December 29, 2005
Top local classical performances in 2005
New York or Vienna, bah! The past 12 months were filled with fine
music made right in southern New Hampshire. Here’s an opinionated
round-up of the year’s very best performances by local groups.
Saturday, Feb. 5, Nashua: Nashua Symphony, Concerto in F for Piano and
Orchestra by George Gershwin. Frederick Moyer not only plays the piano,
he talks to it. During a performance this past weekend of Gershwin’s
seldom-heard Concerto in F for Piano and Orchestra, Moyer appeared to be
scat-singing through many sections, both during solo passages and
sometimes while the orchestra was churning away.
may have looked odd, but it sounded fantastic. Moyer and the Nashua
Symphony came up with a winningly brash and extroverted rendition of
Gershwin’s hot-blooded work, a lesser-known cousin of the composer’s
popular Rhapsody in Blue. The concerto, a full three-movement work in
classical form, is a lengthier and more demanding work for both soloist
and orchestra. Happily, Moyer and Nashua Symphony conductor Royston Nash
were well up to the task, presenting Gershwin’s jazz-colored work as an
athletic romp from start to finish.
Moyer had the work entirely under his command, playing with a clarity
that was rarely lost even in the busiest of syncopated passages. Both
Moyer and Nash seemed to appreciate the energy bottled up in the score,
which was Gershwin’s earliest major concert hall work and is infused
with a “look what I can do with this” spirit. As performed in Nashua
last Saturday night, it’s a thrilling and varied piece of music with
nary a dull stretch.
Saturday, March 26, Concord: Granite State Symphony Orchestra,
Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony No. 6: ...A rendition that was a delight
from start to finish—a performance that was fresh, energetic, supple,
and, well, springy. No tired warhorse here. Under Babb, Beethoven’s
familiar tribute to nature was made new again, as the musicians made
brooks babble, birds sing, and downpours gush. At the opening of the
final movement, a tribute to the Romantic idea of nature’s tranquility,
the clouds all but parted so the sun could shine through.
These results were all the more remarkable as Babb was without a number
of principal players due to the rescheduling of the concert, which was
postponed from two weeks ago due to snow. Even so, the playing was solid
throughout the entire program, which was held Saturday night at Concord
Auditorium. Ensemble was tight, intonation in the strings was on the
money, and balance was fine at all times. A special word of praise goes
to the brass players, who kept the volume under in control in the
Beethoven and other works on the program.
Sunday, April 10, Manchester: Pianist Ursula Oppens at the Currier
Museum, Manchester: It’s not often you get to hear a rip-roaring work
like the piano version of Ravel’s La Valse brought to life. But then
it’s not every day that a pianist the caliber of Ursula Oppens comes to
Manchester. But she was in the city last Sunday, drawing a
standing-room-only crowd for a recital at the Currier Museum. The
concert was given in honor of Dr. Barbara Stahl, a long-time area
educator and arts enthusiast who passed away last year.
Ravel work, a keyboard tour de force that’s been described as a waltz on
the edge of a volcano, was a memorable highlight; Oppens tore through
the piece with exactly the right combination of elegance and crazed
abandon. The music seemed especially powerful, as it came directly after
a finely jeweled rendition of selections of Ravel’s much gentler Valses
Nobles et Sentimentales. Oppens has a good feel for this type of
music—she brought out the many moods that lurk beneath Ravel’s polished
Equally impressive was The Winnsboro Cotton Mill Blues, a compelling
keyboard arrangement by Frederic Rzewski of a blues-style melody. Oppens
really sold this vibrant modern work; she found and brought out the
music even in startling rhythmic passages for the keyboard’s extreme
Saturday, April 2, Manchester: New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra,
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2: ...the orchestra’s season-ending concert,
held last Saturday at St. Joseph Cathedral in Manchester was full of
compelling music-making and well worth attending. The all-Beethoven
affair, originally supposed to feature the composer’s mighty Symphony
No. 9 for chorus and orchestra, was reworked into a program calling for
more modest forces, in part due to the orchestra’s continuing budget
Kiesler didn’t let that hinder his eagerness to explore and bring to
life a nice collection of other works by the composer: an overture, a
well-known masterwork, and a lesser-known symphony. The Prometheus
Overture, which opened the program, set the tone for what was to come—a
full-bodied, gutsy performance that somehow evoked the composer’s
life-long struggle with music and, well, life itself.
performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 was better by far. Lively and
full of verve, it rattled off the high walls and bounced merrily about
the church. As the performance went on, the fun quotient increased,
culminating in a finale that’s the closest Beethoven ever came to
writing music for Warner Bros. cartoons. The musicians seemed to enjoy
this one, and so did the audience.
