Monday, October 31, 2016

two exquisite concerts

And in one day, yesterday.

Afternoon, to Stanford with B. for a song recital. It was the title that caught my eye: "Witches, Bitches, & Women in Britches." Mezzo Naomi Louisa O'Connell didn't wear britches, but a red gown, and she sang a wide variety of songs (all composed by men, though a few of the lyrics were by women) about uppity women of all kinds, from Charles Stanford's mournful setting of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, through dramatic pieces by Wolf and Poulenc, to a gorgeous mock-Irish ballad of a selkie by Granville Bantock, a set of Weimar-era cabaret songs (one of which, "Raus mit den Männern aus dem Reichstag" by Friedrich Holländer, would have saved Germany infinite trouble a few years later if its advice had been taken), through Tom Lehrer's "The Irish Ballad", the only time I've ever heard anything by him on an art-song program.

A large set of well-chosen and well-researched songs, extensive program notes, a strong voice and well-acted movement, plus excellent accompaniment by Miles Graber, made this a winner of a program.

It was over at 4.15, I took B. home, then dashed up to the City in time for a relaxed dinner before the 7 pm start of the evening concert at Herbst. (A feat accomplishable in that time frame only on a Sunday.) This was the Dover Quartet, whom I just heard two months ago in Canada, with double bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer, one of the few classical soloists on that instrument who can actually play it in tune.

The big work was Meyers own Quintet, four movements, half an hour. Asked to write program notes, the composer declined to describe what his music sounds like, so I'll attempt it. It reminded me of the kind of rough-hewn, plain-spoken American experimentalism practiced in music by Henry Cowell and (weirdly enough) Glenn Gould. Insistent choppy rhythms gave a sense of minimalism (more Terry Riley and - without the distinctive harmonies - Philip Glass than Steve Reich or John Adams), and in the scherzo there was a touch of jazz. There were only a few passages in which the bass was dominant, and then mostly just to propel the rhythms.

Meyer also joined the quartet for a one-player-per-part rendition of the orchestral score for Mozart's impossibly beautiful K. 136 Divertimento, which clarified the lines and gave weight to the sound. And he came on with Dover cellist Camden Shaw for the one piece I've heard at every concert I've ever attended that featured a solo double-bass player, Rossini's Duo for cello and double-bass.

Additionally, the Dovers gave a fine energetic performance of Dvorak's American Quartet, probably the most straightforward quartet in the repertoire and one consequently in need of finesse. It might have been an odd choice, given that Dvorak is by far the most famous composer to have written a string quintet with a double-bass in it, so they could have played that; but perhaps Meyer did not wish to be over-exposed.

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