Monday, November 15, 2010

My weekend in classical music

I was back at Avery Fisher Hall on Saturday night for the New York Philharmonic's performance of Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah, featuring bass-baritone Gerald Finley in the title role.  The New York Times had given this week's concerts a middling review, saying that the performance lacked energy and that the chorus and soloists needed to enunciate more clearly to be heard over the orchestra.  Maybe Alan Gilbert tweaked the dynamics between Wednesday night and Saturday, because I didn't notice any of those problems.  It's a fast-moving oratorio; Mendelssohn doesn't waste time with long, repetitve arias, something that I appreciate after sitting through performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion and Handel's Messiah.  (I love both works, but 3+ hours of music with no action is hard on the ear and the brain.)  Elijah came in at just under 2 1/2 hours and it never lacked for drama.  Finley was captivating in the title role, and the scene where he challenged the chorus (playing the role of the priests of Baal in the scene) to implore their god to light a fire under a sacrifice, was especially exciting.

On Sunday evening I went to Barbes for a recital by violist Jennifer Stumm.  I heard about the recital when she mentioned it on Twitter last week.  I found her through her friend Susie Park, a violinist who performed with NYRO last February.  It's the power of Twitter!  Anyway, Jennifer played a challenging program of music by modern Hungarian and Polish composers before some more conventional works by Britten and Bach.  In particular, I enjoyed her first work, a sonata by Georgy Ligeti played entirely on the C string.  The piece had some impossibly high harmonics on that string.  Notes on that string that are close to the bridge can be difficult to reach because of the viola's size, but she had no trouble hitting any of them.  Jennifer's last piece was Bach's Cello Suite No. 5 in E flat, one of my favorites.  I liked her interpretations of the different movements, a few of which I've attempted to play (poorly) over the years.  Listening to her play made me want to run home and practice more.

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