December in our area had more to offer in classical music than just Christmas concerts. I didn’t even get to everything I would have liked to hear during the month. However, I did get to some worthwhile events.
I was sorry to miss Esopus Chamber Orchestra’s Baroque concert. But I did get to hear ECO’s chamber concert on December 2 at a new venue, Photosensualis on Rock City Road. I hadn’t been in that building to hear music since the old days of The Elephant in the 1970s! It’s a lovely space and for some reason it has an excellent piano, so a program of chamber music with piano worked just fine.
Unfortunately a large work by George Tsontakis, originally scheduled for this program, was replaced by just one of his “Bagatelles” for piano quartet. It was an affecting piece, though, and effectively played. It was preceded by one of Mozart’s greatest masterpieces, the Piano Quartet in G Minor, K. 478, played with its repeats intact. Pianist Mark Evans did not take the lead in this music, as pianists so often do, but instead played as an equal member of the ensemble. The first violin had some fleeting intonation problems, but otherwise this was a powerful and expressive performance.
The program concluded with Schubert’s famous “Trout” Quintet, a recordings and radio favorite but not so often heard in concert because it includes a double-bass, here played well by Patrick O’Connell. Schubert wrote this piece for the same scoring as a work by Hummel so they could be performed on the same program. So I’m sorry ECO passed up the opportunity to perform the Hummel, a fine piece by a neglected composer who was apparently Mozart’s favorite pupil. The group’s tempo for Schubert’s Scherzo seemed rather cautious, but overall the piece came off well, as entertaining as it ought to be. Look for this group’s next concert in March, an intriguing French program; see www.esopuschamberorchestra.com for more details.
The Hudson Valley Philharmonic returned to the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie on December 18 with a nicely varied program of Rossini, Bartók, Sibelius, and Tchaikovsky. Well, Mozart-Tchaikovsky; the Suite No. 4, Op. 61, “Mozartiana,” is actually Tchaikovsky’s quite faithful orchestrations of works by Mozart, his favorite composer. For me the treat of the concert was hearing the rarely-played Bartók Viola Concerto, a piece the composer left as a pile of sketches when he died. I’m sure this would have been a greater work had Bartók lived to complete it. It has that wonderful late-Bartók sound, the elegiac tone with heavy flavoring of Hungarian folk music. But it lacks the composer’s terse and powerful organization. Still, violist Yoshihiko Nakano, winner of the HVP’s 2011 String Competition, played with eloquence and fervor, and under the canny direction of Randall Craig Fleisher the orchestra never drowned him out. The HVP returns in March with a program featuring the Vanaver Caravan Dancers. See www.bardavon.org/calendar for more info.
Ars Choralis moved its annual “Welcome Yule” concert (December 3 and 4) to Woodstock’s Overlook Methodist Church this year, a smaller venue than last year’s in Kingston. The reason was that the conception of the concert required two rooms, including a large second hall for its second Christmas. The first, sung in the church proper, was an Elizabethan Christmas, with music from the era of Queen Elizabeth I. The Victorian Christmas, which had the audience seated at tables, included platters of Victorian treats and cups of non-alcoholic wassail along with the music. In conception this may have seemed a bit gimmicky, but in practice it worked very well. The programming also eliminated some of the lightweight recent Christmas music sometimes heard in these programs.
In the first half, works by the heavy hitters Praetorius and Vittoria were magnificent, but all the music was worth hearing. The brief medieval mystery play “The Shepherds” also came off very well. As usual, Ars Choralis, under the direction of Barbara Pickhardt, sang with all the musicality and lovely sound you could want to hear in a performance like this.
The Victorian selection was mostly lighter weight than the Elizabethan selection, and included two groups of carols sung by roving small ensembles at each table in turn. For me that was one group too many, especially since, if I was hearing right, we had the same songs twice. But I’m not going to be a Grinch, since I had a fine time with this musical feast. And I loved the playing of the excellent brass quartet. Too bad they weren’t enlisted to accompany the final selections from Handel’s “Messiah.” But I guess this concert had already taken more than enough work. It was quite the extravaganza. Ars Choralis returns in March (including one performance at Overlook); see www.arschoralis.org for more details.
January is going to be a quiet month for classical music, with the colleges (including Bard) closed down. On Saturday, January 21, the new Shakespeare-baroque pastiche “The Enchanted Island” will be shown “Live in HD” from the Metropolitan Opera, at the Bardavon 1869 Opera House in Poughkeepsie and at Time & Space Ltd. in Hudson. Showings begin at 1 p.m. The Bardavon presentation is preceded by my “Lunch and Learn” talk at the Artist’s Palate restaurant in Poughkeepsie at 11:30 a.m.; call 483-8074 for reservations. And my opera consultant Robert Levine, who knows more about opera than anyone else I’ve ever met, will be starting a series of three programs, “Opera…Alive and Well,” at the Woodstock Jewish Congregation, on Thursday, January 26, at 7 p.m. Two more programs follow on February 2 and 9. Levine recently published a guide for opera beginners, “Weep, Shudder, Die.” For more information on these programs, at which I intend to heckle, call 679-2218 or write email@example.com.++