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Preview: The Concert

The Concert

Classical Music Podcasts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

Last Build Date: Sat, 01 Oct 2016 01:00:01 EST

Copyright: Creative Commons, Share Music (

246. Sweetly Sung

Sat, 01 Oct 2016 01:00:01 EST

Work for string orchestra by Phyllis Chen performed by A Far Cry on April 17, 2014 and works for clarinet and piano by Peter Sculthorpe and Richard Stoltzman performed by Richard Stoltzman, clarinet and David Deveau, piano on January 11, 2015.

  • Chen, Phyllis: Three Lullabies
  • Sculthorpe, Peter: Songs of Sea and Sky
  • Traditional: Amazing Grace, arrangement by Richard Stoltzman

On this podcast, we’ll hear three works that we’re grouping under the title Sweetly Sung. All three pieces were written within the past several decades, some based on real, traditional folk songs, others on imagined lullabies.

The first of the three pieces is by composer and pianist Phyllis Chen, who is particularly known for her performances on an instrument rarely seen in the classical concert hall: the toy piano. We’ll hear Chen perform with A Far Cry, a set of three Lullabies she wrote for string orchestra and herself, as soloist.

Following the lullabies are two pieces featuring clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and pianist David Deveau. First is Songs of Sea and Sky, a 1987 piece of about 15 minutes by Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe. The work builds on a traditional tune from the tiny island nation of Saibai.

Last, we’ll hear an arrangement of another traditional tune, this one much more familiar to American listeners: Amazing Grace, arranged by the clarinetist himself, Richard Stoltzman.

Media Files:

245. Boston Children’s Chorus, Ten Years In

Thu, 01 Sep 2016 01:00:01 EST

Works for chorus by various composers performed by Boston Children’s Chorus on November 17, 2015.

  • Selections from 10th Anniversary concert

For more than a decade, the Boston Children’s Chorus has brought together children of diverse backgrounds to discover the power of singing and transcend social barriers. In 2015, the chorus celebrated its tenth year under the baton of artistic director Anthony Trecek-King with a concert at the Gardner’s Calderwood Hall—one of his favorite spaces in Boston.

On this podcast, we’ll hear much of what they sang that afternoon, from spirituals to Renaissance love songs. Some of the selections you may recognize—Shenandoah; My Lord, What a Morning; Elijah Rock—while others will be new. All were handpicked by the director to showcase the group’s incredible range—quite a feat for an ensemble composed entirely of children ages 12 to 18.

If you’d like to learn more, look them up online. For now, sit back and enjoy this delightful program.

Media Files:

244. New York to Paris, Nonstop

Mon, 15 Aug 2016 01:00:15 EST

Work for harp by Salzedo performed by Catrin Finch, harp on April 14, 2001 and work for violin and piano by Ravel performed by Benjamin Beilman, violin and Alessio Bax, piano on May 17, 2015.

  • Salzedo: Ballade
  • Ravel: Sonata for Violin and Piano (1923)

Harpist and educator Carlos Salzedo was born in France and trained at the Paris Conservatoire in piano at the age of nine, before taking up the harp and returning to the Conservatoire to earn a degree in that instrument as well. In 1909, knowing no English whatsoever, Salzedo emigrated to New York, where he’d been invited by Toscanini to join the Metropolitan Opera orchestra. A few years later, he wrote this piece—a virtuosic showcase for the harp, firmly rooted in the harmonic vocabulary widely employed in France at the time. Salzedo would go on to found the harp department at the Curtis Institute and teach at Juilliard, splitting his time between Europe and the States, and his influences lives on, through his pupils and his compositions. We’ll hear the piece played by harpist Catrin Finch.

Next up, another Frenchman enamored of America: Ravel. His Sonata for Violin and Piano, written between 1923 and 1927, displays an interest in the uniquely American art form, jazz, which was all the rage in Paris at the time. Ravel wrote the piece before traveling to the States himself, in 1928, but the middle movement in particular (called “Blues”) was clearly inspired by the American music he’d heard performed in Europe.

We’ll hear the sonata played by violinist Benjamin Beilman and pianist Alessio Bax, from Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. First, the Salzedo, performed by Catrin Finch.

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243. Schubert’s Parting Notes

Mon, 01 Aug 2016 01:00:01 EST

Works for solo piano by Schubert performed by Charlie Albright, piano on March 24, 2013.

  • Schubert: Impromptus, D. 899, Op. 90
  • Schubert: Sonata in B-Flat Major, D. 960

In the late 1820s, all of Franz Schubert’s hard work and struggle seemed finally to be paying off. His performances were increasingly well received, and he was at the height of his compositional powers. Yet, even as his career took off, his health began to deteriorate, and his music increasingly focused on darker emotions. In 1827, Schubert wrote the four Impromptus for piano, his opus 90—the first work we’ll hear on this podcast. The title belies the seriousness and heft of these pieces, which are hardly light or off-the-cuff.

The following fall, Schubert’s health took a turn for the worse—but his compositional output was seemingly unaffected. Sometime that year, he began sketching out a series of piano sonatas, including the one we’ll hear: his very last instrumental work, the Sonata in B-Flat Major, published posthumously as D. 960. These sonatas weren’t really understood or appreciated during the 19th century, when they were published; musicians and critics found them structurally aimless, too long, difficult to make sense of. Today, the sonatas are widely recognized as among the composer’s most powerful works, imbued with a sense of the composer’s reckoning with life’s biggest questions, including his own mortality.

We’ll hear both the Impromptus and the Sonata in B-flat played by pianist Charlie Albright, in a recording from the first of three concerts that he played at the Gardner highlighting Schubert’s music for piano.

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242. The Lyrical Cello

Fri, 15 Jul 2016 01:00:15 EST

Works for cello and piano by Schumann, Debussy, and Peter John performed by Cicely Parnas, cello and Noreen Cassidy-Polera, piano on April 5, 2015.

  • Schumann: Fantasiestucke, Op. 73
  • Debussy: Sonata for Cello and Piano
  • John, Peter: From the Zodiac (2014)

Today, we’ll celebrate the beauty of the solo cello, with three works played by the fantastic young artist Cicely Parnas, joined on piano by Noreen Cassidy-Polera. Her performance at the Gardner began with Schumann’s Fantasiestucke, opus 73, a set of three brief works. Lyrical and romantic, the set concludes with a sudden blaze of energy—the final movement marked “rapidly and with fire.” Originally intended for clarinet, the composer indicated that the pieces would also be suitable for cello or violin—and indeed they are.

Then comes Debussy’s luxurious and subtly jazzy Sonata for Cello and Piano. English musicologist Ernest Newman penned the perfect description of this chamber music classic: “a fog opening now and then, and giving us a momentary glimpse of ravishingly beautiful countryside.”

We close with a new piece, American composer Peter John’s solo cello work From the Zodiac, in three movements. John writes electronic music as well as acoustic works, and that influence seems to peek through in his writing for the cello, which includes a few passages with otherworldly harmonics.

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241. Musical Omnivores

Fri, 01 Jul 2016 01:00:01 EST

Works for string orchestra by Borodin and Frank performed by A Far Cry on April 21, 2013 and September 27, 2015.

These days, many of us think of the gulf between classical and popular music as fairly wide and immovable, but it wasn’t always so—and it’s not necessarily so today, either. On this podcast, we’ll hear A Far Cry play works by two musical omnivores: composers whose work routinely crosses between popular, folk, and classical genres.

First, we have a sort of accidental pop songwriter: the Russian composer Alexander Borodin, whose eminently hummable melodies were “borrowed” and turned into popular songs for the musical Kismet. We’ll hear Borodin’s second String Quartet; the third movement, called “Notturno,” was also set to words in Kismet, as the song “And This Is My Beloved.”

Sometimes influence flows the opposite way, as in composer Gabriela Lena Frank’s work, which borrows ideas from traditional folk music, and blends them with Western classical traditions. The title of this piece—Leyendas—means “legends,” and the movements depict a variety of aspects of traditional Andean life and folk music, from the sound of panpipes to the speed of the legendary chasqui messengers, who sprinted from town to town carrying important messages.

Media Files:

240. Baroque Concertos

Wed, 15 Jun 2016 01:00:15 EST

Works by Vivaldi and Bach for orchestra and flute solo performed by Gardner Chamber Orchestra, Paula Robison, and Orlando Cela, flute, and John Gibbons, harpsichord on January 17, 1999.

  • Vivaldi: Concerto (Sinfonia) in G Major "alla Rustica" RV 151
  • Vivaldi: Concerto in C Major RV 533
  • Vivaldi: Concerto in G Minor "La Notte" No. 5, F XII
  • Vivaldi: Concerto in G Major, Rv 437
  • J.S. Bach: Concerto in F Major, BWV 1057

For this podcast, we dug into the archives to resurrect an older recording, of some older music, that we thought you’d like. These concertos breeze by. The first we’ll hear—Vivaldi’s Sinfonia in G Major “alla Rustica”—packs three movements into just four and a half minutes. Then, we get the double flute concerto, with Robison and Cela, in C Major.

Then, things shift a bit, for the flute concerto in G minor, played by Robison solo. Dubbed the “nighttime” concerto in Italian, the piece has a couple of evocatively named movements within it as well: after a fast introduction we get a spooky movement called “phantoms,” followed by another quick stretch, and then a slower, harmonically unsettled bit titled “The Dream”—neither really a fantasy nor a nightmare, but somewhere in between. The piece concludes with another quick movement, with the bassoon taking a starring role.

We wrap up the podcast with another of Vivaldi’s solo flute concertos—in G Major—followed by J.S. Bach’s Concerto in F Major for both flute soloists, harpsichord, and strings.

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239. Second Impressions

Wed, 01 Jun 2016 01:00:01 EST

Works for solo piano by Griffes performed by Richard Masters on September 20, 2015 and by Debussy performed by Paavali Jumppanen on November 29, 2015.

  • Griffes: Roman Sketches, Op. 7: Night fall
  • Debussy: 12 Preludes, Book 2

On this podcast, we return to a pairing from several weeks ago: Debussy’s Preludes (Book 2, this time) and the Roman Sketches of Charles Griffes.

The second set of Debussy Preludes is similar in conception to the first: a series of fairly brief works, each intended to capture some poetic scene or mood. The second book begins with “Mists” and “Dead Leaves” and goes on to evoke the grand “Gateway of the Alhambra,” a troupe of dancing fairies, and the misty English “Heaths,” concluding with a brilliant display of “Fireworks.” As before, we’ll hear the Preludes performed by Paavali Jumppanen.

Before the Preludes, we’ll begin the podcast with an American Impressionist, the composer Charles Griffes, and the piece “Nightfall” from his book of Roman Sketches. “Nightfall” still shows the influence of impressionism, but it also pushes the envelope harmonically. Griffes makes liberal use of the minor second – one of the most dissonant intervals in music–in this piece, mellowing its harshness by placing it deep in the bass register. The dissonance becomes dark, shadowy–evoking the encroaching blackness of night. Playing the Griffes, we’ll again hear pianist Richard Masters.

Media Files:

238. Schubert’s Swan Songs

Sun, 15 May 2016 01:00:15 EST

Works by Schubert for voice and piano performed by Mark Padmore, with Jonathan Biss on October 12, 2014 and for solo piano performed by Charlie Albright on September 29, 2013.

  • Schubert: Ständchen from Schwanengesang
  • Schubert: Sonata in A Major, D. 959

In 1828, as Schubert’s health was rapidly deteriorating, the composer entered a period of phenomenal compositional productivity. In the final months of his life, he would write many works that were published posthumously and recognized to be among his finest achievements. Two sets stand out as particularly notable: his final three piano sonatas, and Schwanengesang, a cycle of songs whose title translates as “Swan Song.”

We’ll hear one of the piano sonatas on this podcast–number 959, the sonata in A Major, performed by Charlie Albright. Schubert set out to write this sonata, and the other two in the set, shortly after the death of Beethoven, who had long cast a formidable shadow over the genre. The finale pays tribute to Beethoven, with a nod to the final movement of his 16th piano sonata.

Before the sonata, we’ll hear a song from the Schwanengesang cycle: “Staendchen,” or serenade. The singer implores his beloved to join him in the grove at nighttime, amidst the rustling leaves. There is an undertone of foreboding, though, as he alludes to the pain of love and the prying eyes of others.

Media Files:

237. Northern Lights

Sun, 01 May 2016 01:00:01 EST

Works for chamber orchestra performed by A Far Cry on February 22, 2015 by Grieg and Marin arr. Higgins.

  • Grieg: Two Elegiac Melodies, Op. 34
  • Marin: A Swedish Set arr. Erik Higgins

On this podcast, we look north, to works from a recent program by the Gardner’s chamber-orchestra-in-residence, A Far Cry. Called “Aurora Borealis,” the concert featured numerous works by Nordic composers.

We begin with Edvard Grieg’s Two Elegiac Melodies, a tuneful work for string orchestra based on the composer’s own songs. In Two Elegiac Melodies, Grieg recast his opus 33 songs “The Wounded Heart” and “Last Spring” in instrumental arrangements. Though no words are sung, the pieces are still suffused with the energy of the verses that inspired them. As the poet recalls the annual transformation from winter to spring, we realize that the title – “Last Spring” – has another, more bittersweet meaning.

After the Grieg, we have a more contemporary take on Nordic folk music: a set of Swedish dances by the fiddlers Mia and Mikael Marin. The tunes were arranged for orchestra by one of A Far Cry’s own members, the bassist Erik Higgins, whose friend introduced him to the music. The set of four tunes includes two original works by Marins, as well as two arrangements of traditional Swedish songs.

We start with the Grieg.

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236. Lineage

Fri, 15 Apr 2016 01:00:15 EST

Works for solo piano by Liszt performed by Gleb Ivanov on April 11, 2010 and work by Faure performed by Michael Brown, Chad Hoopes, Matthew Lipman, and Colin Carr on November 22, 2015

  • Liszt: Schubert Songs (trans Liszt): Gute Nacht
  • Liszt: Schubert Songs (trans Liszt): Ave Maria
  • Fauré: Quartet No. 2 in G Minor for Piano, Violin, Viola, and Cello, Op. 45

As a listener to this podcast, you’ve probably realized by now the importance of lineage in classical music. The links between past and future, teacher and student have a tremendous impact. On this podcast, we’ll explore two composers who occupy interesting places in classical music lineage: Franz Liszt and Gabriel Fauré.

Fauré’s music was quite adventurous, even scandalous, during his lifetime. Fauré ascended to head of the Paris conservatory where he modernized the curriculum, exerting an enormous influence on the emerging composers and musicians who studied there. We’ll hear Fauré’s Second Quartet for piano, violin, viola, and cello, his opus 45 – a piece written earlier in his career, before he began working at the conservatory. It is a passionate work, with ardent melodies and creative harmonies.

Before the Fauré quartet—which makes up the bulk of the podcast—we have two brief but interesting transcriptions by Franz Liszt of songs by Schubert. Liszt was a prolific transcriber, often creating piano-only settings of operas and orchestral works. In the case of the Schubert songs, however, Liszt scaled up—adding pianistic embellishments to Schubert’s rather simple lieder. The resulting compositions are, at times, more like fantasties than transcriptions—expanding on Schubert’s songs, rather than just recreating them for solo piano.

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235. Diversions

Fri, 01 Apr 2016 01:00:01 EST

Works by Mozart for violin and viola performed by Chad Hoopes and Matthew Lipman on November 22, 2015 and for chamber orchestra performed by A Far Cry on September 7, 2014.

  • Mozart: Duo in G Major for Violin and Viola, K. 423
  • Mozart: Divertimento in F, K. 138

The word “diversion” has two, related meanings. Sometimes – as in Mozart’s Duo in G Major for violin and viola – it is about a surprise change in course. Mozart was in Salzburg for an extended visit with his new wife when he discovered that his friend Michael Haydn (Josef’s brother) had fallen ill in the midst of an important commission. The Archbishop had commissioned Haydn to write a set of six duos, but he’d gotten sick after completing the fourth and hadn’t been able to finish. Mozart gamely stepped into the void and offered to write the remaining pair.

