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Tabea Zimmermann

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

My Classical Notes

January 2

Zimmermann Plays Shostakovich

My Classical NotesRecently, before going to sleep, I have been listening to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, as performed by Frank Peter Zimmerman. On the CD of the Month for January 2017, the same violinist plays for you music by Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 99 Violin Concerto No. 2 in C sharp minor, Op. 129 Performed by Frank Peter Zimmermann (violin), with the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester, Alan Gilbert conducting. Composed almost 20 years apart, the two violin concertos by Dmitri Shostakovich were both conceived with the great violinist David Oistrakh in mind and dedicated to him. Shostakovich completed Concerto No. 1 in 1948, at a time when he had fallen out of grace with the Soviet authorities and it seemed uncertain if the work would ever be performed in public. This is reflected in the concerto which begins with a dark and solitary violin song over gloomy cellos and double basses. Throughout the work there are allusions to the composer’s situation, such as the D-S-C-H motif that appears in so many of his works and which in the second movement is closely related to a theme reminiscent of Jewish popular music, as a symbol of Shostakovich’s identification with the sup¬pressed Jewish culture. In the same movement there is also a theme derived from the opera Lady Macbeth of Mstsensk which in 1936 had caused the composer’s first denunciation by the Soviet regime. In 1967 Shostakovich wrote to Oistrakh, telling him about the completion of his Violin Concerto No. 2. The composer’s health had been failing for several years, and only the year before he had suffered a heart attack. In several of his late works there is a preoccupation with mortality, and the concerto exhibits a similar dark, introspective tone, especially in the central Adagio. Performing these two great works of the mid-20th century is one of the finest violinists of our own time, Frank Peter Zimmermann. The recordings were made at public concerts at the Hamburg Laeiszhalle, with the eminent support of the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchester – formerly known as the NDR Sinfonieorchester – conducted by Alan Gilbert, the orchestra’s principal guest conductor for more than a decade. Here is Mr. Zimmermann in the Concerto number 2 by Shostakovich:

My Classical Notes

January 6

Piano Quartets by Mozart

Both Tabea Zimmermann, violist, and Frank Peter Zimmermann, violinist, appear on this recording together. And what is also great is that the group performs the two amazing Quartets for piano and strings by Mozart. Mozart: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, K478 Piano Quartet No. 2 in E flat major, K493 Performed by Christian Zacharias, piano, Frank Peter Zimmermann, violin, Tabea Zimmermann, viola, and Tilmann Wick, cello. Just listen to the wonderful music, the Quartet K493 by Mozart:

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

December 8

Kaler as Sui Generis Throwback

Ilya Kaler (file photo) To attend a recital by Ilya Kaler is to take a trip back in time to a golden age of violin playing about which older musicians nostalgically wax poetic and to which younger ones jealously compare their contemporary lots. The kings and queens of this era loom large in memories and record collections—Jascha Heifetz, Joseph Szigeti, Henryk Szeryng, Mischa Elman, Fritz Kreisler. However, during the 1980s and ‘90s it seemed that the traditions from which these great players emerged receding as new careers were defined by flawless virtuosity. Soloists were expected to reproduce these documents like human record players, night after night, on tours that shipped them from hall to hall with little time to explore the world from which their interpretations might naturally arise. Thankfully, it appears that this monolithic model is crumbling. Searching, intellectual players like Christian Tetzlaff bring contemporary ideas and fresh sounds to canonic works (along with original cadenzas rather than the classic, yet ossified, ones used by soloists for years). Fearless and instinctive soloists like Patricia Kopatchinskaja emphasize the unhinged rustic elements of works like the Bartok concerti that were polished and hidden by years of technically flawless reproduction. But for Ilya Kaler it’s as though this period of violinistic stagnation never occurred. His style, which draws on the strength and purity of the mid-20th-century Russians like David Oistrakh and Leonid Kogan as well as the sweetness and romance of players like Arthur Grumiaux and Zino Francescatti, is markedly nostalgic. It’s no surprise that after this recital, as well as following his previous String Masters Series recital and two recent appearances with the Boston Philharmonic, one heard audience members and orchestra members alike remark how people just don’t play like that anymore. But with the burgeoning diversity of violin styles, Kaler’s also sounds remarkably contemporary, taking its place in a broadening array approaches. Kaler’s rich, grand manner sound was on full display on Sunday, Seully Hall for his second appearance in Boston Conservatory at Berklee’s String Masters Series. Until shortly before the concert began, the crowd seemed sparse, but then, with only minutes to spare before the scheduled start time, violinists from all over town swarmed into the hall, and Kaler played to a packed house. His tuxedoed stage presence and deference to his partner matched his sound—attractively old-fashioned and impeccably classy. Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, drawn from the composer’s ballet Pulcinella and arranged by his closest violinist collaborator, Samuel Dushkin is classic recital piece from exactly the repertoire that these “golden era” violinists drew their material. Kaler and pianist Janice Weber struggled occasionally with ensemble, but despite these slight miscues this performance bristled with character, notably with a thick, strutting rhythm that sat on the back end of the beat, reflecting the eponymous, buffoonish commedia dell’arte character. Kaler’s sticky articulation lent weight to even the fastest spiccato passages, adding to the grounded, heavy nature of these wonderful character studies. Hindemith’s Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 11, No. 1 highlighted another of Kaler’s career projects—advocating for marginalizing repertoire. (He’s had especially successful collaborations with the conductor Antoni Wit and the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra in works by Karlowicz and Szymanowski.) Kaler is particularly drawn to twentieth century works that don’t necessarily fall far outside the canon, but rather off the bottom of most repertoire lists. So few audience members knew the Hindemith, that some confusion ensued (even among this gaggle of fellow violinists) about which movement was which and when the piece ended. Regardless, Kaler and Weber made a convincing case. A softer warmer sound than the Prokofiev imbued the lyrical moments of this beautiful piece with an inner glow, a sound that carved out an area of introversive quiet reflection, especially toward the end of the work. Hindemith conceived the piece as part of a set of six (looking back, with an anti-Romantic eye, to similar sets of six by Haydn and Bach), and began work on it in 1918 at the age of 23 while still on the Western Front in World War I. Even this early work contains both beautiful moments of late romantic introversion and elements of Hindemith’s inchoate modernism. Another violinist inspired by the sort of “objective school” of mid-20th-century violin playing, Frank Peter Zimmermann, recently released a brilliant recording of Hindemith’s complete works for violin. I would love to hear Kaler’s interpretations of this same repertoire on disc. Janice Weber (file photo) A real surprise followed Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess Suite as arranged by Heifetz. Beyond his requisite refined style and sweet sound, Kaler displayed a deeper connection to this music than I expected. He and Weber offered a passionate and big reading with wonderful details of phrasing decked with plenty of slides and generous rubato. In his arrangement, Heifetz retained the flavor of the full orchestra’s dramatic swells, and Kaler and Weber brought these out with outsized tone and drama. After intermission, Andrew Mark, the artistic director of the String Masters Series, joined Kaler and Weber for a big-boned account of the Dvořák Trio in F Minor, op. 65. Ensemble issues dissolved into the turbulence and bluster of this warhorse. Andrew Mark contributed a fine solo to begin the slow movement. Those that missed this show forfeited a rare opportunity to experience a grand tradition not only alive and well, but also interacting with contemporary styles and approaches. Ilya Kaler masters the past by enriching it with the breath of the present. Matthew Heck is a musicology doctoral student at Brandeis. The post Kaler as Sui Generis Throwback appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

