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Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Year in Reviews 2016: Recitals and Chamber Music

We look at the best intimate concerts of a troubled 2016.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Danish String Quartet played last works by Shostakovich and Schubert, a highlight
of 2016. Photo © 2016 The Danish String Quartet.
2016 may have been a difficult year, with a lot of musical high points. Here, Superconductor cherry-picks the ten best small scale vocal recitals, chamber concerts and piano recitals of the year that was, presented in chronological order. All hyperlinks connect to Superconductor reviews written by Paul J. Pelkonen.


Marc-Ándre Hamelin at Carnegie Hall (January)
"For his grand finale, Mr. Hamelin chose the Liszt Sonata in B minor, a single half-hour movement that forces the soloist to become his own orchestra. With its hazy, dream-like minor chords and descending themes for the left hand, this work embodies the “music of the future" espoused by Liszt and his famous son-in-law Richard Wagner. Hints of flying horses and clinched lovers abounded, with Mr. Hamelin providing a vast palette of colors in the shifting chords and heroic main theme."

Dmitri Hvorostovsky at Carnegie Hall (February)
"Mr. Hvorostovsky switched gears by offering a set of German lieder by Richard Strauss. He dove cleanly into these complicated songs, with their long melodic lines and climactic notes offering a fresh set of challenges to his instrument. "Allerseelen" and "Befreit" had a hypnotic quality, drawing the listener into their complex narrative and the hidden narrative in the piano part played by Mr. Ilja."

The Brahms Piano Quartets at Carnegie Hall (April)
"The second half of the concert was shorter but most satisfying, a performance of the C Minor Quartet which completes the set. This work had a long and difficult genesis, beginning life on paper before its older brothers but waiting many years before Brahms would remove a movement and add two more to complete the work. Here, it proved to be worth the long gestation, with its sighing, chromatic "Clara" theme and a grim, Beethovenian determination to triumph over adversity."

The JACK Quartet at the 92nd St. Y (May)
"In the second half of the quartet, Mr. Bermel's references moved from the jazz age to the '80s, as the quartet players imitated the crunch of overdriven guitars and even the deep throaty scratch of a rap deejay's turntables. This was an exciting, kaleidoscopic work, bustling with energy and ideas, and one this writer wants to hear again."

Yefim Bronfman plays Prokofiev (June)
"In the slow movement, Yefim Bronfman played with crisp execution but also caught the gauzy impression of a dark and sinister carnival that permeates this movement. Propulsive rhythm dominated the finale, showing this artist's particular dual gifts, a strong, muscular approach to pianism combined with a subtle, almost weightless approach to the most tender and intricate passages."

Danish String Quartet at Zankel Hall (October)
"Frederik Øland's violin led the transition into the second movement, which rose in an anguished crescendo before the four players let their instruments embark on a waltz. Here, each instrument engaged in a series of continuous, keening shrieks that yielded to grim, scraped chords, an unsettling and unrelenting effect"

Bezhod Abduraimov at Carnegie Hall (November)
"In this familiar and yet technically terrifying music, Bezhod Abduraimov rode the sustain pedal, using the Steinway’s natural overtones to imitate the great sound of a pipe organ. He forced his right hand into a claw to play the multi-note counterpoint and compensate for the piano’s single manual and lack of stops, blazing through Bach's counterpoint in a manner that  was extravagant without being at all frivolous."

Daniil Trifonov at Carnegie Hall (December)
Although Mr. Trifonov played these pieces with a sober artistic rigor, one sensed the maturity of expression as he touched each note. The pianist showed understanding of the conflicting personalities and voices within the Schumann's own writing. He also added the voice of his experiences in each note, the sound of the artist who is finding his independence and is able to brand each of these compositions with his own artisan's mark.

In War and Peace with Joyce DiDonato (December)
"This mournful finale is not what you think of in baroque opera, its slow, sinuous melody looking forward to the creations of Mozart and Schubert. Here, Ms. DiDonato's voice and regal command of the stage served well, along with one of the watery silver wraps, used as a mourning shroud. She then cut loose with 'Pensieri, voi mi tormentate,' playing the Roman emperor Nero's mad mother Agrippina to the utter hilt in an excerpt from the Handel opera of the same name."

Christian Gerhaher sings Mahler at Lincoln Center (December)
Mr. Huber's piano picked out every note of the spare orchestration, accompanying Christian Gerhaher in this twenty-five minute song. The singer would yield to the piano, playing that haunting, descending set of chords that form this work's musical signature, the whole performance building with shimmering power.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.