Then, we have a diversion of the second sort: a distraction, a trifle, a delight designed to entertain, in between other things. This is the Divertimento in F, also by Mozart. Divertimento, of course, means “diversion” or “amusement” in Italian, and the genre consists mostly of lighthearted pieces that might be heard at a party or social function. There’s some question about whether, in this case, the title was assigned by the composer—in the score, the word “divertimento” appears in someone else’s hand—but the music certainly fits. We’ll hear it performed by A Far Cry, the Gardner’s resident chamber orchestra.

First, the Duo in G Major.

Media Files:

234. Quite an Impression

Tue, 15 Mar 2016 01:00:15 EST

Works for solo piano by Griffes performed by Richard Masters on September 20, 2015 and Paavali Jumppanen on November 29, 2015.

  • Griffes: Roman Sketches, Op. 7: The White peacock
  • Debussy: 12 Preludes, Book 1

The gently unfurling plumage of a white peacock. A barren winter landscape dinted with footprints. This podcast is all about using music to evoke and communicate impressions.

The bulk of the program is made up of Debussy’s 12 Preludes, from Book 1. A series of brief works meant to evoke a particular atmosphere or landscape, the Preludes are among Debussy’s most important achievements, each a small masterpiece unto itself. The 12 movements in book 1 evoke everything from dancers to sails to the languorous sounds and scents of the evening. We’ll hear the preludes performed by pianist Paavali Jumppanen.

Before the Debussy, we’ll hear an impressionistic work from the other side of the pond: Charles Griffes’ “The White Peacock,” the first movement of his Roman Sketches, opus 7. “The White Peacock” is perhaps his best-known work; originally written for piano, it was also published in an arrangement for orchestra. Tragically, the composer died just a year later. It’s hard not to wonder how Griffes and his work might have developed and impacted American composition, had he survived. We’ll hear “The White Peacock” performed by pianist Richard Masters.

Media Files:

233. Getting Serious

Tue, 01 Mar 2016 00:00:01 EST

Work by Handel performed by A Far Cry with Amanda Forsythe, soprano on November 16, 2014 and work by Beethoven performed by Borromeo String Quartet on October 24, 2010.

  • Handel: Armida abbandonata, HWV 105
  • Beethoven: Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95
Armida abbandonata, a setting of the famous Italian story, detailing the grief of the sorceress Armida at being abandoned by her lover Rinaldo, a waylaid soldier. In the final aria, she prays to the god of love to pity her, and help her forget her former lover. We’ll hear the piece sung by soprano Amanda Forsythe, with the chamber orchestra A Far Cry.

Then we move to Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, often referred to as the “Serioso” quartet—the composer’s own subtitle. The piece sounds troubled from the start, ferocious and full of intensity, with jagged themes and plenty of dissonance. It continues that way for most of its length, until the storm clouds unexpectedly part at the very end, and a ray of hope shines through in the last few minutes of the finale.

We begin with Amanda Forsythe, singing Handel’s cantata Armida abbandonata.

Media Files:

232. Recreating Bach

Mon, 15 Feb 2016 00:00:15 EST

Works by Bach for chamber orchestra performed by Rebel on November 10, 2013 and solo piano performed by Ji, piano on April 12, 2015.

  • Bach: Concerto in A Major
  • Bach: Toccata, Adagio, and Fuge BWV 564 arr. Ferrucio Busoni

It’s incredible to think just how much influence and resonance the music of Johann Sebastian Bach still has today, three hundred years after it was written. This podcast shows just two of the many examples of ways in which musicians continue to discover new possibilities in this centuries-old music, recreating Bach for different times and instruments.

The concerto on this podcast was originally composed for oboe d’amore, and only later adapted and published for harpsichord as the Concerto in A Major, BWV 1055. Centuries later, however, only the harpsichord version remained. So in the 1970s, scholar and editor Wilfried Fischer decided to tackle the task of recreating the original oboe concerto, based on an early manuscript that provided hints about which lines were originally meant for oboe.

Perhaps the most radical advance in musical technology since the Baroque era has been in the keyboard family, and Bach’s music is now regularly played on piano—an instrument that did not exist during his lifetime. Following the oboe concerto, we’ll hear Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major for organ, adapted for the modern piano by Ferruccio Busoni. We’ll hear the piece performed by the young Chinese-born pianist Ji.

Media Files:

231. Piano Personas

Mon, 01 Feb 2016 00:00:01 EST

Works for piano by Schumann performed by Paavali Jumppanen on May 4, 2014 and November 30, 2014.

This podcast comes courtesy of several musical personas. Not just Schumann, the composer of both the works, but also his alter egos – Florestan and Eusebius – the characters he used to personify different aspects of his artistic disposition. It was under these names, not his own, that Schumann published his first piano sonata—the “Grosse Sonate” in F-sharp minor, opus 11.

Before the sonata, we’ll hear a shorter showstopper, also by Schumann: Variations on “Abegg,” Schumann’s opus 1, the first piece he ever published. The dedication is to another of Schumann’s fictional friends—the countess Pauline of Abegg, a character likely inspired by Schumann’s childhood friend Meta von Abegg. The piece takes its namesake quite literally, building on a theme using the notes A-B-flat-E-G-G—spelling out the name “Abegg” in the notes. Those five notes are a starting point for a series of variations that are alternately dazzling and lyrical.

Both pieces were performed at the Gardner by pianist Paavali Jumppanen. We begin with the Abegg Variations.

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230. Perfectionist

Fri, 15 Jan 2016 00:00:15 EST

Works for strings by Brahms performed by A Far Cry on December 9, 2012 and Musicians from Marlboro on May 10, 2015.

Imagine if, before you published your first string quartet, you wrote and discarded twenty others? As the All Music Guide notes, in his entire compositional life, Brahms produced just three string quartets to Haydn’s 68, Mozart’s 23, and Beethoven’s 16. This is all the more striking if one considers Brahms’ relatively long lifespan of 63 years compared to, say, Mozart, who died at age 35.

We’ll hear Brahms’s first published quartet on our podcast today, the String Quartet No. 1 in C minor, in a performance by Musicians from Marlboro. It’s not hard to hear what made this piece so challenging to write. Brahms creates a quartet that is very tightly structured, with themes that recur throughout the length of the work, not just within the individual movements, and a carefully constructed harmonic architecture.

Before we dive into the quartet, though, we begin with a piece that shows Brahms’s lighter side: an orchestral version of his Hungarian Rhapsody, arranged for the chamber orchestra A Far Cry by their cellist Alastair Eng.

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229. Oldies, But Goodies

Fri, 01 Jan 2016 00:00:01 EST

Work for string quartet by Boccherini performed by Musicians from Ravinia's Steans Institute on May 3, 2015 and work for solo piano by Bach performed by Jean-Frédéric Neuburger on April 2, 2008.

What is the single most famous piece of chamber music from the Baroque era?

It’s hard to argue that the prize goes to the first work on this podcast, Boccherini’s String Quintet in E Major, Op. 11, No. 5, particularly the third-movement minuet. With its flirtatious turns and lilting, syncopated arpeggios, you will recognize the tune the moment it begins. The quintet comes to a close with a rondo that gives each player a moment in the sun. We’ll hear it all performed by musicians from the Ravinia Festival’s Steans Music Institute.

Then, we have an arguably more famous composer, with an arguably less famous piece: Bach’s Italian Concerto in F Major, played on piano by Jean-Frédéric Neuburger. This piece is curious animal: a concerto for solo piano, without any orchestra or other ensemble. In a way, it is a concerto for a pianist and himself—at times, the music conjures the heft of a full ensemble, with richly voiced chords, while at others it clearly takes a more soloistic tack, with elaborate counterpoint.

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228. Obsessed

Tue, 15 Dec 2015 00:00:15 EST

Works for string orchestra and voice by Meder and Vivaldi performed by A Far Cry and Amanda Forsythe, soprano on November 16, 2014.

  • Meder: Sonata di Battaglia from Die bestandige Argenia
  • Vivaldi: Sonata a tre "La Folia" Op. 1 No. 12
  • Vivaldi: Nulla in mundo pax sincera, RV 630

On this podcast, we feature three pieces from A Far Cry’s recent program of Baroque works, titled “Obsession.” Each of the works is bursting with relentless passion, though it is directed at very different subjects, for very different reasons.

In the first piece, Johann Meder’s Sonata di Battaglia, that alternates between aggressive, military-like marches and tender, reflective passages, perhaps depicting the characters’ mixed emotions at setting off for the battlefield.

Next comes Vivaldi’s variations on the famous Spanish theme “La Folia,” a tune that was a common test of a composer’s mettle. The piece gets wilder as it progresses, demanding ever more virtuosic playing from the featured violinists.

We close out the podcast with a piece featuring A Far Cry’s special guest for this concert, soprano Amanda Forsythe, in another Vivaldi work—his motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera. An ode to the bliss of heaven, the piece scorns the pains and empty pleasures of earth. Forsythe tackles the dazzling vocal passagework with delicious enthusiasm, and A Far Cry is with her every step of the way.

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227. Schubert’s Second Trio

Tue, 01 Dec 2015 00:00:01 EST

Work for piano trio by Schubert performed by Claremont Trio on April 26, 2015.

Some works call for their own podcast. We have just such a piece on this program: Schubert’s Piano Trio No. 2, opus 100. We’ll hear it performed by the Claremont Trio: violinist Emily Bruskin, cellist Julia Bruskin, and pianist Donna Kwong.

The second movement features a minor tune that—thanks to Schubert—has become fairly well known. The use of this folk tune was supposedly inspired by the composer’s encounter with a Swedish folk singer shortly before he wrote the piece. If you listen carefully, you’ll notice that the theme returns. In the final movement, it makes a second appearance, this time a bit altered to fit its new surroundings, but still recognizable. It gives the expansive piece a sense of coherence and familiarity, a feel of musical déjà vu: I’ve been here before, one can’t help but think, although things look very different the second time around.

Unlike many of his other late works, Schubert actually had the opportunity to hear this trio played before he passed away. It was performed at an engagement party for a school friend of Schubert’s.

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226. Showstoppers

Sun, 15 Nov 2015 00:00:15 EST

Works for solo piano by Bach and Ravel performed by Ji, piano on April 12, 2015.

  • Bach: Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825
  • Ravel: La Valse

First, we have the less razzle-dazzle of the pair: Bach’s Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major. The piece opens with a fairly serene, lilting theme. The second movement gets a bit more rollicking, with dotted rhythms and skips in the bass. And the final movement has some more virtuosic passagework.

After that comes the real fireworks: Ravel’s famous La Valse. The composer’s own introduction is really the best way to describe what happens over the course of the piece: “Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished,” he writes. “The clouds gradually scatter: one sees an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth.” As the piece goes on, it seems to get more and more out of control, ending in a frenzy that recalls a danse macabre—a dance to the death.

Ravel originally wrote the work for orchestra, and he intended it to be choreographed as a ballet. But when he presented the score to the Russian impresario Diaghilev, he refused. The piece was a masterpiece, Diaghilev said, but it shouldn’t be danced: it was itself a portrait of the ballet—no dancers required.

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225. Baroque Women

Sun, 01 Nov 2015 01:00:01 EST

Works for chamber orchestra by Rebel and La Guerre performed by Les Délices on November 23, 2014.

We begin with an instrumental piece: La Fidelle by the composer Jean-Fery Rebel. The title—meaning “faithful one”—has clear connections to the other Rebel work on the program: a vocal selection from Rebel’s opera Ulysse. We’ll hear a pair of arias sung by Penelope at the end of the opera, when she is reunited with her husband Ulysses after his journey has finally brought him safely home. Penelope sings of the extreme pleasure of seeing her long-lost love again. We’ll hear the lovely soprano Clara Rottsalk in the role of Penelope.

Between the two Rebel works, we have a piece that is not only about but written by a woman: Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre’s Le Sommeil d’Ulisse, a telling of another part of the same mythic story. The singer—Clara Rottsalk again—tells of a fierce storm stirred up by Neptune that tosses Ulysses’ boat violently. But, in the end, Minerva intervenes, saving him from the frothing waves and lulling him and his crew to sleep.

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224. Sounds of Home

Thu, 15 Oct 2015 01:00:15 EST

Work for chorus by Sibelius performed by Boston Children’s Chorus on March 28, 2015 and work for string quartet by Tchaikovsky performed by Borromeo String Quartet on November 13, 2005.

Our podcast begins with a brief, touching selection from the Boston Children’s Chorus: a setting of Sibelius’s theme from Finlandia, translated in English as “This is My Song.” The peaceful hymn tune was originally a part of Sibelius’s patriotic symphonic poem, but it was so beloved that it was excerpted, combined with lyrics by a Finnish poet, and became the de facto national hymn of Sibelius’s home country.

After that sweet beginning, we leap into a string quartet that also has ties to its composer’s homeland: Tchaikovsky’s String Quartet No. 1. It is in the second and third movements that we especially hear the influence of the composer’s Russian homeland. The theme in the middle movement is a folk song. Stories vary: some say that Tchaikovsky learned it from a carpenter, others that he heard his sister’s gardener humming it on a visit to Ukraine. Several years later, Tchaikovsky looked back on a performance of the piece with pride, writing, “Never in my life have I felt so flattered…as when Leo Tolstoy, sitting next to me, heard my Andante with tears coursing down his cheeks.”

We’ll hear the piece played with great feeling by the Borromeo Quartet.

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223. Three’s Company, Six is a Crowd

Thu, 01 Oct 2015 01:00:01 EST

Work for sextet by Beethoven performed by Musicians from Marlboro on May 10, 2015 and work for string trio by Beethoven performed by Musicians from Marlboro on November 13, 2005.

  • Beethoven: Sextet in E-flat Major, Op. 81b
  • Beethoven: String Trio in D Major, Op. 9, No. 2

We’ll hear two Beethoven chamber works on this podcast…though one sounds suspiciously symphonic in scope. As the saying goes: three’s company, but six—apparently—is a crowd.

We begin with the sonically oversized Sextet in E-flat Major, for two horns and string quartet. Though clearly chamber music, in terms of sheer numbers, the piece has the feel of a concerto, with the strings playing a supporting, “orchestra-style” role, and the horns offer a pastoral-sounding duet with no shortage of technical challenges.

Then, we cut the forces in half for the more intimate but no less substantial String Trio in D Major, opus 9, number 2. Written a couple years after the sextet, this piece has a more collaborative character, with all three players taking equal part, and musical ideas at least as ambitious in scope as the sextet, if not more so. The first movement, for example, boasts not one theme, but three—all cleverly related and interwoven in the development section.

Both performances on this podcast are by Musicians from Marlboro, a perennial favorite with Gardner Museum audiences. We begin with the sextet.

Media Files:

222. Opus Posthumous

Tue, 15 Sep 2015 01:00:15 EST

Work for solo piano by Schubert performed by Ji, piano on April 12, 2015 and work for violin and piano by Schubert performed by Aleksey Semenenko, violin and Inna Firsova, piano on November 2, 2014.

  • Schubert: Impromptu Op. 142, No. 3
  • Schubert: Sonata in A Major Op. 162 “Grand duo”

How many great works have been saved from the ash heap of history by posthumous publication?

From time to time, one encounters a piece of classical music with a mysterious-looking opus number—often chronologically nonsensical, sometimes containing an abbreviation. Often, this denotes a work published (and assigned a catalogue number) after the composer’s death. Such is the case with both of the Schubert pieces on this podcast—the third Impromptu in B-flat Major and the “Grand duo” Sonata for violin and piano in A Major.

The first is played by Ji, a well-known Korean pianist who won the Young Concert Artists auditions and recently made his Gardner Museum debut. If the theme sounds a bit familiar, don’t be surprised. Drawn from the composer’s incidental music to the play Rosamunde, it was apparently a favorite tune. The impromptu takes the form of a theme and variation.

The “grand duo” sonata—also published after the composer’s death—is fittingly named: the piece exhibits true equality and partnership between the piano and violin, played on this recording by violinist Aleksey Semenenko and pianist Inna Firsova. (Semenenko, like Ji, is a recent YCA winner.) It is an elegant but compact little work, less than 20 minutes in length.

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221. Schumann Fantasies

Tue, 01 Sep 2015 01:00:01 EST

Work for voice and piano by Schumann, performed by Mark Padmore, tenor and Jonathan Biss, piano on October 12, 2014 and work for clarinet and piano by Schumann performed by Richard Stoltzman, clarinet and David Deveau, piano on January 11, 2015.

