Trapped in Classical World: A Boston Weekend
Murray Perahia's stock is rising. A Sony CD set commemorating 25 years of concertizing has sold especially well, and recent releases of Bach English Suites are also going fast. If he used to be on the short list of pianists, he is now on the short-short list. Last Wednesday the BankBoston Celebrity Series did well to host him at Symphony Hall where his foolproof program of old Austro-German masters brought the house down. Perahia opened with a lesser-known Bach English Suite, the fifth, in E minor, S. 810. The Prelude was full of crisp slides and sounded a lot like the F-sharp Major Prelude from Book One of the Well-Tempered Clavier. The allemande was suffused with a sense of wonder at Bach's creation, but the courante was a little muddled. This particular Suite has passepieds instead of minuets, and they could have been more sprightly. But the concluding gigue was prefectly pedaled, and Perahia's robust left hand worked wonders.
Next of the program was the Beethoven F major Sonata from Op. 10--in my opinion, Perahia's strongest performance of the night. This piece has enormous innate appeal, but certainly does not play itself and Perahia made it dazzling. Perahia imparted to the main theme of the allegretto middle movement the proper sense of graceful ghostliness, and played the living daylights out of the trio, but the real jawdropper here was the presto rondo finale. In an interview with WHRB, Perahia revealed that, studying under Miecyslaw Horszowski, he practiced his Leschetisky method like a good little boy. Nowhere was it more obvious than in these astonishingly clean, carefully controlled, and virtually unpedalled runs.
There followed a "Moonlight" Sonata that sounded, in the honest estimation of one concertgoer, like Perahia "had to go to the bathroom." This rendition was hasty and short on detail, but Perahia wisely observed the printed note values for the dotted first theme, which these days tends to degenerate into rubato soup. The capital offenses were in the finale, where often his left hand growled indistinctly or pounded an ostinato where it should have been a more sensitive accompanist, and once he even wandered into a thicket of wrong notes. It made one grateful and Perahia did not have access to Beethoven's rickety old Broadwood piano.
The second half of the recital comprised Perahia's magisterial reading of the Schubert C Minor Sonata D. 958. This interpretation was worlds away from the famous hair-sizzling live recording made in Budapest in 1958 (coincidence?) by Sviatoslav Richter-The tempi were less "hell" and more "high water." The beginning of the first movement, phrased to remind us of Beethoven's 32 variations in the same key was the first of many well-executed musical decisions that kept the audience rapt for the entirety of this very long sonata. Peheria was rewarded with three encores.
Last Thursday one of the most talented musicians of the Class of 1999 gave a farewell organ recital in Adolphus Busch Hall. Daniel Forger III of Eliot House has been a visible/audible musical presence on campus and off-he is in charge of music for a whole congregation of parishioners in Porter Square. Forger has often played in the Memorial Church and was instrumental in bringing the popular National Public Radio organ program "Pipedreams" to WHRB.
As Thursday's program showed, Forger is a virtuoso organist. A demanding Brahms G minor Prelude and Fugue (with hints of Bach S. 542?) preceded dense music of the late master Jean Langlais and of Helmut Walcha, a superb organist in his own right, whose neo-Baroque compositions spring from a performative mastery of the original idiom.
For a finale, Forger offered Concert Variations on the Austrian Hymn, by John Knowles Paine. Paine, whose music hall delights in its eponymity, was Professor of Music at Harvard and the author of some flamboyant organ music, including a double fugue on "America." In the piece heard Thursday, Forger delivered Paine's diverse amplifications of the original Haydn melody with sensitivity and grace and the last wriation for which Forger pulled out all the stops, was grand and moving. At least one well-known campus music figure was spotted in tears; next year Harvard will be much the worse without Forger's talents.
Bam-Bam and Marimba Madness
Sunday afternoon, percussion virtuoso Evelyn Glennie returned to Jordan Hall for another Celebrity Series engagement. My seatmate, a percussionist herself, remarked that the concert program showed just how successful Glennie has been as a missionary for her art. Five years ago, Glennie would likely have played only the marimba in such a setting, but thanks to her growing popularity, she has been able to expand her solo repertoire to include more drum-based literature." It was truly a percussion recital as opposed to a marimba recital. This specialized repertoire develops in tandem with commissions from contemporary composers, many of whom write specifically to Glennie's prodigious gifts. She opened with a piece by John Psathas called "Matre's Dance," featuring very loud, very impressive drumming, but to such an extent that the role of her accompanist, Philip Smith, was all but obviated. Glennie then played her own transcription of the Albeniz "Asturias," which did well in the transition from solo piano to solo marimba. The recitative quality of the right hand in the original blossomed in its new reverberating longevite. Glennie was especially sensitive in the subtler, quieter middle section, where she utilized different kinds of "rolls" to create beautiful textures.
Next was a piece by Askell Masson, a friend of Glennie's and the author of disagreeably bombastic music, although the concluding moments-feted to include five simultaneous polyrhythms, too many for the Crimson's ears-were nevertheless impressive. David Heath's "Darkness to Light," apparently a programmatic look at a bipolar emotional experience, offered a visually engaging tour of Glennie's complex stage setup, and concluded with a delicate, well-balanced duet between vibraphone and piano. Smith was a remarkably sensitive musician from start to finish.
The first piece after intermission, Nebjosa Zivkovic's "The Castle of the Mad King," was more successful as performance art than as listenable musical experience. The constellation of instruments employed was nothing short of bizarre. Glennie began with her back to the audience, bowing what looked to be a broken birdcage, then moved by turns to something resembling a giant pencil sharpener and something else resembling a strip of Venetian blind. The sounds were quite fresh but didn't add up to anything organic to challenge the brain beyond the ear. Glennie's infallible sense of rhythm, however, made for some breathtaking-polyrhythmic feats.
Often Glennie would address the audience in her heavy Scottish brogue, and she described the next music, arranged by Ian Finkel, as a "lollipop piece." "The Gypsy Virtuoso" was full of smiling allusions to the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies and the Brahms Hungarian Dances, all poured into the formal mold or a concerto movement. Glennie's arrangement of a Kevin Volans piece, "She who sleeps with a small blanket," is, in her own word, "disconcerting," scored for bongos, congas, bass drum, and marimba. Whoever "She" is, she has nightmares. The concert continued with a virtuoso marimba solo, "Velocities" by Joseph Schwantner. Schwantner, a composer-in-residence at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, has undoubtedly made a fine contribution to the contemporary marimba literature with this visionary piece, which used the entire instrument. At one point, Schwantner asks the marimbist to play on the very end of the bars, creating a thin, pitched wooden sound.
The last item on the program, Stewart Wallace's "The Cheese and the Worms," combined a Parmenidean theory of creation with a raucous bagpipe solo to strange effect--apocalyptic even--(thoughperhaps I am thinking ahead to Commencement morning). All in all, her solo or accompanied marimba performances left a better impression than the drum pieces, which made Glennie's two encores especially welcome.