Tag Archives: Bernstein

Midcoast Ends Season on a High Note

Midcoast Symphony Orchestra
Franco Center, Lewiston
May 12, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

The young French pianist, Lise de la Salle, impressed audiences of the Midcoast Symphony a while ago with an astonishing performance of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3.  Last night at Lewiston’s Franco Center, she showed that she could be equally impressive in a more intimate role, with the Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor.

One of my first recordings was an LP with the Schumann concerto on one side and the Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor on the other (could it have been Dinu LIpatti?). I have never lost my affection for either work, the Schumann in particular, which is a strange animal indeed. It makes a real attempt to avoid the heroism of the Romantic concerto, opting instead for its membership in a brotherhood of the culturally elite —the Davidsbundler, whose march is incorporated in the final movement.

There are sections in which the piano not only blends with the orchestra, but actually takes on an accessory role, like a motor that can be heard purring in the background.

The score nevertheless demands a high degree of virtuosity, especially in the exclamatory chords, and rapid passage work, which de la Salle has in abundance. Her playing is both precise—fitting a cascade of notes perfectly into a bar, but emotionally satisfying as well, something I had been concerned about after hearing the Rachmaninoff.

The Midcoast, under Rohan Smith, supported the piano ably, realizing Shumann’s concept of “first among equals.” There was a little tug of war in the beginning between the conductor’s favorite tempo and that of the pianist, but that was soon worked out.

The program began on a less successful note with three dance episodes from Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town.”  Bernstein’s orchestral arrangements are are difficult in both scoring and rhythm, and one questions whether their performance by an amateur orchestra is worth the effort.

Many of this popular composer’s works have come to seem dated, and this tribute to a Broadway that never was is a case in point.

After the last dance, Smith admonished the large audience not to applaud between movements. In their defense, each of the dances stands on is own, without being part of an un-interruptible whole. And even highly-structured classical works were historically cheered (and sometimes repeated) after each movement.

Smith concluded the program with the best-known symphony that is never heard: Beethoven’s Fifth. It should be programmed more often, so that new generations can understand why it is so famous. It is simply a miracle. Just one of its triumphs is the orchestration, which allowed all sections of the Midcoast their moment in the sun– especially the woodwinds. It was a fitting way to close out the season.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at www.classbeat@netscape.net.

A Study in Contrasts, Soprano Kate Aldrich

Mezzo-Soprano Kate Aldrich
Hannaford Hall
May 13, 2017
by Christopher Hyde

Mezzo-soprano Kate Aldrich strode on stage at Hannaford Hall Saturday night, wearing a spectacular red dress, and proceeded to sing of love, death and suicide.

Germanic weltschmertz was appropriate for a singer who has made “Werther” her own, but the significance of the dress was revealed only in the second half of the concert, when she offered up a gloriously sultry version of the Habanera from “Carmen.” another signature role, which she sang at PORTopera (now Opera Maine) in 2005 and at the Met in 2010.

The contrast exemplified the singer’s extraordinary versatility, from Richard Srauss’ schadenfreude to Leonard Bernstein’s cleverness—in the little-known aria “What a Movie” from, “Trouble in Tahiti” (1952)— and a contemporary art-and-philosophy monolog from “Master Class” by Jake Heggie (2007). Both sketches also revealed her considerable acting talent.

She demonstrated a formidable coloratura in virtuoso arias by Rossini: “Riedi al Soglio” from “Zelmira” and the encore “Una Voce Poco Fa,” from “The Barber of Seville.” One can visualize a Rossini diva begging on her knees for such a display piece from the master. A friend aptly compared Aldrich’s fluidity in these to the elaborate and often improvised ornamentation of Chopin’s piano scores.

While I dearly love Strauss’ compositions on the theme of eros and thanatos, I came to the concert to hear the songs of Berlioz, whose small output in the genre is one of the towering landmarks of classical music. (Perhaps his pathetic portrayal of flowery drowning in “La Mort d’ophelia” influenced Strauss.)

One of my treasured vinyl recordings is the Berlioz song cycle “Les Nuits D’été,” sung by Eleanor Steber. Aldrich’s evocations of “The Captive,” and “Zaide” were its equal in every way. I wish I could hear her sing “L’Isle Inconnue,” the finest musical portrait of sailing ever written.

Speaking of sailing, Maine makes much of its artistic sons and daughters, out of a sort of provincial chauvinism. This is true of Aldrich, who was born in Damariscotta, but she doesn’t need any special dispensation. She might equally well have been born in Paris or Vienna. Her talent transcends borders.

Her accompanist, Martin Perry, born in California, also makes his home in Maine, but is in demand everywhere. HIs work seems to bring out the best in any singer, setting the stage perfectly, without dictating a note. Perry is also a genius at piano solo, to which anyone hearing his performance of the Samuel Barber piano concerto with the PSO can testify.

The Aldrich concert is one of a series of events leading up to Opera Maine’s performance of “La Traviata,” July 26 and 28. The next will be a gala celebration at Westin Portland Harborview on June 8.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal, He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.