Archive for January 2013

Those Are Some Small Worlds After All: Brian Ganz at the Music Center at Strathmore, January 19, 2013

January 23, 2013

Brian Ganz talks about Frederic Chopin’s music as well as he plays it, and that’s saying something. On Saturday night, in the third concert in his National Philharmonic-sponsored effort to present all of Chopin’s piano music, he once again showed how to use a microphone to reach out to a full Music Center at Strathmore and connect with every member of the audience, by telling stories, offering theories, and getting into the details of how to play this music. Classical concerts often sound like a wash of abstraction, where nothing feels particularly different than anything else; Ganz gave the audience some guidance on how to find its way through the program.

Brian Ganz, looking as sincere as his playing.

Brian Ganz, looking as sincere as his playing.

He also gave the audience playing worth listening to. Ganz titled this recital “Small Worlds,” reflecting its focus on Chopin’s miniatures, and his careful attention to the shifts and shades of this music shone in the program-opening Op. 7 set of five mazurkas. When a few bars of content music suddenly yielded to darker currents, Ganz managed the transition deftly, keeping both moods in the same world. When the music sang more straightforwardly, Ganz calibrated his articulation, saving his most sparkle for the twittering finale, where, as Ganz told us, Chopin indicates the dance music spins on indefinitely. (He presented three practical solutions pianists have proposed for this problem, including his own – a generous touch.)

Presenting a couple of Chopin’s ballades for program balance, Ganz demonstrated his command of these larger-form works as well; harmonic incidents evolved into longer passages, and, just as he did in the miniatures, Ganz took pauses and hesitated or rushed forward in seemingly spontaneous ways that also contributed to the overall narrative feeling. Ganz told a story (also recounted in Anne Midgette’s excellent preview of this concert) about his experience listening to a recording of the first ballade, in G minor, as a young man and wondering “How can this be so beautiful that it hurts?” His rendition ran the gamut, with the final chords returning to G minor and ringing out from the bottom of the keyboard like cannon fire, shattering the tenuous peace that had obtained earlier. This inspired a standing O from the audience – common enough at the end of a program, or even at intermission, but less so when there’s still music to be played, and a testament to both Ganz’s discussion and his performance.

After intermission came the Op. 28 Preludes, the summa of Chopin’s miniature art, presented as one continuous string of 24 pieces, with no pauses for applause. Before sitting to play, Ganz spoke about the challenges and possibilities concision presented to Chopin – editing his fertile imagination to gestures and thoughts that provide a glimpse of a world, leaving the mind to contemplate what’s left unsaid. Ganz’s playing captured that sense of wonder: I got images of a limpid brook rippling, but faintly disturbed; a storm sweeping by at a distance; a sunny field; a cool marble temple, quiet and implacable. But Chopin’s careful counterbalancing of the preludes, with contrasts propelling the sequence, gave an extra dimension; Ganz wove the overall tapestry of Op. 28 with just as much attention to the overall sweep of the music as he did the individual preludes. A world made of small worlds can have a large impact indeed, and it did on Saturday night. I’m already saving February 22, 2014, for the next installment.

Other People’s Perspectives: Grace Jean.

I TOTALLY SAW BRIAN GANZ AT THE SILVER DINER AFTER THIS CONCERT

Well, not really; my fiancée had to point him out to me. I cannot recognize anyone. But in case you are wondering where to get your paparazzi photos after next year’s concert, I’d try Silver Diner. Rockville Pike baby! How many high-school nights I idled away at that business’ previous location on Mid-Pike Plaza. Of course, now their menu is so high-falutin’ that high-school me could never have afforded to eat there, but such is the ever-downward march of gustatory luxury. What were we talking about again?

I don’t know how many classical concerts I’m going to get to review over the upcoming months, given my impending nuptials and various job-related things. But I’m glad I got to go to this one.

The Underserved Viola: Victoria Chiang, Nurit Bar-Josef, and the National Philharmonic at the Music Center at Strathmore, January 5, 2013

January 7, 2013

On a good day, the National Philharmonic, Montgomery County’s most aspirationally named symphony orchestra, can sound worthy of the National Symphony-esque prices it charges for its concerts in the Music Center at Strathmore. On a bad day, the Nat Phil sounds like it did on Saturday, in its “Voice of the Viola” concert.

Under Music Director Piotr Gajewski, the Philharmonians sounded best in Felix Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No. 9 (the “Swiss,” although it does not sound particularly neutral or watch-like). This work dates from the composer’s  prodigy years, and, like many young people throughout history, the teenager overestimated the interest of certain elements of his material, particularly in the far-too-lengthy finale. Yet mostly this is a tune machine that never stops producing, and Mendelssohn treats those tunes inventively to boot. Here the National Philharmonic’s strings had a glossy, rich tone and showed a clear enthusiasm for the material, though the performance overall lacked the zippy quality that comes with more precise ensemble.

Victoria Chiang, viola master. From her website. 2012 by Rachel Boer Photography.

Victoria Chiang, viola master. From her website. 2012 by Rachel Boer Photography.

The Mendelssohn showed its devotion to the viola mainly through having two viola desks. (Much credit to Gajewski for explaining the furniture rearranging before it happened so the audience would know why everything sounded different.) Victoria Chiang, coordinator of the viola department at the Peabody School, served as the soloist in two concerti that bookended the Mendelssohn. She played the concert opener, Georg Philip Telemann’s Concerto in G major (famous from classical drive-time morning radio), with elan and imagination. The orchestra behind her sounded plodding, lacking her sharp attack and burdened by pedestrian continuo work.

Nurit Bar-Josef, concertmaster of the National Symphony and a last-minute replacement for the ailing violinist Stefan Jackiw, joined Chiang for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante. Throughout, Bar-Josef and Chiang balanced their intertwining lines, playing with sweet tone and Classical grace; among many high points, their closing passage in the second movement was a particular treat, as it could hardly fail to be in such sensitive hands. Meanwhile, the orchestra bleated out most of what it was doing. The contrast was stark, and the result was unsatisfying.


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