  • Schumann: Liederkreis, Op. 24
  • Schumann: Fantasiestucke, Op. 73

Fantasy is a potent thread running through the work of many Romantic composers, but none more so than Schumann.

As a musical form, the ‘fantasy’ is the stuff of strong passions and dramatic emotional shifts, as we hear in the closing work on this podcast, Schumann’s Fantastiestuecke, opus 72 for clarinet and piano. The moods shift dramatically, starting with a movement marked “sweet and with feeling,” and concluding with one marked “fast and fiery.” The work ends in a whirlwind, with calls from the composer to play “schneller und schneller”—faster and faster.

Before that, we start with a fantasy of a different sort: Schumann’s Liederkreis, opus 24, a set of songs based on poetry by Heine. The poems tell the tale of a love gone wrong. In nine songs, the singer recounts stories of lost love and painful separation.

The nine songs that make up this set, like the poems themselves, vary in length, but they share a directness and simplicity. We’ll hear them performed by tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Jonathan Biss.

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220. Multicultural Americans

Sat, 15 Aug 2015 01:00:15 EST

Works for chamber orchestra by Foote performed by A Far Cry with Paula Robison, flute on April 21, 2013 and February 6, 2011.

America has long been known as a place where many cultures converge. On our podcast, we’ll celebrate two Americans, from two different generations, whose music illustrates this multicultural inclination.

Born in the 1850s in Salem, Massachusetts, Arthur Foote was arguably the first major classical composer to be educated entirely in America. However, his work was undeniably influenced by European trends and aesthetics, as we’ll hear on this podcast. Foote traveled often to Europe, attending notable concerts, including Wagner’s first Bayreuth Festival. The score to A Night Piece, written for flute and strings, evokes elements of both German and French music of the late 19th century.

We skip ahead several decades for the next work on the podcast: Gabriela Lena Frank’s Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout. Born more than a century after Foote, in 1972, Frank is a young composer of Jewish-Peruvian descent, and this piece draws particularly on her Latin American heritage. The work, she writes, “mixes elements from the western classical and Andean folk music traditions,” combining them such that they coexist as equals, without one dominating the other.

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219. Baroque Odyssey

Sat, 01 Aug 2015 01:00:01 EST

Work for chamber orchestra by Chauvon performed by Les Délices on November 23, 2014. Works for voice and chamber orchestra by Rebel and Bourgeois performed by Les Délices on November 23, 2014.

  • Chauvon, Francois: Cinquieme Suite
  • Rebel, Jean-Fery: Selections from Ulysse: Suffriray-je toujours; Saraband; Beaux lieux, vous ne scauriez me plaire
  • Bourgeois, Thomas-Louis: Les Sirenes

Homer’s Odyssey is one of the most famous stories in human history. On this podcast, with French Baroque ensemble Les Délices as our guide, we’ll explore the timeless tale through music.

Our podcast starts with a work not literally modeled on the Odyssey—Francois Chauvon’s fifth suite. But, as Nagy argues in her smart program notes, this music has a magical quality that listeners might easily hear as evoking the years that Odysseus spent under the spell of the goddess Calypso.

After the instrumental suite, we’ll hear a series of vocal works, for which Les Délices is joined by soprano Clara Rottsalk. We start with excerpts by Jean-Fery Rebel’s little-known opera Ulysse. We close the program with another vocal piece inspired by Odysseus: Thomas-Louis Bourgeois’ Les Sirenes. It is—as it sounds—a portrayal of the seductive singing of the Sirens, who try to lure Odysseus and his crew into harm’s way. Fortunately for our hero, their beguiling music is ultimately unsuccessful, and he continues on his journey unscathed.

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218. A Mozart Menu

Wed, 15 Jul 2015 01:00:15 EST

Works by Mozart for voice, performed by the Boston Children’s Chorus on November 1, 2014, solo piano performed by Paavali Jumppanen, piano on February 13, 2011, and two pianos performed by Christina and Michelle Naughton, pianos on March 10, 2013.

  • Mozart: Pappagano
  • Mozart: Sonata No. 10 in C Major, K. 330
  • Mozart: Sonata for Two Pianos K. 448 in D Major

Mozart always makes for a delightful musical menu. On this podcast, we’ll enjoy three courses, all wonderful works by Mozart.

Our appetizer comes courtesy of the Boston Children’s Chorus, who perform the “Papageno” aria from The Magic Flute to start things off. The aria is a sweet love duet between Papageno, the prince’s loyal friend and slightly goofy companion, and his newfound love—his counterpart in female form, appropriately named Papagena.

Next comes Mozart’s tenth piano sonata, in C Major. The piece was almost certainly intended for broad public consumption: though it has some challenging passagework, it is playable for an amateur audience with a piano at home, and it may even have been written with Mozart’s own aristocratic piano students in mind. We’ll hear the piece played by Paavali Jumppanen.

For our third and final course, we have Mozart’s larger-still Sonata for two pianos in D Major. It is a virtuosic work from the get-go, requiring not just great individual technique but strong coordination between the two players. We’ll hear it performed by Christina and Michelle Naughton, twin sisters who often play together.

Media Files:

217. A Clarinetist Muse

Wed, 01 Jul 2015 01:00:01 EST

Work for clarinet and piano by Brahms performed by Richard Stoltzman, clarinet and David Deveau, piano on January 11, 2015.

  • Brahms: Sonata for Clarinet and Piano in F Minor Op. 120 No. 1

In the 1890’s, Brahms declared himself finished as a composer. He was done writing music, he said. But a trip to Meiningen, and a chance to hear the great clarinetist Richard Mühlfeld changed his mind, and he went on to write a number of pieces to showcase the extraordinary talents of this apparently self-taught woodwind player.

Brahms heard Mühlfeld on a visit and was impressed, so much so that he wrote several works for clarinet in short order. First came a trio for clarinet, piano, and cello; then, a quintet. A few years later came two sonatas, one of which we’ll hear today: the sonata in F minor, Opus 120, number 1. The first performance of the sonatas featured Brahms himself at the piano, with Mühlfeld on the clarinet.

On our podcast, we’ll hear the Mühlfeld part played by the very able clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, with David Deveau standing in for Brahms on piano. The piece lasts almost 40 minutes, and it will make up the entirety of our program.

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216. Schumann’s Salon

Mon, 15 Jun 2015 01:00:15 EST

Work for voice and piano by Schumann performed by Mark Padmore, tenor and Jonathan Biss, piano on October 12, 2014 and work for string quartet by Schumann performed by Musicians from Marlboro on March 17, 2013

  • Schumann: Sechs Gedichte und Requiem, Op. 90
  • Schumann: String Quartet in F Major, Op. 41, No. 2

Today’s podcast features two chamber pieces by Robert Schumann, the type of music you might have heard in a Romantic-era salon.

We begin with a song cycle—the form that was Schumann’s bread and butter. Schumann wrote more than 400 songs, or lieder, in his lifetime, and he is widely acknowledged as a master of the genre. The set we’ll hear today is Sechs Gedichte und Requiem, Schumann’s opus 90. The cycle consists of six poems by Nikolaus Lenau, an Austrian poet, and a contemporary of Schumann’s. The seventh movement “Requiem” is a text of mourning written by another poet.

The string quartet we’ll hear dates from 1842 when he turned his attention to chamber music and his first three string quartets. We’ll hear his opus 41, number 2, the String Quartet in F Major which has more than its fair share of creativity, making it a rewarding listen, even though it was Schumann’s very first effort in the string quartet form.

Our string quartet on this recording hails from Musicians from Marlboro. We’ll start with the song cycle, performed by tenor Mark Padmore and pianist Jonathan Biss.

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215. Deaths and the Maidens

Mon, 01 Jun 2015 01:00:01 EST

Works for string orchestra and voices by Josquin Des Prez arranged by Caroline Shaw, and by Schubert arranged by Mahler, performed by A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth on May 11, 2014.

  • Josquin Des Prez: Nymphes des bois, Arr. Caroline Shaw
  • Schubert: Quartet in D Minor, D. 810 (Death and the Maiden) Arr. Mahler

The first work we’ll hear is Renaissance composer Josquin des Prez’s “Nymphes des bois,” a piece written in memoriam of the great composer Johannes Ockeghem, who had recently passed away. The version we’ll hear is a sensitive contemporary arrangement by Caroline Shaw for voices and strings.

The other piece on the program is a very different take on death: an arrangement by Mahler of Schubert’s string quartet “Death and the Maiden.” The string quartet was itself an adaptation of Schubert’s song of the same title, which depicts a struggle between a young maiden and the grim reaper.

The quartet, and Mahler’s adaptation of it for string orchestra, builds on the song, each expanding it in turn for greater and greater forces. The piece concludes with a tarantella, a swirling, relentless dance of somewhat ambiguous origin, fittingly linked with both courtship and death. The Schubert also features the players of A Far Cry performing.

Media Files:

214. Beethoven, in Sickness and Health

Fri, 15 May 2015 01:00:15 EST

Work for string quartet by Beethoven performed by Belcea Quartet on November 4, 2012.

  • Beethoven: String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132

In April of 1825, Beethoven became seriously ill. Bedridden, and in declining health, he feared his end might be near. As his health worsened, he wrote many of his so-called “Late Quartets” – his incredible final contributions to the art of the string quartet.

But as the weeks passed, Beethoven made a remarkable recovery. The piece we’ll hear today—his fifteenth string quartet—celebrates his return to health.

The piece’s center—emotionally, musically, and structurally—is the third of its five movements. The movement is subtitled, “Heiliger Dankgesang,” or in full: “A holy song of thanks to the divine, from one who has been healed.” The movement begins with chorale-like chords and depicts a slow but steady move from weakness to vitality and health. It is a radiant hymn of gratitude from a person who’s been given a second chance at life.

The recording we’ll hear features the Belcea Quartet, from a performance in 2012. In full, the piece runs about 45 minutes.

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213. Belle Epoque Violin

Fri, 01 May 2015 01:00:01 EST

Works for violin and piano by Ravel, Debussy, and Saint-Saens performed by Paul Huang, violin and Jessica Osborne, piano on December 1, 2013.

The turn from 19th to 20th century was a fertile moment in French music. In the space of a few decades, artistic norms shifted dramatically, from beautifully formed, pleasingly symmetrical classicism to the mistier depictions of Impressionism.

The last piece we’ll hear is Saint-Saens’ Sonata No. 1 in D Minor. Though penned by a Frenchman in 1885, the piece sounds remarkably similar to the chamber music of Beethoven, with its substantial scale and recurring musical themes.

Before the sonata, we’ll hear two pieces that were written just a few years later, but sound like they come from another musical world. First is Ravel’s “Piece en forme de Habanera,” a work infused with the same Spanish flair that would later characterize the composer’s most famous piece, Bolero.

After the Habanera, we have another piece from early 20th century France: Debussy’s “La plus que lent.” Originally written for solo piano, this piece, too, spawned many adaptations, including the violin and piano version we’ll hear. Debussy, like Ravel, was inspired by dance: in his case, the waltz.

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212. Wendy Warner Plays Brahms

Wed, 15 Apr 2015 01:00:15 EST

Works for cello and piano by Brahms performed by Wendy Warner, cello and Irina Nuzova, piano on September 28, 2014.

  • Brahms: Sapphische Ode, Op. 94, No. 4 arranged by David Geringas
  • Brahms: Lerchengesang (Lark Song) arranged by Zuill Bailey
  • Brahms: Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in F Major, Op. 99

In September 2014, cellist Wendy Warner played a recital at the Gardner Museum, joined by pianist Irina Nuzova. The program had a distinct focus on Brahms, and on this podcast, we’ll feature three of the Brahms works.

First come two arrangements for cello of Brahms lieder. First is the languidly beautiful “Sapphische Ode,” a love song. The second song we’ll hear is “Lerchengesang,” the Song of the Lark. This is another of Brahms’ love songs, a remarkably sweet, tender melody, about hearing a lark’s song and being reminded of a special spring moment long ago.

Then, we get to the meat of the program: Brahms’ Sonata for cello and piano No. 2, in F Major. The piece opens with an exuberant first movement, with tremolos in the piano and soaring melodies in the cello.

The subsequent movements of the sonata explore a variety of different keys, harmonies, techniques, and moods. The slow movement starts curiously, with the piano voicing the main theme while the cellist plucks along, pizzicato. The final allegro is a quick, light romp, perhaps a somewhat abrupt ending to such a major piece, but one that cleverly leaves the listener wanting more.

Media Files:

211. Alte Musik, Made New

Wed, 01 Apr 2015 01:00:01 EST

Works for chamber orchestra by Vivaldi, Veracini, and Telemann performed by Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin on April 6, 2014.

  • Vivaldi: Concerto for Strings in C Major, RV 114
  • Vivaldi: Concerto in C Major for Oboe, Strings and Continuo, RV 450
  • Veracini: Overture No. 6 in G Minor
  • Telemann: Overture in A Minor, TWV 55:a1

In April 2014, the Gardner welcomed one of the most acclaimed early-music groups in the world: the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, known to friends and fans by the nickname Akamus.

Formed in 1982, the group has won every major international accolade for their recordings, including the Grammys, the Cannes Classical Award, and the Gramophone Award. They have also collaborated with dance companies and directors to create innovative multidisciplinary performances, and have won acclaim for their opera recordings. In the United States, they are regulars at Carnegie Hall.

We’ll hear them play three short works by the Italians Vivaldi and Veracini, followed by an overture by the German Baroque composer Telemann. All were recorded at their April 6, 2014 performance at the Gardner.

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210. All Together Now

Sun, 15 Mar 2015 01:00:15 EST

Work for string orchestra and voices by Caroline Shaw performed by A Far Cry and Roomful of Teeth on May 11, 2014. Work for chamber orchestra by JS Bach performed by the Gardner Chamber Orchestra on December 9, 2007.

  • Shaw: Music in Common Time
  • Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4

When is a soloist not a soloist?

Today, we’ll hear two pieces that feature performers in soloist-like roles, but as part of a group. Both works take inspiration from the concerto grosso style—the Baroque form which contrasts small groups of players with a fuller ensemble.

The piece we’ll hear on the podcast is called Music in Common Time, and it was Caroline Shaw’s first commission, written for a “super-group” formed by combining the forces of Roomful of Teeth, Shaw’s vocal group, with A Far Cry, the Gardner’s chamber orchestra in residence; throughout the piece, the singers take on a concertino-like role, standing out from the texture while still unified as a group.

In Bach’s fourth Brandenburg concerto, for two flutes you’ll quickly notice that the flutes are not alone: though they do have an important role, the violin also vies for attention. On this recording, “team flute” has a champion in their corner: flutist Paula Robison, a renowned soloist and frequent leader of the Gardner Chamber Orchestra, the group heard on this recording from 2007. Whoever you decide is the “true” soloist, you’re sure to enjoy the ride.

First, Caroline Shaw’s Music in Common Time.

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209. More Than a Moment

Sun, 01 Mar 2015 00:00:01 EST

Works for piano by Franz Schubert and Adolf Schulz-Evler performed by Charlie Albright on September 29, 2013 and October 31, 2010.

  • Schubert: Moments musicaux, D. 780, Op. 94
  • Adolf Schulz-Evler: Concert Arabesques on "The Beautiful Blue Danube"

Schubert’s Moments musicaux, a set of six piano pieces, are among his most beloved piano works. And, as it would happen, they were also among his last. It is both incredible and saddening to imagine what he might have done, had he continued to compose for several decades more, but Moments musicaux stands as an admirable, if premature, final accomplishment, with its six contrasting movements, recalling everything from Eastern European dances to Bach-like passagework.

Perhaps there is an emotional truth to the title Moments musicaux, if not a temporal one: within the little world Schubert creates in each movement, one can easily imagine losing track of time.

The pianist we’ll hear on this podcast is Charlie Albright. And he’ll close out the program, after the Schubert, with a piece that really allows his incredible technical gifts to shine: Adolf Schulz-Evler’s Concert Arabesques on “The Beautiful Blue Danube.” Wait a few moments: you’ll easily pick out the tune once the dazzling introduction is through. The eleven-minute piece flies by in a cloud of technical wizardry. Expect fireworks.

