|You Heard ...|
Reviews of Recent Performances
edited by Martin Bird
Last Updated : 26 February 2005
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Cello Concerto, Karlsruhe, 1, 2 February
Symphony 1, Karlsruhe, 26-28 September
Enigma, New York, 6 February
Introduction and Allegro, Oakland, 24 March
Introduction and Allegro, Karlsruhe, 31 January
Robert Cohen (cello)
Badische Staatskapelle Karlsruhe
Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, Germany,
1st and 2nd February, 2004
“Elgar, ... is one of the most gifted among the young musicians in England” , so one can
read in Spemanns goldenes Buch der Musik ( Spemann´s Golden Book of Musik, published in
Just fifty years later, in the 1954 edition of „Das grosse Konzerthandbuch„ (The Great
Concert Manual) Otto Schumann dared to state “... his Cello Concerto either could enrich
the German concert programs”.
Fifty years again and in Karlsruhe an enthusiastic audience proved these forecasts to be
Shall I carry coals to Newcastle by introducing Robert Cohen, a man who had his first
appearance in Royal Festival Hall London with the age of twelve and recorded the concerto
already twenty years ago! I prefer to leave it open what made the audience applaud after
the second movement: the skill of the soloist, or the fact, never having heard this very
concert before to estimate the end of the allegro part as the end of Op 85. This fact only
would have proved Mr. Cohen to be a very good cello player; but making the whole audience
stopping to breath (and even to cough) whilst listening to the autumnal song of the adagio
showed him to be an artist!
The conductor of this concert, Lior Shambadal, Tel Aviv born chief conductor of the
Berliner Symphoniker, tempted the Badische Staatskapelle Karlsruhe to become the excellent
accompanying-instrument Mr. Cohen needed.
Long lasting applause, not only from the audience, but also from the members of the
The concert, containing also music from Schumann (Overture to "Manfred"), Mussorgski
(Prelude to Khovanschtschina) and Janacek’s “Taras Bulba” was also well received in the
Badische Neueste Nachrichten, Karlsruhes only local newspaper, where Herr Ulrich Hartmann
called it a solitaire among the cello-literature.
Maybe a solitaire among the late romantic symphonies will become performed during the
next or next but one concert season of the Badische Staatskapelle: from (mostly) reliable
sources I heard it will be Sir Edward’s First Symphony.
Symphony No. 1|
Badische Staatskapelle Karlsruhe
Badisches Staatstheater Karlsruhe, Germany,
26th, 27th and 28th September, 2004
"... lasting almost one hour..." I heard the gentleman on my left quoting from the program,
... "that’s quite a long time..."
Quite a long time - certainly not with the Badische Staatskapelle under the baton of
Generalmusikdirektor Anthony Bramall. Contrast was the motto of GMD Bramall`s interpretation,
contrast not only by using quite different tempi but also by pointing out the various moods of
Just tempted by the andante opening to lean back and contemplate about a masterwork of the
nineteenth century, a grim allegro taught one that the times are changing and the twentieth
had already begun. No time to take breath after the first movement for a ferocious allegro
molto demanded all attention of the stunned audience. The Adagio: an invitation to have a
little nap - definitely not but an elevation on an isle of tranquillity, assembling and
contemplation. Restless the finale but never overpaced.
Once more the BST proved that it is quite more than a mere opera-house orchestra and
thanks to the watchfulness of GMD Bramall one could enjoy the transparency of the score
throughout the whole symphony.
Enthusiastic applause after each of the three performances which also contained the
second piano concerto of Brahms.
And the gentleman on the left - let him have the last word: "Already over- what a pity"!
American Symphony Orchestra
Miller Theatre, Columbia University, New York,
6th February, 2005
Most concerts are one-way streets. The conductor conducts, the musicians
play and the audience listens politely. There's applause, maybe a 'bravo' or
two, and then, except for the lucky few who find their way backstage, that's
the end of it.
But we've all had the urge to ask a musician about a work we've just heard
or about the way it was played. Now Leon Botstein is giving us the chance to
ask those questions. As music director of the American Symphony Orchestra,
he is presenting 'Classics Declassified', which is billed as 'an ongoing
educational series for adult listeners'. The events take place in Miller
Theatre at Columbia University in New York.
Each performance begins with a talk by Maestro Botstein about a major
musical work, with musical examples played by the orchestra; then the ASM
performs the complete work; and finally the conductor invites questions, for
himself or for any member of the orchestra.
On February 6, Botstein presented the 'Enigma' Variations, the work that
launched Elgar's international reputation. The music's origins were all but
inadvertent. As Elgar improvised at the piano after an exhausting day of
teaching, his wife Alice admired one of his melodies, and he quickly came up
with the idea of playing the theme as several of their friends might play
Botstein then introduced the audience to two very different kinds of
contemporary music making: the abstract music of Brahms, exemplified by
Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and the story-telling style of Richard
Strauss, represented 'Don Juan'. After playing excerpts from both, Botstein
suggested that Elgar's Variations combined the purely musical challenges of
a set of variations with the narrative appeal of one of Strauss's tone
The conductor then presented sample sections from the Variations, showing
how the theme reappeared in each one, sometimes clearly recognisable,
sometimes half-hidden in the texture of the music.
