Thursday, April 30, 2015

Met Opera: Un Ballo in Maschera

I went on Tuesday evening to the Met Opera for the last time this season to hear Un Ballo in Maschera.  I had already seen this production two seasons ago and had not been that greatly impressed by it, but I was looking forward to once again hearing James Levine conduct Verdi.  In the event, I was disappointed as Maestro Levine did not appear - he was, according to the stage manager, "indisposed" - and his place taken by an assistant conductor.

If the production deserves credit for one thing, it's in leaving behind the ridiculous setting in colonial Massachusetts that Verdi was forced to use in the face of the Italian censors' intransigence, first in Naples and then in Rome.  Perhaps Verdi should have been more prudent in the first place than to have built his opera on a libretto by Antonio Somma that was itself based on a historical incident of regicide.  But the 1792 assassination of Sweden's Gustav III was more than sixty years in the past by the time Verdi took up the subject and had already been used as the basis for other operas, most notably Daniel Auber's Gustave III, ou Le bal masqué (1833) with a libretto by Eugène Scribe that Somma followed closely.  And there was no way Verdi could have anticipated the 1858 attempt on the life of Napoleon III by three of the composer's countrymen.  At any rate, all these complications came together to create a fiasco that saw the opera's action moved from Sweden to Poland until it was finally removed from Europe altogether and ended up, utterly improbably, in New England.  It was during all this confusion that Verdi wrote in frustration:
"From Nabucco, you may say, I have never had one hour of peace. Sixteen years in the galleys!"
None of this matters in the least, though, when listening to the music itself.  The opera contains some of Verdi's finest work.  Unfortunately, it was not done justice on Tuesday evening.  Whoever the conductor was - the stage manager had announced his name too quickly for me to catch - he was not up to the task.

As for the singers, I had seen Sondra Radvonovsky last season in the title role of Bellini's Norma and had thought her excellent in that notoriously difficult bel canto part.  Here, as Amelia, she seemed a bit off, at least at Tuesday evening's performance.  In contrast, Dolora Zajick, as Ulrica, and Dmitri Hvorostovsky, as Renato, each brought years of experience to their respective parts and carried them off with all the professionalism one would expect of such fine singers.  I had heard Piotr Beczala in February in Iolanta, but he had failed to make any great impression on that occasion.  His appearance as Gustavo this season marked the first time he had sung the role at the Met.  Beczala gained some notoriety last season in Europe when he announced his refusal to ever again work at La Scala following the hostile reception he encountered there while performing in La Traviata.  He received a much warmer reception at the Met, though I am not sure it was entirely merited.

I did not care for David Alden's production any more than I did the last time I saw it.  The Met's website refers to it as "film noir-inspired."  This was pretty much the same description it applied to Mariusz Trelinski's new production of Iolanta/Bluebeard's Castle and with as little reason.  What any of these operas have to do with the gritty black & white crime dramas of the 1940's is beyond me.  The word "noir" is simply being used here for its cachet however little sense it makes when applied to these works.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Jupiter Symphony Players Perform Meyerbeer, Busch, Schulhoff, Prokofiev and Shostakovich

The Jupiter Symphony Players, in their recital yesterday afternoon at Good Shepherd Church, gave one of their more intriguing performances of the season.  Entitled Despite Tyranny, the program featured works by Giacomo Meyerbeer, Adolf Busch, Erwin Schulhoff, Sergei Prokofiev and Dmitri Shostakovich.

The matinee began with Meyerbeer's Quartetto nel Il crociato in Egitto.  So successful was Wagner's campaign against Meyerbeer that, in all the years I've listened to classical music and opera, this is the first time I can ever recall having heard any of Meyerbeer's music performed.  What made Wagner's attack in Das Judenthum in der Musik particularly loathsome was that Meyerbeer had generously helped Wagner in the early years of the latter's career, both financially and by arranging for the premieres of his first two operas.  And Wagner was not the only one to have expressed bigotry.  Schumann too had indulged in a number of anti-Semitic attacks on the more established composer.

Il crociato in Egitto was one of Meyerbeer's earliest successes.  With a libretto by Gaetano Rossi (with whom Meyerbeer never worked again, most likely because this was the last of the composer's Italian operas), the work premiered in Venice in 1824 to huge acclaim and established the composer's reputation on an international level.  It was the beginning of one of the most successful careers in operatic history.  While in many ways innovative - the opera has been seen as a bridge between the work of Rossini and that of the bel canto composers who followed him - it was also something of an anachronism in that it was the last to include a role for castrato and the last to use the piano to accompany recitatives.  The present arrangement for obbligato flute, clarinet, violin, viola and cello was completed by Benedetto Carulli and dedicated to Conte Luigi Bertoglio.  It was so enjoyable a piece that one might very well wonder if Wagner had not after all been as jealous of Meyerbeer's talent as he was of his success.

Next was Busch's Seven Bagatelles, Op. 53a (n.d.).  If any musician deserves to be regarded as a hero, it's certainly the violinist Adolf Busch.  In 1933, shortly after Hitler had risen to power in Germany, Busch gave up a successful career in that country and moved to America as a protest against Nazism and all that it stood for.  As an article in the Wall Street Journal points out:
"What makes this act so significant is that Mr. Busch was the only well-known non-Jewish German classical musician to emigrate from Germany solely as a matter of principle—and one of a bare handful of non-Jewish European musicians, including Arturo Toscanini and Pablo Casals, who resolved to stop performing there for the same reason."
It was a stand that was to cost the virtuoso musician a great deal.  Although he went on, together with his son-in-law Rudolf Serkin, to found the Marlboro Music Festival, he never achieved in America anything like the popularity he had once enjoyed in Europe.  Yesterday afternoon's performance was the first opportunity I'd had to hear any of his music.  It was difficult, though, to gauge the composer's abilities from these brief works.  They had already ended even before one had had a chance to listen closely.

Following this work came Schulhoff's Five Pieces for String Quartet (1923).  Schulhoff was one of the more interesting intellectuals to inhabit Europe between the two world wars.  A student of both Max Reger and Claude Debussy, he gained recognition early on for his musical talents and, before having been conscripted into the Austrian army in 1914, appeared destined for a successful career.  His military service radicalized him, however, and turned him into a fervent Socialist.  Once the war had ended, he came under the influence of German Expressionism as well as Dadaism.  In the company of Georg Grosz, he began in the 1920's to frequent jazz clubs where he occasionally found employment as a pianist.  During this period he also wrote atonal music and corresponded with Alban Berg.  None of this, least of all the fact that he was a Jew, endeared him to the Nazis.  Schulhoff was arrested in Prague in 1939 and died of tuberculosis in the Wülzberg concentration camp three years later.

