by Michael Caruso
Much in the tradition of the Postal Service, Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum was undaunted by the previous weekend’s massive snowstorms in New England. Although its originally scheduled classical artists, the Trio Cleonice, were snowbound in Boston, Woodmere’s Noel Hanley managed to contact the right people in the local classical music community to arrange for replacements to perform a full-scale recital Sunday afternoon, Feb. 10.
And so an enthusiastic audience heard violinist Elissa Lee Koljonen and pianist Natalie Zhu perform Mozart’s “Sonata for Piano & Violin No. 18 in G major,” Brahms’ “Sonata for Violin & Piano No. 1 in G major,” Ysaye’s “Sonata No. 2 for Solo Violin,” “Obsession,” the Meditation from Massenet’s opera, “Thais,” arranged for violin & piano, and Ravel’s “Tzigane” for violin & piano. I felt that this was one cloud that offered a decidedly silver lining.
Koljonen’s finest playing was heard in Eugene Ysaye’s “Obsession” Sonata. She placed the score’s recurring references to either scores by Bach or the famous “Dies Irae” Gregorian chant theme within the context of the composer’s string of thematic explorations. Her ability to project the broadest range of dynamics was impressive.
Her collaboration with Zhu was equally memorable in the Brahms. They caught the dramatic development of the first movement, the warm lyricism of the second and the boldness of the third in playing that was technically peerless and interpretively powerful.
The Mozart Sonata that opened the program was less successfully played, perhaps because Koljonen’s modern metal-strung violin proved itself unsuited to the clear textures and short phrases that characterize the music. Perhaps Kojonen’s playing in the Mozart would have been more stylistically appropriate had she used a gut-strung violin and Zhu played Woodmere’s modern Kawai with the lid down. Both players managed to transcend the tacky sentimentality of the Massenet and offer all the tartness of the Ravel.
A Germantown “resident” played an integral part in Choral Arts Philadelphia’s performance of Rossini’s rarely heard “Petite Messe Solennelle” Saturday, Feb. 9, in St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, center city. The “resident” was not human but rather a vintage Bosendorfer grand piano lent to Choral Arts by Germantown’s Cunningham Piano Company.
Sadly, the Bosendorfer was more interesting than a good deal of the Rossini music it accompanied, producing a more intimate tone than a contemporary instrument might have been able to convey.
Composed in 1863, decades after Rossini had retired from composing the comic operas that had made him both rich and famous and living a mostly secluded life in Paris, the “Little Solemn Mass” is one of those scores whose inconsistent quality perfectly explains why it’s rarely programmed. It’s not particularly noteworthy in purely musical terms because neither its themes nor what Rossini does with them is memorable.
Choral Arts’ rendition didn’t do the score any favor by imposing on it a performance style of singing typical of a full century before the work was written, as though anyone was still singing mostly straight tone without vibrato during the decade when Verdi composed his massive “Aida.” The result was a prissiness that robbed the music of even mild amusement. And while there is a certain authenticity to using Rossini’s original accompaniment of piano and harmonium, the resultant sameness of instrumental color became more than a little boring.
Choral Arts’ music director, Matthew Glandorf, deserves credit for searching out less frequently programmed parts of the choral repertoire and leading a well-intended performance, but surely there are finer examples of unfairly forgotten scores than this one.
Seeming a bit sprier than he did two weekends ago, Rafael Frubeck de Burgos conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra in a program that included Carl Orff’s ever-popular “Carmina Burana” in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall. I caught the Saturday, Feb. 16, performance and came away mightily impressed by the German/Spanish maestro’s physical stamina and mental acuity; he led the sprawling score by memory! Frubeck de Burgos elicited thrilling performances from the Philadelphians, the Philadelphia Singers Chorale and the American Boychoir.
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