Sunday, February 12, 2012

two redux concerts

1. The Lark Quartet came to Stanford's small recital hall with baritone Stephen Salters to repeat the two new vocal works from the concert I reviewed two years ago. This time I took B., as a Valentine's present, because there also was a third vocal piece on the program, being premiered here, Billy in the Darbies, words by Melville set by William Bolcom, a composer whom we rather extravagantly admire. I have to say that the new piece was better than either the Wiprud or the Ruehr held up as, despite their more appealing subjects. Better still, actually, was Bolcom's other contribution, the only instrumental work, his Three Rags from 1967-71. Only the third actually sounds like a rag, but they were all delightful and clever no end. All the more impressive considering the date, which puts them before the ragtime revival and during the height of the days when, if a serious composer produced something as populist and witty as this, Pierre Boulez would have him boiled in twelve-octane oil.

Salters has too powerful a voice for such a small venue. Any shading or subtlety went out the window, or would have if the room had any. The quartet remains excellent, and their violist remains the heart and soul of the ensemble.

2. Back to the Mission Chamber Orchestra, which I heard and reviewed, none too enthusiastically, a year ago. No repeated works this time, but I went because of the program. Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 1, which I hadn't heard in concert before, and two movements from Dvorak's Serenade for Strings, which I've heard often enough, both of which I love, both very nice in this group's amateur way. Dance Panels, a forgotten work by Aaron Copland, and now we know why it's forgotten, don't we? As Jackie Kennedy said on another such occasion, "Oh, Mr. Copland!"

Lastly, a piece I heard from SSV several years ago, and described at that time as "something unusual" thusly: "Astor Piazzolla's Cuatro Estaciones porteƱas (Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) arranged and to some degree recomposed (a no-no in classical music, but then Piazzolla wasn't really a classical composer) by Leonid Desyatnikov into a concerto for solo violin and small string orchestra, to which the arranger added - this wasn't Piazzolla's idea - sly little references to Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Pachelbel's Canon, Bach's Air on the G String ..." This time the soloist was SSV's assistant concertmaster, of all people, Christina Mok, much improved from the last time I heard her as a soloist. This was her first time playing the piece in concert. She was quite good. The orchestra ... MCO isn't anywhere near SSV's match in professional chops, but they actually did a better job in conveying what a good performance of this potentially immensely witty and enjoyable work would actually be like, if only we could get one.

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