The present piece, a bizarre parody of the Baroque dance suite, was playful and fun loving.  It consisted of five movements, each of which corresponded to a different dance form - a Viennese waltz, a serenade, a Czech polka, a tango and a tarantella.  Schulhoff's Dadaist leanings were very much in evidence in these idiosyncratic pieces of which I thought the tango was the must successful.  Fittingly enough, the work was dedicated to Darius Milhaud who shared the composer's love of jazz and whose own music was rather unorthodox.

The recital continued with a performance of Prokofiev's Overture on Hebrew Themes, Op. 34 (1919) for clarinet, string quartet and piano.  The composer wrote the work during his not particularly successful American sojourn as a commission from a Russian sextet called the Zimro Ensemble.  Prokofiev was handed a booklet containing "Jewish folk songs" whose provenance has never been satisfactorily established, and he worked from that.  It's doubtful the composer had any real interest in the project other than the fee he was to be paid.  He completed the commission in only a couple of days and afterwards never had anything very good to say about it.  In spite of this, the work was well worth hearing.  It was vintage Prokofiev and, if not the composer's greatest work, still a fascinating adaptation that showed how adept he was at transforming an unfamiliar source into his own idiom.

After intermission, the program concluded with Shostakovich's Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67 (1944).  Like the Prokofiev sextet, this work too contained Jewish themes, most notably in the use of klezmer music in the final movement.  But Shostakovich's interest in this material was far more sincere than was Prokofiev's and he later employed Jewish themes in several other compositions as a muted rebuke to the anti-Semitic campaigns instigated by Stalin.  (Coincidentally, Shostakovich too possessed a booklet of Jewish folk songs and used it as the source for his 1948 song cycle entitled From Jewish Poetry.)  The trio had a posthumous dedication to Ivan Sollertinsky, artistic director of the Leningrad Philharmonic and a close friend of Shostakovich.  It was Sollertinsky who on his travels procured for the composer scores by Kurt Weill and Ernst Krenek as well as the uncompleted manuscript of Mahler's Tenth Symphony.  

The work itself was a masterpiece and undeniably one of Shostakovich's greatest chamber works.  From the opening chords of the dark and brooding first movement, it held the audience spellbound.  Especially poignant were the Jewish tunes contained in the final movement.  The trio was written while World War II was still raging and news of the Holocaust was only just becoming known.  The bleak despairing music contained far more than just a eulogy for a cherished friend; in it could be heard echoes of the anguished cries of those innocent victims who perished at the hands of the Nazis.  The work was played extremely well by Alexander Kobrin (piano), Philippe Quint (violin) and David Requiro (cello).

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Carnegie Hall: Richard Goode Performs Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy and Schumann

On Friday evening at Carnegie Hall, pianist Richard Goode performed in recital as popular a program as one could imagine.  There were no surprises, only renditions of familiar works by classical music's best known composers - Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Debussy and Schumann.

Of all the piano recitals I've heard this season, this was the one I'd been looking forward to most.  I've seen Richard Goode many times over the past few decades and have always appreciated the straightforward, no-nonsense manner with which he approaches whatever works are to be performed.  He invariably displays great sensitivity as well as total respect for the composer's intentions.  This past October, I even attended the first part of a master class at Mannes in which he provided an in-depth analysis of the problems faced by a musician when first attempting a given piece of music.  It was an enlightening experience that helped me better understand what I hear at the recitals I attend; it also revealed the difficulties faced by any pianist when he or she sits down at the keyboard.

The program opened with Mozart's Adagio in B Minor, K. 540 (1788).  The work is something of an enigma in that it not only was composed as a standalone piece but was also the only keyboard work the composer wrote in the key of B minor.  Mozart ordinarily made use of the minor keys to express intense emotion and it may be the work was written, at least in part, as a testament to the personal anguish he felt in witnessing his prospects in Vienna, originally so promising, decline so precipitously in the final years of his life.  In this view, the B major ending could then be seen as representing his hope for a positive resolution to his problems.

The Mozart was followed by Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp Major, Op. 78 (1809), nicknamed "à Thérèse" for its dedication to Thérèse von Brunswick whose sister Josephine is often conjectured to have been the composer's "Immortal Beloved."  This is a very short and compact work that, like the composer's final sonata, the Op. 111, consists of only two movements.   The music is characteristic of Beethoven's "heroic" middle period and if it at times conveys a sense of lightheartedness that may have to do as much with the composer's new found financial security as with the pleasant memories of the summer weeks spent in the company of the Brunsviks in Hungary.

Next was Brahms's Klavierstücke, Op. 76 (1871-1878).  This is a collection of eight piano pieces written by Brahms over the course of several years.  In titling the anthology "Piano Pieces," the composer was obviously trying to avoid any programmatic associations.  In taking this route, Brahms consciously distanced himself from the approach taken by his one-time mentor Schumann whose solo piano works invariably followed some form of extra-musical program.  This may have been an indication that Brahms finally considered himself to have come into his own (his first great success, A German Requiem, had had its premiere in 1869), but it may also have been that he simply wished to call attention to the music rather than to any outside associations that might be attached to it.

After intermission, Mr. Goode returned to play Debussy's Children's Corner (1908).  The work was written as a present to the composer's three year old daughter Claude-Emma who was to die tragically at age 14, only a few months after Debussy himself.  It is a playful work filled with the echoes of childhood and much different from the more impressionist works Debussy composed during this same period (it preceded the first book of Préludes by two years).  The final piece, Golliwogg's Cakewalk, in fact contains not only elements of ragtime but even a parody of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

The program concluded with Schumann's Humoreske in B-flat Major, Op. 20 (1839).  So varied are the moods of these pieces - joyous moments followed by those of the deepest despair - that it's tempting to see in them portents of the composer's approaching madness.  In fact, in describing the work in a letter to Clara, Schumann himself wrote, "All week I've been sitting at the piano and composing and writing and laughing and crying, all at the same time."  That pretty much sums of the spirit of the work.

