New York Philharmonic – Symphonic Sondheim

New York PhilharmonicMost performances of Sondheim music include the composer’s music and lyrics in their original form drawn from the musicals he has composed. Tuesday evening’s New York Philharmonic performances showcased Sondheim’s music in the form of various suites, no vocals, providing a showcase for both the orchestra and the composer.

Hosted by Nathan Lane, the evening featured music from Sunday in the Park with George, Pacific Overtures, Into the Woods, Sweeney Todd and two lesser known works – Stavisky and The Enclave.

For this performance I was able to get a seat closer than I usually sit to the orchestra. The difference in the sound quality was remarkable! Not only was the music beautiful, but the nuances in the orchestra were unlike anything that I’ve heard before. Is it the room? I have heard how bad Avery Fisher Hall is acoustically. Or is it just that I was sitting in a place in the auditorium that provided the best listening and viewing experience? As I ponder my next season subscription to the Philharmonic, I will have to consider upgrading my seats.

I also learned that there is a Symphonic Sondheim CD available on Amazon. Apparently, it is a collectors item, available only from private buyers. I’m looking forward to something new to listen to.

New York Philharmonic – Maazel and Bronfman

bronfmanAfter having read on Facebook that Lorin Maazel was thrilled to be returning to the New York Philharmonic for a week of concerts, I was excited to see this conductor who had served the Philharmonic as Music Director for some seven seasons. Maazel is impressive (no music), engaging and brings the best out in musicians who clearly appreciate his talent and collaboration.

This evening’s concert featured two large works of the Romantic repertoire – Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15 and Sibelius’ Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43. I have to admit, I’ve never been crazy about Brahms, and listening to the first piano concerto really didn’t change that despite the skill of Russian pianist Yefim Bronfman. The Sibelius was interesting with its bold final movement.

I did learn that Sibelius lived a rather long life – 92 years. Much of the latter part was not spent composing, but rather drinking. Although he lived well into the 20th century, his music is clearly grounded in the Romantic period.

Metropolitan Opera – Maria Stuarda

02MARIA-articleLarge-v2Donizetti’s bel canto opera, Maria Stuarda is a new addition to the Metropolitan Opera‘s repertoire this season. The new production stars Joyce Didonato, Elza van den Heever and Matthew Polenzani, all receiving the praise of the New York Times.

While I found the libretto to be rather tedious in the last half hour, I quite enjoy the singing style of Donizetti operas. I did learn that Maria Stuarda is like historical fiction (my term…maybe not correct) since Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart never really met, although the tension between the two was quite real and did end in the ultimate demise of Mary.

Here is the end of Act I – Figlia impura di Bolena

By Randy Ziegenfuss Posted in Opera

Utrecht String Quartet

Screen Shot 2013-01-20 at 8.17.37 PMThe Chamber Music Society of Bethlehem presented it’s fourth concert, featuring the Utrecht String Quartet from the Netherlands. While an enjoyable concert overall, I felt the group lacked the emotional energy of earlier concerts by other groups this season. I was wondering if it was the musicians having an off day or the program.

The first have consisted of two lesser-know sting quartet works:

  • Quartet No.1  in d minor by Verhulst
  • Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81 by Mendelssohn

The second half of the program was much more mainstream as string quartets go – Brahms’ Quartet No. 1 in c minor, Op. 51, No. 1

Here they are playing the Verhulst. I have to say, they were lacking in the energy and clarity of this recorded performance. I did learn about some lesser-known works, though. Always learning!

New York Philharmonic – Honeck and Thibaudet

honeckFeatured on this concert of the New York Philharmonic were works of Walter Braunfels, Edvard Grieg and Beethoven. Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra music director Manfred Honeck led the Philharmonic in Braunfel’s Suite from Fantastic Apparitions on a Theme by Berlioz, Op. 25, Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 15 with Jean-Yves Thibaudet as soloist, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92.

It was helpful to attend the pre-concert talk presented by Harvey Sachs, the Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic. I learned that Walter Braunfels was a German composer of the early 1900s who was “forgotten” around World War II because of his Jewish ancestry. The evening’s conductor, Manfred Honeck, along with other musicians, are committed to resurrecting the work of Braunfels in the 21st century. The Apparitions was a very Straussian sounding work with full orchestra. It was enjoyable, and I am definitely open to listening to more of his work.

The first half concluded with Grieg’s famous Piano Concerto. I was familiar with the first movement, but the second and third were not familiar to me. Thibaudet has a phenomenal technique and musical sense. He approaches his music with confidence and sensitivity. A pleasure to listen to and definitely worth seeking out recordings on iTunes.

The evening concluded with a rousing performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. Honeck is a fun conductor to watch. He doesn’t take himself too seriously and clearly enjoys conducting. Another satisfying program and performance from the New York Philharmonic.