After a brief intermission, the maestro led the orchestra in a full
performance of Elgar's work, a no-nonsense reading with brisk tempos but
careful attention to detail. The small hall-it holds about 700 people-posed
problems of orchestral balance, but Botstein tamed the brass and keep the
score's intricate layers in a satisfying perspective.
Then came the questions. Some were fairly routine: 'Did Elgar write most of
his ceremonial music before or after the "Enigma"?' (Most of it came later.)
'When were the identities of the "friends pictured within" made public?'
(The original programme note of 1899 described them only as 'a few friends',
but Elgar disclosed each one's name when he wrote notes for a piano-roll
version of the work in 1913.)
My favourite question came from a gentleman who thought he had the solution
to the identity of the unheard theme, which, according to the composer, goes
'though and over the whole set' but 'is not played'.
'Can anyone,' the man asked the orchestra, 'play the Westminster chimes?'
Without missing a beat, the tympanist said, 'If you've got them, I can play
them.' Trumpeter John Sheppard then blew the famous series of eight notes,
grouped--like the start of Elgar's theme--in two four-note phrases.
It was an idea I hadn't heard before, but I wasn't persuaded. I agreed with
Maestro Botstein, who observed that the ultimate 'enigma' of the variations
may be that of all music: how do its abstract sounds, when we hear them,
stir such deep emotions?
Introduction and Allegro|
Oakland East Bay Symphony
Paramoutn Theater, Oakland, California, USA,
24th, March, 2006
Educational Opportunity was the undeclared theme for a widely varied and
enthusiastically received Friday concert of the OEB Symphony led by Michael
Morgan. Prior to the concert, a chamber orchestra of students from Oakland’s
Franklin Elementary School played an arrangement of the “Frere Jacques”
funeral march from Mahler’s First symphony. The first twenty minutes of the
concert was devoted avid requests from Morgan and Franklin principal
Jeannette MacDonald to support the Symphony and its outreach program in the
schools. But the most personal educational opportunity came not directly
from the stage or lobby, but from Concert Companion, a hand-held PDA
available for rental that broadcasted concert commentary in synch with the
The device has been in use at Oakland since February of last year, with a
focus on guiding unsophisticated listeners through the music. The innovation
has been likened to opera surtitles and prerecorded museum tours. Like any
change in something as stuffy as classical music, it is not without
controversy (see http://www.northworks.net/c_art_coco.htm for details on the
device and issues associated with it). The commentary for the Friday concert
was written by pre-concert lecturer John Kendall Bailey, and like its
author, founder of the Berkeley Lyric Opera, emphasized the dramatic.
Cognizant of his targeted audience, Bailey kept technical terms to a
Morgan conducted the work in a relatively pedestrian manner. Passion was
lacking, as was a subtle rubato so necessary in a proper Elgar
interpretation. Tempo was a bit on the slow side, initially, but it picked
up to a more conventional speed after the fugato. The string playing was
adequate, if a little thin. The piece was well received, a fact that all too
painfully reminds me how little Elgar is played in this country, despite the
sales of his CDs and international stature.
Bailey’s commentary was risible for the sophisticated listener, but
nevertheless might be value for mature newcomers to classical music, dragged
to a concert by their wives, who might otherwise fall asleep. Here are
excerpts of what came up on the PDA during the Elgar:
"But the opening forceful theme returns! …The solo quartet comes up with a
new idea, fast short and excited notes which build and then recede. … A new
whimsical theme [referring to the fugato] … Oops, the music feels it got
stuck. … We are pulled along as the speed slows down, speeds up, and the
music gets louder and softer …"
If these devices ever gain wide currency, one hopes two versions will be
available, one like the above for beginners and one containing useful
information like key relationships, structural boundaries, and other
technical information. Better than for concerts, a version of the device
should be designed for home use with CDs, where one can use them for study.
In the concert hall, it is better to have hands and mind free to completely
absorb the experience.
Introduction and Allegro|
Chamber Orchestra of the University of Music Karlsruhe
Nachum Erlich ( Leader )
31st January 2007
May be a bit risky to perform Sir Edward`s Serenade without conductor, as the Chamber Orchestra of the University
of Music Karlsruhe already did several times with great success. May be even a bit more risky to try the same with op 47,
but this young enthusiastic ensemble, founded just five years ago, succeeded again. Credit where credit is due: founder
of the COUK is the worldwide acknowledged violinist Nachum Erlich, holding a professorship in Karlsruhe since 16 years,
and also performing as the orchestras leader. From the first to the last bar one became aware that a great musician was
acting as the spiritual father of this very Orchestra and not as its metronome. The result was a fugal heavyweight,
played with almost Mozartian easiness. Quite remarkable the very well balanced interplay of the unequal forces:
Professor Erlich took care that the solo quartet was never in danger of becoming drowned by the orchestra. This brave
four strugglers really deserve to be named: Young-Jin Jeon, 1st violin, Na-Young Yoon, 2nd violin, Sabine Lohwieser,
viola and Nicolas Hugon, cello most certainly not only pleased the audience but also Nachum Erlich!
Yes one could see, there was no conductor, but nobody could hear it!