While it was thoroughly enjoyable to hear such tasteful renditions of old favorites as were performed here, one would have wished that a few less familiar pieces had been included.  It is recitals and concert performances that offer non-musicians the best opportunity to become acquainted with the less frequented corners of the repertoire.  While I realize that programs at Carnegie Hall are selected with at least one eye on ticket sales, I nevertheless feel the musicians have an obligation to audiences to provide them with something new to carry away with them once the performance has ended.  At last season's Carnegie Hall recital, for example, Mr. Goode gave a brilliant rendition of Janáček's On an Overgrown Path, a work that I couldn't recall ever having heard before and that I thought truly worth experiencing.  Though I'll continue to attend the pianist's recitals no matter what music he chooses to play, I do hope next season's program is a bit more adventurous.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Juilliard Piano Recital: Chopin's Legacy

The concept behind Wednesday's late afternoon piano recital at Paul Hall was simple enough - a performance of a work by Chopin followed by that of a composer whom he had inspired or who had simply chosen to work in the same genre.  The full program, which differed slightly from that originally announced on Julliard's website (Chopin's Ballade No. 1 in G minor was eliminated from the performance), was as follows:

CHOPIN Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat Major, Op. 51 | Joey Chang, piano
FAURÉ Impromptu No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 25 | Chi Wei Lo, piano

CHOPIN Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 55, No. 2 | Rachel Breen, piano
SCRIABIN Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9, No. 2 | Christine Wu, piano
LIEBERMANN Nocturne No. 4, Op. 38 | Michael Lenahan, piano

BRAHMS Ballade in G Minor, Op. 118, No. 4 | Suejin Jung, piano

CHOPIN Étude in A-flat Major, Op. 10, No. 10 | Juliann Ma, piano
DEBUSSY Etude Pour les notes répétées | Juliann Ma, piano
SAINT-SAËNS Étude en forme de Valse, Op. 52, No. 6 | Tristan Teo, piano

CHOPIN Mazurkas in A Minor and F-sharp Minor, Op. 59, Nos. 1 and 3 | Ryan Reilly, piano
ADÈS Two Mazurkas, Op. 27, Nos. 1 and 2 | Han Chen, piano

CHOPIN Fantaisie in F Minor, Op. 49 | Maxwell Foster, piano
SCRIABIN Fantaisie in B Minor, Op. 28 | Gabrielle Chou, piano

It was an interesting concept, but in the end I found it much easier to appreciate each work on its own merits rather than to seek correspondences among the composers.  It was simply too problematical to determine the extent to which a given composer may or may not have been influenced by Chopin in the writing of his own work.

Not surprisingly, the pieces I found truly compelling were in those genres I already most admired when listening to Chopin's music.  Foremost among these were the nocturnes.  Though I've never been able to distinguish within them any echoes of the Bellini arias Liszt claimed were present, I've always been moved by their introspective character and the delicacy with which they evoke a contemplative mood in the mind of the listener.  Their form had already been fully developed by the Irish composer/pianist John Field by the time Chopin began to write his own, and it would have been interesting to have heard one of Field's pieces played alongside Chopin's at the recital.  As it was, though, the nocturnes selected to accompany Chopin's 16th provided an excellent choice.   Scriabin's nocturne for the left hand has long been a favorite.  It was completed by the composer in 1894 after he had injured the right side of his collar bone while practicing Balakirev's Islamey in an attempt to outdo fellow Moscow Conservatory student Joseph Lhévinne (who later went on to teach at Juilliard).  Though many pianists take the easy way out and perform the piece with both hands, at this recital Christine Wu stayed true to the spirit of the work and gave a tour de force rendition using only her left hand.  The work which followed, a nocturne by Juilliard alumnus Lowell Liebermann, was one that I had never before heard, and I was extremely impressed by both the composition and the expert playing of Michael Lenahan who turned in one of the best performances of the afternoon.

The other Chopin work I'd looked forward to hearing was the Fantaisie in F minor.  It could be argued that in its rejection of formal rules and set format (it consists of only one movement), the fantasy was the ultimate musical expression of the Romantic temperament.  And that's no doubt the reason the genre holds such appeal for audiences.  Written in 1841, Chopin's piece followed closely in the tradition of Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy and Schumann's Fantasie in C major composed only five years earlier in 1836.  Pianist Maxwell Foster here gave an outstanding interpretation that I thought was worthy of comparison to the Claudio Arrau recording to which I most often listen.  The work with which it was paired, Scriabin's 1900 Fantaisie in B minor, shared its lush romanticism and was fully in keeping with the character of the earlier piece.  It was given a virtuoso rendition by Gabrielle Chou whom I had observed during intermission jumping up and down by the side of the stage to pump herself up for the performance.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Juillard415 Chamber Recital at Holy Trinity Church

Yesterday, the Julliard415 gave its final noontime performance of the season at Holy Trinity Church.  In honor of the occasion, the period instrument ensemble gave a full 1 1/2 hour recital that featured works by several of the most important composers of the Baroque and Classical periods - Biber, Buxtehude, Fasch, J.S. Bach, Zelenka, Haydn and Mozart.

The program opened with Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber's Harmonia Artificiosa-Ariosa No. 3 in A major (1696) for two violins, cello, lute and harpsichord.  Biber, who was himself one of the great violin virtuosi of the seventeenth century, introduced a number of innovations in composing music for that instrument.  His passacaglia in the Mystery Sonatas, for example, was one of the first pieces ever written for solo violin.  In the present work, he made use of the technique of scordatura in which the music is written as though for a normally tuned violin even while the instrument's actual pitch has been tuned differently.  Adding to the difficulty such a situation obviously presents to the performer is that in this case the work was also a canon in which the two violins were separated by an interval of four bars.  Considering the difficulties they faced, the two violinists at this performance - Nayeon Kim and Toma Iliev - were amazingly proficient and handled the complexity of their parts with total poise.

Next was Dieterich Buxtehude's Trio Sonata No. 3 for violin and viola da gamba in A minor, BuxWV 254, Opera prima (c. 1694) followed by Johann Friedrich Fasch's Sonata for Violin, Oboe, Bassoon and Continuo, FaWV N:F4 (n.d.).  After these two pieces came Bach's Sonata sopr'il Soggetto Reale from Musicalisches Opfer BWV 1079 (1747). The Musical Offering, according to legend, was written in response to a challenge given Bach by Frederick the Great to write a six-voice fugue on a theme chosen by the king.  Bach did succeed in improvising a three-voice fugue (his performance before the king was one of the few occasions on which he was known to have played the pianoforte) and upon his return home fulfilled the king's request through his completion of the Ricercar a 6 that is central to the entire work.  In this particular trio sonata, the third of the work's five sections, the king's theme does not appear until midway through the second movement.