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208. The Spice of Life

Sun, 15 Feb 2015 00:00:15 EST

Work for piano by Beethoven performed by Seymour Lipkin on October 30, 2005 and work for piano trio by Beethoven performed by the Eroica Trio on September 14, 2014.

  • Beethoven: Variations on an original theme in f Major, Op. 34
  • Beethoven: Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11

They say variety is the spice of life. It’s also a major theme in the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. Beethoven seems to have never met a theme he couldn't work with—whether he wrote it himself, or borrowed it, from classical or popular music.

In the first piece on our podcast—the Variations on an original theme, opus 34—Beethoven penned the theme, as well as the variations that follow. Each of the six variations is in a different key—a novel feature for the time.

Next up is Beethoven’s piano trio in B-flat Major, opus 11. This piece is a variation, times two. Originally composed for a trio of clarinet, cello, and piano, Beethoven later created a “variation” of the work for the more traditional piano trio: violin, cello, and piano—which is the version we’ll hear, performed by the Eroica Trio.

But the variations don’t stop there. The final movement of the piece is in the form of a “theme and variations,” based on a tune from an opera by Joseph Weigl, a tune so popular, in its day, that is could be heard throughout the streets of Vienna.

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207. Home Court Advantage

Sun, 01 Feb 2015 00:00:01 EST

Works for piano by Rachmaninoff performed by Nareh Arghamanyan on October 21, 2012 and work for violin and piano by Kreisler performed by Bella Hristova and Ieva Jokubaviciute on February 28, 2010.

  • Rachmaninoff: Morceaux de fantasie, Op. 3: Elégie, Prelude in C-sharp minor, Melodie in E Major
  • Rachmaninoff: Etude-Tableaux, Op. 33, No. 1-No. 5
  • Kreisler: Liebesleid

Most composers have the ability to perform their own music. Many play several instruments. But there are a few who stand out, in music history, as having especially prodigious performing skills, talents that were more or less commensurate with their abilities as composers.

Rachmaninoff is perhaps the best-known composer in this category. He was, by all accounts, a uniquely gifted pianist and needless to say, he wrote piano music often. We’ll hear two such works: the first three movements of his Morceaux de fantasie, including the Prelude in C-sharp minor, which you may well recognize; and the first five of his Etudes-Tableaux. Both were performed at the Gardner by 25-year-old pianist Nareh Arghamanyan, an Armenian virtuoso who has won prizes at more than 18 major international piano competitions.

After Nareh’s performance, we’ll hear another piece composed by a virtuoso, for his own instrument. In this live recording, violinist Bella Hristova and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute play the Liebesleid of Fritz Kreisler, a brief, lyrical work that is, like the Rachmaninoff pieces, a perfect embodiment of the unique gifts of its author. Kreisler cultivated a sweet, singing, expressive sound that was widely recognized as uniquely “his.” In our podcast, we’ll hear another young violinist developing a voice of her own.

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206. Scaling Up the String Quartet

Thu, 15 Jan 2015 00:00:15 EST

Work for string quartet by Schubert performed by musicians from Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Institute on March 30, 2014.

  • Schubert: String Quartet No. 15 in G Major, D. 887

Schubert had a gift for miniatures. His art songs offer, often in just 3 to 5 minutes, small slices of life. Their diminutive size belies the richness of their musical and poetic depth.

But, as the string quartet we’ll hear demonstrates, Schubert could also scale up, writing chamber works on a scale more often associated with symphonies.

His 15th string quartet in G Major, is a perfect example. Performances of just the first movement can often stretch to 20 minutes; the performance we’ll hear today clocks in, in its entirety, at just under 50 minutes. We’ll hear it performed by three young musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute, joined by violinist and program director Miriam Fried.

This quartet was one of Schubert’s last, followed only by his monumental string quintet in C Major. The piece, like much of his later work, seems to move between extremes, from passionate outbursts to touchingly lyrical passages.

With a piece this rich, it’s probably best to let it speak for itself. Here, Schubert’s String Quartet # 15, in G Major.

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205. A Duo of Czech Trios

Thu, 01 Jan 2015 00:00:01 EST

Works for piano trio by Suk and Smetana performed by the Eroica Trio on September 14, 2014.

  • Suk: Elegie, Op. 23
  • Smetana: Piano Trio in G Minor, Op. 15

We’ll first hear Josef Suk’s Elegie, a piece written for a memorial celebrating the writer Julius Zeyer, an important influence and close collaborator of Suk’s. Suk saw the Elegie as a musical tribute, specifically, to Zeyer’s epic poem Vysehrad, a work based on Czech national legends. A violinist by training, he wrote a great deal of chamber music, including this lovely trio, a brief work of about five minutes.

Our second piece in this “duo of trios” is the Piano Trio in G minor of Bedřich Smetana. The loss that inspired this piece was even closer to home: Smetana wrote this trio in the wake of the death of his eldest daughter, who passed away at age four from scarlet fever. Even as a young child, she showed promise as a gifted musician, and Smetana was understandably devastated by the loss. He dedicated the piece to her memory, and though there is no descriptive “program” to the work, Smetana’s mourning is palpable in the music.

Both pieces were recorded at the Eroica Trio’s recent performance at the Gardner Museum, in September 2014.

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204. Sounds Like America

Mon, 15 Dec 2014 00:00:15 EST

Works for string orchestra by Ives and Dvořák performed by A Far Cry on December 8, 2013.

  • Ives: Hymn: Largo Cantabile from A Set of 3 Short Pieces
  • Dvořák: Quintet Op. 97 American Arr. by Blaise Dejardin

On this podcast, we’ll hear two selections that, to our ears, sound like America.

Only the first was actually written by an American, though: a piece called “Hymn: Largo Cantabile” from Charles Ives’s Set of 3 Short Pieces.

Ives was the son of a musician, a bandleader for the United States Army, and he studied music as a student at Yale. His music pushed harmonic boundaries far beyond what he would’ve learned at the Yale music department. But it always retained a distinctly American flavor, often incorporating popular music and, as in this piece, traditional hymn tunes. The music is a bit mysterious, and it is unmistakably Ives.

Next, we have Dvořák’s “American” Quintet, opus 97, arranged for chamber orchestra. It, like the Ives, was performed at the Gardner Museum by A Far Cry. This arrangement was composed for the group by cellist Blaise Dejardin.

The Dvořák, like the Ives, draws on traditional American tunes, incorporating several snippets of American Indian songs. Like Ives, Dvořák took these tunes and embedded them within his own sound world, creating a piece that is certainly rooted in Native American music, but rendered in Dvořák’s own unique voice.

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203. An Eclectic Century

Mon, 01 Dec 2014 00:00:01 EST

Works for voice and piano by Marc Blitzstein and Ned Rorem performed by New York Festival of Song on November 3, 2013. Work for string orchestra by Schoenberg performed by A Far Cry on March 6, 2011.

  • Blitzstein: Emily, from The Airborne Symphony
  • Rorem: A specimen case, from War Scenes
  • Schoenberg: Verklarte Nacht, Op. 4

The 20th century was an eclectic one for classical music. Today’s podcast traces just a few of the many strands.

The piece written first is actually the final one we’ll hear: Arnold Schoenberg’s Verklaerte Nacht. Many of us closely associate Schoenberg with serialism, the formalized system of atonal music composition that he developed with his protégés Berg and Webern. But Verklaerte Nacht embraces dissonance and extended harmonies, and it is luscious and rich music, overtly late-Romantic in language, inspired by a poem about the profound depths of love.

The podcast begins with a piece that comes several decades later, by the American composer Marc Blitzstein. A Philadelphia native, Blitzstein studied locally at the Curtis Institute of Music and then set off for Europe, where he worked briefly with Schoenberg himself. The brief and touching song depicts a young soldier’s note home to his sweetheart, Emily.

After the Blitzstein, we have a piece from the next generation of 20th century American composers: Ned Rorem, who just celebrated his 90th birthday in 2013. Rorem also takes up war as his subject in this, a movement from his cycle War Scenes, based on Whitman poems.

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202. Bach, Then and Now

Sat, 15 Nov 2014 00:00:15 EST

Work for voice and string orchestra by Bach performed by Rebel Baroque Orchestra on November 10, 2013. Work for string orchestra by Bach performed by A Far Cry on December 5, 2013. Work for piano quartet by David Ludwig performed by Musicians from Ravinia's Steans Institute on March 30, 2014.

  • Bach: Zerschmettert mich, ihr Felsen und ihr Hugel, Aria in A Major from St. John Passion
  • Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048
  • David Ludwig: Aria Fantasy for Piano Quartet

During the past century, classical music has explored many new and far-flung territories. But it would be a mistake not to recognize the profound influence of earlier music – in particular, that of Bach.

This influence has been felt in many ways. One significant development has been the emergence of historical performance: using centuries-old instruments. The first selection on our podcast, comes from this tradition: the Baroque orchestra Rebel performing an aria from Bach’s St. John Passion, with tenor Rufus Mueller. The historical instruments lend a brightness and transparency that is quite unique.

We’ll then go to a modern performance of an historic work: the chamber orchestra A Far Cry playing Bach’s third Brandenburg Concerto. They bring a unique perspective to the music of Bach, playing it on modern instruments.

Finally, we arrive at the most modern work of the bunch: contemporary composer David Ludwig’s Aria Fantasy for Piano Quartet. It takes some careful listening to hear, but the piece is actually based on Bach’s famous Goldberg Variations; you may hear quotes from the various movements creep in throughout the work.

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201. Haydn In the Countryside

Sat, 01 Nov 2014 01:00:01 EST

Work for solo piano by Haydn performed by Sonia Chan on January 20, 2001 and work for string quartet by Haydn performed by Musicians from Marlboro on April 27, 2014.

  • Haydn: Sonata in C minor, No. 33
  • Haydn: String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 50, No. 1

In the 1770’s and 80’s, Haydn found himself in a situation familiar to many artists: how to balance his day job with his budding career? Granted, Haydn’s day job was musical as well. He was the Kapellmeister, the musical leader, of the Esterházy musical establishment.

But this steady gig came with strings attached: Haydn’s contract prohibited him from accepting commissions from any external source. The piano sonata written in 1771 demonstrates Haydn’s continuing musical growth. It was his very first piano piece to bear the “sonata” title, and it was longer and displayed more serious emotion than many of his earlier works.

In 1779, Haydn renegotiated his contract to allow him to accept outside employment, and things began to change. His Opus 50, number 1 string quartet was among the fruits of this highly creative and productive period. The Opus 50 quartets were commissioned in 1784 by Haydn’s new publisher, though it took him a while to complete them. He finally delivered the manuscript to his publisher in 1787.

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200. Opposites Attract

Wed, 15 Oct 2014 01:00:15 EST

Works for solo piano by Beethoven and Schumann performed by Paavali Jumppanen on April 13, 2008 and May 4, 2014.

  • Beethoven: Sonata No. 27 in E Minor, Op. 90
  • Schumann: Humoreske in B-flat Major, Op. 20

The pianist Paavali Jumppanen is a longtime Gardner Museum favorite, and this podcast features him performing two piano works that show that opposites attract: Beethoven’s Sonata No. 27 in E Minor, Op. 90, and Schumann’s Humoreske in B-Flat Major, Op. 20.

Beethoven considered titling this sonata “Struggle Between Head and Heart,” and there is a feeling of opposing forces throughout much of the first movement, labeled (in German) “With vivaciousness, and continuous sentiment and expressivity.” The music starts powerfully, with bold chords, but this muscular, strong emotion is repeatedly interrupted by gentler motifs in a minor key. At only 13 minutes, the sonata is one of Beethoven’s shorter works, but there is much musical delight packed into this diminutive piece.

We’ll then hear Schumann’s Humoreske, a set of short piano pieces, each about 3 to 5 minutes long, designed to be played together. The piece is likewise a study in extremes. The piece vacillates from joy to melancholy to great tenderness, and sometimes in the space of less than five minutes. In all, the set lasts some 25 minutes. It’ll be preceded by the Beethoven sonata.

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199. Tunes Made for Singing

Wed, 01 Oct 2014 01:00:01 EST

Work for string quartet performed by Musicians from Marlboro on April 12, 2014 and works for voice and piano by Harry Burleigh performed by New York Festival of Song on October 14, 2012.

  • Dvořák: Cypresses for String Quartet B. 152
  • Burleigh: A Birthday Song
  • Burleigh: Little David Play on Your Harp
  • Burleigh: Stan’ Still Jordan
  • Burleigh: Steal Away
  • Burleigh: O Rocks, Don’t Fall on Me

An advance warning: this podcast program may have you humming all day long. Our program features eminently sing-able works by two composers: Dvorak and Harry Burleigh.

We’ll start with Dvorak’s Cypresses for string quartet, an instrumental piece based on a set of songs the composer wrote as a young man, settings of the poetry of the Moravian writer Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky The poems are steeped in the emotion of young love. Some movements also touch on the deep pain felt when a first love is lost. The string quartet arrangement has 12 brief movements, totaling about 20 minutes. The performance we’ll hear is by Musicians from Marlboro.

Then, we have performers from the New York Festival of Song, offering up a number of short works by the African-American composer and arranger Harry T. Burleigh. In the 1920’s, Burleigh’s songs and arrangements of spirituals were immensely popular recital fare. The selections we’ll hear include both originals, such as the first piece “A Birthday Song,” and arrangements, including “Steal Away” and “Stan’ Still Jordan.” The podcast ends with all three singers—sopranos Julia Bullock & Dina Kuznetsova, and baritone James Martin—performing “O Rocks, Don’t Fall on Me.”

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198. Introducing Xiang Yu

Mon, 15 Sep 2014 01:00:15 EST

Works for violin and piano by Vitali, Debussy, and Szymanowski performed by Angelo Xiang Yu, violin, and Dina Vainshtein, piano on April 20, 2014.

  • Vitali: Chaconne in G Minor for violin and piano
  • Debussy: Sonata for Violin and Piano in G Minor
  • Szymanowski: Nocturne and Tarentella, Op. 28

Today, we’ll introduce a violinist who we think you’ll be hearing much more about: Angelo Xiang Yu. He swept a number of major competitions, winning the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition in 2010. He attended New England Conservatory here in Boston for his undergraduate education and Artist Diploma and, this fall, will continue studying there for his Master’s degree.

For his Gardner Museum recital in April 2014, he brought with him a program that, as we’ll hear today, showcased his breadth and virtuosity.

The Vitali Chaconne has a notable history with virtuoso violinists. In fact, Jascha Heifetz chose this piece as the curtain-raiser for his own American debut, at Carnegie Hall in 1917. But according to modern scholars, it’s quite unlikely that this work was actually written by its supposed Baroque-era author, Tomaso Antonio Vitali, a violinist from Bologna. The piece has a distinctly Romantic flavor for a work that supposedly hails from the early 1700’s.

We’ll hear the Chaconne first, followed by the Debussy Sonata – one of the composer’s final works – and finally the Szymanowki Nocturne and Tarantella, all performed by violinist Xiang Yu and pianist Dina Vainshtein.

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197. Davidsbündlertänze

Mon, 01 Sep 2014 01:00:01 EST

Work for cello and piano by Schumann performed by Colin Carr, cello and Thomas Sauer, piano on January 31, 2010. Work for solo piano by Schumann performed by Jeremy Denk on January 12, 2014.

  • Schumann: Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70
  • Schumann: Davidsbündlertänze, Op. 6

The pianist Jeremy Denk has a funny, thoughtful, beautifully written blog. On it, he memorably described Schumann’s Davidsbündlertänze–the piece we’ll hear him perform on this podcast – as “a meal of German, evocative, romantic, elusive tapas.” A series of musical “small plates.”

Before we dig in to that piece, we’ll enjoy another little morsel of Schumann: the Adagio and Allego for cello and piano, performed by cellist Colin Carr and pianist Thomas Sauer. This piece came out of a tradition called “House Music” – pieces for amateurs to perform in the home. It is an appealing, successful piece; one can easily imagine why amateurs (or any musician, for that matter) would be eager to play it.

Next we’ll move to the collection of 18 short piano pieces known as Davidsbündlertänze, which is one of Jeremy Denk’s personal favorites.

