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Clarke Bustard
The Virginia Classical Music Blog
1332 Entries

My review for the Richmond Times-Dispatch of the Horszowski Trio, performing Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Fauré in a Rennolds Chamber Concerts program at Virginia Commonwealth University:

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Bruce Stevens
March 14, University of Richmond

Bruce Stevens, who has been playing the Beckerath organ in the University of Richmond’s Cannon Memorial Chapel since his student days, and now, as organ instructor at the university, performs on the instrument regularly, played to its strengths and his own in a recital of German baroque and romantic repertory.

Stevens has spent years performing and recording the sonatas of Josef Rheinberger, the Liechtenstein-born composer whose organ works reflect the evolution of the classically inflected German romantic style as heard, largely in other media, from Mendelssohn to Brahms and (especially) Max Bruch.

In this recital, Stevens previewed the next installment of his recorded cycle, playing Rheinberger’s Sonata No. 13 in E flat major, Op. 161, dating from 1889. The piece shows a flowing, songful character through three movements, concluding somewhat more cerebrally, if not much less lyrically, in a fugue – rather like a serenade that ultimately develops second thoughts.

The organist’s fluent, orchestrally scaled reading of the Rheinberger made a persuasive case for the piece; but in the context of this program, it came across as mellowing-out music, following as it did one of the Johann Sebastian Bach’s most monumental and intense organ works, the Prelude and Fugue in C minor, BWV 546.

This is the kind of music the Beckerath was built to voice, and Stevens exploited that voice in a sharply focused reading whose power never lapsed into stridency.

He worked his way (and the audience’s) up to big Bach, opening the recital with works by two of the composers who most strongly influenced the young Bach – Dietrich Buxtehude’s Praeludium in F sharp minor and Georg Böhm’s Chorale Partita on “Herr Jesu Christ, dich zu und wend” (“Lord Jesus Christ, turn to us”) – followed by Bach’s Trio Sonata in G major, BWV 530.

All three sound decorously playful when heard alongside BWV 546 (as most any music would); Böhm’s partita projects the same tone and spirit as the colorful, quasi-rustic suites of Georg Philipp Telemann. Stevens’ performances were idiomatic and spirited.

* * *

Stephen Hamilton
March 11, St. James’s Episcopal Church

An entirely different spirit pervaded Stephen Hamilton’s performance on the Fisk organ of St. James’s Episcopal Church, devoted to “La Chemin de la Croix” (“The Stations of the Cross”)
by Marcel Dupré.

This massive cycle of 14 pieces, vividly illustrating the end of Jesus’ life, from condemnation through scourging and crucifixion to entombment, is cast as a musical “commentary” on Paul Claudel’s poem of the same name, and is customarily performed with readings of Claudel’s verses preceding each section.

In this recital, readers Harrison Clark, Hilary Streever and Julie Wade delivered the texts in French, with translations printed in a program book that also featured reproductions of expressionist paintings on the Stations of the Cross produced in the early 1960s by the British artist David O’Connell.

Hamilton, minister of music emeritus of New York’s Episcopal Church of the Holy Trinity and a long-active touring recitalist, makes a specialty of the Dupré; he has played the piece more than 40 times across the country.

This performance of the cycle emphasized tonal color and fervid expression over technical finesse, confronting the listener with jolting sound images and dramatic pronouncements. It was a singular, more-than-musical experience.
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Something very special in the second hour – a contemporary work that transcends new-music fashions and -isms and truly transports the listener: the Cello Concerto No. 2 (“Presence”) by the Latvian composer Peteris Vasks, played by Sol Gabetta, the cellist for whom it was written.

We’ll also remember the British composer Peter Maxwell Davies, who died this week, with his recording of one of his best-known works, “An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise.”