The Bach was followed by an improvisation that had been coached by faculty member Noam Sivan and that featured Melanie Williams on flute and James Kennerley on harpsichord.  The point of an improvisation is to display not only the ability of the musicians on their respective instruments but their inventiveness as well.  I had previously heard improvisations coached by Noam Sivan at Juilliard's past two Chamberfests and had been greatly impressed by what the musicians had succeeded in accomplishing on those occasions.  Here the improvisation was in four movements of which the most interesting to me was the second movement fugue described by harpsichordist Kennerley as follows:
"It [the fugue] aims to imitate the Italianate North German fugues that one finds in the work of Handel, Bach and others, most characteristically represented by the repeated notes in the opening theme and the lively chains of suspensions in the free voices."
Also of note was the slow third movement that allowed Melanie Williams the opportunity to display her mastery of the flute.  She was definitely one of the most accomplished performers on that instrument I've heard in recent memory.

After the improvisation came Jan Dismas Zelenka's Trio Sonata No.3 for violin, oboe, fagot and Basso Continuo in B flat major (n.d.) and then Bach was again featured in a performance of the Allegro from the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D major, BWV 1050 (1721).  What was most noticeable about this music was the way in which the harpsichord, after having been used as little more than accompaniment to the flute and strings for the greater part of the movement, suddenly came into its own as a solo instrument toward the conclusion.  James Kennerley was again the harpsichordist and handed in a bravura performance of the cadenza.

After these works, the attention shifted from the Baroque to the Classical as the movement Un poco Adagio Affettuoso from Haydn's String Quartet in D major, Op. 20, No. 4 (1772) was performed.  Haydn is usually portrayed as a somewhat stuffy old man in a periwig (the appellation "Father of the String Quartet" only adds to this image of advanced age) who composed dry, carefully constructed classical pieces that served as models for both Mozart and Beethoven.  But this is unfair.  In a piece such as this, clearly indebted as it is to the influence of the Sturm und Drang movement then sweeping through Europe, he appears rather to be anticipating the Romantic tradition.  Surely even Schubert never wrote a work so filled with ardent feeling as this movement.  Near the end, the sotto voce repetition of the theme conveys a powerful emotional impact that, as the Program Notes point out, completely overwhelms the listener.  As for the performance itself - featuring Edson Scheid and Anna Lester, violins; Marie Daniels, viola; and Sarah Stone, cello - I was lucky enough to have heard the Orion Quartet, consisting of four of the world's foremost Haydn specialists, perform several of that composer's works (including the Op. 20, No. 5) this past season and thought the present rendition fully worthy of comparison to those performed by the more experienced ensemble.

The program concluded with the opening movement Allegro vivace assai from Mozart's String Quartet No. 14 in G major, K.387 (1782) nicknamed the "Spring."  This was the first of the composer's six "Haydn Quartets" dedicated to the master with whom he sometimes played quartets himself (with Mozart on viola and Haydn on violin).  In it he paid homage to the man who more or less established the form of the string quartet as we now know it and at the same time displayed his own genius for innovation.  The work was performed exceptionally well by Chloe Fedor and Toma Iliev, violins; Bryony Gibson-Cornish, viola; and Alexander Nicholls, cello.

Period instrument performances are often thought to be of solely academic interest and of appeal only to those with a scholarly interest in the history of Baroque music.  That was hardly the case at this performance.  Instead, it proved to be a highly enjoyable recital for anyone with the least appreciation of chamber music.  All the players yesterday were top level musicians and astonishingly adept at their instruments.  I felt fortunate to have heard them.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Carnegie Hall: Boston Symphony Performs Beethoven and Shostakovich

On Thursday evening, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of its new music director Andris Nelsons, performed an unusually long program that featured works by two very different composers - Beethoven and Shostakovich - and included an appearance by the celebrated violinist Christian Tetzlaff.

The evening began with Shostakovich's Passacaglia from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Op. 29 (1934).  I had attended a production of the full opera at the Met in November and had been duly impressed by the composer's achievement.  Before then, I had known Shostakovich primarily through his chamber works and symphonies.  But that he also had a flair for the dramatic could easily be seen from his skillful adaptation of the Leskov novel.  What was most revealing in it was the sympathy Shostakovich displayed toward his heroine Katerina, an attitude entirely absent from his nineteenth century source.  It's ironic that the composer came close to being executed by Stalin for his composition of a work in which he expressed such sympathy for the downtrodden proletariat.  If the Soviet authorities were able to see in Katerina's character only degeneracy, Shostakovich at least showed an awareness of the conditions that had driven her to such extremes.  One of the unusual features of the opera was the use of orchestral interludes interspersed among scenes of action and dialog as a means of connecting the scenes to one another and providing continuity.  Of these passages, the Passacaglia was the longest and most dramatic; it came at the crucial moment when Katerina had moved to a new level of iniquity through the brutal murder of her father-in-law Boris.  Though Shostakovich had cast the music in the form of a Passacaglia, its jarring almost melodramatic sound was as far from the familiar Baroque form as one could imagine.  As such, it formed a counterpart to the blaring dissonant music that accompanied Katerina's and Sergei's violent lovemaking at the conclusion of the preceding act.

The next work was one of the most famous ever written for violin, Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 (1806).  Although it's difficult to believe now, so popular has the work become, it was a signal failure at its premiere and remained relatively unknown until revived by Mendelssohn (with Joachim as soloist) in 1844.  The initial lack of success may have been due to Beethoven's tardiness in completing the score.  It's said that the work's dedicatee, Franz Clement, received his copy so late that he was forced to sight read his part at the premiere.  Fortunately, the soloist at this performance was much better prepared.  I first heard Christian Tetzlaff several seasons ago when he performed the Ligeti Violin Concerto with the ACJW Ensemble under the baton of Simon Rattle.  Last season, I heard him again, this time with Orpheus, in a performance of the Joachim Violin Concerto.  Although Tetzlaff has been criticized at times for a lack of feeling in his playing, I found him on both the above occasions to be intelligent and sympathetic to the composers' intentions.  Personally, I do not care for a great deal of flamboyance or show of emotion when listening to music.  I much prefer to hear an artist who can present to the audience in coherent fashion the ideas a given composer is seeking to express.  I thought Tetzlaff succeeded brilliantly in doing so in this piece.  He was in full control throughout the length of the work and at its conclusion brought the audience to its feet for a standing ovation.  The cadenza he played in the first movement was his own adaptation of that which Beethoven had written for the alternate version for piano and orchestra, the Op. 61a.