Denk is not alone in his admiration; the piece is widely considered to be among the greatest Romantic piano works, and one of Schumann’s personal “bests”. It is a work of contrasts. The composer begins the score with an old German adage that sets us up for the contrast to come: “In each and every age,” he says, “joy and sorrow are mingled: remain serious in joy, and courageous in sorrow.”

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196. Beethoven’s Borrowed Tunes

Fri, 15 Aug 2014 01:00:15 EST

Work for cello and piano performed by Wendy Warner and Irina Nuzova on February 26, 2012. Work for string quartet performed by Borromeo String Quartet on January 30, 2011.

  • Beethoven: Variations in E-flat Major, WoO 46 on Mozart's "Bei Mannern welche Liebe fühlen" from The Magic Flute
  • Beethoven: Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2

“A great composer doesn’t imitate; he steals.” You may have heard this quote—or some version of it—attributed to Stravinsky, and though the sources are a bit sketchy, it’s one of those lines that has stuck. It’s funny, and surprising—which is surely part of the appeal—but it also has a bit of the ring of truth.

On this podcast, we’ll hear a couple “stolen” tunes as reinvented by Beethoven.

We begin with the variations for cello and piano on Mozart’s aria “Bei Maennern,” from The Magic Flute. The original tune is a charming duet between the opera’s heroine, Pamina, and the comic lead, Papageno, about the blissful rewards of married life. The piece is performed by cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova.

The borrowed tune in the work that follows—Beethoven’s string quartet No. 8 in E Minor, the second of the “Razumovsky” quartets—is a Russian theme, in honor of the count to whom they were dedicated. In this particular quartet, a well-known tune crops up in the third movement, one that was also used by both Mussorgsky and Rachmaninoff in their works. We’ll hear the Borromeo String Quartet perform the piece.

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195. H&H

Fri, 01 Aug 2014 01:00:01 EST

Works for chamber orchestra and voice performed by Rebel with tenor Rufus Mueller on November 10, 2013, and work for string quartet performed by Musicians from Marlboro on March 25, 2012.

  • Handel (three works): Overture to Agrippina in G Minor HWV 6: Total Eclipse; Your Charms to Ruin: Tune Your Harps; His Mighty Arm
  • Haydn: String Quartet No. 43 in G Major, Op. 54, No. 1

Ask a New Yorker what H&H means, and they’re likely to tell you about bagels. But ask a classically inclined Bostonian the same question, and chances are they’ll have a more musical answer: Handel and Haydn, the namesakes of one of our local Baroque orchestras. On today’s program, we’ve got both H’s: vocal music by Handel, and a string quartet by Haydn.

We begin, fittingly, with an overture: Handel’s overture to his opera Agrippina, performed—as are all of our Handel selections on this podcast—by the Baroque orchestra Rebel. Then, they’ll be joined by the English-German tenor Rufus Mueller for a series of arias from Handel Oratorios, including Samson, Esther, and Jeptha.

Then, our second “H”: Haydn’s string quartet No. 43 in G Major, the composer’s Op. 54, No. 1. This piece is almost as much of a solo vehicle as the oratorio arias that come before it. The quartet was written by Haydn for the violinist Johann Tost, and there is a definite emphasis throughout on the first violinist. We’ll hear a performance by Musicians from Marlboro. But first, the Handel.

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194. Fit For a King

Tue, 15 Jul 2014 01:00:15 EST

Works for chamber orchestra performed by A Far Cry with guest violist Hellen Callus on February 2, 2014.

  • Bach: Concerto in E Flat Major for Viola, Strings, and Basso Continuo
  • Elgar: Introduction and Allegro, Op, 47

The Elgar, though written as an introduction, will come second on our podcast. Clocking in at about 14 minutes, the piece is a rich work of post-Romantic passion, written for string quartet and string orchestra – a sort of modern concerto grosso. In another nod to earlier styles, Elgar also inserts a devilishly difficult fugue, which comes around the middle of the Allegro, in place of a more conventional development section.

Before the Elgar, we’ll hear Bach’s Viola Concerto in E-flat Major. This is a somewhat curious piece. There’s substantial evidence that Bach did, in fact, write a viola concerto made up of these movements—or ones very much like them—but the manuscript itself was lost. The score we’ll hear performed is actually a reconstruction, assembled by a contemporary musicologist, from three surviving Bach works that are believed to contain fragments of the lost concerto. The performance we’ll hear of this rediscovered and little-known piece features the sought-after violist Helen Callus, whose performance makes a compelling case for this work’s place in the repertory.

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193. Denk Plays Mozart

Tue, 01 Jul 2014 01:00:01 EST

Works for solo piano by Mozart performed by Jeremy Denk on January 12, 2014.

  • Mozart: Piano sonata No. 15 in F Major K. 533/494
  • Mozart: Piano sonata No. 8 in A Minor K. 310

As the The New York Times puts it, “Mr. Denk, clearly, is a pianist you want to hear no matter what he performs.” Today, we’ll hear Jeremy Denk play a bit of music from the classical era, two sonatas by Mozart: number 15 in F Major and number 8 in A minor.

The A minor sonata – written when Mozart was just 22 – is one of very few minor-key sonatas by Mozart, and it’s not surprising that he wrote it during a trying time. Mozart had left his job as a court musician in the summer of 1777, and he spent the next year traveling, performing, and trying to find a suitable position. His mother fell ill and passed away in the summer of 1778, right around the same time Mozart was composing the piece. The emotional, even angry tone of this piece is not surprising, given the context. But even within this tumultuous piece, there are moments of lightness, particularly in the second movement.

Before that, we’ll begin the program with the F Major sonata, Mozart’s fifteenth, unique in its transparent, finely wrought contrapuntal textures and its liberal use of dissonant clashes, particularly in the slow movement.

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192. Melting Pot

Sun, 15 Jun 2014 01:00:15 EST

Work for string orchestra by Ljova performed by A Far Cry on December 8, 2013 and work for clarinet trio by Brahms performed by Musicians from Marlboro on March 25, 2012.

  • Ljova: Vjola Suite
  • Brahms: Clarinet Trio in A Minor, Op. 114

On our podcast today, we have a pair of musical melting pots: pieces that combine diverse musical influences.

We’ll begin with a performance by A Far Cry of Vjola Suite, a fun contemporary dance suite by a young Brooklyn-based composer and performer who goes by the pen name “Ljova”. This suite was inspired by Lev “Ljova” Zhurbin’s experiences living and playing in New York City, with its myriad cultures. The piece draws on the folk music of Eastern Europe, West Africa, Cuba, and the Middle East. It is – as the composer puts it – “a collection of lively dances, for which the steps have not yet been choreographed.”

After the suite, we’ll hear some more dances, in Johannes Brahms’ clarinet trio in A Minor, Op. 114. Brahms’s dances aren’t quite so geographically diverse, but they are, in their own way, a melting pot of then-contemporary influences as well. There is a flavor of the gypsy tunes, the refined Viennese waltz, and the more raucous Austrian Ländler, which features a spirited solo for the clarinetist. Performing the Brahms we’ll hear a trio of musicians from the Ravinia Festival’s Steans Institute.

First, the chamber orchestra A Far Cry performing the Vjola Suite.

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191. Schubert’s Final Notes

Sun, 01 Jun 2014 01:00:01 EST

Works for solo piano by Schubert and an improvisation by Albright, performed by Charlie Albright, piano on November 17, 2013.

  • Schubert: Sonata in C Minor, D. 958
  • Albright: Improvisation

Our program today has as its centerpiece Schubert’s final notes – his sonata in C minor, D. 958, one of the last three sonatas he wrote.

Schubert had been suffering from health problems for some time, likely complications of syphilis, but in the fall of 1828 he took a turn for the worse. He moved to his brother’s house outside the city, hoping the fresh air might alleviate his illness. He never recovered, but he also never stopped writing music. He composed up until the very end.

Whether Schubert knew quite how serious his condition was at the time he was writing these sonatas is debatable, but it is tempting to read these final three pieces as a musical reckoning with death. The sonata we’ll hear is the first of the group, and it is perhaps the most emotionally stormy of the bunch.

The pianist in the recording we’ll hear is Charlie Albright, a young musician whose performances we’ve featured previously. After the sonata, we’ll hear some of Charlie’s own music: an improvisation in the style of Schubert recorded at the same recital, in November of 2013.

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190. At a Loss

Thu, 15 May 2014 01:00:15 EST

Work for string orchestra and voice by Handel performed by Rebel Ensemble with Derek Lee Ragin on October 2, 2005. Work for string quartet by Beethoven performed by the Borromeo String Quartet on January 30, 2011.

  • Handel: "Cara sposa" from Rinaldo
  • Beethoven: Quartet No. 9 in C Major, Op. 59, No. 3

Loss is a topic that has often been explored in great works of art. Today, we’ll hear a couple of pieces inspired by losses of varying sorts.

First, we have Handel’s aria “Cara sposa” from the opera Rinaldo, performed by counter-tenor Derek Lee Ragin and the early-music ensemble Rebel. As the aria begins, Rinaldo’s fiancée has just been abducted by the powerful sorceress Armida. He laments her disappearance and his sorrow and pain is evident in Handel’s writing, which contains moments of wrenching dissonance.

Then, we’ll hear Beethoven’s Ninth String Quartet, in C Major, performed by the Borromeo Quartet. We cannot know exactly what Beethoven was thinking when he wrote this piece but the writer and composer Robert Simpson has suggested that the piece can be viewed as a literal narrative of Beethoven’s coming to terms with his deafness: the tonally unmoored, dissonant opening chords a depiction of deafness itself; the following consonant sections a representation of the discovery that Beethoven could still “hear” music in his head; and the finale a defiant triumph.

First, we’ll hear Handel’s lament, “Cara sposa,” from Rinaldo.

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189. Literary Roots

Thu, 01 May 2014 01:00:01 EST

Work for solo piano by Liszt performed by Martina Filjak on April 8, 2012. Work for string orchestra by Grieg performed by A Far Cry on September 22, 2013.

  • Liszt: Ballade No. 2 in B minor
  • Grieg: Holberg Suite

Both of the works on today’s program have literary roots.

We begin with Franz Liszt’s virtuosic Ballade No. 2 in B minor, a piece thought to have been inspired by the German author Gottfried Bürger’s influential poetic ballad Lenore. The piece embodies a similar sense of drama, and the ominous beginning is very much in keeping with the suspenseful emotional climate of the poem. We’ll hear it performed by Martina Filjak, a Croatian pianist.

Next, we’ll hear a piece that was dedicated outright to an important writer: Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite for String Orchestra, opus 40. Grieg had been commissioned to write a work in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ludvig Holberg, one of the most important forefathers of modern Danish and Norweigian literature.

In response, Grieg wrote this piece, subtitled “From Holberg’s Time,” intended as an evocation of the music of the Baroque. Grieg’s piece is modeled on a Baroque keyboard suite and though originally composed for piano, we’ll hear the version that Grieg adapted for strings, performed by A Far Cry.

First, the Liszt Ballade.

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188. A Little Mozart

Tue, 15 Apr 2014 01:00:15 EST

Work for string quintet by Mozart performed by the Orion String Quartet with Ida Kavafian on October 15, 2006. Work for string orchestra by Mozart performed by A Far Cry on April 21, 2013.

  • Mozart: Viola Quintet in B-flat No. 1 K. 174
  • Mozart: Serenade in G, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, KV. 525

“Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” is probably Mozart’s most famous composition– and arguably one of the most famous pieces of classical music today. The phrase does translate literally as “A Little Night Music,” but in Mozart’s day, the word “nachtmusik” was a fairly common musical description, often substituted for the more familiar “Serenade.” Indeed, the piece most of us know as “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” is more properly known as the Serenade in G, K. 525.

This work is inherently appealing and supremely fun to listen to. We’ll hear it played by A Far Cry, the Gardner’s chamber orchestra in residence.

Beforehand, we’ll hear another lovely little ditty of Mozart’s, the first viola quintet, in B-flat, performed by the Orion String Quartet and guest violist, Ida Kavafian. This string quintet is often referred to as a “viola quintet” because the violist is the “special guest”. It was a somewhat unconventional choice (other composers more often added an extra cello, rather than a viola) but Mozart returned to this quintet configuration several more times.

We’ll hear the quintet first, followed by that very famous serenade.

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187. Serenaded By Tchaikovsky

Tue, 01 Apr 2014 01:00:01 EST

Works by Tchaikovsky for cello and piano performed by Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Polera. Work by Tchaikovsky for string orchestra performed by A Far Cry ensemble.

  • Tchaikovsky: Nocturne
  • Tchaikovsky: Pezzo Capriccioso
  • Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48

On today’s podcast, we’ll have the lovely experience of being serenaded by Tchaikovsky for the next 40 minutes or so.

The star of the program is the piece you were perhaps already expecting, given that introduction: Tchaikovsky’s beautiful and beloved Serenade for Strings in C Major, as performed by A Far Cry, a young, conductor-less ensemble based in Boston.

The heart-on-your-sleeve passion shines through in nearly every note of the piece, which contains luscious harmony, tender melodies, and spirited passage work. The chorale-like theme introduced at the very beginning of the piece returns time and time again, lending the piece a sense of groundedness, and making for an incredibly satisfying conclusion, when the theme returns for one final time.

We’ll have a couple brief musical appetizers before we dig into the Serenade, two works for cello and piano: Tchaikovsky’s Nocturne and his Pezzo Capriccioso. The Nocturne has a beautiful, singing melody and the “Capricious Piece” (as the Italian translates) changes mood on a dime, from dark drama to rising melody. We’ll hear both of these brief pieces as performed by cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Polera.

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186. Hardly Impromptu

Sat, 15 Mar 2014 01:00:15 EST

Work for solo piano by Schubert performed by Charlie Albright, piano.

    Schubert: Impromptus, D. 935, Op. 142
  • No. 1 in F Minor
  • No. 2 in A-flat Major
  • No. 3 in B-flat Major
  • No. 4 in F Minor

With a title like “Impromptus,” one expects this set of four piano pieces by Schubert to be a bit spontaneous. But anyone expecting a Keith Jarret-like improvisation will be surprised to discover how structured and planned these “Impromptus” feel.

Indeed, there was some disagreement, after the fact, about the justification for the title “Impromptus.” Robert Schumann – a friend of Schubert’s – apparently maintained that the piece was really a four-movement sonata in disguise, broken up and named by Schubert’s publisher in an effort to encourage more sales.

The four Impromptus are varied in character and structure, but each does seem to create a particular mood or emotional landscape, and then explores that landscape, whether through the straightforward theme-and-variations structure of the third impromptu or the more structured, sonata-like form of the first impromptu. And in this way, at least, it’s perhaps not so far off from the idea of improvisation.

We’ll hear these works performed by Charlie Albright, a talented young pianist who recently graduated from New England Conservatory and Harvard’s joint degree program and is now earning his Artist Diploma at Juilliard.

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185. In Dvorak’s Chamber

Sat, 01 Mar 2014 00:00:01 EST

Works for voice and piano performed by Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano, and Christopher Cano, pianist and string quintet performed by Borromeo String Quartet with Nathaniel Martin, bass.

  • Dvořák: Gypsy Songs, Op. 55
  • Dvořák: String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 77

For our 185th podcast program, we’ll hear from Antonin Dvořák, focusing on two of his chamber works.

We begin with Dvořák’s Gypsy Songs, opus 55. The cycle of seven songs is based on Czech poetry by Adolf Heyduk about the lives of Slovakian gypsies. But Dvořák chose to premiere and publish the songs in a German translation of the original text. The cycle was fairly successful; in particular, the song at the heart of the cycle—the fourth of seven—has become one of his best-known, usually translated in English as “Songs My Mother Taught Me.” Throughout, the songs are both lyrical and spirited, combining the flavor of gypsy music with the sophistication of Western art song.

After the songs, we’ll turn to Dvořák’s second string quintet, opus 77. Written in 1874, the string quintet is among Dvořák’s earliest mature works. At the time of its composition, he had been working in relative anonymity in Prague. The music itself, though, reveals a composer already in possession of a unique and self-assured voice, with a gift for melody and a wonderful knack for writing spirited, dance-infused passages.

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184. Schumann’s Alter Egos

Sat, 15 Feb 2014 00:00:15 EST

Works for cello and piano performed by Narek Hakhnazaryan, cello and Noreen Polera, piano and solo piano performed by Charlie Albright.

