Tuesday, February 12, 2013

concert reviews

1. The Szymanowski Quartet, at Oshman, Monday. Four burly Polish guys, with a strikingly individualistic way of playing, constantly tweaking note lengths, phrasings, and emphasis. This made for a delightfully witty Beethoven Op. 18 No. 4, a piece admirably suited for such an approach, and a genial and relaxed Dvorak Op. 106 - a little too relaxed, as Dvorak tends to get garrulous if you don't tighten up. It didn't work so well on Ravel's Quartet, because Ravel was writing with tighter control of his players' aesthetics, and the scherzo in particular sounded loose and sloppy, as if its shirttail were hanging out. Not a lovely image for the dapper Ravel. Fortunately they didn't play anything by their namesake composer, which could have been grisly.

Everybody there who knows I write reviews - and that's a lot of them, because Oshman is in the same complex as my mother's senior living community - asked me what the encore piece was. I didn't know. (If I were reviewing the concert, I'd e-mail the presenters afterwards and ask.)

The presenter for another local concert series was also in the audience, recognized me, and bearded me for some discussion of upcoming events. He wanted to email some stuff in, and dammit but I hadn't brought along my newly-minted SFCV business cards. From now on I'm keeping some in my wallet, not just in my pocket datebook which I'd left at home.

By the way, the acoustics were fine. If this keeps up, I'm going to suggest to my editors that we review here.

2. The Redwood Symphony, at Cañada, Saturday. Three well-known American works all a couple decades old, just at the point where we have to start thinking seriously about whether they're masterpieces and likely to stay the course or not. I have to say I was intrigued, but I was more than intrigued, I was worried, when I was assigned to review it. Not over whether the music was within these amateurs' capacity - on past experience, I could guess what they could handle well and what they couldn't, and that none of it would be as tough on them as Thomas Adès whom they've also done, and my guesses were correct - but over my own grasp of the music. Not Jennifer Higdon's blue cathedral, the work that originally sold me on this composer in the first place, nor Lou Harrison's Piano Concerto, which I didn't know (I got the CD from the library to prepare), but which, being Lou Harrison, could be counted on to be mellow, but John Corigliano's Symphony No. 1. This is his response to the AIDS epidemic, and much of it is angry music. I'm afraid that the first time I heard this piece my reaction was, "OK, I get it, the AIDS victims suffered. So why does the audience have to suffer too?"

This is not an attitude to take to a professional performance review (hear that, Joshua Kosman and your hate-on for Carmina Burana?). I need enlightenment, to get with the program. I took the CD of the Slatkin performance that I'd once picked up cheap (see, this is why I collect music I don't like: it can be handy), I ripped it to my mp3 player, I sat down in the Stanford library with the score, and I went over it and over it. I can't say enough in favor of score-reading while listening to a recording, at least for me: it focuses my attention, brings details to my notice, and clarifies the structure. After three times through, I knew this piece, in the sense that I could hear it again and think, "OK, now this is going to happen next," and, more importantly, that I understood what Corigliano was saying in the way that he said it, and that I could judge another performance for its own aesthetic quality.

So, behold, a review focused on the artistry and not whining about the repertoire.

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