It is not often that I see two back-to-back performances that present vibrant musical performances that are so cogently backed up by a superior erudition that did not in any way inhibit the emotional needs of the various styles represented. Last week on Friday and Saturday two sold-out houses enjoyed just two such performances here in Burlington. The Lane Series
On Friday evening, November 30, The Rose Ensemble appeared in UVMs Redstone Recital Hall. The 12 singers (several played instruments as well) plus one instrumentalist who played the vielle (a member of the violin family that replaces the traditional f- shaped cuts on the violin with crescent-shaped cuts, and is somewhat elongated in shape). One of the pleasures of The Lane Series is certainly the pre-concert lecture, and over the years I've heard varied lectures by quite varied performers of the varied opinions -- sometimes both on the same team, which leads one to realize that harmony sometimes arises out of strong internal disagreement, just as a flint and steel when stuck together just the right way can ignite a flame. Last Friday there was no disagreement whatsoever. In fact Jordan Sramek, Founder and Artistic Director (tenor) -- as per the notes -- gave a hugely satisfactory discourse on why and how the music for this performance was chosen. For openers, he went to the dusty archives of Czechoslovakia and Hungary and Poland to find chants, Renaissance polyphony, and interesting other musics from the 11th to the 17th centuries, as well as commissioning a work by a 20th-century composer. Some intelligent questions from audience members also added information. The performance itself was quite other -- although it rested on this mountain of erudition, and although it was performed often from editions based on digital photographs taken personally by Sramek of the original folios. The tone of the singers was clarity personified, and the intonation of the singers was almost eerily accurate, even in the highest pitches. The result and sound was as though you were listening to an instrument that had a single player, instead of 12 vocalists, each responsible for one line. Even the chants had a unanimity of sound that only comes through hard work and incredible listening skills. The performance was also full-blooded within the stylistic limitations of the music and the periods in which it was written. For example, an anonymous Polish work from about 1588, an ode to Poland, was sung by bass Mark Dietrich, and as it moved on strophe by strophe it reminded me of Varlaam's aria about the fall of Kazan in the opera Boris Goudunov. The polyphonic works reflected the multichoir works of the Gabrieli's in Venice; the chanting, while clearly not based on the rubrics from Solesmes, had their own grace and flow. Above all, the performances were so musical, so very very delightful to hear, that I hope they will return to us soon -- thus fulfilling their expressed hope as well as that of the audience. The Vermont Symphony Orchestra
The custom of pre-concert talks is a good use of time -- especially when people such as pianist Vanessa Perez and conductor Anthony Princiotti are being interviewed. Both of them gave singular information in response to Walter Parker's particularly cogent questions on Saturday night, December 1, at the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. The most interesting information the evening came from Princiotti, from both his comments on stage and his highly organized and cogent program notes. What made the concert particularly spectacular was the degree to which the performance matched Princiotti's understanding of the Symphony No.4 in f minor, Op. 36. The program opened with Weber's Overture to Oberon, which was given a reading that moved it well above the ordinary, with particularly pellucid passages in the quiet sections. When the music demanded it, orchestra was able to produce very strong sounds that did not leak over into screaming. As I said in my review of the orchestra's Made in Vermont Tour, which Princiotti conducted, he's able to take a warhorse of the repertoire and turn it into a Triple Crown winner. The orchestra captured all the sturm und drang of the particular overture and the musical period itself ... and as I whispered to my guest, a fitting precursor for the Tchaikovsky. Perez is quite young, and the performance she gave of the Bartok Piano Concerto No. 3 may have been her first public performance of that work, but her playing was so mature and so broadly conceptualized that one would not have suspected it to be her first public playing of this Bartok concerto, even having heard her state that it was precisely that. Whatever was demanded of her -- from some very spiky melodic lines, to highly rhythmical passages, to moments of lyricism (I find Bartok's melodies quite lyrical, thinking as I always do of his first violin concerto) -- Perez provided. She worked tightly in conjunction with Princiotti. Princiotti mentioned before the concert that this was Bartok's last work, and that some of the seams between sections of movements were quite evident, unlike works over which he was able to spend more time. Although they are audible, the performance both by Perez and by the orchestra under Princiotti reduced them almost to seamlessness. Theirs was a bold and lyrical performance that brought the audience to its feet (well, some of them). After intermission we had the Tchaikovsky in the performance that ranks high on anyone's list of cogent performances of that work. Not only did Princiotti realize the score masterfully in sound, he also displayed the architecture of the symphony and the reappearance of themes from the first movement in other movements with clarity and brilliance. The music was 100% Tchaikovskian, and, except for an insecure note here and there (once in the oboe in the first movement and the trumpets in the last) it was an impeccable performance. The performance enabled the listeners to hear the sneering and tittering behind fans in the first waltz theme of the first movement, which reappears later either in harmonic structure or in thematic material several times during the rest of the symphony; it enabled the listeners to understand the recurrence of the opening theme of the first movement when it interrupts the forward motion of the fourth movement; the third movement even becomes comprehensible within the totality of the work as more than an exercise in orchestral color. In short, it was a grand, authentic and highly emotional reading of another warhorse. Speaking purely for myself, it will be an acoustical touchstone for a long time to come. Symphony-goers in Vermont of course realize the value of having Jaime Laredo as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor. I hope this concert and previous concerts will make them realize the true jewel that they also have in Princiotti. He has scored heavily with me on numerous occasions, and his performances stand out like beacons in my musical memories. Last night he added one entire evening of superb musical memories to cherish. Long may he be on the VSO podium! Briefly noted
Just remember there are a multitude of concerts coming up in the next two weeks, as well as innumerable theatrical performances. Make certain that you are aware of all of them, from Bella Voce this week to the Oriana singers next week, from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever to The Toys Take Over Christmas... and yes the note: if any of your musical or theatrical organizations has good stocking stuff is available over and above gift certificates for tickets for specific events or in general, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can get into my Holiday-suggestions-in-the-arts list.