Tribuna musical

December 1

The world of symphony orchestras now expands to China

Of course, it was only a matter of time before Chinese orchestras started arriving to our city, although they existed even during Mao tse Tung´s regime: I certify that Beijing had an orchestra in 1962 that played such Occidental authors like Sibelius, along with Chinese composers. But the ironically called Cultural Revolution wiped them out for a long period. However, the almost miraculous reversal engineered by Deng Hsiao Ping gradually opened the immense country; musically this is recounted in that indispensable film with Isaac Stern, "From Mao to Mozart". Orchestras re-formed and others were created; and in 1999 Hong Kong became part of China, including its notable Philharmonic that has left so many fine recordings (they would be welcome visitors to BA). Changes take time, and it was only last year that a Shanghai Orchestra came here (a promised Beijing one didn´t materialize). And now we had the visit of the Qingdao Symphony. How many Argentines know something about this city? I didn´t, and I went to Google, for the programme gave me no information, except biographies of the interpreters and the listing of the players. They gave two concerts at the CCK¨s Blue Whale, the first combining China with the Occident, the second almost purely Chinese; I attended the first, missing two initial pieces due to a traffic jam (sounds familiar?). It turns out that Qingdao is a big port in the Province of Shandong with a population of around 6 million; German colony from 1891 to 1904, twice invaded by Japan and recuperated in 1949; it now has five universities. The Orchestra was re-established in 2005; its current Director is Zhang Guoyong (Herald readers may recall my review of his debut concert with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic this year, praising him in a difficult programme of Zimmermann and Prokofiev). Eighty players came in this tour, all with purely Chinese surnames. This people is gregarious and disciplined; on the evidence of this concert, the players have been carefully selected and are fully professional, and thoroughly trained by such a proficient conductor they gave first-rate performances of all the programmed pieces. As I wrote concerning other Chinese composers´ works played in BA (not many) I believe that the Occidental orchestra isn´t the right instrument for what remains a profoundly different culture. You do hear some pleasant pentatonic tunes but the orchestrations are showy and bombastic and the structures are haphazard. The pieces I heard both concerned concubines as they are depicted in Beijing Opera, as far from the European conception of the genre as possible in voice and instrumentation: voices are supposed to be used with extreme nasality and artifice, and there are very few players. The long symphonic fantasy "Goodbye, my concubine", by Guan Xia, suddenly includes a song; and then we heard a symphonic arrangement of a melody from Beijing Opera´s "The inebriated concubine". Zhang Ying, attired in colorful traditional clothes, sang both, in a way that decidedly for Occidentals is an acquired taste (if you do acquire it). But it is a matter of training: soprano Song Yuanming studied at Vienna and sang our opera and operetta with an agreeable voice of clean highs: the Waltz from Gounod´s "Roméo et Juliette" and the Csardas from Johann Strauss II´s "Die Fledermaus"; when she finished the First Part with a Chinese melody, "I love you, China", by Zheng Quiufeng and Qu Zong, she sang like an European. The Second Part was occupied by the most famous cantata of the Twentieth Century, Carl Orff´s "Carmina Burana", with the Coro Polifónico Nacional led by Darío Marchese, soprano Song Wuanming, baritone Alejandro Meerapfel and countertenor Pehuén Díaz Bruno. The rhythmic vitality and melodic charm of this celebration of Medieval love and wine dressed in modern clothes has seldom sounded so full and precise. The Choir was in fine shape, potent, in tune and exact; the Orchestra responded brilliantly to Guoyong´s commanding baton; and the soloists were well chosen, from the firmness of Wuanming´s highest register to the intelligent interpretation of Meerapfel and the adequacy of the countertenor singing the strange predicament of the roasting goose. How would this orchestra and conductor fare in, say, Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, is anyone´s guess, for all I heard from them was lavishly colorful; anyway, they certainly have the right technical tools. The style? Maybe. For Buenos Aires Herald