After intermission, the program concluded with another piece by Shostakovich, the Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93 (1953).  As the symphony's premiere took place only nine months after the death of Stalin, many commentators have given in to the temptation to see in it, particularly in the pounding second movement, a portrait of the dictator or at least references to the composer's feelings toward him.  Shostakovich's supposed memoir Testimony, a posthumous work whose authenticity has been vehemently challenged, in fact contains the statement:
"I did depict Stalin in my next symphony, the Tenth. I wrote it right after Stalin's death and no one has yet guessed what the symphony is about. It's about Stalin and the Stalin years. The second part, the scherzo, is a musical portrait of Stalin, roughly speaking. Of course, there are many other things in it, but that's the basis."
Somehow, this all seems a bit too neat, especially as there is some evidence that Shostakovich began work on the symphony at a much earlier date.  While no doubt the composer, along with countless other Soviet intellectuals, breathed a sigh of relief in seeing such an oppressive a regime finally come to an end, it is not necessary to look for so exact an analogy.  Though Shostakovich may very well have used the composition as an opportunity to reflect on the series of privations he had been forced to endure in the course of his career - the musical signature DSCH, so often repeated in the third and fourth movements, can be interpreted as a testament to his resilience - in the end the work is an intensely personal piece whose full meaning could only be known to the composer himself.

Thursday evening was the first opportunity I'd had to hear the BSO in several years; I'd somehow forgotten how great an orchestra it is.  The ensemble gave a tight, controlled performance of three very complex pieces and succeeded beyond my expectations.  This was the first time I'd heard music director Andris Nelsons, and I thought very highly of his work - he knew exactly what sound he wanted and managed to elicit it from the orchestra without any undue effort.  I would strongly recommend attending a BSO performance if one has the chance.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Juilliard Chamber Recital: Paul Frucht, Shen Yiwen and Dvořák

Yesterday afternoon, Juilliard staged the final chamber recital in this season's Wednesdays at One series and made use of the occasion to showcase two of the winning compositions from the 2014 Gena Raps competition.  Ms. Raps, who studied piano under Artur Balsam, is a Juilliard graduate and a member of the Mannes faculty.

The first piece was the world premiere of "Levity" for Piano Trio by Paul Frucht.  This was a thoroughly modern piece that could perhaps best be described, at least in the absence of any program notes, as peripatetic.  That anyway was the word that came to my mind as I sat listening.  In keeping with its title it was an upbeat and energetic piece that was quite enjoyable to hear.  Though the piano part did not always appear completely integrated with that of the strings, that impression may only have resulted from my ignorance of the composer's intentions.  The music was very ably performed by the Hsin Trio consisting of Sissi Yuqing Zhang (violin), Yin Xiong (cello) and Han Chen (piano).  I had seen these same performers just last month at another Wednesdays at One recital, though I don't believe they had at that time formally named themselves as a trio.  On that earlier occasion, they played the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio in A minor, Op. 50.  At both performances they were coached by Joseph Lin (violin), David Finckel (cello) and Joseph Kalichstein (piano).

The next work was another world premiere - Four Chinese Brush Paintings by Shen Yiwen - and was much more traditional than I had anticipated.  The composer was very successful in using Western instruments to create sounds that one could readily associate with historical Chinese music (or at least this foreigner's concept of such music) and therefore by extension with Chinese artwork as well.  This was especially fitting as a reverence for the past lies at the heart of Chinese art; painters often work with historical subjects as a means of demonstrating a continuity with those artists who have preceded them.  Before beginning the work, violist Gregory Luce remarked that none of the four movements have titles because brush paintings are what the viewer observes them to be.  He may here have been referring, at least in part, to the concept of du hua in which the content of a given work is secondary to the associations to which it alludes.  In this manner an artist can stir the heart of the viewer by referring in his painting to a prior image which made use of the same or similar content; the recollection of the earlier work is intended to create a more intense emotional impact.  The performers here were the Aeolus Quartet, Juilliard's graduate resident string quartet, whose members include Nicholas Tavani (violin), Rachel Shapiro (violin), Gregory Luce (viola) and Alan Richardson (cello).  I had an opportunity to hear these musicians in recital last May at this same venue and was very impressed by their rendition of works by Haydn and Ravel.  They are on a par with, if not superior to, a good number of more established ensembles that I've heard over the years.

The program closed with one of Dvořák's most popular chamber works, the Piano Trio No. 4 in E minor, Op. 90 (1891), nicknamed the "Dumky."  As I had just heard on Monday afternoon a performance by the Jupiter Players of the same composer's String Sextet in A major, Op. 48, I had a unique opportunity to witness the manner in which Dvořák's use of East European folk sources, here most obviously the Ukrainian dumka, evolved over the years in which he continued to compose chamber music.  Only months after having written this piece, he would travel to the United States where he would be exposed, with the assistance of Harry Burleigh, to the Afro-American folk tradition and would in turn incorporate elements of that music in his chamber works as well, most notably in the "American Quartet," Op. 96.  The musicians were the Hyon Trio; the ensemble consisted of Julia Ahyoung Choi (violin), Jennifer Yunyoung Choi (cello) and Kevin Ahfat (piano).  Like the performers on the previous two pieces, these were exceptionally talented individuals.  The strings were particularly impressive in the second movement adagio in capturing the lush sensuality of Dvořák's music, and I thought the pianist's facility at the keyboard remarkable throughout.  They were coached by David Finckel and Vivian Weilerstein.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jupiter Symphony Players Perform Ries, Beethoven and Dvořák

Yesterday afternoon at Good Shepherd Church, the Jupiter Symphony Players gave a performance of nineteenth century works by Beethoven and Dvořák as well as the now nearly forgotten German composer Ferdinand Ries.

The program opened with Ries's Trio in B flat major, Op. 28 (1810) for clarinet, cello and piano.  It is not as a composer that Ries is best remembered today, although he was in fact quite prolific and left behind a fair sized body of work in a number of different genres.  Instead, Ries is known primarily as the friend and biographer of Beethoven who, not surprisingly, exercised a huge influence over Ries's style that helped place it squarely between the classical and romantic traditions.  Beethoven not only gave Ries piano lessons but also employed him as his secretary and music copyist.  When Ries gave his public debut as a pianist in Augarten in 1804, it was his teacher's Third Piano Concerto that he performed.  The Op. 28 trio, though, was written at a time when the two were experiencing a rift in their friendship.  Beethoven had mistakenly thought that Ries was trying to secure for himself the position of Kappelmeister at Kassel, a sinecure in which Beethoven had at one time himself been interested.  The suspicion was unfounded, however, and Ries eventually left Vienna to travel about Europe before finally arriving in England in 1813.  Ries proved a great success in London and while there worked as Beethoven's unpaid agent.  Much later, in 1825, Ries was to conduct Beethoven's Ninth Symphony at a festival held at Aix-la-Chapelle.  Afterwards, he wrote to his teacher:
"It is a work which is without its equal; had you never written another one, you would have assured your immortality by it.  Where will you lead us yet?"
No matter what Ries's relations with his mentor at the time he composed his Op. 28, he obviously intended it as a form of tribute as he took for his model Beethoven's own Op. 11, also written in the key of B flat major and originally arranged for the same combination of instruments.

