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The Concert
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
Classical Music Podcasts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
262 Episodes

Works for cello and piano performed by Narek Hakhnazaryan, cello and Noreen Polera, piano and solo piano performed by Charlie Albright.

  • Schumann: Fantasiestucke, Op. 73
  • Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9

Robert Schumann was really the quintessential Romantic composer—with a capital ‘R’. Not content to write music that was focused on formal brilliance or technical sophistication, he wanted his work to capture and convey emotion, to unify music with other art forms—especially the written word. In many ways, he wanted his music to tell a story.

But his stories were rarely simple. His favorite plots often involved fictional characters or archetypes, but most frequently two somewhat abstract characters of his own invention: Florestan and Eusebius. They were his alter egos, depictions of two different aspects of his own self: Florestan, the passionate, extroverted side, and Eusebius, the reflective, introverted side. We’ll hear from both today when we listed to Schumann’s opus 9, Carnaval for solo piano, in which he depicts not only Florestan and Eusebius but also a gaggle of literary and real-life personalities.

Before we dive into that somewhat unruly work, we’ll listen to something a bit more straightforward, also by Schumann: his Fantasiestucke, opus 73. You’ll hear this performance by cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Polera. The piece is lyrical and fairly brief, at about 10 minutes—a good foil for the carnival to follow.

5 months ago | |
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Works for piano performed by Paavali Jumppanen.

  • Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 12, Op. 26 "Funeral March"
  • Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a "Das Lebewohl"

On today’s podcast, we’ll hear Beethoven’s two most famous “farewells” for solo piano: his 12th and 26th piano sonatas, nicknamed the “funeral march” and “lebewohl” sonatas, respectively.

First is the earlier sonata, Beethoven’s 12th piano sonata, opus 26, often called the “Funeral March” sonata because of its dirge-like third movement. By placing the slow movement third, Beethoven flips the traditional sonata structure a bit on its head. Typically, the piano sonatas of Beethoven’s era began when an upbeat movement is placed third rather than second, and in this spot it provides a sort of springboard for the finale, which seems all the more dazzling because of its proximity to the funeral march.

Next we hear Beethoven’s 26th piano sonata, often called “Das Lebewohl,” or—in French—“Les Adieux.” There is some disagreement as to the authenticity of the subtitles given to the three movements of this sonata, which translate into English as “The Farewell,” “The Absence,” and “The Return.” The descriptive titles stuck, though, authentic or not, probably because they seem such a good fit for the music.

5 months ago | |
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Work for solo piano performed by Cecile Licad:

  • Liszt: Années de pèlerinage, Premiere année: Suisse, S. 160

I hope you’re ready for a journey.

This week, we’re packing up and accompanying Franz Liszt on a journey through Switzerland—in the form of the first part of his massive piano suite Années de pèlerinage or “Years of Pilgrimage.” Year One, “Switzerland,” will comprise the entirety of our podcast, running a bit more than 45 minutes in its entirety.

The work is an undeniable product of the Romantic era, a sort of musical “bildungsroman”—a coming-of-age journey—inspired by the composer’s own, real-life travels.

The movement titles are evocative: The Chapel of William Tell, At Lake Wallenstadt, Pastorale, Beside a Spring, Storm, Obermann’s Valley, Eclogue (a type of bucolic poem), Homesickness, and, finally, The Bells of Geneva.

Each movement begins a few lines of poetry. The passage that precedes the final movement perhaps sums it up best. Liszt writes, quoting the narrative poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: “I live not in myself,” “but I become / Portion of that around me.

We’ll hear this monumental work played by pianist Cecile Licad.

6 months ago | |
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Works for piano trio performed by the Claremont Trio.

This week, we’ll hear two crowning achievements by two great composers: piano trios by Mozart and Mendelssohn.

Mozart’s fourth piano trio, K. 542 was written about three years before the composer’s death, in the middle of an especially rough period. He managed to write, in that same year, his final three incredible symphonies and his last three piano trios; this trio was the first of the group.

However musically brilliant, this trio was an imperfect fit for the classical music market at the time, which desired chamber pieces that could be easily picked up and performed off-the-cuff by amateurs as after-dinner entertainment. This piece was not really intended for that sort of casual sight-reading.

Next, we’ll hear Mendelssohn’s second piano trio, in C minor. This trio, like Mozart’s, was written near the end of Mendelssohn’s life, one of his final chamber works. By turns dramatic and tuneful, the piece ends with a rousing finale that is always sure to bring audiences to their feet.

