What’s On Preview! | May 9, 2021

Inspired by the sonnets of the Italian scholar and poet Francesco Petrarca (1304-1374) whom we know as Petrarch, Franz Liszt composed his three Petrarch Sonnets originally as songs. He later reworked them as piano solos. Benjamin Grosvenor has the robust technique and sensitivity to bring of the virtuoso performance these works require. Benjamin plays Sonetto 101 from a CD entitled Liszt.

Belgian composer Eugène-Auguste Ysaÿe (1858-1931) was highly regarded by Clara Schumann, Anton Rubenstein and the afore-mentioned Franz Liszt. The distinguished 20th-century violin virtuoso Nathan Milstein referred to Monsieur Ysaye as the “Tsar of Violinists.” Canadian concert violinist James Ehnes plays Ysaye’s Sonata No. 6 in E for solo violin.

American pianist Orli Shaham plays Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Sonata K. 333 for us. It dates from 1784. I was amused to note the comment in Wikipedia that “the third movement of this piece is often used for hold music while calling a customer support line.”

Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds understands how to write for choirs. That doesn’t surprise me, as his biography notes that he spent some time as a Fellow Commoner in Creative Arts at Trinity College, Cambridge. Trinity College enjoys a long history of choral excellence at the hands of Richard Marlow and the current Director of Music, Stephen Layton. The Portland State Chamber Choir directed by Ethan Sperry sings Ešenvalds’ setting of the text from the Requiem liturgy, In Paradisum (Into Paradise may angels lead you.)

St. Thomas Choir
Photo by Ira Lipke

Texas native Dr. Gerre Hanock (1934-2021) was Organist and Director of Music at St. Thomas Church, Fifth Avenue, New York from 1971-2004. A gifted musician, Gerre was at his best improvising on the St. Thomas organ and conducting his beloved Choir of Men and Boys. His compositions for choir and for organ are perhaps a lesser-known part of his musical output. The CD which Jeremy Filsell, the present Organist and Director of Music, talks about in this week’s interview, includes over 80 minutes of Dr. Hancock’s choral and organ works, many of them recorded here for the first time. The Choir sings A Song to the Lamb, an anthem which dates back to 1973.

The viola gets a turn in the spotlight this evening on Preview! Antoine Tamestit plays Johannes Brahms’ Viola Sonata, Opus 120, No. 2, in a recent release on the Harmonia Mundi label. The two Viola Sonatas which comprise Opus 120 were composed in 1894 for the clarinet. Brahms later adapted them for the viola. Cedric Tiberghien accompanies.

He hits the first movement of Scriabin’s Piano Sonata No. 1 hard, and then backs away. A heroic, martial quality develops and recedes in waves, but Wang keeps a tight rein on the rubato until the end, where muting those staccato chords and then stretching out the rhythm really drives this troubled theme home.  New York Music Daily

You can never practice enough, right? I guess that’s what Alexander Scriabin thought in the 1890s. Unfortunately for him, excessive piano playing seriously injured his right hand. That’s apparently one of the reasons Scriabin’s piano sonatas are considered difficult to perform. In them, he favored his left hand. Zixiang Wang plays the Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor in a recording on the Blue Griffin Recording label.

La mort d’Ophélie (The death of Ophelia) is one of three pieces which comprise Tristia, Hector Berlioz’ Op. 18. It was originally scored for solo voice and piano. Berlioz later revised it for choir and orchestra. Thierry Fischer conducts the Utah Symphony Orchestra and Chorus and the University of Utah Chamber Choir in a performance from a CD Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique on the Hyperion label.

The Academy for Old Music Berlin (also known as Akamus) closes Preview! this week with a performance of Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 in B flat for winds, K. 361. This is from their new CD Mozart: Gran Partita/Wind Serenades on the Harmonia Mundi label. The work is scored for twelve wind instruments and string bass.

Rob Kennedy
May 9, 2021