The next work on the program was a much more familiar piece - the Piano Trio in E flat major, Op. 70, No. 2 (1808) by Beethoven himself.  Though perhaps not so well appreciated as its companion piece, the "Ghost," this is nevertheless one of the major works of the composer's middle period.  Its genesis may have been inspired at least in part by the Beethoven's reexamination of Haydn's methods of composition.  As one source points out:
"...Beethoven had written a Haydnesque alternating-variation movement in the E♭-major Piano Trio, Op. 70, No. 2.  Indeed, in the trio Beethoven most closely approximated the theme-type, character, and form of Haydn's alternating strophic variations, in a work which quoted the slow movement of Haydn's Symphony 88 (as had the Trio of Op. 18 No. 5), and which is worth exploring here.  E.T.A. Hoffmann noted the formal resemblance to Haydn in his 1813 review, and Czerny even strengthened the association by asserting that the major theme imitated a Croatian folksong."
Whatever its debt to Haydn, the music is unmistakably Beethoven's own.  He far surpassed his former teacher in achieving a more equitable balance among the three instruments than had previously been heard in this genre.  In many of Haydn's trios, so much of the emphasis is placed on the piano part that the strings often appear to be present merely as accompaniment.  In contrast, it is really only in the final movement of this work that Beethoven gives the piano free rein and allows it to come into its own as it brings the music to a triumphant conclusion.

After intermission, the afternoon ended with a performance of Dvořák's String Sextet in A major, Op. 48 (1878) for two violins, two violas and two cellos.  The work was written relatively early in Dvořák's career, only a few years after he had first come to prominence by winning the Austrian Prize (a competition that had been judged by both Eduard Hanslick and Brahms himself) and following the success of his Slavonic Dances in 1878.  The fact that Joseph Joachim was among the musicians who played the sextet at its Berlin premiere was one sign that the composer had at last arrived.  Another indication of Dvořák's increasing confidence in his abilities can be found in the emphasis he now placed on traditional Czech folk music, especially in the use of the Dumka in the second movement, in place of the German works that had hitherto served as his models.  This is reinforced by the reference to the Slavonic Dances in the third movement trio and again in the third variation in the fourth movement.

One of the advantages to attending a Jupiter Players performance is their ability to attract exceptionally talented guest artists.  Yesterday, there were two highly accomplished musicians at hand.  I've heard pianist Drew Petersen play with the ensemble on prior occasions and have always been impressed by his ability.  He was particularly effective here in his performance on the Beethoven trio, a work whose piano part was deliberately made difficult by the composer as a means to showcase his own prowess at the keyboard.  In the same manner, violinist Shmuel Ashkenasi contributed a great deal to the success of the allegretto in that same piece.  In the third movement, the violin plays a long lyrical melodic line that is untypical of Beethoven's music and that requires great finesse on the part of the violinist.  Mr. Ashkenasi handled it expertly.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Juilliard Vocal Recital: Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Santoliquido, Szymanowski and Argento

It was Juilliard's voice students' turn to perform at this past week's Wednesdays at One afternoon matinee at Alice Tully.  The one-hour recital featured songs by five composers - Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Francesco Santoliquido, Karol Szymanowski and Dominick Argento.

The program began with soprano Tiffany Townsend, accompanied by pianist Daniel Fung, performing three songs by Rachmaninoff.  The selected songs were chosen from different periods in the composer's early career but all were written while Rachmaninoff still resided in Russia.  The titles in English translation were "The Harvest of Sorrow" (Op. 4, 1893), "How Fair this Spot" (Op. 21, 1902) and "What Happiness" (Op. 34, 1912).  Rachmaninoff later borrowed the title of the first, "The Harvest of Sorrow," based on a quote from Tolstoy, for his memoir.

The Rachmaninoff was followed by Debussy's Trois Chansons de Bilitis - "La Flûte de Pan," "La Chevelure" and "Le tombeau des Naïades."  The songs were composed by Debussy in 1897, three years after their source, a collection of prose poems also entitled Les Chansons de Bilitis, had been published in Paris to great acclaim.  The poems, supposedly the lesbian musings of a Greek courtesan, were actually a literary hoax perpetrated by Debussy's close friend Pierre Louÿs.  Although Louÿs had written the verses himself, he was at first successful in fooling scholars into believing that they were authentic ancient Greek texts penned by a contemporary of Sappho.  Even after the deception had finally been uncovered, Louÿs's work was still critically praised for the quality of its verse.  In Debussy's hands, the lyrics were turned into haunting impressionist songs that echoed the melancholy of the fictitious narrator.  The singer here was mezzo-soprano Mary Elizabeth O'Neill, who also provided an English translation of the French lyrics; the accompanist was Raymond Wong.

Next were four songs by Santoliquido taken from I canti della sera.  The titles were "L'assiola canta," "Alba di luna sul bosco," "Tristezza crepuscolare" and "L'incontro."  These were performed by Hannah McDermott who also provided the translation of the Italian lyrics; she was accompanied by pianist William Kelley.  Santoliquido was a minor Italian composer, and there is not much information to be found on him.  I did locate a 2003 dissertation by one Abra K. Bush, though, that was quite helpful.  In it, the author points out that at least part of the reason for the composer's obscurity was to be found in his decision to relocate at an early point in his career to remote Tunis in North Africa.  Another factor was Santoliquido's embrace of Italian Fascism in the late 1930's.  The anti-Semitic articles he wrote in 1937 and 1938 in which he questioned the role of Jews in music were thoroughly odious and effectively ended his career and destroyed his reputation.

The program continued with Szymanowski's Four Songs to Words by Tadeusz Miciński, Op. 11 (1904-1905) entitled "Tak jestem smętny," "W zaczarowanym lesie," "Nademną leci w szafir morza" and "Rycz burzo!"  The singer was tenor Piotr Buszewski who also translated the lyrics from the Polish; the accompanist was once again Daniel Fung.  Tadeusz Miciński was an important Polish poet at the turn of the twentieth century and a major influence on the evolution of Szymanowski's thought.  Both were prominent members of the Young Poland movement which paralleled modernist trends in other European nations in its promotion of such "decadent" artistic styles as symbolism and impressionism.

