Tag Archives: Henry Kramer

PSO Shows Versatility in Well-Received Concert

Portland Symphony Orchestra
Merrill Auditorium
Jan. 30, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

The Portland Symphony Orchestra, now in its final season under music director Robert Moody, hit the trifecta Tuesday night at Merrill Auditorium with three winning performances of modern, late Romantic and classical works. Moody even threw in a bonus not on the program, the quartet from Mozart’s “Idomeneo.” with Maine singers.

The program began with “Eating the Flowers” by American composer Hannah Lash (b. 1981), who was in the audience.
The work is an homage to several late 19th and early 20th Century composers. The “flowers” are their particular styles, especially of orchestration, without reference to recognizable melodies. The more long-limbed passages are supported by a driving rhythmical pattern (or “chug or in modern musical parlance), with the harp, of all instruments, front and center. The instrumentation results in beautiful gong-like effects that reminded me of Debussy’s use of gamelan music. It was much better received than most contemporary works, and its composer deserved her applause.

It was followed, after the “Mozart Moment” from “Idomeneo,” by his Piano Concerto in D-minor No. 20, Opus 466, with pianist Henry Kramer. I am not a great fan of the Opus 466, which seems more dramatic than musical, but Kramer made it sound better than it is.
The balance between orchestra and soloist was well-nigh perfect, especially in the dialogs between the piano and woodwinds.

The cadenzas, by Beethoven, were spectacular.

I reviewed Kramer’s version of the “Elvira Madigan” (Mozart Concerto No. 21) a while ago, and found it technically flawless but without much Romantic sensibility. He still has a little way to go in that repertoire, but took the bit in his teeth during the third movement, forcing the orchestra into an ultra-rapid and exciting tempo. The audience loved it, as they did his more relaxed and flexible encore of the Brahms Romanza, Opus 118, No. 5. Both received a standing ovation.

Finally came a colorful reading of Richard Strauss’ “Ein Heldenleben,” an orchestral tour-de-force that the PSO negotiated (almost) perfectly, and with a wide dynamic range.

The brasses are the heroes of this work, but the brightest star was concert master Charles Dimmick’s violin solo depicting the hero’s love interest. The orchestra, and its various sections, received a standing ovation, but Dimmick received cheers as well. HIs performance of this difficult part combined brilliant technique with emotional depth, plus the ability to stand out against Strauss’s massed horns.

Moody’s interpretation was exciting in the sections depicting struggle and victory, but he was also able to turn the hero’s departure from this world into a moving portrait worthy of “Tod und Verklarung.”

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

Surprise at the Portland Chamber Music Festival

Portland Chamber Music Festival
Hannaford Hall, USM Portland
Aug. 20, 2016
by Christopher Hyde

The final concert of the Portland Chamber Music Festival, Saturday night at Hannaford Hall, achieved something unprecedented in musical history—an avant-garde piece of electronic music that was pleasantly bland. Varèse must be turning over in his grave.

The work in question was entitled “Self Destruct,” by Jeremy Flowers (b. 1979) and “was conceived as a companion to stress and failed time management.” (Composer’s notes.)

He continues: “The first movement begins with a germ of an idea sneaking in softly, followed by a rash (sic) of excitement. After a period of crippling self-doubt, the melodic lines in the strings come together to state the fully realized melodic idea that was borne (sic) from the germ at the beginning.

“The second movement is slower, more representative of the moments of serenity one can find in seeming chaos. We return to the initial germ from the first movement heard again over a slowly writhing electronic ostinato. If the first movement’s development of this idea is by brute force, here it’s a much more tender realization.”

The notes state that the piece is in three movements, but the third seems to have disappeared. (Maybe that’s the one that self-destructed.) It is scored for electronics, operated by the composer, viola, two cellos, marimba and piano.

There seemed to be an element of improvisation involved at first, as the composer sampled the timbres of the real instruments and transformed them in various ways, including some interesting reverberation and glass harmonica effects. There was a good common-time rhythmic pulse throughout.

One could follow the construction pretty well, but the final result of the combined forces was a repeated, harmonic and tonal phrase that came dangerously close to elevator pop. It was all pleasant enough, but more perpetual motion than self-destruction. Perhaps it was intended as an antidote to negative feelings. The audience liked it, and gave performers and composer a standing ovation.

The contemporary composition was balanced by two well-played crowd pleasers: the Mozart Piano Quartet No. 2 in E-flat Major (K. 293) and, as a finale, the Dvorak String Sextet in A Major (Op. 48).

It was good to hear Portland’s own Henry Kramer at the piano in the Mozart quartet, which is basically a miniature piano concerto without the overt display. He didn’t have much to do in the Flowers opus, however. The Dvorak was an ideal finish to the season, ending on an upbeat Czech dance that brought cheers from a large audience.

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