Saturday, January 21, 2012

Musical Short Cuts: Terezin, Lang Lang, Aimee Mann, Wagner

Will to Create, Will to Live: The Music of Terezin
January 9-February 16, 2012
92nd Street Y, Lexington Avenue and 92nd Street
New York, NY

In Will to Create, Will to Live: The Music of Terezin, the multi-disciplinary series at the 92nd Street Y, the many talented composers murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps following their internment at Terezin in the former Czechoslovakia are represented by their woefully underrated music, which has unfortunately been ghettoized and not heard as often as it deserves. (There have been various recordings, notably Decca’s valuable “Entartete Musik” series from the 1990s, but rarely is this music heard in concerts.)

And the centerpiece of the series--which features a film, a symposium and other events--is a quartet of chamber music recitals featuring baritone Wolfgang Holzmair and the enterprising Nash Ensemble (above), whose members perform on these programs music by (for starters), Viktor Ullmann, Pavel Haas, Hans Krasa and Erwin Schulhoff, whose intensely personal works are played alongside music by Smetana and Janacek, two Czech composers held in high esteem by these men and often performed by them while at Terezin.

During the January 19th concert, Holzmair powerfully sang songs by Krasa and Ullmann, while the Nash members played Ullmann’s expressive String Quartet No. 3 and the endearing suite from Krasa’s children’s opera Bundibar, famously played dozens of times by the camp inmates. The series’ final concert on January 23 features Mahler songs, Debussy piano music and Holzmair and pianist Shai Wosner performing Ullmann’s brilliant musicalization of Rilke’s famous The Lay of the Love and Death of Cornet Christopher Rilke, for speaker and piano.

New York Philharmonic: Lang Lang, Bartok and Prokofiev
January 18-21, 2012
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY

One of the best New York Philharmonic concerts in recent memory, the pairing of rock star pianist Lang Lang and Bartok’s scintillating Piano Concerto No. 2 gave Avery Fisher Hall an excited vibe it rarely has during most classical concerts. Lang Lang (above) played with a fiery aliveness, hitting all of the notes (well, most of them--one infamous passage in the second movement need three hands to be played correctly) and meshing beautifully with conductor Alan Gilbert to create a dazzling interpretation of Bartok’s masterly concerto.

The concert began with Feria, a forgettable curtain-raiser by Magnus Lindberg, which at least had the distinction of allowing the entire orchestra to show off. But a far better platform for the orchestra’s brilliance was the evening’s final work, Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5, the Russian master’s longest, most thematically compact and musically diverse symphonic work, which Gilbert and his charges brilliantly built up, layer by layer, until the inevitable and volatile climax.

Aimee Mann
January 28, 2012
Zankel Hall, Seventh Avenue between 56th & 57th Streets
New York, NY

One of our most literate pop songwriters for more than a quarter-century (was “Voices Carry” really that long ago?), Aimee Mann (left) graduated from the slick mid-80s hit machine ‘Til Tuesday to the brave new singer-songwriter world, which began in 1993 with her superb Whatever. She followed up with I’m with Stupid, Bachelor No. 2 (which includes tunes from the film Magnolia like the Oscar-nominated “Save Me”) and other solid discs.

Before her latest CD Charmer is released this summer, Mann is doing solo gigs that include her appearance at Zankel Hall on January 28. Mann has a always had an offbeat charm in a live setting, so be prepared for top-notch musicianship, impeccably crafted songs--she probably won’t admit it, but she’s definitely been influenced by the pinpoint melodic precision of Paul McCartney’s composing--and an off-the-cuff, slightly ditzy onstage personality.

Opera Orchestra of New York
Wagner’s Rienzi

January 29, 2012
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY

One of the city’s musical treasures, the Opera Orchestra of New York has returned from the ashes this season. Founder Eve Queler (right), at age 80, takes to the podium for a concert performance of Wagner’s first successful grand opera, Rienzi, at Avery Fisher Hall January 29.

My first time hearing Queler and OONY was at Carnegie Hall 15 years ago for a wonderfully paced account of Wagner’s glorious Tristan und Isolde. Does Queler still have the stamina to lead her orchestra in another lengthy Wagner opera? That’s why I’ll be there to find out. Singing the leading roles are tenor Ian Storey, soprano Elisabete Matos and mezzo Geraldine Chauvet.

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