The Boston Musical Intelligencer

October 15

Brilliance Left Us Aghast

Czech conductor Jakub Hrůša arrived for his debut week at the BSO Thursday in a fury of blood and thunder in an all-Eastern European program that pictorialized the orchestra’s sonic depth and breadth. Along with him came a Boston favorite soloist, violinist Frank Peter Zimmermann, making his 12th appearance (by program) at Symphony Hall (curiously, since his debut in 1988 with Seiji Ozawa, he has never performed here with the BSO Music Director conducting). There were two works by Czech composers on the bill, the first being the opener, Smetana’s Šárka, the third number in the six-entry Má Vlast cycle of tone poems. While some of the cycle, as it happens the most popular, depict the natural world of Bohemia, others go into history and legend, and Šárka is one of the latter. The story is one of those “hell hath no fury…” revenge tales whereby the titulaire, leader of a band of female warriors, having been jilted, takes out an invading force of men by first luring them in, pretending to be a damsel in distress, then slipping them a mickey and having her forces come in and slaughter every man jack of them. For those familiar with the Gilbert and Sullivan canon, this can be understood as the nightmare version of Princess Ida. Smetana does an excellent job in this nine-minute bloodbath of finding music to characterize Šárka’s rage, her false siren-call of distress (she has herself tied to a tree)—in a marvelous clarinet solo silkily performed by William Hudgins—and her victim’s hapless infatuation (carried by the cellos, whom Hrůša had stand as a section in the call-out). After a big-bang opening on the “rage” theme, Hrůša did all the right things with dynamics and tempo shifts; we especially applaud the delicacy of the cymbals (Kyle Brightwell, we think) in the march-like tune of the invaders. Zimmermann next provided a very splendid performance—in front of a music stand, interestingly, which he only appeared to consult when turning the page—of the Bartók Violin Concerto No. 2 (which, of course, used to be just “the” Bartók Violin Concerto until the score of No. 1 turned up in the 1950s). Written in 1937 after the composer had completed Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta, it comes near the beginning of Bartók’s final compositional phase, in which the noisy modernism of his middle period softened and his natural Romantic inclinations were allowed to reassert themselves (no, this was not a result of his pandering to American tastes, as this all preceded his emigration to the US). The sound of this fabulous piece, probably one of the top three violin concertos of the 20th century, is the essential Bartók sound, opening with a beautiful, modally-inflected but regularly shaped melody over gentle harp strums, with passagework that introduces some of the more jagged and harmonically crunchy features of the 1920s. The score is also replete with Bartók’s innovations in sonority, especially in string technique: the snap-pizzicato, col legno scraping, and so forth. These sounds are more convincing in some places than others, where they still, after all these years, have an air of arbitrariness about them, though in the slow movement, they were absolutely perfectly placed. There is razzle-dazzle aplenty in the solo part, and Zimmermann gave it the full measure of brilliance and, where required, grit. In the slow movement variations on another exquisite melody, Hrůša kept the accompaniment, except in the couple of loud ones, to a hushed delicatissimo, to great effect, as where the celesta floated to the surface in a few riffs torn from MFSPC. The finale, whose theme is based on the first movement’s, took off seamlessly from the slow movement and sailed confidently with all sheets. Zimmermann engaged in silent dialogue with the orchestra, his head bobbing their part (and he sometimes provided his own percussion accompaniment with his foot). This was obviously a labor of love on everyone’s part, so we feel a little hesitant to note that there were places where the wind passages lacked edge and brilliance. All in all, though, a superior production, which the audience acknowledged with enough curtain-calls to generate an encore, in the shape of Ernst Schliephake’s astonishing transcription/arrangement of Rachmaninoff’s Prelude in G Minor, op. 23 No. 5, with more notes in it than one can imagine anyone having the fingers to play, but Zimmermann knocked everyone’s socks off doing so. After intermission, the blood-and-thunder theme resumed, with the thunder part taken by the Halloween-comes-early presentation of Rimsky-Korsakov’s rendition of Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain (though it was St. John’s Eve, and not All-Hallows Eve that Mussorgsky was writing about). While Rimsky’s posh orchestration is a showpiece of color, which the BSO provided aplenty while Hrůša loved the big build-ups, we were disappointed that this young European conductor didn’t bring the increasingly popular revival of Mussorgsky’s raw, vibrant original to Symphony Hall with him. If you want to know about the crackle and edge of the original, in contrast to the rough-edges-polished away Rimsky version, go no farther than Valery Gergiev’s window-rattling treatment with the BBC Orchestra at the 2004 Proms, here . The closing work was one new to the BSO, Leoš Jánaček’s 1915 three-movement orchestral rhapsody Taras Bulba, a piece reflecting Jánaček’s infatuation with pan-Slavism and Russia in particular (ever so slightly misplaced here, as will be noted). It is based on a story by the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol, about a family of Cossacks from Ukraine (not Russia, at least not yet), headed by the eponymous father of the clan. The three sanguinary movements depict the deaths of each of the father’s two sons, the first at the hands of the old man himself for having betrayed their nationalist faith by siding with the Poles who then ruled Ukraine (yes! The Poles were once rulers of others), the second by the Poles after a torture session, and finally the father, burned at the stake. The orchestration is vivid, lurid even (the second son’s torture is evinced by the cries of the E-flat clarinet, a torturous instrument if ever there was one, though Jánaček’s rather oddly elegant line, perfectly rendered by Thomas Martin, pales in comparison to the shrieks Mahler and Shostakovich elicited on the instrument). Hrůša’s leadership again emphasized dynamic contrasts, extremes even, which surely would have pleased the composer. The brass section was in its glory, with all hands on deck (the orchestral forces for the Smetana were large, but for Mussorgsky and Jánaček they were enormous: we lost count of how many contrabasses were on stage, and for good measure James David Christie was at the organ console). Jakub Hrusa and Frank Peter Zimmerman (Hilary Scott photo) Truth to tell, we have some issues with this work. First, the musical pictorialism was not as acute as Smetana’s: Jánaček at this point was really more of an opera composer and this story seemed to want a libretto. This, combined with Jánaček’s general disjointed style—the only really sustained bit of music was the nationalistic peroration at the end—made for a degree of confusion over where one is at any moment, though there were some spectacularly wonderful chordal progressions here and there. Second, and one hesitates to put this forward, there is a sense of queasiness, of moral objection that this piece engenders, not about the violence depicted, but the unquestioning nationalistic fanaticism that Jánaček seems to be celebrating here (we haven’t read the Gogol, so there may have been an appreciation for the psychological and social cost of flinging and sacrificing one family member after another into the cauldron, but there certainly was no such countervailing weight in the music). As an exercise in pure orchestral brilliance and sonic impact, it’s a great piece, but as an artistic statement it left us a bit aghast. Vance R. Koven studied music at Queens College and New England Conservatory, and law at Harvard. A composer and practicing attorney, he was for many years the chairman of Dinosaur Annex Music Ensemble. The post Brilliance Left Us Aghast appeared first on The Boston Musical Intelligencer .

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