March 17
10 a.m.-1 p.m. EDT
1400-1700 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Mozart: “Cosí fan tutte” Overture
Concerto Köln/René Jacobs (Harmonia Mundi)

Beethoven: Symphony No. 8 in F major
Montreal Symphony Orchestra/Kent Nagano (Analekta)

Past Masters:
Ravel: “Valses nobles
et sentimentales”
Maurice Ravel, piano
(1913 piano roll)

Vaughan Williams:
“Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis”
New Queen’s Hall Orchestra/
Barry Wordsworth (Argo)

Peteris Vasks:
Cello Concerto No. 2 (“Presence”)
Sol Gabetta, cello
Amsterdam Sinfonietta/
Candida Thompson
(Sony Classical)

Barber: String Quartet,
Op. 11 – Adagio
Emerson String Quartet (Deutsche Grammophon)

J.S. Bach: “English Suite” No. 2 in A minor, BWV 807
Christophe Rousset, harpsichord (Naïve)

Rodrigo: “Concierto
de Aranjuez”
Miloš Karadaglic, guitar
London Philharmonic/
Yannick Nézet-Séguin (Deutsche Grammophon)

Peter Maxwell Davies:
“An Orkney Wedding,
with Sunrise”
George MacIlwham, bagpipes
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/
Peter Maxwell Davies (Unicorn-Kanchana)
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Peter Maxwell Davies, the British composer most widely known for “An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise” (the best-known orchestral work employing bagpipes) and the harrowing “Eight Songs for a Mad King,” has died at 81.

First attracting notice with radical works such as the opera “Taverner” in the 1960s and ’70s, Maxwell Davies went on to compose more mainstream pieces, including symphonies, concertos and string quartets, many reflecting the culture and atmosphere of his adopted home, the Orkney Islands north of Scotland.

He served as Master of the Queen’s Music, Britain’s laureate composer, from 2004 until 2014.

“[T]he characteristic Maxwell Davies ‘sound’ is . . . a tensile, highly dissonant combination of lines, etched in primary colours, with absolutely no harmonic or colouristic padding to ingratiate the listener. At its best, the sound embodies a keen-edged and tragic lucidity, a high seriousness as much ethical as musical,” Ivan Hewett writes in an obituary The Guardian:

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Keith Emerson, the British keyboard player who was one of the first performers to popularize electronic synthesizers, using them to turn classical works by Mussorgsky, Janácek, Bartók and Ginastera into progressive-rock epics with his trio Emerson, Lake and Palmer, has died at 71.

An obituary by The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff:

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George Martin, the courtly, classically trained record producer widely rated as instrumental in creating the sound of The Beatles, especially in the group’s “Revolver”-to-“Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” creative heyday, has died at 90.

Among Martin’s most signal contributions was the addition of a string quartet to Paul McCartney’s voice and guitar in “Yesterday,” an idea that McCartney initially resisted but now acknowledges was “so correct.”

Martin’s productions with The Beatles are “a compact body of work that adds up to less than 10 hours of music but that revolutionized the popular music world,” Allan Kozinn writes in an obituary for The New York Times:

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Spring break this week at the University of Richmond, so the show expands to four hours and airs at a special time.

The program samples the recorded legacy of Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the Austrian cellist, conductor and music scholar, who died on March 5. Harnoncourt
was one of the most consequential classical musicians of our time –
a pivotal figure in the evolution of historically informed performance practice over the past three generations, and
one of the first conductors to apply the insights and sensibilities of the early music movement to the performance of 19th-century music with modern orchestras.

We’ll hear Harnoncourt’s interpretations of baroque, classical and romantic repertory, including some of his pioneering recordings from the 1960s and ’70s with Concentus Musicus Wien, the period-instruments ensemble he founded and led for more than 60 years.