  • Schumann: Fantasiestucke, Op. 73
  • Schumann: Carnaval, Op. 9

Robert Schumann was really the quintessential Romantic composer—with a capital ‘R’. Not content to write music that was focused on formal brilliance or technical sophistication, he wanted his work to capture and convey emotion, to unify music with other art forms—especially the written word. In many ways, he wanted his music to tell a story.

But his stories were rarely simple. His favorite plots often involved fictional characters or archetypes, but most frequently two somewhat abstract characters of his own invention: Florestan and Eusebius. They were his alter egos, depictions of two different aspects of his own self: Florestan, the passionate, extroverted side, and Eusebius, the reflective, introverted side. We’ll hear from both today when we listed to Schumann’s opus 9, Carnaval for solo piano, in which he depicts not only Florestan and Eusebius but also a gaggle of literary and real-life personalities.

Before we dive into that somewhat unruly work, we’ll listen to something a bit more straightforward, also by Schumann: his Fantasiestucke, opus 73. You’ll hear this performance by cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Polera. The piece is lyrical and fairly brief, at about 10 minutes—a good foil for the carnival to follow.

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183. Beethoven’s Fond Farewells

Sat, 01 Feb 2014 00:00:01 EST

Works for piano performed by Paavali Jumppanen.

  • Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 12, Op. 26 "Funeral March"
  • Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a "Das Lebewohl"

On today’s podcast, we’ll hear Beethoven’s two most famous “farewells” for solo piano: his 12th and 26th piano sonatas, nicknamed the “funeral march” and “lebewohl” sonatas, respectively.

First is the earlier sonata, Beethoven’s 12th piano sonata, opus 26, often called the “Funeral March” sonata because of its dirge-like third movement. By placing the slow movement third, Beethoven flips the traditional sonata structure a bit on its head. Typically, the piano sonatas of Beethoven’s era began when an upbeat movement is placed third rather than second, and in this spot it provides a sort of springboard for the finale, which seems all the more dazzling because of its proximity to the funeral march.

Next we hear Beethoven’s 26th piano sonata, often called “Das Lebewohl,” or—in French—“Les Adieux.” There is some disagreement as to the authenticity of the subtitles given to the three movements of this sonata, which translate into English as “The Farewell,” “The Absence,” and “The Return.” The descriptive titles stuck, though, authentic or not, probably because they seem such a good fit for the music.

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182. A Musical Trek Through Switzerland

Wed, 15 Jan 2014 00:00:15 EST

Work for solo piano performed by Cecile Licad:

  • Liszt: Années de pèlerinage, Premiere année: Suisse, S. 160

I hope you’re ready for a journey.

This week, we’re packing up and accompanying Franz Liszt on a journey through Switzerland—in the form of the first part of his massive piano suite Années de pèlerinage or “Years of Pilgrimage.” Year One, “Switzerland,” will comprise the entirety of our podcast, running a bit more than 45 minutes in its entirety.

The work is an undeniable product of the Romantic era, a sort of musical “bildungsroman”—a coming-of-age journey—inspired by the composer’s own, real-life travels.

The movement titles are evocative: The Chapel of William Tell, At Lake Wallenstadt, Pastorale, Beside a Spring, Storm, Obermann’s Valley, Eclogue (a type of bucolic poem), Homesickness, and, finally, The Bells of Geneva.

Each movement begins a few lines of poetry. The passage that precedes the final movement perhaps sums it up best. Liszt writes, quoting the narrative poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage: “I live not in myself,” “but I become / Portion of that around me.

We’ll hear this monumental work played by pianist Cecile Licad.

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181. Crowning Works for Piano Trio

Wed, 01 Jan 2014 00:00:01 EST

Works for piano trio performed by the Claremont Trio.

This week, we’ll hear two crowning achievements by two great composers: piano trios by Mozart and Mendelssohn.

Mozart’s fourth piano trio, K. 542 was written about three years before the composer’s death, in the middle of an especially rough period. He managed to write, in that same year, his final three incredible symphonies and his last three piano trios; this trio was the first of the group.

However musically brilliant, this trio was an imperfect fit for the classical music market at the time, which desired chamber pieces that could be easily picked up and performed off-the-cuff by amateurs as after-dinner entertainment. This piece was not really intended for that sort of casual sight-reading.

Next, we’ll hear Mendelssohn’s second piano trio, in C minor. This trio, like Mozart’s, was written near the end of Mendelssohn’s life, one of his final chamber works. By turns dramatic and tuneful, the piece ends with a rousing finale that is always sure to bring audiences to their feet.

The double-bill we’re hearing today was recorded live at a September 2012 recital by the Claremont Trio.

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180. Creating a Scene

Sun, 15 Dec 2013 00:00:15 EST

Works for solo cello and piano performed by Colin Carr, cello and Martina Filjak, piano.

  • Bach: Solo Cello Suite No. 1
  • Schumann: Carnival Scenes from Vienna, Op. 26

Today’s program focuses on two pieces that use small forms to create rich, vivid scenes: J.S. Bach’s first suite for solo cello, and Robert Schumann’s Carnival Scenes from Vienna.

We begin with cellist Colin Carr—a Gardner Museum regular—performing Bach’s first solo cello suite, the prelude of which is arguably the best-known solo string piece Bach ever wrote. While the pieces do make use, from time to time, of chordal harmonies (in the form of double- and triple-stops), much of the harmony is implied, suggested by the shape of the players’ solo lines.

Schumann’s scenes are a bit more literal: his piece, typically translated in English as “Carnival Scenes from Vienna,” was inspired by the sights and sounds of a trip to Vienna during Carnival season. Schumann’s scenes are more of an evocation of the festive spirit that pervaded Vienna during the season than a literal depiction of Carnival. We’ll hear these “scenes” as depicted by pianist Martina Filjak in a 2012 recital.

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179. Dvorak’s First and Final Successes

Sun, 01 Dec 2013 00:00:01 EST

Works for voice and piano and string quartet by New York Festival of Song: James Martin, baritone and Michael Barrett, piano, sopranos Dina Kuznetsova and Julia Bullock, and Michael Barrett, piano; and Borromeo String Quartet:Dvořák: Bože! Bože! Píseň novou, from Biblical Songs No. 5, Při řekách babylonských, from Biblical Songs, No. 7, Zpívejte Hospodinu píseň novou, from Biblical Songs, No. 10Dvořák: A já ti uplynu, from Moravian Duets, Op. 32, No. 1Dvořák: String Quartet no. 14 in A-flat Major, Op. 105We’ve heard fairly regularly from Antonin Dvořák on the podcast, but today’s program offers a unique opportunity to hear works from both the beginning and the end of his fruitful career as a composer.First, there will be excerpts featuring the baritone James Martin, all taken from Dvořák’s Biblical Songs. These were the composer’s final set of songs, though he would go on to write operas and choral music.Situated right in the middle of the program we have the first of Dvořák’s Moravian Duets for female voices. These duets, written fairly early in the composer’s career, were Dvořák’s entry ticket into European musical society. The duets became Dvořák’s first international publication and truly launched his career in Europe.The duet we’ll hear is sometimes translated as “The Fugitive.” It is a playful text, telling the tale of two lovers engaged in a fanciful pursuit in which they transform from fish to doves to stars, chasing each other through the sea, sky, and heavens. We’ll hear the duet performed by sopranos Dina Kuznetsova and Julia Bullock, who appeared at the museum with the New York Festival of Song.Then we have Dvořák’s last string quartet, number 14 in A-flat Major, and by broad consensus one of his greatest. In this work, Dvořák was able to bring together his flair for lively, Bohemian dance music, which animates the quartet’s second movement, with his sophisticated craftsmanship and gift for melody. We’ll hear the piece as performed at the museum by the Borromeo String Quartet back in 2006.[...]

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178. Poetry in Sound

Fri, 15 Nov 2013 00:00:15 EST

Works for cello and piano by Narek Hakhnazaryan, cello and Noreen Polera, piano:

  • Fauré: Elegie
  • Franck: Violin Sonata in A Major, transcribed for cello

On today’s podcast, we’ll take a turn for the poetic, with two selections for cello and piano by French composers.

We’ll begin with Fauré’s beloved Elegie, a bittersweet, rhapsodic work. The piece is just seven minutes long, but it makes a big impression with its dramatic arching form—building from a haunting beginning to a passionate climax that all but dissolves into a beguiling ending.

After that little teaser, we’ll hear another incredibly evocative work: Cesar Franck’s Violin Sonata in A Major, performed in a transcription for cello by the same artists who played the first work: cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Polera. The Gold Medalist in the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition, Narek was mentored by the late, great Rostropovich, and recently received his Artist Diploma studying at Boston’s own New England Conservatory, just down the street from the Museum.

This version of the Franck violin sonata, arranged for cello, is just one of the many versions that have proliferated—including arrangements for flute, saxophone, tuba, and even choir—but it is the only one that the composer himself approved. Like the Elegie, this sonata is just full of poetic little moments of great delicacy and beauty.

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177. The Evolving String Quartet

Fri, 01 Nov 2013 01:00:01 EST

Works for string quartet by Musicians from Marlboro and Daedalus Quartet:

  • Haydn: Quartet in G Major, Op. 17, no. 5
  • Lerdahl: String Quartet No. 1

This week, we’ll hear a pair of string quartets—one from the father of the genre, and the other from a relative newcomer.

We begin with Papa Haydn, the author of nearly 70 string quartets, and—by broad consensus—the father of the form. Haydn’s quartets are as varied as they are numerous.

The selection we’ll hear today is Haydn’s 22nd string quartet, opus 17, number 5. The piece plays for 17 minutes, beginning cheerful and sunny, passing through a cloudy patch, and emerging—in the finale—in a blaze of joy. Performing it are players from Musicians from Marlboro.

Then we’ll move to 21st century quartet writer: composer Fred Lerdahl, performed by the Daedalus Quartet. The germ of the idea that fueled the three Lerdahl quartets is the chord heard at the very beginning of this first quartet. It flashes by in about a second, but within that chord lies the source of all the ideas that Lerdahl develops throughout the entire twenty-plus minute work, through a technique he calls “expanding variations.”

One hears flickers of the chord throughout the piece, but the form is less a literal “theme and variations” than an organic expansion; from that brief chord, the ensuing variations expand, each one and half times the length of the preceding one.

We start with the seed of the quartet genre itself: Haydn.

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176. Piano, with Accompaniment

Tue, 15 Oct 2013 01:00:15 EST

Works for violin and piano by Benjamin Beilman, violin and Yekwon Sunwoo, piano and wind quintet by Stephen Taylor, oboe; David Shifrin, clarinet; Peter Kolkay, bassoon; William Purvis, horn; and Gilles Vonsattel, piano.Mozart: Violin Sonata in E-flat MajorMozart: Quintet in E-Flat MajorIt’s a curious thing: today, when there is a piano part in chamber music, we tend to think of it as the “accompaniment” to whatever instrument or voice it is paired with. But that was certainly not the case in Mozart’s time, as we’ll hear in the two pieces on today’s podcast.We start with Mozart’s 19th Sonata for piano and violin, in E-flat major. The sonata was published in 1778, when Mozart was 22, as part of a set of six sonatas.These sonatas were actually rather progressive for their time. In the 18th century, it was the norm for the piano to dominate in settings for keyboard and other instruments—sonatas were for “piano and violin,” not the other way around. But in this set Mozart made an effort to treat the instruments more as equals, giving both players a crack at the main themes. Performing the piece, we’ll hear pianist Yē kwon Sunwoo and violinist Benjamin Beilman.In the second work on the program—Mozart’s Quintet for Piano and Winds—often feels like a miniature concerto, with the piano taking the starring role and the wind instruments providing backup. The recording features Gilles Vonsattel on piano with Stephen Taylor on oboe; David Shifrin on clarinet; Peter Kolkay on bassoon; and William Purvis on the French horn. Mozart himself premiered the piece in 1784 and called it, in an oft-quoted letter to his father Leopold, “the best thing I have written in my life.”Mozart was not alone in finding it an especially fetching piece. About a dozen years later another quintet appeared on the scene in Vienna, scored for the same instruments, by a young admirer: Ludwig van Beethoven. As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.[...]

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175. Around the World in Song

Tue, 01 Oct 2013 01:00:01 EST

Songs for voice and keyboard by Jennifer Johnson Cano, mezzo-soprano, and Christopher Cano, piano:

  • De Falla: Siete Canciones populares Españolas: El Paño Moruno, Seguidilla Murciana Asturiana, Jota, Nana, Canción, Polo
  • Liszt: Pace non trovo, Der du von dem Himmel bist, Oh! Quand je dors

Today, we'll take a little trip around the world in song, hearing Manuel de Falla's Siete Canciones Populares Españolas and three songs by Franz Liszt. All the recordings we'll hear today were taken from a recital last year by mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnson Cano and pianist Christopher Cano. (And to answer the question you're probably all asking yourselves right now, yes, the two are husband and wife.)

We'll begin with the de Falla set, a delightful and varied collection of Spanish folksongs that is quite possibly the single most popular piece of classical Spanish vocal repertoire out there. The songs vary, from lovelorn laments to intimate lullabies to spirited dances, but all share an incredibly sensitive and evocative approach to the piano accompaniment—creating a sense of place and mood, while putting the traditional tunes front and center.

Next, we'll hear a selection of three songs by Franz Liszt, the composer and virtuoso pianist. Liszt's songs are less familiar than his piano music, but he wrote a good many of them: about six-dozen in all. As a song composer, Liszt was a bit of a chameleon. His accompaniments were often dense and complex—likely owing to his own experience and skill as a pianist—and he experimented with many different types of poetry, as you'll hear from today's selections.

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174. Writing Chamber Music History

Sun, 15 Sep 2013 01:00:15 EST

Songs by Antoine Tamestit and Ying-Chien Lin, and Musicians from Ravinia's Steans Institute:

  • Clarke: Sonata for Viola and Piano (1919)
  • Fauré: Piano Quartet No. 1 in C Minor

This week, we’ll hear two works by young composers who benefited mightily from various efforts to support the creation of new chamber music—one in 20th-century Massachusetts, and the other in 19th-century France.

First up is the Sonata for Viola and Piano by Rebecca Clarke, a name that is likely new to many of us. She was an accomplished violist, and after leaving home in 1910, she supported herself by performing throughout England, the British colonies, and the US.

In 1919, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge—an influential patron of contemporary chamber music—invited Clarke to enter a composition competition she sponsored each year through the Berkshire Festival of Chamber Music. A work by Ernest Bloch won, but Clarke’s viola sonata went on to earn an enduring place in the viola repertoire. Clarke, alas, wrote relatively few works over the course of her career; in total, about 100 works survive, and of those only 20 were ever published. Looking back, Clarke called the viola sonata “my one little whiff of success.” We’ll hear it performed by violist Antoine Tamestit and pianist Ying-Chien Lin.

Next, we’ll hear a chamber work from a more familiar source: Gabriel Fauré. The composer himself premiered the work with the National Music Society—an organization dedicated to the presentation of new chamber music, founded by Saint-Saëns in 1871. The founding of the society brought new opportunities for the performance of instrumental chamber music, and with it the impetus to compose such works. On today’s podcast, we’ll hear it performed by Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Institute. We begin, however, with Rebecca Clarke’s viola sonata.

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173. Dvořák’s Love Letters

Sun, 01 Sep 2013 01:00:01 EST

Songs for voice and keyboard and string quartet by Dina Kuznetsova and Michael Barrett, and the Borromeo String Quartet:

  • Dvořák: 3 Songs: Ó, duše drahá, jedinká (“Oh Dear Soul, the Only One”) from Love Songs, Op. 83; Dobrú noc, má milá ("Goodnight, my Dear, Goodnight”) and Ej, mám já koňa faku ("Hey, I have a Powerful Horse that Bears Me Well”), both from In Folk Style, Op. 73
  • Dvořák: String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, Op. 96 ("American")

The centerpiece of today’s program is probably the only chamber work of Dvořák’s that most classical music lovers recognize immediately: his twelfth string quartet, known as the “American” quartet.

