Bach, Mahler, Murail, Eastman

Alex Ross recently posted a list of concerts and operas he attended during a recent European trip. I haven’t been to Europe lately, but I did get to a memorable and varied series of concerts in Philadelphia recently. Here are some brief comments.



I was delighted to see the Church of the Holy Trinity filled for a program of Bach cantatas – it seats about 1100! Very fine performances, with the singers and obbligato players ably commanding Bach’s long lines. The second aria in BWV 170 is a contender for the strangest Bach aria ever, with the organ playing the obbligato while the violins in unison play the bass!


My favorite pieces here were the Murail works and the Messiaen. The latter was written on the death of his mother, while the former on the death of his teacher Messiaen; good to hear those in succession. The big hall at the Barnes is not ideal for every concert situation, but it worked for the spectralist pieces with their emphasis on resonance, sculpted in sensuous layers in Marilyn’s virtuosic performance. Here’s how the piano was set up, followed by a shot from the Q and A with Marilyn and Robert Whalen, co-artistic director, along with Katharine Skovira, of the concerts at the Barnes.



  • The Philadelphia Orchestra offered the Mahler 3rd in its last subscription set of the season. I was there for the May 19 performance.


This was a magnificent performance of a staggering piece. Certainly hearing the orchestra in full cry was thrilling, but I was constantly struck by the intensely eloquent solo playing – trombone in the first movement, offstage “posthorn” (I assume played on trumpet?) in the third, to name just two of many. Karen Cargill’s voice was richly sonorous, and the choirs were splendid. Am I the only person who hears an echo of “I’ll be seeing you in all the old familiar places” in the cello tune of the finale?

  • The last event in my recent bout of concert going was the final concert of the Julius Eastman retrospective presented by Bowerbird at The Rotunda.






The ensemble pieces were intriguing, but the highlight for me was the a cappella solo performance of Eastman’s Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan D’Arc by Davóne Tines. He was positioned at the lectern pictured above. His powerful bass-baritone cast an incantatory spell as he repeated the work’s few short musical phrases, a setting of this text:

Saint Michael said
Saint Margaret said
Saint Catherine said
They said
He said
She said
Speak Boldly
When they question you

The piece served as an invocation, and I sensed an unusual concentration in the audience; it was exceptionally quiet during the pauses between phrases, giving us a chance to attend to the reverberation The Rotunda offers.

Hear Davóne singing music of Caroline Shaw here, and Jerome Kern here.

Recent Listening

These aren’t new releases, just some items I came across at my local library recently.

– Shostakovich, Liszt, Prokofiev: Piano Concertos. Lisa de la Salle, piano; Lisbon Gulbenkian Foundation Orchestra, Lawrence Foster, conductor. In this album of first piano concertos what is striking is the effect made by this juxtaposition of pieces:  after the goofy fanfares of the Shostakovich it is harder to take the sincere fanfares of the Liszt seriously. It is as though the later composer is influencing the earlier one. The performances are very good throughout if not quite top notch; the Prokofiev does not quite rise to the dazzling level of Kissin and the Berlin Phil. and Arrau commands a more profound poetry in the Liszt.

– Pat Metheny, with Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez: Tokyo Day Trip. I am old enough to remember when the designation “EP” meant “extended play” and referred to a 7″ 45 rpm disc that had more than two songs on its two sides. Now an EP actually means a relatively short CD – long for a CD single, I guess, but short for a CD album; there is about 40 minutes of music here, all of it recorded live. The calmer moods  of Metheny’s music can seem slightly spacey – it’s that ECM thing, I guess (the present release is on Nonesuch, actually) – but the uptempo numbers here are fiery ripsnorters.

– Bach: Partitas 2, 3, and 4. Murray Perahia, piano. I love Perahia’s Bach playing for its characterfulness – he has a million shades of articulation, and deploys them in intelligent ways. This disc is very nearly at the level of his sublime Goldberg Variations.