Prokofiev, String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 92 (on Kabardinian themes)

April 9th, 2017

Sergei Prokofiev, 1891-1953

String Quartet No. 2 in F major, Op. 92 (on Kabardinian themes), 1941

Sergei ProkofievSergei Prokofiev came of age in the 20th century and has remained both a popular and critical favorite of the period especially as a Russian / Soviet composer along with the elder Stravinsky and the younger Shostakovich. A child prodigy, he entered the St. Petersburg Conservatory at the age of 13 and soon caused a sensation with his intensely percussive piano playing with a startlingly modern rhythmic vitality that would characterize much of his mature work. Prokofiev launched a career as concert pianist, composer and conductor and, shortly after the revolution, left Russia for several years living the United States and then Paris where a combination of misfortunes including lukewarm reception and a worldwide economic depression left Prokofiev feeling unfulfilled and unappreciated. He returned to the Soviet Union in 1936 where, despite some newfound success, he would eventually experience WWII and then, just following the war, the devastating state censure accusing him (along with several prominent composers) of degenerate formalism. Read the rest of this entry »

Jon Nakamatsu, Solo Recital in Carmel

April 8th, 2017

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Rondo in D Major, K. 485 (1786)
Fantasy in D Minor, K. 397 / 385g (1782)

Jon NakamatsuMr. Nakamatsu’s recital begins with two works by Mozart who was among the first great composers to write explicitly for the piano vs. the harpsichord. In addition to his masterful concertante and chamber works featuring the “new fangled” instrument, Mozart composed 17 piano sonatas and numerous single-movement pieces: variation sets, rondos and fantasies, etc. The pair of works presented here might well be titled “Mozart light and dark”, so effective is their contrast in exploring Mozart’s emotional range.

The Rondo in D Major, K. 485 is bright, sparkling and utterly classical sporting a simple, main theme with a rhythmic lilt due to what is often called a “Scottish snap.” The formal structure of the piece is actually a crystal clear sonata form (with multiple themes, key change, development and recap), but the lively, motto theme is deployed in such a way that it recurs throughout the structure like the main refrain of a rondo. Like a witty game, the merry rondo theme plays hide and seek, changing keys, moving from the right to the left hand, making digressions, taking on disguises and generally confounding expectations. Read the rest of this entry »

Shostakovich, String Quartet No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 117

April 1st, 2017

Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)

String Quartet No. 9 in E-flat major, Op. 117, (1964)

Dmitri ShostakovichSince the latter part of the 20th century following his death in 1975, the string quartet cycle of Dmitri Shostakovich has come to be regarded as extraordinarily significant. While his fifteen symphonies command attention and demonstrate his creative and prodigious career, they were large spectacles staged for grand public expression subject to broad scrutiny by a totalitarian regime, subject, as well, to the changing complex public image Shostakovich chose, or was forced, to display. The string quartets are different. They are private, personal, intimate and true. They embody music Shostakovich wrote for colleagues, friends, family and himself. And it is particularly this dichotomous context that makes the fifteen string quartets so compelling. Within the music, one finds startling and original music of profound, visceral affect, ample creative genius, but also something of the actual life of Shostakovich: a personal diary of poignant reactions, reflections and dark visions. As the (incomplete) cycle spans some thirty-six years of his life, from the age of thirty-two to less than a year before his death, one can follow the quartets and thereby follow Shostakovich, an immensely creative and sensitive Soviet citizen weathering the myriad personal and global devastations of the 20th century. Read the rest of this entry »

Schubert, String Quintet in C Major, Op. 163, D. 956

March 26th, 2017

Franz Schubert, 1797-1828

String Quintet in C Major, Op. 163, D. 956, 1828

Franz SchubertThe British composer Benjamin Britten once commented that the few years encompassing Beethoven’s late string quartets and Schubert’s final works were likely the most fruitful in the entire history of Western music. For chamber music lovers, fours years in Vienna between 1824-1828 proved to be a watershed yielding what many would unequivocally regard as the finest chamber music ever, unsurpassed to this day. Schubert’s “last year” was, alone, a miracle, perhaps especially catalyzed by Beethoven’s death and Schubert’s own serious illness, his clear impending fatality. Desperate to fill the void and make his own lasting mark in the realm of “serious” music, Schubert labored to produce two towering piano trios, three massive piano sonatas, his last song cycle Winterriese, and, finally, the exquisite string quintet. Only 31 years old, Schubert left a legacy that would take decades for the world to unearth and appreciate. An anonymous writer found on the International Music Score Library Project (IMSLP) offers this dramatic picture: Read the rest of this entry »

Mozart, String Quartet in D Major, K. 499, “Hoffmeister”

March 26th, 2017

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, 1756-1791

String Quartet in D Major, K. 499, “Hoffmeister”, 1786

Franz Anton HoffmeisterThough Haydn got a good head start on the game, Mozart’s string quartets seem to eventually interleave with Haydn’s later works as both Viennese composers evolved the classical string quartet together in a kind of interactive dialog. Historical reception has helped us by winnowing a bit of the wheat from the chaff to focus on the highlights. In Mozart’s case, we tend to ignore the dozen or so early quartets focusing on the “Famous Ten” in a sequence beginning after Mozart’s move to Vienna and his discovery of both Bach and Haydn’s latest creations. First, there are Mozart’s magnificent and meaty six quartets dedicated to Haydn, and, last, some years later, the three so-called “Prussian” quartets of a special “late”, delicate and refined character. And in between, a singleton, a lone “one-off”, bearing the nickname “Hoffmeister.”
Read the rest of this entry »

Zemlinsky, String Quartet No. 1 in A Major, Op. 4

March 12th, 2017

Alexander Zemlinsky (1871-1942)