Dvořák was smitten with the country’s traditional music, African-American spirituals and Native American songs in particular. They shared one important attribute: the pentatonic scale that tugs at the heartstrings, and is the backbone of many old American tunes. Dvořák’s “American” quartet makes use of the scale as well as the rhythms of American music.

We’ll hear a few “love letters” to the folk music of Dvořák’s native land: a group of three Czech songs. The first song is a devoted outpouring of affection. In the second song, the protagonist wishes his beloved a night of sweet dreams. Third, we get a story of love gone wrong. In the song, translated as “I have a powerful horse,” the narrator’s initial exaltation of the things he has quickly turns to a reminiscence of the things he doesn’t--most importantly, the sweetheart who has left him.

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172. Mountain Greenery

Thu, 15 Aug 2013 01:00:15 EST

Songs for voice and piano by Musicians from Marlboro, John Moore, Anna Polonsky, and Benjamin Hochman:

  • Schubert: Nachtstück D. 672B; Wanderers Nachtlied, D. 768
  • Schubert: Sonata No. 17 in D Major D 850

On today’s podcast, we’ll hear three Schubert works with connections to the mountains.

The meat of our program is the composer’s 17th piano sonata, in D Major, written during a sojourn in the Austrian town of Gastein with singer Michael Vogl. One outcome was this sonata, which was the composer’s 17th but would become only his second to be published. It is a charming piece--far more work for the performer, who must make it through a few speedy movements, than it is for the listener, who can merely sit back and enjoy Schubert’s gift for melody and his way with harmony.

We’ll set the tone a bit with two Schubert songs, each of which alludes to mountainous surroundings. First we’ll hear Nachtstück the German word for “Nocturne,” a setting of a Mayrhofer poem. The first stanza sets the scene, with mist pouring over the mountaintops and an old man playing his harp in the wilderness.

We’ll hear Musicians from Marlboro, John Moore, baritone andAnna Polonsky, piano performing the songs beginning with Nachtstück, followed by pianist Benjamin Hochman, with the sonata.

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171. Four Hands, Many Variations

Thu, 01 Aug 2013 01:00:01 EST

Songs for piano duo by Christina and Michelle Naughton:

  • Mendelssohn: Andante and Variations, Op. 83 in B-flat Major
  • Brahms: Variations on a Theme by Joseph Haydn, Op. 56b

What kind of theme lends itself best to variation?

It’s a question worth asking yourself today, as we hear two pieces that take the form of theme and variations: Mendelssohn’s Andante and Variations, opus 83, and Brahms’s “St. Anthony Variations,” both pieces written for a pair of pianists, in the former case playing one instrument, in the latter, two.

The similarities between the two composers’ chosen themes are quite striking. Both use a chorale-like theme--largely homophonic, with chords beneath a single, clear melody. As a listener it means that, even after just one hearing, you’ve got a pretty good grasp of the tune you’re about to hear turned on its head--enough to be able to follow the journey the composers are about to take us on.

Performing on today’s podcast, we’ll hear a duo that is perhaps more perfectly paired than most: pianists Christina and Michelle Naughton, 24-year-old identical twins from Madison, Wisconsin. Graduates of the Curtis Institute, the two perform duo piano repertoire together worldwide.

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170. Inspiration in the Countryside

Mon, 15 Jul 2013 01:00:15 EST

Songs for string quartet by A Far Cry and the Borromeo String Quartet:

  • Bartók: Romanian Folk Songs BB 68 Arr. for String Quartet
  • Bartók: String Quartet No. 1 in A Minor, Op. 7

When Bartók composed his first string quartet, in 1909, the idea of Hungarian folk music had already found its way into the musical consciousness of Western Europe. Liszt had his Hungarian Rhapsodies, Brahms his Hungarian Dances--written in the 1840s, 50s, and 60s, several decades before Bartók was even born.

While studying in Budapest at the Royal Academy of Music, Bartók had befriended a fellow pupil, Zoltan Kodály. In 1908, the two decided to travel beyond the cafes of downtown Budapest, deep into the countryside, to hear what they could hear.

It was early the following year that Bartók completed his first string quartet, and it can easily be read as a sort of musical dramatization of his path. We’ll hear the piece played by Gardner Museum regulars the Borromeo String Quartet.

We have a recording by the chamber ensemble A Far Cry of another of Bartók's folk-inspired works: his Romanian Folk Dances, arranged for string quartet. Originally written for piano, the brief piece is a set of six songs, all arrangements of folk tunes.

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169. Swan Songs

Mon, 01 Jul 2013 01:00:01 EST

Song for voice and keyboard by Randall Scarlata and Benjamin Hochman.

If you had to pick one word to describe the sentiment of Schubert’s final song cycle, Schwanengesang (meaning Swan Song), it would have to be sehnsucht. Sehnsucht is one of those wonderful German words, simultaneously quite literal and entirely impossible to translate. It combines the German words for “longing” and “addiction”; it means something like “yearning,” with a healthy dash of “nostalgia”.

And so, Schubert creates these songs, which capture--in beautiful, perfect miniature--both the intensity of young love and the profound disappointment that only one whose heart has been broken can grasp. Both have that sense of longing, for the thing one has not yet enjoyed and for that which has slipped away.

Taken together, the set of 14 songs offers a good overview of Schubert’s palette, venturing from light and hopelessly optimistic to deep and world-weary. We’ll hear them as performed at the Museum’s Calderwood Hall in February 2013, by baritone Randall Scarlata and pianist Benjamin Hochman.

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168. Dvorak’s Folk Songs

Sat, 15 Jun 2013 01:00:15 EST

Songs for voice and keyboard and string quartet by the New York Festival of Song and the Borromeo String Quartet.

  • Dvořák: "Goin' Home"
  • Dvořák: String Quartet in E-Flat Major, No. 10, Op. 51

Many of us have heard the narrative of “Dvorak: the champion of Czech folk music.” And in a way it’s true: he did popularize Czech--and more broadly, Slavic--folk music, combining it with Western classical forms in a way that made it accessible and appealing to a broad European audience. But, as with so many artists, he was constantly fighting against the very “box” he had created for himself.

The string quartet we’ll hear on today’s program--Dvorak’s 10th--was, perhaps, a halfway point. In it, Dvorak at times drifts fairly far afield from the well-worn terrain of the “Slavonic Dances.” Indeed, the third movement of the quartet could be mistaken for the work of one of Dvorak’s German contemporaries. But at other times--the second-movement “dumka,” for example--Dvorak was clearly playing to the crowd, and giving them what they expected of a composer who was, at the time, still a bit pigeonholed.

We’ll begin with a recording of “Goin’ Home” by the New York Festival of Song, and continue with the complete string quartet in E-Flat Major, performed by the Borromeo String Quartet.

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167. Mendelssohn At His Best

Sat, 01 Jun 2013 01:00:01 EST

Songs for string and keyboard and string octet by Colin Carr and Thomas Sauer, and the Borromeo and Jupiter String Quartets.

  • Mendelssohn: Song without Words, Op. 109
  • Mendelssohn: Octet in E-Flat Major, Op. 20

By most accounts, Felix Mendelssohn had a rather charmed childhood. Compared to other child prodigies of the classical and Romantic eras--Mozart, of course, springs to mind--Mendelssohn had a fairly easy time of it. His parents were encouraging and supportive without being overbearing.

But some unhappiness surely lurked below the surface. For one thing, his sister Fanny, with whom he grew up playing and studying music, was at a certain point forbidden from progressing further as a serious composer, and Felix was at least as involved in the decision to hold her back as her parents. For another, though he was born Jewish, his parents hid his identity, baptizing him into the Lutheran church, and even changing his name.

He wrote his octet in E-flat Major, the second work on today’s podcast, when he was just 16; the overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream came about a year later. We’ll hear it performed by the combined Borromeo and Jupiter String Quartets. By the time he wrote the Song without Words for cello and piano, opus 109, Mendelssohn had reached the advanced age of 36. We’ll begin with the Song with Words, played by cellist Colin Carr and pianist Thomas Sauer.

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166. Roots

Wed, 15 May 2013 01:00:15 EST

Songs for piano trio and string trio by the Claremont Trio and Musicians from Ravinia's Steans Institute.

  • Gabriela Frank: Folk Songs for Piano Trio
  • Ernő Dohnányi: Serenade Op. 10 (String Trio)

We are all, in one way or another, a product of the culture into which we are born. This week’s podcast features music by two composers who built on those roots.

We’ll begin with a recording of the Claremont Trio performing a new work, a piece commissioned for the opening season at the Gardner’s new Calderwood Hall. Simply titled "Folk Songs for Piano Trio", the piece was written by Gabriela Lena Frank. Born in Berkeley, California, to a mother of mixed Peruvian/Chinese ancestry and a father of Lithuanian/Jewish descent, Frank is deeply interested in identity and culture. In this piece, she was especially inspired by her mother’s Peruvian heritage; the composer describes it as “a series of snapshots of Andean life.” It’s a wonderfully imaginative, engaging work, and one that the Claremont Trio--for whom it was written---will no doubt long enjoy playing.

Next, we have another trio, this one Dohnanyi’s Serenade for String Trio, performed by Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute. Dohnanyi was vitally important to musical life in his native Hungary, sand in this string trio, it is easy to detect the distinct influence of Hungarian folk music, particularly in the first and final movements.

Before our trip to Hungary, though, we’ll begin in the Andes, with Frank’s "Folk Songs for Piano Trio."

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165. Beyond Their Years

Wed, 01 May 2013 01:00:01 EST

Songs for violin and piano by Benjamin Beilman and Yekwon Sunwoo.

  • Richard Strauss: Sonata in E-Flat Major, Op. 18
  • Chris Rogerson: Once for Violin and Piano (2011)

This week, we turn our attention to two performers, and two composers, whose music-making exhibits a sort of wisdom beyond their years. The recordings are both taken from a recital presented last spring at the museum featuring violinist Benjamin Beilman and his Curtis classmate Yekwon Sunwoo.

Both of the pieces we’ll hear were themselves the product of youthful composers’ imaginations. We’ll start with Richard Strauss’s Violin Sonata in E-flat Major. Written when Strauss was just 23-years-old, the piece is widely agreed to have been the work of a young man in the throes of first love; he had recently met the woman who would later become his wife, Pauline.

Next, we’ll hear another piece by a 23-year-old: Chris Rogerson’s Once. Rogerson was both a classmate of Beilman’s at Curtis and a fellow member of the Young Concert Artists roster. This piece, as Beilman told audiences at the performance at the Gardner, was conceived during the composer’s residency at the famous MacDowell Colony, an artists’ retreat in New Hampshire.

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164. Beethoven’s Variations

Mon, 15 Apr 2013 01:00:15 EST

Songs for solo keyboard and string quartet by Seymour Lipkin and the Borromeo String Quartet.

  • Beethoven: 32 Variations on an Original Theme in C Minor
  • Beethoven: Quartet No. 10 in E-Flat Major, Op. 74

The ability to create brilliant, complex, sprawling symphonies out of a small musical ideas--essentially, the art of variation--is probably Beethoven’s greatest achievement. In today’s podcast, we’ll listen to two of Beethoven’s more straightforward variations--one, his set of 32 variations on an original theme in C minor, for piano, and the other a part of a string quartet, his 10th.

We’ll start with the piano work, played by Seymour Lipkin. The source material here exhibits Beethoven’s extraordinary economy: it’s just 8 bars, a chord progression in the bass with a little flourish of melody in the treble. After that, we’ll settle into Beethoven’s more generously proportioned string quartet number 10, Op. 74, sometimes called the “Harp” quartet. The nickname, like most of Beethoven’s, was bestowed by the publisher, an allusion to the plucked arpeggios in the first movement that sound a bit like the strumming of a harp. We’re interested in variation, though, and for that, we’ll focus on the final movement, marked allegretto con variazione, or quickly, with variations. We’ll hear the piece as performed by the Borromeo Quartet.

First, the lightning-fast 32 variations in C minor.

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163. Give It Time

Mon, 01 Apr 2013 01:00:01 EST

Works for string quartet by the Borromeo String Quartet and the Daedalus Quartet.

  • Brahms: Quartet No. 3 in B-flat Major, Op. 67
  • Lerdahl: Quartet No. 3

We’ll begin the podcast with Brahms’ third string quartet, performed by the Borroemo Quartet. This quartet, Brahms’ opus 67, came some two years after the first two quartets, which were published as opus 51. Brahms himself remarked—with some humor—on the difficulty he faced in writing his first two string quartets, a process he described as a “forceps delivery.” The pieces went through extensive revisions, taking at least four or five years to reach their final form, perhaps even longer. The third quartet, by contrast, seemingly flowed from his pen; it came together in four short months, between August and November of 1875. The piece has a sort of ease about it that one can’t help but attribute to Brahms’ growing comfort with the form—an airy, carefree quality.

Next, we’ll hear another string quartet—in fact, another third string quartet—this one by contemporary composer Fred Lerdahl. And this piece had an even longer gestation than the Brahms. We’ll hear Lerdahl’s Third String Quartet as it was recorded in a Composer Portrait this past October, at which the Daedalus Quartet—for whom the piece was written—played all three of Lerdahl’s quartets in sequence, culminating with this one. We begin our program with the Brahms.

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162. Storytelling Without Words

Fri, 15 Mar 2013 01:00:15 EST

Work for piano trio performed by the Claremont Trio.

It's no surprise that one of Robert Schumann's great strengths as a composer was his lieder, or songs for voice and piano. Another early love was literature; he read many of the great German poets and philosophers and he wrote about music extensively, even founding a music journal called the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik.

We'll hear Schumann's first piano trio, in D minor, performed by the Claremont Trio. Though Schumann gives no intimation that he intended the piece to have any sort of story, or program, it's hard to ignore the qualities it shares with his other, more explicitly programmatic music: rapidly shifting moods, with episodes of great passion and intensity alternating with moments of light, shimmering character.

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161. Haydn in London

Fri, 01 Mar 2013 00:00:01 EST

Works for keyboard and string quartet by George Li and Musicians from Marlboro.Haydn: Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI: 50Haydn: String Quartet in E-Flat Major Op. 64, No. 6Joseph Haydn had a pretty comfortable life for a musician. He had his first appointment with a Bohemian nobleman at the age of 27, and from then on, he enjoyed a fairly quick ascension to the post of Kappellmeister in one of the richest courts in the Habsburg Empire, which encompassed both Austria and Hungary: the Esterhazy family.But a unique opportunity presented itself after the death of Prince Nikolaus, the second Esterhazy prince for whom Haydn had worked. Haydn received an invitation to go to London and present his work for an entirely new audience. It was an exciting turn of events for a composer that had spent many years rather isolated in the country, and Haydn accepted.The second piece we’ll hear on today’s podcast, Haydn’s String Quartet No. 52 was written just before that first big trip to London, when Haydn surely would have been busily working up a repertory of work to bring with him on his trip. His first trip was a triumph, and Haydn returned to London a few years later, in 1794, for his second (and last) visit. And the piece we’ll hear first on our program today, before the quartet, dates from that latter visit. We’ll begin with that piano sonata, performed in our recording by the young pianist George Li, an incredibly accomplished teenager studying in Boston at the Walnut Hill School and New England Conservatory. Then, we’ll move on to the quartet, played by Musicians from Marlboro.[...]

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160. Best of Breed

Fri, 15 Feb 2013 00:00:15 EST

Works for string and keyboard and chamber orchestra performed by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

  • Mozart: Violin Sonata in B-Flat Major, K 454
  • Mozart: Concerto No. 14 for Piano and Orchestra in E-Flat Major

Many would agree that Mozart is, as a composer, in a class of his own. And so when scholar after scholar and critic after critic calls out a particular work as one of Mozart’s best, it is sure to be quite an extraordinary piece of music. We find ourselves today in the very fortunate position of hearing two such works: Mozart’s 32nd violin sonata, in B-flat Major and his 14th piano concerto, in E-flat Major, both played with great style and panache by the musicians of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

Mozart’s Sonata for Violin & Piano no. 32, K. 454, is first on the program, and it is an absolutely exquisite specimen of the genre. The piece is a true partnership of equals—unique among Mozart’s work to date in that respect.

Next comes the Piano Concerto. Written in the same year as the violin sonata we have just heard, the 14th piano concerto was written when Mozart was unanimously regarded as the top pianist in town. It was written for his student, Barbara Ployer, and if the piece is any indication, she must have been a very promising pupil. The piano part is quite virtuosic.

