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Archive for January 2011

Rouse Oboe Concerto at Orchestra

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Philadelphia Orchestra, Alan Gilbert, conducting,
Richard Woodhams, oboe
Jan. 20, 21, 22, 2011
Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center,
Review of Friday’s performance:
WRTI, 90.1 fm: Jan. 24

The Kimmel Center is a a pleasant place to be when snow is sprinkling although the snow was sparse and so was the audience in Verizon Hall as New York Philharmonic music director Alan Gilbert led the Philadelphians Friday afternoon in a series that’s been dwindling for the past couple of years. This was disappointing. The orchestra program and its performance were winning as Magnus Lindberg’s Expo(2009) and Christopher Rouse’s Oboe Concerto (2004) got their local premieres.

Lindberg penned EXPO’s nine minutes to inaugurate Gilbert’s first season at the New York Philharmonic. EXPO leaves no instrument un-tuned in its search for color or range. The Philadelphians burst into sonority, smiles, some players looking gleeful. The 44- year -old conductor, known to many from his time at the Curtis Institute, led with calm brio, helped along by Don Liuzzi’s firm tympani and Tony Orlando’s percussion. Expo is an explosive piece.

Christopher Rouse’s Oboe Concerto also invigorates but the balances are scaled down, colors tempered, textures astute. Everything is refined as medieval tapestry. With principal Richard Woodhams as soloist, the tones were ravishing. Flourishes that sound like birdcalls, delicate interactions between the celesta, the harp and clarinet kept the ear intent t. I’ve never heard a nightingale but Dick Woodhams qualifies. In one continuous movement, Rouse manages lyricism and rhythmic bite in a concerto that should be heard again and again.

Completing the satisfying afternoon, Gilbert led Beethoven’s Sixth, a sturdier Pastoral than usual, more vigorous than gentle but pleasing for that with a grand, almost perfect storm.

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Written by Lesley Valdes

January 24, 2011 at 1:36 am

A Skull in Connemara

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A Skull in Connemara (Martin McDonagh)
Lantern Theater (part of the Philadelphia Irish Festival)
Jan. 19-Feb. 13, 2011 (run has been extended)
Review Airs on WRTI, 90. 1 fm beginning Jan. 21

Martin McDonagh’s A Skull in Connemara at the Lantern Theater comes in the middle of the English-Irish playwright’s first trilogy between The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Lonesome West.

Like all three McDonagh plays it’s set in the village of Leenane, County Galway, where people too easily fall through the cracks: gossips, oddballs, troublemakers. The main man is old Mick, who is paid to exhume skeletons when the cemetery needs room for fresh bones. Mick, played by the stellar Stephen Novelli, has the tough task of digging up the wife some accuse him of killing.

Did he? Novelli’s over -due Lantern debut is as believable and down- at- heart as a Becket character. McDonagh, born in 1970, is heir to that master: the work has a grisly hilarity

Dirk Durosette’s design for A Skull in Connemara is one of the best I’ve seen in this venue, the interior of the Galway wood and stone cottage – abutted by open graves. Larry Fowler’s sound is a merry juxtaposition.

Masterful is the opposing force of Mick’s nosy neighbor Maryjohnny, played by the superb Ellen Mulroney. Marryjohnny, bringing nightly weather and Bingo reports as she cadges spirits, is Mick’s true North. When they spar, the production is at its height.

Lesser forces in this production are the thick-witted bumblers who drive the action: Mairtin, a youth who taunts more than he helps the grave digger and is acted by Jake Blouch; Thomas, the pompous village cop is performed by Jered McLenigan. Both relied on odd gesture and diction than seemed necessary opening night, though the drew a lot of laughs. Catch the bizarrely moving A Skull in Connemara at the Lantern through Feb. 13.

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 20, 2011 at 10:07 pm

Posted in Drama

Yannick’s Mozart Requiem

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The Philadelphia Orchestra,
Yannick Nezet-Sequin, conducting
Mozart/Sussmayr Requiem
Verizon Hall, January 7-10, 2011
Review of Saturday night’s performance airs on WRTI, 90. 1 fm Jan. 11

Photo: Pete Checchia

Verizon Hall sold out for music director- designate Yannick Nezet- Seguin’s recent performances of the Mozart Requiem with the Philadelphia Orchestra. I heard Saturday night’s performance of the Requiem, which was finished by Mozart’s student, Sussymayr. The finest impressions came from the singing. A quartet of un-celebrity soloists blended well together. Soprano Lucy Crowe, who looks a Masterpiece Theater heroine, sang with ample ease and lovely fullness. The young bass-baritone, Andrew Foster-Williams, also has a beautiful limpid tone. Mezzo-soprano Birgit Remmert and tenor James Taylor completed the pliable ensemble.

David Hayes, as usual, had rehearsed the Philadelphia Singers Chorale to produce splendid sonorities following Nezet-Sequin’s markings and baton. Michael Stairs was authoritative at the organ. The 35- year -old Nezet-Seguin, who formally takes the Philadelphian Orchestra podium in the fall of 2012, has a keen interest in vocal matters. He got his start as a boy chorister in Montreal, studied choral conducting at Westminster Choir College in Princeton, NJ.

There were interesting placements. Nezet-Sequin put the vocal quartet stage- rear adjacent to the double basses. The violins were divided. Reducing the orchestra to roughly half the size of the chorus, may have been un-wise for the instruments did not come across with this orchestra’s customary fullness or given acoustical challenges. Bottom and top harmonies sounded of more concern than inner voices.

The Requiem, only 60 minutes long, felt longer, as movements changed to pleading and churning; the “Lacyrmosa” was particularly lugubrious. A rhythmic undercurrent was missing to the expressive whole: no gulfstream propelling this ocean of moods.

I’m in the minority: The Requiem received many standing Os.

(The Mozart/Sussmayr Requiem cannot shake – indeed enjoys -its “Amadeus” celebrity and deathbed myths. People are prepared to cheer before a note’s begun. A good thing to have this box office draw but indulge the critic for maintaining the highest standards for this orchestra!)

Nezet-Seguin excels in quiet, shimmering, transparencies: those so-called Gallic passages. Debussy’s Nocturne, “Clouds” was perfect and graced by Elizabeth Star- Masoudnia’s fluid English horn. Less satisfactory were “Festivals,” the nocturne sounding more rushed rather than impeutuous through its transitions, and “Sirens,” whose wordless singing projected heavier than one imagines such fictional creatures.

Like “Clouds,” the encore, Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus floated: quiet and sublime.

During an audience meet and greet in Verizon Hall after the concert, Nezet-Seguin, answered questions. (The host was Orchestra President Allison Vulgamore.) Fresh from his triumph with the Metropolitan Opera’s Don Carlo, Nezet-Sequin gave a definitive “Yes!” to concert operas during his tenure; explained his rehearsal process for the Mozart Requiem and his theory of programming “combinations.” The parque was almost full to hear the charismatic maestro, who gives the impression of a being an open and very happy fellow.

NB: Above photo: Maestro Nezet-Seguin (left) with Principal Tympany Don Liuzzi.

Written by Lesley Valdes

January 9, 2011 at 8:41 pm