Sunday, May 8, Manchester: Manchester Choral Society, Mass in Time of
War by Joseph Haydn: It was Lisa Wolff’s last concert as conductor of
the Manchester Choral Society, and it would be hard to imagine a more
powerful or polished finale. Stepping down after 23 years of leading the
group, Wolff led performances of four of Handel’s Coronation Anthems and
Haydn’s Mass in Time of War. As heard on Sunday in St. Joseph Cathedral,
everything clicked. The chorus was well drilled and sang superbly, the
freelance orchestra was studded with great players and provided
crackerjack accompaniment, and the music was perfectly suited to the
church’s live acoustics.
This happy confluence made for some of the best live music you can
expect to hear, not just in Manchester but anywhere. The massed choral
voices reverberating in the big church, the flash and thunder of the
brass and timpani, the stately chord progressions—it’s an incomparable
sound when done right, and for her final concert, Wolff got it exactly
spot on. Haydn’s big Mass in Time of War was well played and full of
memorable passages. One chord in particular, sung on the word ‘Sabaoth,’
clicked the way a good barbershop quartet does, and rang impressively
throughout the church.
Friday, April 29, Concord: Granite State Opera, Verdi’s Rigoletto: ...
The audience was not disappointed. Artistic director Phil Lauriat seeks
the best singers, stage managers, lighting directors, and set designers
to enhance every aspect of the presentation, with much behind-the-scenes
work unknown to audiences. One of the many familiar arias in Rigoletto
is the Duke’s “Questo Quella,” (sung by tenor Eric Fennell). After
having some difficulty with the high range early on, Fennell played the
part to perfection. Later in the even more famous “La Donna e Mobile,”
and in the famous quartet, he was greeted with enthusiastic approbation.
Michael Corvino, in the title role, possesses a strong voice with an
unusual quality that can be heard in the farthest reaches of the hall,
and played well in the role of the despised and unfortunate jester. The
role of Gilda, Rigoletto’s daughter, was performed by soprano Monica
Yunus, who is gifted with a lovely, lyrical voice. The ovations after
each act of the opera were redoubled at the conclusion and it was clear
at the curtain calls that the valiant singers who joined to create this
wonderful performance were appreciated by all. - John Dowd
Sunday, June 5, Manchester: New Hampshire Philharmonic Chamber Players
at the Currier Museum: ...The Currier’s lively acoustics were the
quartet’s friend, taking the string sound and lifting it up into
something substantial and impressive on its own. Fine acoustics won’t
help a substandard performance, but that wasn’t an issue with the
Philharmonic’s chamber players. The musicians—concertmaster Elliott
Markow, violinist Dana Mills, violist Paul Hoffman, and cellist Gary
Hodges—came through with a polished and confident sound throughout the
opening work, the String Quartet in D written by a 16-year-old Franz
Schubert, set the bar high right from the beginning. The musicians
played it big, like a symphony rather than a quartet, and this approach
paid off with fine moments in all four movements. A performance of the
brief Five Folk Melodies of Witold Lutoslawski was completely engaging;
each of the five little movements were brought to life with grace and
humor. The way the second movement ground to a halt caused the small
audience to laugh out loud, something that’s unfortunately quite rare at
classical music concerts.
rarely-heard Quartet No. 4 of American composer George Chadwick rounded
out the program; it’s a work that lends itself to big gestures and the
players made the most of them, filling the Currier with tremendous
passages of wonderful sound.
Friday, Nov. 4, Manchester: Opera New Hampshire, La Boheme by Giacomo
Puccini: Every so often you come across a production of a familiar opera
that clarifies for you why the work is an enduring classic. For all the
right reasons, the version of Puccini’s masterpiece La Boheme given by
Opera New Hampshire last weekend was just that kind of staging. The
production, created by the DiCapo Opera Theater troupe of New York City
and imported to Manchester for one performance, was remarkable for what
it did not do. At no time did it try to impress audiences with anything
flashy, daring or strange.
Rather, the emphasis was on bringing the opera to life with energy and
commitment, and letting the music and story do the work they were
intended to do. In the process, director Michael Capasso’s troupe
treated the Palace Theater audience to a fine night in the theater.
Staged with a wealth of lively byplay between the lead singers,
Capasso’s Boheme came across as more of an ensemble piece than the story
of separate characters. The cast was well-matched for this approach,
with no voices standing out as flat-out superb and no clunkers, either.
