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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, December 29, 2017

The Year in Reviews: the Best Concerts of 2017

Superconductor takes aim at The Year of the Rooster.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Well, that was a year. 2017 saw Superconductor stick pretty close to home with the exception of one memorable visit to...Japan(!) and the odd trip to Philadelphia and Boston. However, the homefront yielded a great slate of news stories, scandals, protests and even the odd classical music performance. The best are listed below. All concert titles link to reviews except for the Barenboim Bruckner which links to all nine concert reviews from that memorable marathon at Carnegie Hall. Yes, I cheat sometimes. Doesn't everyone?

Here are the most memorable concert experiences of 2017 in chronological order.

Berlin Staatskapelle Bruckner Cycle with Daniel Barenboim (January, Carnegie Hall)
"Some composers take longer to find success than others. Consider if you will the case of one Joseph Anton Bruckner, whose remarkable odyssey from humble monastery organist to world-beating symphonist remains one of the most endearing and bizarre music stories from 19th century Austria...."

La Serenissima (Feb. 6, Carnegie Hall)
"The early works featured the most exotic instruments: the shawm, the cornetto, the dulcian (an early bassoon) and the lyra, a cousin of the rebec which moaned plaintively in Mr. Savall's hands. Progress moved inexorably forward through the long time-stream, culminating in the music of Catholic masses, the Jewish ghetto and French and German music as Europe moved out of the medieval era toward the flowering of the Renaissance."

Osaka Philharmonic Orchestra (Feb. 18, Osaka, Japan)
"The music shifted without pause into the second movement, a steam-rolling Allegro which commemorated the massacre of those protestors by Imperial riflemen on The 9th of January, 1905. The chatter of guns was echoed by pounding timpani, roaring trombones and a relentless, brutal rhythm from the snare drum. Shostakovich creates terror here, much as he did in his "war" symphonies, but the villain is not an advancing Nazi army but a government that has turned its hand against its own people."

The Salonen Cello Concerto (March 16, David Geffen Hall)
"Mr. Ma generated the initial material of the first movement, with the themes tumbling against a cosmic haze of percussion, strings and wind, a tingling pulse being provided by the percussion section. His thematic fragments were answered by the orchestra, expanded upon and building g in complexity. The orchestral answers sometimes came from below the cello line, other times flying high above it, shifting in tone and texture but always letting the instrument's voice provide the direction."

Steve Reich: Three Generations (April 1, Carnegie Hall)
"Mr. Lubman excised the central feature of most renditions of the piece: a guiding, endlessly repeated high C on the piano that serves as a sort of rhythmic guidepost for the players. The musicians here seemed fine without it, and its absence opened up the rich harmonies of the work to the ear. They also had an expanded palette to work with, playing xylorimbas, vibraphone, double bass, piano and on string instruments to give the players four octaves of range with which to express the different thematic idea"

Munich Philharmonic (April 7, Carnegie Hall)
"This four-movement meditation on the meaning of the afterlife packs a heavy punch. The Munich players seemed aware of this deep meaning, even as Mr. Gergiev led them through the steeplechase of short musical segments and time changes that make its first movement a treacherous course for even the most experienced conductor."

Novus NY with Julian Wachner (May 19, St. Paul's Church)
"These phantasmagorical textures emerged slowly with the growling low strings answered by keening shrieks in th the little squads of violins. An expressive solo for viola (Ms. Meyers own instrument) provided a kind of narrative drive and the work ended on a quiet, fading diminuendo. This was spoiled by the sirens and klaxons of a nearby fire truck, a normal hazard when playing concerts just off Wall Street. Mr. Wachner calmly had his players repeated the last section from the “K” marker in the score. There were no further interruptions."

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia (Oct. 20, Carnegie Hall)
"Ms. Argerich took the stage to play one of her best known showpieces, the Prokofiev Piano Concerto No. 3. She sounded youthful and exuberant in the first movement, a burst of fireworks from her fingers against the complex accompaniment of the full orchestra. This is one of the composer's most listener-friendly pieces, and the presence of the august soloist, not to mention the skill of her accompanist combined for a thrilling ride."
Bernstein's Philharmonic: A Centennial Festival (Nov. 11, David Geffen Hall)
"As the work moved into its penultimate crescendo, Mr. Irons stood stock-still. He was trying not to smile or react at the rolling tide of major-key choral sound that was crashing right behind his back: the sound of the Philharmonic at full flight under Mr. Slatkin's expert baton. "

Mariinsky Orchestra with Denis Matsuev (Nov. 14, Carnegie Hall)
"Mr. Gergiev and his players found bright tones and rhythmic snap in the opening movement, and the long bassoon obbligato that narrates the fourth movement before kicking off the jaunty finale held no terrors for the soloist. One could not help but admire the discipline and skill of the Russian players in the tight corners of this high-speed finale, even if their boss may have missed the sarcastic message written between the staves."

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