The double-bill we’re hearing today was recorded live at a September 2012 recital by the Claremont Trio.

6 months ago | |
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Works for solo cello and piano performed by Colin Carr, cello and Martina Filjak, piano.

  • Bach: Solo Cello Suite No. 1
  • Schumann: Carnival Scenes from Vienna, Op. 26

Today’s program focuses on two pieces that use small forms to create rich, vivid scenes: J.S. Bach’s first suite for solo cello, and Robert Schumann’s Carnival Scenes from Vienna.

We begin with cellist Colin Carr—a Gardner Museum regular—performing Bach’s first solo cello suite, the prelude of which is arguably the best-known solo string piece Bach ever wrote. While the pieces do make use, from time to time, of chordal harmonies (in the form of double- and triple-stops), much of the harmony is implied, suggested by the shape of the players’ solo lines.

Schumann’s scenes are a bit more literal: his piece, typically translated in English as “Carnival Scenes from Vienna,” was inspired by the sights and sounds of a trip to Vienna during Carnival season. Schumann’s scenes are more of an evocation of the festive spirit that pervaded Vienna during the season than a literal depiction of Carnival. We’ll hear these “scenes” as depicted by pianist Martina Filjak in a 2012 recital.

7 months ago | |
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Works for voice and piano and string quartet by New York Festival of Song: James Martin, baritone and Michael Barrett, piano, sopranos Dina Kuznetsova and Julia Bullock, and Michael Barrett, piano; and Borromeo String Quartet:

  • Dvorák: Bože! Bože! Písen novou, from Biblical Songs No. 5, Pri rekách babylonských, from Biblical Songs, No. 7, Zpívejte Hospodinu písen novou, from Biblical Songs, No. 10
  • Dvorák: A já ti uplynu, from Moravian Duets, Op. 32, No. 1
  • Dvorák: String Quartet no. 14 in A-flat Major, Op. 105

We’ve heard fairly regularly from Antonin Dvorák on the podcast, but today’s program offers a unique opportunity to hear works from both the beginning and the end of his fruitful career as a composer.

First, there will be excerpts featuring the baritone James Martin, all taken from Dvorák’s Biblical Songs. These were the composer’s final set of songs, though he would go on to write operas and choral music.

Situated right in the middle of the program we have the first of Dvorák’s Moravian Duets for female voices. These duets, written fairly early in the composer’s career, were Dvorák’s entry ticket into European musical society. The duets became Dvorák’s first international publication and truly launched his career in Europe.

The duet we’ll hear is sometimes translated as “The Fugitive.” It is a playful text, telling the tale of two lovers engaged in a fanciful pursuit in which they transform from fish to doves to stars, chasing each other through the sea, sky, and heavens. We’ll hear the duet performed by sopranos Dina Kuznetsova and Julia Bullock, who appeared at the museum with the New York Festival of Song.

Then we have Dvorák’s last string quartet, number 14 in A-flat Major, and by broad consensus one of his greatest. In this work, Dvorák was able to bring together his flair for lively, Bohemian dance music, which animates the quartet’s second movement, with his sophisticated craftsmanship and gift for melody. We’ll hear the piece as performed at the museum by the Borromeo String Quartet back in 2006.

7 months ago | |
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Works for cello and piano by Narek Hakhnazaryan, cello and Noreen Polera, piano:

  • Fauré: Elegie
  • Franck: Violin Sonata in A Major, transcribed for cello

On today’s podcast, we’ll take a turn for the poetic, with two selections for cello and piano by French composers.

We’ll begin with Fauré’s beloved Elegie, a bittersweet, rhapsodic work. The piece is just seven minutes long, but it makes a big impression with its dramatic arching form—building from a haunting beginning to a passionate climax that all but dissolves into a beguiling ending.

After that little teaser, we’ll hear another incredibly evocative work: Cesar Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major, performed in a transcription for cello by the same artists who played the first work: cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Polera. The Gold Medalist in the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition, Narek was mentored by the late, great Rostropovich, and recently received his Artist Diploma studying at Boston’s own New England Conservatory, just down the street from the Museum.

This version of the Franck violin sonata, arranged for cello, is just one of the many versions that have proliferated—including arrangements for flute, saxophone, tuba, and even choir—but it is the only one that the composer himself approved. Like the Elegie, this sonata is just full of poetic little moments of great delicacy and beauty.