Conductor Pacien Mazzagatti kept things moving at a brisk pace. The pit
orchestra played well but wasn’t overpowering, even when it might have
been to good effect. But it allowed the voices to come across well,
never covering or stepping on them. The one innovation — joining Acts II
and III into one sequence — worked brilliantly. Despite a crowded Palace
stage, the cast was able to effortlessly transform the scene from a wild
outdoor parade into a deserted snowy gate scene, with Puccini’s
mysterious opening music for Act III seemingly written exactly for it.
Saturday, Nov. 5, Concord: Lark String Quartet at Concord Community
Music School: The one-time standing-room-only concert was in memory of
Jean D. London, a supporter of live music well-known in classical music
circles who passed away last year. In her honor, the members of the Lark
Quartet — Maria Bachman, Deborah Buck, Kathryn Lockwood, and Astrid
Schween — played classic quartets by Beethoven and Dvorak and a new work
they commissioned from U.S. composer Peter Schickele.
was the Schickele piece that proved the true stunner. The composer,
better known for the musical antics of his spoofing alter-ego P.D.Q.
Bach, came up with a serious and multi-faceted work that, without
exaggeration, should stand as an instant classic of serious music.
Written in memory of his father-in-law, Schickele’s String Quartet No. 2
was above all a moving piece of music that, as performed by the Lark,
grabbed listeners by the lapel right from the start and then never let
go for its entire four movements.
particular, the fast second movement Scherzo started with a buzz and
built to a riotous jazzy conclusion, sweeping the audience along in a
spinning and weaving cloud of arpeggios and offbeat pizzicato plucks
that left everyone breathless. The crowd responded to its sudden end
with an astonished gasp. Given the small church’s friendly acoustics and
the up-close-and-personal nature of the concert’s staging, it all added
up to an unforgettable two hours of classical music, and not in New York
or Boston but here.
Saturday, Nov. 5, Manchester: New Hampshire Philharmonic Orchestra,
Piano Concerto by Maurice Ravel: The cross-pollination resulting from
Gershwin’s in-his-prime trips to Paris and Ravel’s interest in jazz is a
topic ripe for exploration. And last Saturday’s Palace Theater concert
of the New Hampshire Philharmonic did just that — by juxtaposing Ravel’s
jazzy Piano Concerto in G with a suite from Gershwin’s “serious” opera
Porgy and Bess, a crackling sort of energy was released that helped each
work come to life.
Conductor Anthony Princiotti, starting his fifth season leading the
group, brought a nice sense of bounce to each work. The performances
sounded well-rehearsed and polished, and the many instrumental soloists
came across as confident and assured. Pianist Reiko Harigaya, soloist
the Ravel, brought precision and attention to detail to the concerto.
She’s not an overpowering take-no-prisoners kind of player, and that
approach was a perfect match to the Philharmonic’s playing.
program was interesting on its own, but layered on top of the music was
an extensive tie-in with artists of the 1920s courtesy of the Currier
Museum. A slide show of various works of the period ... served to whet
the appetite for exploring the topic further in a non-concert setting.
Of note was the huge turnout of students, who virtually mobbed a
pre-concert lecture and then filled the Palace balcony for the music.
Saturday, Nov. 19, Nashua: Nashua Symphony Orchestra, an evening of
Gilbert & Sullivan: It was a return to his conducting roots for Royston
Nash, who celebrated 20 years leading the Nashua Symphony with a recent
concert of excerpts from the works of Gilbert & Sullivan. In the 1970s,
Nash was music director of the D’Oyly Carte company in England, a
descendant of the troupe that originally staged many of the Gilbert &
Sullivan operettas. To celebrate his anniversary on the Gate City
podium, Nash enlisted fellow D’Oyly Carte veteran tenor Geoffrey
Shovelton as well as soprano Deborah Clague and baritone Richard Conrad
for a high-spirited evening of music both familiar and obscure.
it was all delightful - from the smooth and full-bodied sound of the
orchestra to the semi-staged excerpts from musicals, the evening was a
refreshing change from the ordinary and a strong dose of authentic
Gilbert & Sullivan performed by those who know how to do it. Shovelton
was in especially fine form in the Nov. 19 performance in Nashua’s Keefe
Auditorium, his voice still strong and secure and his acting instincts
spot-on. And his anecdotes of performing Gilbert & Sullivan while
touring around Britain with Nash were exactly the right complement to
the straight-man conductor by his side. All in all, it was a fine
example of creative programming with musical as well as entertainment