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159. Studies in Contrast

Fri, 01 Feb 2013 00:00:01 EST

Works for piano and viola performed by violist Beth Guterman , Matan Porat, and Jonathan Biss.

  • Hindemith: Sonata for Viola and Piano in F Major, Op. 11 No. 4
  • Schumann: Kreisleriana, Op. 16

On this week’s podcast we’ll have several studies in contrast. Written some 80 years apart, the two works on this program date from very different times: a Paul Hindemith sonata from the early 20th century, written in the shadow of World War I, and a Robert Schumann piano piece composed in the heart of the Romantic era. But the idea of contrast is more intrinsic than that: both pieces are exploration of contrast in music.

We start with Hindemith’s rather brief Sonata for Viola and Piano, Opus 11, Number 4, performed by violist Beth Guterman and pianist Matan Porat. A fairly early work, the sonata was written when Hindemith was still exploring and finding his unique compositional voice, and this particular piece—structured as, essentially, a three-movement exploration of the theme and variations style—gave him ample opportunity to experiment. After the Hindemith, we’ll hear Schumann’s piano cycle Kreisleriana, played by pianist Jonathan Biss. Written in eight movements, the piece is based on the fictional character Johannes Kreisler, from the works of author E. T. A. Hoffman.

So, get ready for quite the musical roller coaster. We begin with the Hindemith sonata, followed by Kreisleriana.

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158. A Pair of Trios

Tue, 15 Jan 2013 00:00:15 EST

Works for piano trio performed the Claremont Trio.

The Claremont Trio are longtime favorites at the Gardner Museum, and so it seemed fitting that they were part of the opening series at the Museum’s new Calderwood Hall almost exactly a year ago: on January 22, 2012. Their program featured another debut, too: the world premiere of the young composer Sean Shepherd’s Trio for piano trio, written especially for the Claremont Trio. Shepherd says he was inspired by the architecture of the new hall as he wrote the piece: “I was taken with the unusual shape of the hall, a vertical cube with three wrapping balcony levels hovering nearly directly over a square stage,” he writes.

Shepherd’s work is followed on the program by an early recording of the Claremont Trio in the Gardner’s former concert hall, the Museum’s Tapestry Room. We’ll hear their rendition of Anton Arensky’s Piano Trio, a well-loved piece by a little-known composer. The trio has been heard before on the Gardner podcast—in episode 44—but it bears repeating.

We’ll start with Sean Shepherd’s 2012 trio before journeying back in time to Arensky’s, from 1894.

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157. A Breath of Fresh Air

Tue, 01 Jan 2013 00:00:01 EST

Works for chamber orchestra and string quartet perfomed by A Far Cry and the Belcea String Quartet.

  • Handel: Concerto Grosso in A Major, Op. 6, No. 11
  • Haydn: String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4

Today’s podcast of music by Handel and Haydn is a real breath of fresh air, a virtual, auditory holiday, the perfect thing to cure the winter doldrums.

We start with Handel’s Concerto Grosso in A Major, the 11th of his opus six set of a dozen concerti grossi. We’ll hear it as performed by A Far Cry, the Gardner’s chamber-orchestra-in-residence.

True to the concerto grosso style, the piece alternates between solos, duos, or quartets (the “concertino” group) and full orchestra sections (the “ripieno”).This concerto was likely the last of the 12 in the set to be composed. After Handel’s delightful concerto, we’ll turn to Haydn’s String Quartet in D Major, Op. 20, No. 4. Haydn’s Op. 20 was a set of six string quartets, the group that, many scholars agree, firmly established Haydn as the “father of the string quartet.” The last two movements of the fourth quartet, the one we’ll hear today, have a hefty dose of folk influence, featuring “gypsy style” syncopated rhythms and scales.

We’ll hear the Belcea Quartet’s rendition of this quartet. First, the pastoral-sounding concerto grosso of Handel.

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156. The Rite in Black and White

Sat, 15 Dec 2012 00:00:15 EST

Works for Cello and Piano performed by cellist Narek Hakhnazaryan and pianist Noreen Polera, and a 4-hand piano arrangement performed by Jonathan Biss and Jeremy Denk.Tchaikovsky, Melodie, Op. 42, No. 3Stravinsky, Rite of Spring for 2 Pianos, 4 HandsMost of us know the story of the premiere of the Rite of Spring--the provocative, primitive dance; the outraged crowd; the din so loud the dancers could scarcely hear the music to keep time. The lesser-known story is: what happened next? How did the piece go from having one of the most infamous (some would say disastrous) of premieres ever to becoming a beloved warhorse of the orchestral repertory?For those first several years, there was no orchestral score available; it wasn’t published until 1921. There was, however, a reduction penned by Stravinsky himself for piano four-hands. Aside from the score’s historical significance, the piano version is an interesting listen because of this stripped-down aesthetic--an effect some have described as a “black and white” depiction, as compared to the orchestral Technicolor of the full version.In today’s podcast, we’ll hear the Rite performed by pianists Jeremy Denk and Jonathan Biss, who together manage to evoke an orchestra of 100-plus players with just two pianos and four hands.Before that, we’ll have a brief little musical appetizer: Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous Melodie in E-flat Major from Souvenir d’un lieu cher. Originally written for violin and piano, we’ll hear it in a version for cello, played by cellist Narek Hakhanzarayan and pianist Noreen Polera.[...]

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155. The First Cello Sonatas

Sat, 01 Dec 2012 00:00:01 EST

Works for cello and piano performed by cellist Wendy Warner and pianist Irina Nuzova.Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5, No. 2Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 1 in F Major, Op. 5, No. 1On today’s podcast, we’ll hear not just Beethoven’s first cello sonatas, but indeed (it is widely agreed) the very first cello sonatas ever written.Beethoven’s first and second sonatas for cello and piano constitute his opus 5, an early work. We’ll hear the sonatas in reverse order: starting with the second, and concluding with the first. The two were written and premiered right around the same time, so the distinction is somewhat arbitrary; both very much inhabit the same musical universe.Beethoven himself was at the piano for the premiere of the piece at the royal court in Berlin in 1796. The sonatas were dedicated to King Friedrich II, an enthusiastic amateur cellist for whom Mozart and Haydn has also written quartets. Still, Beethoven clearly gives the piano pride of place in these sonatas. When he premiered the pieces, he would have very much wanted to impress the court as not only a gifted composer but also as a virtuosic pianist. When Beethoven wrote the sonatas, at the age of 25, he was in the midst of his first and---as it would happen---only major tour as a pianist, with stops in Prague, Leipzig, and Dresden. The explosive scales and arpeggios from the piano that characterize the finales of both sonatas were no doubt designed to show off his abilities.We’ll hear both sonatas as played by the cellist Wendy Warner, a student of the great Rostropovich, and the Russian pianist [...]

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154. The Other Weill

Thu, 15 Nov 2012 00:00:15 EST

Works for piano, violin and chamber orchestra performed by pianist Gleb Ivanov, violinist Corey Cerovsek, and the Gardner Chamber Orchestra.

  • Johann Strauss II (arranged by Grünfeld and Ivanov): Die Fledermaus
  • Kurt Weill: Violin Concerto

Most of us who know the music of Kurt Weill think of him as an important, if somewhat atypical, composer of musical theatre, the writer of such dark show tunes as “Mack the Knife” from The Threepenny Opera. But before he set to work revolutionizing music theatre with Bertolt Brecht, Weill was a pupil of one of Europe’s most famous composers, and he wrote a few pieces in more typical classical forms, one of which—his violin concerto—we’ll hear today.

We begin with a little amuse bouche: an arrangement by Grünfeld of themes from Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus performed and further embellished by Gleb Ivanov. Grünfeld was a gifted pianist who worked for many years in the Austrian Imperial Court. His composition was mostly limited to virtuosic works for his own instrument, and he had a particular penchant for Strauss transcriptions. In this performance, Ivanov puts his own stamp on the piece, which is perhaps a bit musically fluffy, but devilishly challenging technically.

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153. 20th Century Sampler

Thu, 01 Nov 2012 01:00:01 EST

Works from the 20th century performed by New York Festival of Song, violinists Corey Cerovsek and Lucy Stoltzman, pianist Jeremy Denk, and clarinetist Richard Stoltzman.Charles Ives: LargoIrving Berlin: "You’d Be Surprised"Leon Kirchner: Sonata Concertante for Violin and PianoThis week’s podcast roams far and wide across the 20th century, featuring a lovely little trio by Charles Ives, a little-known song by Irving Berlin, and an engrossing duo sonata by Leon Kirchner.We begin with the Ives, performed by a wonderful trio of players: clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, violinist Lucy Stoltzman, and pianist Jeremy Denk. A reworking of a piece Ives had composed for violin and piano back in 1901, the trio has a beautiful, languid, evocative atmosphere, with harmonies that were quite modern for 1901.Written some 18 years later, Irving Berlin’s song “You’d Be Surprised” is still rooted squarely in traditional tonality, but with a clever, cheeky lyric that is provocative enough on its own. We’ll hear the song performed by artists from the New York Festival of Song: soprano Anne-Carolyn Bird and pianist Steven Blier, the festival’s artistic director.Finally, we’ll close with a piece from a few decades later: Leon Kirchner’s Sonata Concertante for Violin and Piano, performed by violinist Corey Cerovsek and pianist Jeremy Denk.[...]

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152. Playing to Your Strengths

Mon, 15 Oct 2012 01:00:15 EST

Works for solo piano performed by Martina Filjak.

  • Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 13 in B-Flat Major, K. 333
  • Prokofiev: Piano Sonata No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 14

This week’s podcast is all about playing to your strengths. We’ll hear two piano sonatas, each written by composers who were also noted pianists and often performed their own work. We begin with Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 13 in B-flat Major, a familiar work to many listeners, but lengthy and widely considered one of the composer’s most challenging pieces to play. Mozart most likely wrote it for himself, and he almost certainly performed it in concert. Next, we’ll hear Prokofiev’s second Piano Sonata, in D minor, Opus 14. Prokofiev was an accomplished pianist, a graduate of the St. Petersburg Conservatory, and his first successes as a composer were with works he himself performed, which often included feats of great pianistic virtuosity. We’ll hear both of these virtuoso works played by a young pianist who is making waves of her own. Martina Filjak won the prestigious Cleveland International Piano Competition in 2009 and has since been catapulted into an impressive career.

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151. Women Composers, Then and Now

Mon, 01 Oct 2012 01:00:01 EST

Works for piano trio performed by the Claremont Trio.

  • Fanny Mendelssohn (Hensel): Piano Trio in D Minor, Op. 11
  • Helen Grime: Three Whistler Miniatures (World Premiere)

Born in 1805 in Hamburg, Fanny Mendelssohn grew up studying music alongside her little brother, Felix. But as she neared marrying age, she was increasingly discouraged by the men in her family—first her father, then her brother—who thought it improper for a lady to pursue a career as a published composer. In recent decades, however, Fanny Mendelssohn’s music has been published, recorded, and performed with increasing frequency. We’ll begin our podcast today with a performance by the Claremont Trio of Fanny Mendelssohn’s engrossing Piano Trio in D minor, Opus 11, considered by many to be one of her finest works.

After that, we’ll hear another trio, this one by a contemporary female composer, Helen Grime. The three-movement work, titled “The Whistler Miniatures,” was commissioned in honor of the opening of the Gardner Museum’s new concert space, Calderwood Hall, and was premiered there in April 2012. The set of musical miniatures was inspired by three Whistler chalk and pastel miniatures in the Gardner Museum’s collection, all of which can be seen hanging in the Veronese Room at the Museum.

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150. Amateurs Need Not Apply

Sat, 15 Sep 2012 01:00:15 EST

Works for piano and string quartet, performed by Paavali Jumppanen and the Borromeo String Quartet.Beethoven: Piano Sonata in F Major, Op. 54Beethoven: String Quartet No. 7 in F Major, Op. 59, No. 1In the 18th century, chamber music was—as the name suggests—played almost exclusively in the home. Much of the time these intimate performances featured amateur musicians—people playing for their own entertainment after dinner. The pieces we’ll hear on today’s podcast, however, sat at the crossroads of this shift from amateur to professional chamber-music-making, perhaps intentionally so. We’ll begin the program with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata in F Major, op. 54. The sonata begins simply enough, with a sweet minuet. Not one minute in, though, the bass thunders in and introduces an assertive passage of octaves that would give any beginning pianist a run for his money. Pianist Paavali Jumppanen plays it with aplomb.Concluding our program is Beethoven’s seventh string quartet, in F Major, a work that marked a transition in Beethoven’s development as a composer as he moved towards an increasingly complex and expansive Romantic sensibility. The recording we’ll hear features the Borromeo String Quartet, who are more than up to the task.[...]

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149. Progressive Brahms, Redux

Sat, 01 Sep 2012 01:00:01 EST

Works for cello and piano by Michael Kannen and Steven Beck, and piano quartet by Musicians from Ravinia's Steans Institute.Webern: Two Pieces for Cello and PianoBrahms: Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25Our program today pairs a robust Brahms chamber music masterpiece—in this case the First Piano Quartet in G minor—with a piece by the Second Viennese School, examining Schoenberg’s assertion that Brahms was really the original progressive.We’ll begin with Webern’s Two Pieces for Cello and Piano, performed by cellist Michael Kannen and pianist Steven Beck. Though undoubtedly the work of a young composer—Webern was at the time a 15-year-old high school student—the music contains glimmers of what Webern would become. The listener may be quite surprised by the strong Romantic influence, which is markedly different from later works.After the Webern, we’ll hear the Brahms First Piano Quartet, played by Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute. Although this piece seems traditional, Brahms is innovating beneath the surface, weaving the four movements together with recurring thematic material. The final movement is perhaps the best known and is particularly delightful—a lively gypsy rondo.[...]

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148. Shaking It Up

Wed, 15 Aug 2012 01:00:15 EST

Works for keyboard and string quartet performed by pianist George Li and Musicians from Marlboro.Debussy: Three PreludesDebussy: String Quartet in G minor, Op. 10Claude Debussy’s music is so loved by contemporary audiences that it is difficult to imagine him as a rebel. But beneath the seductive, languorous surface of Debussy’s music lies a true modernist, whose experiments with harmony and form ushered in the 20th century.Today’s podcast shows Debussy working in two stalwart genres of the classical tradition: the piano prelude and the string quartet. Unlike earlier preludes, however, which tended to follow a carefully choreographed progression of keys, Debussy’s two books of piano preludes unfold much more like a parade of miniatures. We’ll hear three of them, performed by pianist George Li: a jaunty depiction of a juggler, called “Général Lavine”; the famous “Girl with the Flaxen Hair”; and the virtuosic “Feux d’artifice”—or, in English, “Fireworks”.Next, we will hear Debussy’s String Quartet in G minor. Pierre Boulez once said that Debussy freed chamber music from "rigid structure, frozen rhetoric and rigid aesthetics," a sentiment apparent in this performance by Musicians from Marlboro.[...]

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147. Chopin at the Piano

Wed, 01 Aug 2012 01:00:01 EST

Works for solo piano performed by pianists Cecile Licad and Jean-Frédéric Neuburger.Chopin: Nocturne in F-sharp minor, Op. 48 No. 2Chopin: Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49Chopin: Piano Sonata No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 35On February 26, 1832, a young pianist named Frédéric Chopin made his debut at the intimate Salle Pleyel, to a room filled with music-world notables including Franz Liszt and Felix Mendelssohn. He would go on to revolutionize the way composers wrote for the piano, and the way pianists played it. We’ll begin with his Nocturne in F-sharp minor, Op. 48 No. 2, as performed by Cecile Licad. Next we’ll hear a slightly longer work, the Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49 No. 2. This more expansive work earns the title “fantasy” from its semi-improvisatory nature—we move through a series of different sections, with different themes, that unfold in succession. The performance is again by Cecile Licad. Finally, we’ll hear Chopin’s Second Sonata in B-flat minor, as performed by pianist Jean-Frederic Neuburger. The four-movement piece roams widely, from the stormy opening to the famous third-movement funeral march, all culminating in a virtuoso perpetual motion finale with rapid-fire triplets.[...]

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