8 months ago | |
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Works for string quartet by Musicians from Marlboro and Daedalus Quartet:

  • Haydn: Quartet in G Major, Op. 17, no. 5
  • Lerdahl: String Quartet No. 1

This week, we’ll hear a pair of string quartets—one from the father of the genre, and the other from a relative newcomer.

We begin with Papa Haydn, the author of nearly 70 string quartets, and—by broad consensus—the father of the form. Haydn’s quartets are as varied as they are numerous.

The selection we’ll hear today is Haydn’s 22nd string quartet, opus 17, number 5. The piece plays for 17 minutes, beginning cheerful and sunny, passing through a cloudy patch, and emerging—in the finale—in a blaze of joy. Performing it are players from Musicians from Marlboro.

Then we’ll move to 21st century quartet writer: composer Fred Lerdahl, performed by the Daedalus Quartet. The germ of the idea that fueled the three Lerdahl quartets is the chord heard at the very beginning of this first quartet. It flashes by in about a second, but within that chord lies the source of all the ideas that Lerdahl develops throughout the entire twenty-plus minute work, through a technique he calls “expanding variations.”

One hears flickers of the chord throughout the piece, but the form is less a literal “theme and variations” than an organic expansion; from that brief chord, the ensuing variations expand, each one and half times the length of the preceding one.

We start with the seed of the quartet genre itself: Haydn.

8 months ago | |
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Works for violin and piano by Benjamin Beilman, violin and Yekwon Sunwoo, piano and wind quintet by Stephen Taylor, oboe; David Shifrin, clarinet; Peter Kolkay, bassoon; William Purvis, horn; and Gilles Vonsattel, piano.

  • Mozart: Violin Sonata in E-flat Major
  • Mozart: Quintet in E-Flat Major

It’s a curious thing: today, when there is a piano part in chamber music, we tend to think of it as the “accompaniment” to whatever instrument or voice it is paired with. But that was certainly not the case in Mozart’s time, as we’ll hear in the two pieces on today’s podcast.

We start with Mozart’s 19th Sonata for piano and violin, in E-flat major. The sonata was published in 1778, when Mozart was 22, as part of a set of six sonatas.

These sonatas were actually rather progressive for their time. In the 18th century, it was the norm for the piano to dominate in settings for keyboard and other instruments—sonatas were for “piano and violin,” not the other way around. But in this set Mozart made an effort to treat the instruments more as equals, giving both players a crack at the main themes. Performing the piece, we’ll hear pianist Ye kwon Sunwoo and violinist Benjamin Beilman.

In the second work on the program—Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds—often feels like a miniature concerto, with the piano taking the starring role and the wind instruments providing backup. The recording features Gilles Vonsattel on piano with Stephen Taylor on oboe; David Shifrin on clarinet; Peter Kolkay on bassoon; and William Purvis on the French horn. Mozart himself premiered the piece in 1784 and called it, in an oft-quoted letter to his father Leopold, “the best thing I have written in my life.”

Mozart was not alone in finding it an especially fetching piece. About a dozen years later another quintet appeared on the scene in Vienna, scored for the same instruments, by a young admirer: Ludwig van Beethoven. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

9 months ago | |
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Songs for voice and keyboard by Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano, and Christopher Cano, piano:

  • De Falla: Siete Canciones populares Españolas: El Paño Moruno, Seguidilla Murciana Asturiana, Jota, Nana, Canción, Polo
  • Liszt: Pace non trovo, Der du von dem Himmel bist, Oh! Quand je dors

Today, we'll take a little trip around the world in song, hearing Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Españolas and three songs by Franz Liszt. All the recordings we'll hear today were taken from a recital last year by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and pianist Christopher Cano. (And to answer the question you're probably all asking yourselves right now, yes, the two are husband and wife.)

We'll begin with the de Falla set, a delightful and varied collection of Spanish folksongs that is quite possibly the single most popular piece of classical Spanish vocal repertoire out there. The songs vary, from lovelorn laments to intimate lullabies to spirited dances, but all share an incredibly sensitive and evocative approach to the piano accompaniment—creating a sense of place and mood, while putting the traditional tunes front and center.

Next, we'll hear a selection of three songs by Franz Liszt, the composer and virtuoso pianist. Liszt's songs are less familiar than his piano music, but he wrote a good many of them: about six-dozen in all. As a song composer, Liszt was a bit of a chameleon. His accompaniments were often dense and complex—likely owing to his own experience and skill as a pianist—and he experimented with many different types of poetry, as you'll hear from today's selections.

9 months ago | |
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