March 10
3-7 p.m. EST
2000-2400 UTC/GMT
WDCE, University of Richmond
90.1 FM

Haydn: “The Creation” –
“Achieved is the glorious work”
Dorothea Röschmann, soprano
Michael Schade, tenor
Christian Gerhaher, baritone
Arnold Schönberg Choir
Concentus Musicus Wien
(Deutsche Harmonia Mundi)

Piano Concerto No. 4
in G major
Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
Chamber Orchestra
of Europe (Teldec)

Johann Strauss II: “Die Fledermaus” Overture
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam (Teldec)

Past Masters:
Purcell: Fantasia No. 1
for three viols, Z. 732
Concentus Musicus Wien (Omega)
(recorded 1962)

Past Masters:
J.S. Bach: Suite No. 2
in D minor, BWV 1008
– Prelude
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, baroque cello
(Musical Heritage Society)
(recorded 1965)

Past Masters:
J.S. Bach: Cantata,
“Nun komm, der heiden Heiland,” BWV 62
Peter Jelosits, boy soprano
Paul Esswood, alto
Kurt Equiluz, tenor
Ruud Van der Meer, bass
Tölzer Knabenchor
Concentus Musicus Wien (Teldec)
(recorded 1975)

Mozart: Symphony No. 39 in E flat major
Chamber Orchestra
of Europe (Teldec)

“The Water Goblin”
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Amsterdam (Teldec)

Schumann: Violin Concerto in D minor
Gidon Kremer, violin
Chamber Orchestra
of Europe (Teldec)

Bruckner: Symphony No. 9 in D minor
Vienna Philharmonic (RCA Victor)
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Nikolaus Harnoncourt, the pioneering early music scholar-performer who in mid-career broadened his activities to conduct modern orchestras and opera companies in mainstream classical and romantic repertory, has died at 86.

Born to a family of Austrian aristocrats – his mother was a Habsburg descendant – Harnoncourt was a cellist who played in the orchestra of the Vienna State Opera and Vienna Symphony Orchestra in the 1950s and ’60s. He founded the period-instruments orchestra Concentus Musicus Wien in 1953, with his wife, Alice, serving as concertmaster, and continued leading the ensemble until his retirement last December.

Harnoncourt also had long-standing relationships with the Vienna Philharmonic, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam, Berlin Philharmonic and Chamber Orchestra of Europe.

His discography – some 500 recordings in all – ranged from the cantatas and large-scale choral works of Bach and operas of Monteverdi and Mozart to the symphonies of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Dvorák and Bruckner, the waltzes of the Strauss family, even to the Gershwins’ “Porgy and Bess” (a favorite of his youth).

In one of his scholarly works, “Music as Speech,” Harnoncourt emphasized the influence of spoken language on music. He asserted that the distinctive Viennese dialect of German deeply informed the tonal and rhythmic language of composers active in the city. This belief led to interpretive decisions that some critics considered eccentric.

“At the moment when language reaches a profundity surpassing that of any concrete message, it is immediately linked to song, because with the help of song anything over and above pure information can be conveyed more clearly,” Harnoncourt told me in a 2003 interview for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“The main thing for me is not the technical use of historical information – this just leads to a technical result – but the use of historical information [to understand] the content, the point of the music. The more I understand about the sounds and surroundings of historical instruments, the less I need the instruments themselves. The instruments are just a tool.”

An obituary by The New York Times’ James R. Oestreich:


An obituary by Barry Millington for The Guardian:


A 1985 essay by Joel Cohen, longtime director of the Boston Camerata, on the role that Harnoncourt played in the modern renaissance of early music, reprinted on Norman Lebrecht’s Slipped Disc blog:

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My review for the Richmond Times-Dispatch of the Richmond Symphony’s Masterworks program of Shostakovich, Beethoven and Mussorgsky, with pianist Orli Shaham and the Richmond Symphony Chorus:

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George Gershwin famously incorporated four taxi horns into “An American in Paris.” The horns, which the composer selected in Paris and brought home to New York for the premiere, are identified in the composer’s manuscript score as
“A,” “B,” “C” and “D.”

Are those pitch notations, or just Gershwin’s version of

The New York Times’
Michael Cooper explores this musicological issue, which is not as trivial as it may seem at first honk. Gershwin’s taxi horns, as heard in the Victor recording of “An American in Paris” made shortly after the first performance, are pitched A flat, B flat, high D and low A, producing tone colors and dissonances that are markedly different from the
A, B, C, D tuning heard in today’s performances:


Michael Strunsky, a nephew of Ira Gershwin, tells Cooper that the original taxi horns have been lost.
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