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Friday, December 25, 2015

Mediterranean Holiday

THE GUT-WRENCHING CRY of “Respondemos” – melismatic, nasal, featuring more flatted tones than any five Billie Holiday records – set a stark beginning against which Boston Camerata’s traditional entrance seemed all the more mysterious. Over a hurdy-gurdy drone, the voices behind us, which at another concert might have sounded the likes of “Watchman of Zion,” sang “Madre de Dios,” a Castillian carol from at least the 13th century.

Boston Camerata and Sharq Ensemble
This was the 26th Boston Camerata holiday appearance as part of the Union College concert series, and every year the ensemble is all the more desperately welcome. While it’s easy (and necessary) to note how awful is the season’s commercialism, there’s no more revolting aspect than bad holiday music, which thrives on the unfortunate fact that any song can be made memorable by relentlessly hammering it into your ears.

It’s doubtful that you’d encounter any part of any Boston Camerata Christmas program in the aural assault of the end of the year. It’s certain that no aspect of this year’s program, “A Mediterranean Christmas,” will be so sounded. Especially this year, when we’ve demonized so much of that region. “We need this program more than ever,” said artistic director Anne Azéma.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

On a Ravioli Roll

CRUSHING YOUR CONCOCTION into pillows of pasta is the fun part, the payoff for the work you’ve been through to get there. For the many years that I’ve made ravioli by hand, I accepted that forming the pockets was tedious and the result – under my stewardship, at least – was irregular. But now that I’ve been introduced to the simplest of gadgets, one that checkerboards the pasta for you, I’m a total convert. Even better: It’s a handsome device that demands a place on an obvious shelf.

The Fonde Ravioli Rolling Pin from Repast Supply Co. is a 17-inch, all-hardwood marvel of simplicity that produces 2 1/4-inch pasta squares with enough of a border to prevent leaking. You can see product videos here, but let me assure you that you’re not going to achieve such perfection right out of the gate. Let me take you through my own ravioli-making process.

You need to nail the pasta recipe. I looked at a variety of them for the egg-based version, which only worked when I increased the amount of eggs in the mix. A contributor gives a ratio of 3 cups flour to 2 eggs, which ends up as a stiff lump. The classic Silver Spoon cookbook offers a more realistic 1 3/4 cups flour to 2 eggs, but that’s still too not pliable enough for our purpose.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Argerich File

MARTHA ARGERICH IS A PIANIST for whom no music seems too technically challenging, but one with strong repertory preferences. Like Horowitz, she has burrowed herself into a not-terribly-large group of pieces, and to which she brings a bravura interpretive style filled with risk-taking that results only in excitement.

Most of her official recordings have been for EMI or Deutsche Grammophon, and the latter, now under the aegis of Universal, which includes her recordings for Philips, have just been collected into a 48-CD box set as tempestuous and unpredictable as the pianist herself.

Her debut album was recorded in 1960 and comprised an impressive program of works by Chopin, Brahms, and Liszt, with Prokofiev’s “Toccata” as a harbinger of fiery works to come. You can feel the powers-that-be at work in choosing repertory here, and they’re probably behind the (nevertheless excellent) all-Chopin disc that followed seven years later.

But that same year also saw the release of a benchmark recording, on which she and a young Claudio Abbado collaborated, giving us Prokofiev’s Concerto No. 3 and Ravel’s Concerto in G. They are two works she would continue to champion but which sound as splendid here as they ever would.

Pianist and conductor seemed to incite one another. Abbado’s robust dynamics and keen orchestral textures are like a trampoline for the pianist, lofting her to magnificent moments. You expect this (or hope for it) in the Prokofiev; in the Ravel concerto it’s more of a surprise, but a welcome one.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

1986: Year of the Diva

From the Metroland Vault Dept.: We used to offer an end-of-year roundup of classical-music concerts, hoping that would seem important, and I tried to get to every damn one of them back then. Here’s my appraisal of the Albany area’s 1986.


IT WAS THE YEAR OF THE DIVA in area halls as the one area of classical music guaranteed to attracted the fewest and most fervent got a great celebration.

Aprile Millo
Newcomers and the established – it didn’t matter. The programs were traditional, the programs were varied. And the stars were all sopranos.

Oh, there was some swell fiddlin’ going on, and orchestras and chamber groups galore came through the area. And I’m usually very partial to a crackerjack instrumental concert, figuring a good reading of a Beethoven string quartet is worth a dozen song recitals.

Not this year. Starting back in February, when Marilyn Horne took the stage at Proctor’s with pianist Martin Katz. There is a soprano repertory that gets sung to death, but Horne presented a program that skirted the canon even as it made the most of her voice. We went through the usual Baroque-era openers of Vivaldi and Handel into a delightful, moody realm of German and Spanish songs; a tribute to Samuel Barber opened the second half with six songs that really deserve to be in the “greatest hits” repertory. Horne took the program to New York City and elsewhere, so she may be accomplishing that.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

By Strauss

Metroland in Memoriam Dept.: I’m raiding the more obscure corners of my contributions to the now-stilled Metroland Magazine, but it looks pretty much like what I’ve been posting here all along. Here’s some opera.


Soprano Brenda Harris
IT’S NOT FREQUENTLY laugh-out-loud funny, but that’s not Richard Strauss’s style. Still, it’s an extremely funny and moving work, performed with appropriate gusto as the opener of the Lake George Opera’s summer season at SPAC. “Ariadne auf Naxos” was intended as a half-hour divertissement to be performed within a production of Molière’s play Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme that had been translated by Strauss’s librettist, Hugo von Hofmannsthal. Then it grew, losing the play but gaining a prologue that sets up in a few strokes much of what the play intended: A nouveau-riche nobleman has planned an evening’s entertainment that will include an original opera, improvised commedia dell’arte sketches and fireworks. So that the fireworks may begin precisely at 9, the nobleman has decreed that the opera and the comedians should perform simultaneously.

This throws the assemblage into chaos: how dare one type of entertainment sully the other! The prologue gives us a young, idealistic composer (a pants role sung by mezzo Mary Ann McCormick) who agonizes over the cuts that are required – even while succumbing to the charm of comedienne Zerbinetta (soprano Robin Blitch Wiper), whose hedonistic way of life is drenched in sensuality. Amidst a flurry of hasty assignations deftly staged in the background, the Composer and Zerbinetta end up face-to-face on opposite sides of a ladder, a nice piece of business from stage director Marc Verzatt, who also took on the speaking role of the Major-Domo, which he performed with an Olivier-like flourish.