By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
|Photo by Sue Adler|
Cima and his countrymen Dario Castello and Biagio Marini — who shared the Romanesca program that bore the subtitle "Phantasticus" in an elegant salon at Pasadena’s Ritz-Carlton Huntington Hotel — flourished in the early years of Baroque. Opera had just been invented, and with it a new manner of vocal writing, passionate and virtuosic, supported by some wildly adventurous turns of harmony that can still astound our ears today. The violin had begun to take the place of the earlier viol, also allowing greater feats of virtuosity and a vibrant tone of almost human earnestness. The concert was well-named; the players — violinist Andrew Manze, harpsichordist John Toll, and Nigel North, who played both the lute and its larger, giraffe-necked relative called the theorbo — lunged delightedly into music full of amazing shifts of mood, unruly outcries, grinding dissonances, "phantastic" in every sense.
Romanesca records for Harmonia Mundi; their latest disc, also called Phantasticus, contains some of the music from last week’s concert, but with a wonderful small organ alongside the harpsichord. Manze has also conducted a superb set of Handel’s Opus 6 Concerti Grossi on H.M., in the same kind of vivid, taut, deliciously impolite performances he delivered here. If his mission is to take Baroque music out of its wallpaper status, he has my vote.
In a getup that suggested a recent rummage through a nearby dumpster, the aforementioned Kennedy — self-styled punk kid, age 42 — ambled onto the Royce Hall stage half an hour late, engaged in some clumsy chitchat, got some laffs with the information that Béla Bartók had died of leukemia in an unheated Manhattan apartment (not true) and that he doesn’t like having his hair washed (obviously true). He also performed, phenomenally: Bartók’s Sonata and two movements from Bach’s C-major Sonata, both for unaccompanied violin, and seven movements from a "Concerto in Suite Form," concocted by Kennedy from music by Jimi (listed in the program as "J.M.") Hendrix, backed by an acoustic combo of guitars, cellos, winds and bass. Some of the Hendrix pieces were spatchcocked between movements of the Bartók, a lamentable procedure partly redeemed because the segues themselves were nicely imagined and the music itself somewhat stupendous.
There is, however, something of a Kennedy problem. He is obviously one of the great musicians of his generation, technically omnipotent and brainy as well. His in-your-face recorded performances of wide-ranging repertory, from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to the Elgar concerto, prove that he, too, is anxious to do battle with the wallpaper syndrome. But he seems to be squandering a small fortune on unnecessary image building, which, on Saturday night, I found intrusive, offensive, and unworthy of his obvious brilliance and of his age.
The Arditti Quartet, which performs in suits and matching socks, had played Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge and Elliott Carter’s Fifth Quartet at Irvine in March; it did no harm to revisit them, even in the dreary acoustical and visual setting of Caltech’s Beckman Auditorium to open the 95th (!) annual Coleman Concerts. In the Beethoven, that extraordinary exercise in manic counterpoint, I discover more marvels on each hearing; in the Carter I discover fewer. The Arditti, which otherwise plays nothing but very new music, often with the ink still wet, apparently regards the Beethoven as a gateway, an understandable attitude. Their program also included Carter’s recent Piano Quintet, composed for the superb, adventurous pianist Ursula Oppens, its garrulous, cavorting piano part considerably leavening the usual Cartesian textures. On her own, Oppens also played a late Beethoven sonata, Opus 110. The day was Beethoven’s, by a considerable margin.
Yet another Brit, composer George Benjamin, led the Philharmonic’s New Music Group in some of his own energetic music — including his Three Inventions, commissioned by local patron Betty Freeman, and an immensely appealing early piece called At First Light — at last week’s "Green Umbrella" concert at the Japan America. Born in 1960, Benjamin studied with Olivier Messiaen, whose own genius for manipulating huge, multicolored blocks of sound his pupil has ob viously absorbed. Benjamin’s music is full of paint and shards of stained glass, and wonderful moments in which distant, somber pronouncements from the brass make themselves heard through clouds of sparks and smoke. Susan Narucki sang Unsuk Chin’s Acrostic-Wordplay, enchanting, quiz- zical music by a young Korean composer new to American audiences, and Benjamin, at the piano, played one of Messiaen’s ravishing bird pieces: an exceptionally strong, balanced program, too sparsely attended.