Review: De Young, faculty artists do a late colleague proud
July 29, 2010
ASPEN – After her stunning performance of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder Sunday, mezzo soprano Michelle de Young followed up with another gorgeous turn before she left town. Berg’s “Seven Early Songs” were the highlight of a strong chamber music concert Monday in Aspen’s Harris Hall.
De Young had to overcome a few things. She was battling allergies or some sort of respiratory irritation. The printed texts for the songs never arrived, and she had to wait between songs while a translation was read, a small thing but it killed any momentum. De Young was unflappable, deploying her voice in a wide range of dynamics and colors, bringing each song to life seamlessly.
Although Berg wrote the songs for voice and piano, a chamber ensemble arrangement by Reinbert de Leeuw was played by an all-star group of mostly faculty artists. That was especially appropriate, as the concert was given in memory of Beth Newdome, a longtime faculty violinist who died earlier this year, and programmed by the musicians.
To start, violinist Sylvia Rosenberg zipped impressively through György Kurtag’s “Signs, Games and Messages” for unaccompanied violin, modern music with wit, charm and a steely harmonic palette. She spoke simply and eloquently about her friendship with and admiration for Newdome. Flutist Nadine Asin, oboist Elaine Douvas and harpist Nancy Allen charmed with their arrangement of an excerpt from Berlioz’ cantata L’enfance du Christ. And to conclude, violinists Herbert Greenberg and Renata Arado, violist Espen Lilleslatten and cellist Darrett Adkins joined pianist Rita Sloan in a heartfelt Dvorak Piano Quintet.
In their recital Tuesday in Harris Hall, visiting violinist James Ehnes and pianist Andrew Armstrong demonstrated formidable technique, dynamics and phrasing in Kreisler’s faux-Baroque “Praeludium and Allegro,” Mozart’s elegant Sonata in E minor, Bartok’s thorny Sonata No. 2, Elgar’s lushly Romantic Sonata in E minor, and Ravel’s finger-busting “Tzigane.” All the notes were in place, but they seemed to be working so hard to pull off this wide range of musical styles that we noticed the effort even more than the grace of the music.
The American Brass Quintet, an ensemble in residence at the festival, has commissioned an astonishing number of works. The most recent, “Fixated Nights,” by Texas-based composer Trevor Gureckis, got its world premiere Wednesday night in the quintet’s annual recital in Harris Hall. Its musical palette vacillates between soothing harmonies and spiky interludes, and Gureckis showed some mastery of writing for brass. Unfortunately, the program also included Robert Dennis’ “Il ritorno,” a 2005 commission by the quintet that had much more command of musical language and the colors possible in a brass quintet.
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The quintet’s early music transcriptions always bring a big smile for their sheer beauty. Works by Josquin de Prez, Coperario and Gabrieli, arranged by Raymond Mase, who plays trumpet in the quintet, alternated on the program with the modern commissions. What could have been a case of musical whiplash actually produced a sense of returning home after venturing off into something new. The Oracle Brass Quintet joined the ABQ for the splendid finale of two Gabrieli Canzoni à 10.
Not to miss this weekend: Argentine cellist Sol Gabetta makes her Aspen debut with the flashy Lalo concerto Friday in the tent, Robert Spano conducting the Aspen Chamber Symphony in a program that includes Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements. On Sunday, pianist Joyce Yang brings her incisive style to the ever-popular Tchaikovsky concerto (No. 1) in the tent, Leonard Slatkin conducting the Aspen Festival Orchestra. Saturday night you’ll have to choose between opera (opening night of Marriage of Figaro at the Wheeler) and piano (former Aspen Music School student, 15-year-old Conrad Tao, replacing Jeffrey Kahane, and playing a program at Harris Hall that includes Bach, Rachmaninoff and Tao’s own Fantasy-Sonata).