbs, using several different registrations to vary the tonal quality of particular sections she’d singled out. In Bach’s day, registrations were left pretty much up to the individual organist, meaning that Jones was fully within her rights to do this. And it was stunning, particularly when she balanced a fast pedal solo with screaming, upper-register chords, against which the pedal melody was only semi-audible.

She then played Marcel Dupre’s brief Fileuse, a striking contrast and showcase for speed with its somewhat hypnotic, circular upper-register motif, something akin to the Flight of the Bumblebee as the melody circles against an airy, repetitive arpeggio. Introducing the final number on the program, Liszt’s remarkably melodic, climactic Fantasie and Fugue on the hymn Ad Nos, ad Salutarem Undam, she explained how it was influenced by the composer’s student Julius Reubke (who went on to write the legendary, vengeful Sonata on the 94th Psalm) as well the Merrybeer opera The Prophet. Which makes sense: Liszt seems like someone who would be especially fond of bombast. Jones made the point that the work could be called the first real organ symphony, considering how long and segmented it is, and like the Bach she absolutely nailed it. Afterward, she rewarded the audience for their two standing ovations with a brief, percussive transcription of a Prokofiev piano toccata – a sort of organist’s revenge for all the piano and orchestral transcriptions of classic organ works – and then a classicized arrangement of The Church in the Wildwood. “If you didn’t hear this growing up, well then, you were deprived,” Jones deadpanned. No doubt she would have kept playing, and the audience would have stayed much longer, had this been possible.

July 24, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments