MidAmerica Productions presents: Romance: German and French Romantic Music for Flute and Piano in Review

MidAmerica Productions presents: Romance: German and French Romantic Music for Flute and Piano in Review

Romance: German and French Romantic Music for Flute and Piano
Patrick Gallois, flute; Maria Prinz, piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
March 6, 2014

MidAmerica Productions is one of the busiest concert presenters in New York, indeed worldwide. In my experience, their concerts are always on a high level and their audiences substantial. Weill Hall was almost full for this recital, no small accomplishment for an instrumental recital in which the performers are not household names. The concert focused on that most beloved musical era, the Romantic period. The first half was focused on German music and the second half, French. The stated goal, according to the program notes, was to “bring listeners to explore another atmosphere in another world.”

First we heard Three Romances, Op. 94, by Robert Schumann. Originally written for oboe, Mr. Gallois, needed to change only a few notes to make them work for the flute. These pieces were presented by Robert to his wife Clara in 1849 as a Christmas present. These lovely “songs without words” no doubt made a hit with their recipient. As we are reminded in the distinctly romantic program notes written by Ms. Prinz, Robert and Clara Schumann’s relationship was ”one of the most famous love stories in music history.” These exquisite, tuneful pieces remind one of Robert Schumannʼs Lieder and could probably be successfully performed on any treble instrument. The second, in the major mode, is especially beautiful. All three were given a sensitive and shapely performance.

The remainder of the first half was devoted to Carl Reineckeʼs Undine Sonata, Op. 167. In addition to being unquestionably “romantic” in style, this piece is distinctly programmatic. Undine was a water spirit who fell in love with a human, was betrayed by him, gave him a fatal kiss and then returned to the water. In the first movement the waves and undulations of the water were clearly depicted in the flute line, played with limpid fluidity by Mr. Gallois, and by the arpeggiated chords in the piano, sensitively executed by Ms. Prinz. The sparkling second movement begins with rapid staccato notes in the flute (Undine is getting excited!) followed by dotted rhythm of the piano (the knight has arrived!) The third movement is a beautiful love duet, played with great feeling by Mr. Gallois and Ms. Prinz. Then, in the fourth movement, the Sturm und Drang of betrayal and retribution are portrayed in rapid scale passages and diminished seventh chords. At the end of the piece we return to the rocking 6/8 meter of the first movement as, like a good Rhine maiden, Undine returns to her original home.

After intermission we heard a lovely Romance, Op. 37, by Camille Saint-Saëns. The flute’s tender melody was played beautifully, and its rapid scales and octave passages were tossed off with aplomb. Next we heard Charles-Marie Widorʼs Suite, Op. 34. The beautiful third movement, entitled Romance, was captivating, and the technical challenges of the finale were deftly managed by both performers. Its second movement is evidently a most effective Scherzo, as it elicited delighted chuckles from the audience.

The last piece on the program was Gabriel Piernéʼs Sonata, Op. 36. Originally this piece was written for violin, however it is often performed on the flute. Indeed, the original sheet music mentions that it can be played by either instrument. During this work, the flute was sometimes overbalanced by the piano, especially towards the end. Perhaps this problem would have been alleviated if the lid of the piano had been moved to the short stick. The lid was fully open for the entire program, but there were no balance problems in previous works.

The audience was obviously enchanted with everything Mr. Gallois and Ms. Prinz did and rewarded them with fulsome applause. The encore was Maurice Ravelʼs “Kaddisch,” from the composer’s Deux Mélodies hébraïques. Originally written for voice and piano, the voice part was transcribed for flute by Mr. Gallois.



Aleyson Scopel, Pianist in Review

Aleyson Scopel, Pianist in Review
MidAmerica Productions Presents: Aleyson Scopel, piano
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 23, 2013

MidAmerica Productions has a long history of presenting talented artists in venues around the globe. The honor of the 1200th concert worldwide was given to the Brazilian pianist Aleyson Scopel in a program featuring Mozart, Schubert, and his countryman, Almeida Prado. Mr. Scopel dedicated his performance “To Alys Terrien-Queen, the first to believe in me.”  Terrien-Queen may have been the first believer, but after this performance, he added countless others, including this listener, as those “in the know.”

Opening with Mozart’s Rondo in A minor, K. 511, Mr. Scopel demonstrated his mature understanding of this highly introspective and melancholy work.  He played with refinement and sensitivity, but without superficiality or glibness that lesser players sometimes display in Mozart.  His control was excellent, the voicing clear, and contrasts rendered decisively. His was the playing of an artist, pure and simple.

The world premiere of Cartes Celestes XV (Celestial Charts XV) by Almeida Prado followed the Mozart. José Antônio Rezende de Almeida Prado (1943-2010) composed eighteen sets of pieces he called Cartes Celestes , works depicting the sky and universe, using a harmonic language the composer called “transtonality.”  Cartes Celestes XV was finished in 2009 and dedicated to Aleyson Scopel.   Subtitled “The Expanding Universe”, it is divided into six movements. The opening GRB090423, a musical depiction of a supernova 13 billion light years from the earth, was played by Mr. Scopel with harrowing effect, from the rumbling of the unstable stars to the brilliant explosion of light. The other movements (Eskimo Nebula, Pictor Constellation and Extrasolar Planet, The Bird of Paradise Constellation, Planetary Nebula NCG 3195, and Solar Wind) were further examples of the genius of this composer and his visionary conceptions.  Almeida Prado pays tribute to his teacher Messiaen in Bird of Paradise. One can also detect some intergalactic Debussy (imagine La cathédrale engloutie in outer space!). The use of tonality without a tonal center, which the composer called his “pilgrim harmony”, was highly effective. Mr. Scopel took the listener on a tour of the stars in a spellbinding performance full of power, passion, and lyricism. After he had finished, Mr Scopel pointed to the sky in tribute to the composer. It was a touching gesture, and I am confident that Almeida Prado was listening with joy from somewhere in the vast universe he loved so much. Given that Mr. Scopel has recorded other of the Cartas Celestes, it is a reasonable hope that he will, at the very least, add this set to the mix, but I would very much like to see him record all eighteen Cartas Celestes. It would do honor to both Mr. Scopel and Almeida Prado.

After intermission, Mr. Scopel offered Schubert’s Sonata in A major, D. 959. This Sonata, completed only months before Schubert’s death, is a monumental work that is majestic, pathos filled, and nostalgic (especially in the finale’s look back to a theme from his Sonata in A minor, D. 537). Mr. Scopel continued to share his artistry with a well-considered and executed performance of this massive work.  His playing was crisp and accurate. The contrasting moods were dynamically realized, the laments were moving in their simplicity, and the finale had unflagging energy. One must also contend with the virtuosic elements throughout, and Mr. Scopel was more than capable of dealing with those as well, which he did in an unpretentious and understated way.  This was fine Schubert playing, and would have served as an excellent example to students on what constitutes a reference performance.

Aleyson Scopel is a first-rate pianist. Anyone who values substance over style should make it a point to hear him in performance.  I look forward to hearing him again.

Seunghee Lee, Pianist in Review

Presented by MidAmerica Productions
Alice Tully Hall, New York, NY
November 24, 2012

The arts are in a jumble, but America remains the coveted destination for those who seek higher education and a head start in a classical performance career. As college costs aspire to reach the stars, so do many of our foreign students, who are being trained superbly, and increasingly, outside of the typical metropolitan capitals of the country.

On Saturday, November 24 at 2:00 pm, the Korean pianist Seunghee Lee gave a recital at Alice Tully Hall presented by MidAmerica Productions (now in its 30th season of forging concert liaisons here and abroad). A graduate of SangMyung University in Seoul, Ms. Lee chose to make her next stops at Ohio University and the University of Kentucky, whence she has emerged in the spring of this year, fully equipped to join the profession as instructor at SangMyung University in Seoul, with a doctoral dissertation on Korean contemporary piano music in hand. Ms. Lee’s biography cites a number of prizes and credits, including concerts in Brazil and a master class coaching with Kimura Park (presumably the pianist Jon Kimura Parker).

Ms. Lee established her porcelain signature sound from the outset on Saturday in a pair of unrelated Scarlatti sonatas, the tender K. 197 in B Minor and the top-ten favorite K. 159 in C Major, with its stuttering staccato thirds and cheery grace notes, deftly enunciated. Consistently attentive to clarity and polished treble, Ms. Lee prefers to butter her Baroque textures lavishly, but her sound retains its characteristic simplicity and integrity at all times.

If Ms. Lee is discovering a personal statement independent of the common sincerity of all music-making, this statement may be in its germinal phase: Saturday’s recital was a heavenly musical pot-luck. Its major works were the Bach-Busoni Chaconne and Brahms’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Handel (listed familiarly as “Handel Variations”). The Bach-Busoni was a late substitution for the “Corelli Variations” by Rachmaninoff, publicized on the outdoor marquee. A penchant for Baroque themes with their sets of full-blown Romantic variations would be an intriguing specialty, but the association would warrant an architectural perspective as well as an effervescent one. Ms. Lee’s cultivated sound and beautifully proportioned sense of rhythm did much to compensate for the absence of tragic declamation or exhilaration, respectively, in Bach-Busoni and Brahms. To decrease the cumulative effect of repetition and downplay the arrival of the fugue, Ms. Lee showed the courtesy to keep things moving and omitted nearly every repeat in the Brahms, as if for a timed audition. The through-composed Variation 13, in which Brahms extravagantly reiterates phrases in the upper octave to prolong the sway of the Hungarian lassan, contrasted noticeably with the compactness of the piece. After a dozen progressively thornier segments, the expected main course fugue proceeded as a blip on the radar, proficiently executed but minimally histrionic.

Partial responsibility for this non-starter of a cultural event should fall to the MidAmerica audience, which seemed especially papered with musical novices. Just as we were getting to know Ms. Lee and her lithe, violinistic style in the Bach Chaconne, the handsome crowd erupted into intermittent applause as if to cheer a home run every time she traversed the keyboard with razzle-dazzle. The offending persons did not stay beyond the first half, but we were treated to security ringtones, flash photography, electronic chimes, and exiting audience members during the remainder of the concert.

The most successful aspect of the recital was the grassroots parallel Ms. Lee drew between Samuel Barber’s Excursions and two atmospheric Korean dances by the composer Young Jo Lee, who is lucky to have such a devoted interpreter of his new piano works. Barber’s ostinato figures were comfortably controlled and his violin square dance full of fun, while the octatonic barcarolle and sicilian rhythms in Young Jo Lee’s Korean Dance Suite extended throughout the piano’s range and began to resemble Henri Duparc’s L’Invitation au Voyage gone to the dark side. Christian Sinding’s Rustle of Spring was a fluent and colorful encore.

Aglaia Koras, Pianist in Review

Aglaia Koras, Pianist in Review
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
October 25,2010

Aglaia Koras

During the 2009-2010 season, pianist Aglaia Koras continued her Beethoven and Chopin Plus Series at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall for the fifth consecutive season, sponsored by MidAmerica Productions. She performed her first all-Chopin 200th Birthday Tribute, also produced by MidAmerica Productions, in May 2010. And continuing her celebration of Chopin, she performed an All-Chopin program at Carnegie Hall on October 25, 2010. The program included the Nocturne in C-Sharp minor, Op. Posth.; the Mazurka in A minor , Op. 7, No. 2; the Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No.1; the Fantasy in F minor, Op. 49; the Barcarolle in F-sharp major, Op. 60; the Nocturne in B-flat minor, Op. 9, No. 1; the Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20; the Etude in C minor (“Revolutionary”), Op.10, No.12; the Nocturne in D-flat major, Op. 27 No. 2; the Polonaise in A-flat major, Op. 53; the Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64, No. 2; and the Sonata in B-flat minor, Op. 35 (“Marche Funebre”). Koras played considerably well throughout, but was at her best in the Nocturnes, Mazurka and slow movements, where her imagination, expansive expression and respect for tradition led the way. Pedaling was tasteful, and the phrasing was lovely. These moments were also filled with attractive dynamic contrasts and shading.

MidAmerica Productions was founded by Peter Tiboris in 1984. Now in its 27th season, MidAmerica is an independent producer of classical concerts, presenting soloists like Ms. Koras, choral concerts, and instrumental ensembles from around the world in New York’s Carnegie Hall, Weill Recital Hall, and at Lincoln Center. To date, MidAmerica Productions has produced more than 1050 concerts, including 320 in Weill Recital Hall. An interesting addition to Koras’ Weill recital program biography points out that Ms. Koras’ musical lineage can be traced to Chopin, as her teacher Horszowski’s mother (who taught Horszowski in his early years) studied with Mikuli, who was a student of Chopin. This all-Chopin program was a welcome survey of his works, a lovely addition to the year-long commemoration of Chopin’s birth. One can only hope that the people of Poland and France (where he is buried) are doing such prolonged, complete tributes.