The afternoon ended with three selections from Argento's Six Elizabethan Songs - "Dirge," "Spring" and "Hymn" - as sung by soprano Christine Price with William Kelley returning as accompanist.  Although I have to admit I'd never heard of Argento before attending this recital, I found he's actually a very well known American composer who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for another work, From the Diary of Virginia Woolf.  The Elizabethan Songs differ from many of his other song cycles in that they were adapted from traditional poems rather than from letters and diaries, mostly those of other composers. The work was first published in 1958, the same year Argento was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was later revised in 1962 for soprano and Baroque ensemble. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

75th Anniversary Exhibit at Galerie St. Etienne

Few institutions, public or private, have done so much to promote the cause of modern German art as has the Galerie St. Etienne.  Now located on West 57th Street, it was founded by Otto Kallir, the Austrian collector and dealer who was among the first to appreciate the achievements not only of Klimt and Schiele but also of Kokoschka and Kubin.  It was in fact Kallir who, while still resident in Vienna, published the first Schiele catalogue raisonné in 1930.  After having been forced by the Nazis to flee his native Austria in 1938 shortly after the Anschluss, Kallir ultimately arrived in New York City where he established the Galerie St. Etienne as a successor to Vienna's Neue Galerie which he had founded in 1923.  It was the New York gallery that was to give the American public its first view of the works of Klimt and Schiele and in so doing rewrite the accepted history of modernism.  The title of the current exhibit, Alternate Histories, is a reference to that process of revisionism.

The outstanding German artists who made the gallery's reputation are well represented at this exhibit.  Personally, after having seen just last week the Neue Galerie's fine exhibit of Egon Schiele's portraiture, I was most interested in viewing more examples of that artist's work.  There are ten on display, three of which are landscapes.  In viewing a piece such as Sawmill (1913), one cannot help but compare Schiele's style in painting to that of his mentor Klimt.  There is a sharp contrast.  None of the latter's delicate almost pointillist landscape style can be discerned in Schiele's work.  His is much more roughly done.  The brushstrokes are heavily applied and the mill itself has an almost primitive appearance.  Schiele's figurative works, on the other hand, show a much clearer debt to the erotic style of Klimt's late drawings though their sensuality is expressed in a much different manner.  This correspondence is most evident in Nude Girl with Arms Raised (1910) and Two Reclining Nudes (1918) but can also be seen in Reclining Woman (1918) and Reclining Woman with Green Stockings (1917).  The last is particularly striking for the direct eye contact the model makes with the viewer.  Her gaze is calculating and unashamed as she forcefully demands the onlooker's attention.  Another nude study, Crouching Woman (1918), is notable not only for the unusual overhead viewpoint taken by Schiele when drawing the model but also for her bright red hat, a splash of vivid color in an otherwise almost monochromatic work.  Finally, Elisabeth Lederer, Seated, with Hands Folded (1913), a portrait of the wife of an important patron, is one of the artist's most successful works in this genre, primarily for the care he has taken in the depiction of the sitter's eyes.

As for Klimt, there are three nudes shown, all of them drawings done in pencil, as well as the portrait in oil Woman with a Fur Collar (1897).   But by far the most interesting work is Moving Water (1898) which was a great success when shown at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris.  It is done in a symbolist style reminiscent of that employed by the artist in his now lost paintings for the controversial University of Vienna commission.  The single landscape on view, Island in the Attersee (1901), is one of Klimt's most intriguing in its representation of light on water and demonstrates the influence French Impressionism exerted upon his art during this period.

A highlight of the exhibit is the display of seven pen and ink drawings by Alfred Kubin.  I've always admired this artist's work and regretted that it is not more often shown.  At its best, it represents the very essence of the symbolist aesthetic.  These are dreamscapes that belong entirely to the unconscious and that are often filled with intimations of the macabre.  It's utterly fitting then that Kubin should have illustrated works by Poe and E.T.A. Hoffmann.  The two most powerful works at this exhibit are The Suicide (c. 1912) and Guilt (1900-1902) though Duet (1900) and The Last King (c. 1902) are also extremely evocative.

Also shown at this exhibit are several depictions of women by Kokoschka of which I thought the most interesting was Two Girls (c. 1921-1922).  And there are five powerful graphic works by Käthe Kollwitz, all of them representations of Death in one form or another.

In addition to those of the Austrian and German artists, there are a number of works by American artists on display.  These include Leonard Baskin, Sue Coe, Morris Hirshfield, and John Kane, not to mention Anna Mary Robertson ("Grandma") Moses whose talent Otto Kallir, always deeply interested in self-taught artists, was the first to recognize.

The exhibit continues through April 11, 2015.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Neue Galerie: Egon Schiele Portraits

Last week, as temperatures in New York City rose into the mid-60's for the first time this year, I took advantage of the springtime weather to walk across the Park and view the exhibit of Egon Schiele portraits now on view at the Neue Galerie on Fifth Avenue at 86th Street.

The show, which takes up the museum's entire third floor, is much larger than I had anticipated and provides an extensive overview of the artist's work in the portrait genre throughout the entire course of his abbreviated career.  The installation has been neatly divided into three separate galleries.  The first contains "Family and Academy" and "Fellow Artists"; the second, "Sitters and Patrons"; the third is shared by "Self Portraits," "Eros" and "Lovers."

The works in the "Academy" section represent some of the earliest available examples of the artist's precocious talent.  Though mostly done in the stiff traditional manner of late nineteenth century art school exercises, they nevertheless indicate that even at an early age Schiele possessed a flair for portraiture.  What's not noted often enough in discussions of the artist's work, but is readily apparent here, is that he had an uncanny ability to capture the whole personality of his sitters, most particularly the females, in his depiction of their eyes.  In general, the portraits of family members are disappointing in their lack of innovation.  The exception is the late (1916) portrait of Johann Harms, Schiele's future father-in-law.  This is a stunning expressionist work that captures in monumental fashion the full dignity of the man even in the relaxed, almost indifferent pose he has assumed.  No doubt the painter wished to make a good impression on the family into which he was marrying.  In contrast to the family likenesses, those Schiele completed of fellow artists, such as Karl Kakovsek, demand the viewer's attention.  Especially striking are the portraits of Webern and Schoenberg.  So great were the talents of Klimt and Schiele that one is sometimes tempted to forget that during these artists' times Vienna was also the musical capital of Europe.  In the same manner that members of the Secession were introducing modernism into the Austrian visual arts, so too was the the twelve-tone school incorporating it in its revolutionary musical compositions.  