String Quartet No. 1 in A Major, Op. 4, (1896)

Alexander ZemlinskyAlthough for many music lovers he is apt to be obscure, Alexander Zemlinsky was an important musical figure in the rich tumult of fin de siècle Vienna during the rise of the so-called “Second Viennese School.” He was born in Vienna in 1871, three years before Arnold Schoenberg with whom his life would intertwine in a variety of ways. Zemlinsky revealed his musical talents early, began formal training at the Vienna Conservatory at the age of 13 and eventually blossomed into a first-rate composer, conductor and teacher. As a conductor, he was a respected interpreter of the emerging works of Mahler and Schoenberg drawing admiration from Kurt Weill and Stravinsky. As a young composer, Zemlinsky garnered praise from the elderly Brahms who recommended Zemlinsky’s music to his publisher Simrock starting with the worthy Clarinet Trio, Op. 3, of 1896. Read the rest of this entry »

March 1st, 2017

Jacques Ibert (1890-1962)

Deux Interludes for Harp, Clarinet, and Cello, (1946)

Jacques IbertThis program of intimate stories, poems and otherworldly evocations richly continues with a set of two magical interludes by French composer Jacques Ibert. Around fifteen years younger than Ravel, Ibert spent his life in Paris where he composed a significant body of music for opera, ballet, orchestra, film, incidental and chamber music. While his style is wide ranging, particularly in the Deux Interludes, Ibert displays an utterly French sensibility with clarity, poise, color and vivid impression.

The two interludes come from Ibert’s incidental music for Suzanne Lilar’s play Le Burlador (The Seducer), apparently a feminist take on the iconic Don Juan story. The interludes comprise an eloquent music pair using a time honored slow-fast pattern and a stylistic projection of first France then Spain, a perfect representative of the Franco-Iberian mélange found throughout the music of Massenet, Debussy, Ravel, et. al. Read the rest of this entry »

Schumann, Three Romances, Op. 94

March 1st, 2017

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)

Three Romances, Op. 94, (1849) arrangement for Harp and Clarinet

Robert SchumannSchumann was the quintessential romantic, not in the simple notion of a lover, but in the deeper and broader notion of a visionary storyteller where character, setting, mood and developmental drama create seemingly living fairytales out of sound. Growing up with a father who was a writer and the owner of bookstore, Schumann absorbed literature as much as music and this would deeply influence his teeming imagination and his prodigious musical output. While Schumann would eventually conquer the large formal abstractions of the symphony and the string quartet among others, he was perhaps most original with vivid miniatures: art songs, solo piano works and evocative delights for small ensemble that gave birth to the Romantic “character piece.”

Like so many of Schumann’s vivid character pieces, The Three Romances, Op. 94 of 1849 have charmed listeners with sonic fairytales whose musical essence transcend even their specific instrumentation. Originally written for violin or oboe and piano, they will undoubtedly work their magic in a fresh arrangement for harp and clarinet. Indeed, charmed with the unique sparkle, texture and intimate poetic sense of the harp, these Romances are apt to become particularly incandescent. The clarinet is likely the most flexibly expressive and “human” of any partner. The two outer Romances begin in a somber, minor key but pursue rich, wordless narratives in and out of a variety of moods. The center Romance is the inverse: starting in the light but shifting midway into a much darker outburst of passion. As with all of Schumann’s “songs”, there is not a strong separation between voice and accompaniment: while the clarinet sustains the primary melodic role, the harp weaves in and out of the texture significantly interacting as a nearly equal partner.

Strauss, Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 13

March 1st, 2017

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)

Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 13, (1883-1884)

Richard StraussWhen surveying the music of such important Romantic composers as Wagner, Liszt, Mahler and Strauss, one notices a conspicuous absence of chamber music. The “New German School” instigated by Wagner and Liszt and eventually embraced by Hans von Bülow and a mature Strauss as music of the future sought “new bottles for new wine” in the form of all-encompassing musical drama or the symphonic tone poem. It was largely left to “conservatives” like Brahms to maintain the classical traditions represented by the four-movement symphony and chamber music in the form of string and piano quartets. Wagner composed no chamber music, Liszt a handful of minor works, and Mahler but one movement for piano quartet. But a young Richard Strauss proved to be an exception. Though his mature output is dominated by his masterful, celebrated tone poems as well as cutting-edge operas, Strauss’s first blush as an emerging composer sprang precisely from his discovery of Brahms. In 1883 at the age of 19, Strauss moved to Berlin and came to know the symphonies and chamber music of Brahms who was at his peak and just entering his final decade as a commanding composer. Read the rest of this entry »

Haydn, String Quartet D Major, Op. 1, No. 3

February 25th, 2017

Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)

String Quartet D Major, Op. 1, No. 3, (c. 1757-1762)

Joseph Haydn Haydn is justly regarded as the mighty pioneer of the string quartet for, though he may not have been the very first, he proved the exemplar, firmly establishing the genre with a stunning collection of 68 works, nearly half of which are regarded as masterworks. Concert programs rarely feature any of his quartets before Op. 20 (1772) and Haydn himself, when compiling his official catalog late in life, declared his Op. 9 (1769) to be his first group of “real” quartets. But Haydn began his journey with a series of pieces genuinely scored for string quartet and published in collections under various early titles such as cassation, divertimento and serenade as Op. 1 and Op. 2. Although the precise dates are unknown, scholars believe that Haydn composed these initial 10 quartets between 1757 and 1762, suggesting that the string quartet tradition is now at least 250 years old. Tonight, you will hear not only a very early Haydn string quartet but perhaps, according to some scholars, his very first: the String Quartet in D Major, Op. 1, No. 3. Read the rest of this entry »