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Cue Sheet – March 2009

CONCERTO GROSSO CORNUCOPIA

Here are a couple of Handel concerto grosso reviews I wrote for two different publications a few months ago ...

Handel: Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 Nos. 7-12. Martin Pearlman conducting Boston Baroque (Telarc 80688)

Handel dashed off his dozen concerti grossi published as Op. 6 in barely a month, but it’s been a full 15 years since Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque recorded the first half of the set. Now, at last, here’s the rest of the group, and it was well worth the wait.

In 1739, Handel’s publisher, John Walsh, was eager to cash in on the popularity of the concerti grossi of Corelli and Geminiani, so he asked Handel for something in the same manner. Handel quickly complied, and made his work a bit easier by dropping in quotes from his just-completed Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, not to mention pieces by Scarlatti and Muffat. Despite the borrowings, the whole set sounds like vintage Handel, and Pearlman and his little band of string players know exactly what to do with it.

As in their recording of the first half of the collection, and their more recent treatment of the Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music, the playing is quite suave. The period-instrument group easily meets Handel’s greatest challenge: conveying stateliness without stiffening up. Beyond that, the musicians can also sound light, playful, even Italianate, as in the final concerto. Throughout, there’s a suppleness that stops well short of affectation, even while Pearlman devotes great attention to such details as attacking musical paragraphs differentely from the way of attacking individual phrases within them. The only complaint: Telarc shouldn’t have taken a decade and a half to complete this fine cycle. James Reel

HANDEL Concerti Grossi, Op. 6 * Martin Gester, cond; Arte dei Suonatori * BIS SACD-1705/06 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 163:39)

Both pronunciations of the word “polish” come into play here. First, with the long “o”: Arte dei Suonatori is a first-rate Polish period-instrument ensemble that has previously recorded Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Telemann for BIS, and made a fabulous version of Vivaldi’s La Stravaganza with Rachel Podger for Channel Classics. Now the group is featured on a BIS survey of Handel’s Op. 6 concerti, those for strings only, and here’s where the other pronunciation comes in: These are wonderfully polished performances. The solo work is nimble, the textures are clear, the tempos are lively and lithe in the fast movements and stately in the slow ones, the latter carrying a plaintive elegance reminiscent of Corelli. The interpretations are not particularly extravagant; this is—after all, Handel rather than Vivaldi—and the ornamentation is fairly restrained by current standards. Because director Martin Gester’s tempos are not hard-driven (though neither are they sluggish) and repeats are generous, the dozen works spill over to a third CD. The package is sold for the price of two, which is fine, but with performances of this quality one wants even more; I wish BIS had added Handel’s Op. 3 set and charged full price. The SACD sonics are up to the label’s usual standards, clear projection in a resonant space that gives firm support to the bass line. Good liner notes by David Vickers add to the value of the package.

At this writing, there seems to be no SACD competition for this Handel Op. 6 set, but Gester’s edition is a top choice in any format, alongside the rather more driven Andrew Manze/Academy of Ancient Music version on two conventional Harmonia Mundi CDs and the elegant Martin Pearlman/Boston Baroque version on Telarc. James Reel

Classical Music,

PLEDGE TO NPR?

Just as our week-long membership drive gets underway at KUAT-FM, we get news that we may have future fundraising competition from NPR:

Times have gotten so tough that National Public Radio is considering something it hasn't done for a generation: a pledge drive. With NPR facing a projected $8 million budget deficit and looming cutbacks, some of its most prominent program hosts are urging management to consider a direct, on-air appeal to NPR's listeners—something that's prohibited by the organization's bylaws.

You can find the full Washington Post article here. I doubt that NPR will get very far with this idea, because local stations are sure to howl that they can’t afford to have precious income from their local listeners possibly diverted to the network, especially in this economy.

radio-life,

PHOENIX SYMPHONY DISCONTENT

There’s big trouble brewing in an orchestra to our north:

The Phoenix Symphony is facing serious legal challenges arising from its alleged mistreatment of many of its most talented musicians. These legal challenges involve lawsuits, complaints to federal agencies, charges of wrongful termination, allegations of retaliation, and the charge that the symphony's top, veteran players are being forced to take demotions or leave the symphony so they can be replaced with younger, more compliant players.

You’ll learn more from Phoenix’s New Times here.

Classical Music,

IMMORTAL LONGINGS

Here’s a review of a play in which I get to bring in a reference to music and dancing, too:

Last year, choreographer Mark Morris revived the 1935 original version of the Soviet ballet treatment of _Romeo and Juliet_ by composer Sergei Prokofiev and dramatist Sergei Radlov. Not Shakespeare's original version, but Prokofiev's original version: Juliet recovers from her drug-induced coma just in time to keep the despairing Romeo from killing himself, and the young lovers conclude their story with a dance of joy. Prokofiev and his colleagues decided to junk the happy ending before the ballet's premiere in the 1930s. But they seem not to have consulted Juliet. Would the 14-year-old heroine really prefer to end up dead in a cold tomb? Absolutely not, as she makes clear at the beginning of the Rogue Theatre's _Immortal Longings_, a new play written and directed by Joseph McGrath with substantial help from William Shakespeare. Ten of the bard's best-known female characters, from tragedies, comedies and histories alike, assemble to argue the merits of Juliet's plea for a happy ending. They illustrate their discussion with key scenes from their own plays. Portia, from _The Merchant of Venice_, being the one woman here with any courtroom experience, will decide Juliet's fate. This is a fine game that McGrath is playing with Shakespeare's characters, but it's also much more than that: It's a study of character motivation and the demands of tragedy, engaging and entertaining from beginning to end.

You’ll find my full review of the play in the Tucson Weekly right here.

tucson-arts,

GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS

The Washington Post reports good news about National Public Radio’s growing audience, but bad news about its dwindling budget:

The audience for NPR's daily news programs, including "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," reached a record last year, driven by widespread interest in the presidential election, and the general decline of radio news elsewhere. Washington-based NPR will release new figures to its stations today showing that the cumulative audience for its daily news programs hit 20.9 million a week, a 9 percent increase over the previous year. The weekly audience for all the programming fed by Washington-based NPR—including talk shows and music—also reached a record last year, with 23.6 million people tuning in each week, an 8.7 percent increase over 2007. … More than half of NPR's daily audience comes from its two "core" news shows, "Morning Edition" and the evening "All Things Considered." "Morning Edition's" average daily audience, 7.6 million, is now about 60 percent larger than the audience for "Good Morning America" on ABC and about one-third larger than the audience for the "Today" show on NBC. The favorable audience data, however, hasn't spared NPR from the budget woes that are affecting almost every news organization in the nation.

You’ll find the full article here

radio-life,

THE BOO BOX

In the Wall Street Journal, Terry Teachout offers this proposal for audiences wishing to express themselves more assertively in this era of obligatory standing ovations:

I came up with a substitute that I call "The Silent Boo." Since many theater companies now encourage playgoers to recycle their programs, why not place two transparent recycling containers in the lobby after the show, one marked CHEERS and the other JEERS? That strikes me as a neat and practical method of reaping the benefits of booing while simultaneously minimizing its incivility. Wouldn't your emotional investment in a performance be heightened if you could "vote" on its merits in a simple and convenient manner that was easily visible both to the performers and to your fellow audience members?

A think a better start, though, would be banning standing ovations for all but the most orgasmic performances. Audience response should be allowed more nuance than this mindless and insincere enthusiasm allows.

quodlibet,

About Cue Sheet

James Reel's cranky consideration of the fine arts and public radio in Tucson and beyond.