In looking at the portraits of "Sitters and Patrons" shown in the second gallery what most forcefully strikes the viewer is Schiele's fidelity to his vision of the subject's character.  If he was at all worried what his clients would think of the manner in which he represented them, the artist certainly never let it show in his work.  The likenesses of Erich Lederer, Dr. Erwin von Graff and Eduard Kosmack, while they display sympathy and even affection for their subjects, are unconventional to say the least.  Here Schiele gives free rein to his expressionist impulses.  One persistent motif can be seen in the depiction of the subjects' hands with their elongated skeleton-like fingers.  An exception is the portrait of Chief Inspector Heinrich Benesch, the artist's loyal friend and devoted patron, which fully displays the high regard in which Schiele held the man and the warm sentiments he felt toward him.

In the third gallery, the "Lovers" section is a bit of letdown.  For some reason, Schiele seems always to maintain a distance from those with whom he was most intimate.  This is especially notable in the large full length portrait of his wife Edith standing stiff and unattractive in a striped dress.  One can only speculate what longing for bourgeois respectability led Schiele to abandon the effervescent Wally for such a plain woman.  Much more interesting are the self-portraits.  While artists inevitably reveal something of themselves in every work they create, nowhere can this be seen as openly as in the visions of their own likenesses.  Schiele's are particularly revealing.  He clearly sees himself as an actor taking on a number of widely differing roles, none more telling than that of a martyr in his 1914 drawing of himself as St. Sebastian pierced by the arrows of the unappreciative philistines all about him.   

Not surprisingly, the section which received the most attention from viewers at this exhibit was that of "Eros."  The Neue Galerie deserves credit for including these controversial works in the first place.  Some, such as Observed in a Dream (1911), are so graphic in their representation of the erotic as to be almost pornographic.  These works, though, are not so much about the sexual fantasies of a young man (Schiele was still in his early twenties when he created most of them) as they are about shocking the middle class sensibilities of the Viennese society to which the artist desperately wished to belong even while flouting the hypocrisy of its staid conventions.

Apart from the main exhibit, in a small room not much larger than a walk-in closet, are the works Schiele created during his short sojourn at Neulengbach Prison in 1912.  Although he was only there a total of seven days, the self-pity expressed in the handful of portraits of himself he completed there would suggest he was serving a much longer term.  Unlike his other self-portraits, these were done without the aid of a mirror and thus demonstrate how fancifully he envisioned his condition.  As it was, Schiele was very lucky to have escaped with so light a sentence.  One must wonder, though, what long term effects this escapade had upon his psyche.  How deeply did it cause him to question the unconventionality of the artist's lifestyle he had been living up to that point?

The exhibit continues through April 20, 2015.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Jupiter Symphony Players Perform Huber, Gade and Mendelssohn

The title given the program at Monday afternoon's recital by the Jupiter Symphony Players was In & Out of Leipzig and featured works by composers - Hans Huber, Niels Gade and Felix Mendelssohn - who were all connected in one way or another with the Leipzig Conservatory.  As usual, St. Stephen's Church on West 66th was filled almost to capacity for the occasion.

The program opened with Gade's String Quartet in E minor (1877).  Gade's association with Leipzig began when his first symphony was rejected in 1842 by the Royal Danish Orchestra which at the time employed Gade as a violinist.  Undeterred, Gade promptly sent the symphony to Mendelssohn who premiered it with the Gewendhaus in 1843 to great acclaim.  This mark of appreciation no doubt had a great deal to do with Gade's decision to relocate to Leipzig where he taught at the Conservatory and held the post of associate conductor with the Gewendhaus.  In the end, he succeeded Mendelssohn as chief conductor following the latter's death.  Gade might have remained happily in Leipzig had not Prussia gone to war with Denmark, an eventuality that forced the composer to return to his native country where he became director of the Copenhagen Musical Society.  The Quartet in E minor has no opus number and was never published during Gade's lifetime though he did revise it in 1889, the same year he composed his only published quartet, the D major, Op. 63.  It was the 1889 revision that was performed at this recital and it turned out to be quite a competent work.  I couldn't help but wonder why Gade would have gone to all the trouble of revising a work written twelve years earlier if he still had not intended to have it published.  Could it be that the composer felt the work did not meet the high standards set for him by his mentor Mendelssohn?

This was followed by Huber's Quintet in E-flat major, Op. 136 (1914) for clarinet, flute, horn, bassoon and piano.  Though Huber, a Swiss, is best remembered today for his five operas and eight symphonies, he also composed a great amount of chamber music.  The quintet was highly regarded by the Swiss critic Ernst Isler who wrote:
"The form and musical language are masterly... This work shows that the music of Huber never ages."
When today we think of nineteenth century chamber music we tend to focus on pieces for strings or for strings and piano.  Though Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert all wrote masterpieces for wind instruments that have become part of the standard repertoire, many pieces by less famous composers have fallen out of fashion and are not heard as often as they deserve.  When they are played, they can be striking simply by virtue of their unfamiliarity.

After intermission, the ensemble closed the program with one of Mendelssohn's most popular chamber works, the Piano Trio No. 2 in C minor, Op. 66 (1845).  In contrast to the two works performed in the first half, Mendelssohn's piece is one of the best known works in the chamber repertoire even if not quite so famous as his own Trio No. 1 in D minor written six years earlier.  In both works Mendelssohn was heavily influenced by Beethoven's trios, particularly the "Archduke," Op. 97, that was performed by this same ensemble at their last recital.  It was Beethoven - somewhat ironically, considering that his own chosen instrument was the piano - who more than any other composer created a parity among the three trio instruments rather than simply employing the strings as a form of continuo as had Haydn.  Mendelssohn's trios, however, differ sharply from Beethoven's in their extreme romanticism.  In the C minor, this can be heard most clearly in the second movement marked andante espressivo and in the final movement in which the composer quotes a sixteenth century chorale from the Genevan Psalter in order to create in the listener's mind a sense of the antique.  It's a brilliant stratagem that raises the music to a spiritual level that could not otherwise have been attained.  Mendelssohn dedicated the trio to Louis Spohr while modestly claiming that he had hesitated to do so because "Nothing seemed good enough to me, and in fact neither does this trio."