Tag Archives: Mozart

Serkin Dazzles and Disappoints

Bowdoin International Music Festival
Peter Serkin, PIanist
Studzinski Recttal Hall
July 29, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

Pianist Peter Serkin has it all, tight control over a wide range of dynamics, flawless passage work and ornamentation, an ear for inner voices, architectural phrasing, and an unrivaled musical sensitivity, capable of revealing fresh aspects of familiar works and launching new ones.

Why then, was his recital at Studzinski Hall,  part of the Bowdoin International Music Festival, strangely lacking in excitement?
Admittedly, it was a hot and somnolent Sunday afternoon, but this is one of the finest pianists of a generation, in a concert that had been sold out for months. Maybe it was Mozart who conjured up the spirit of Morpheus.

Amadeus was never at his best in a minor-key, tragic mode, and Serkin played two of his most lugubrious compositions—the Adagio in B Minor, K. 540 and the Piano Sonata No. 8 in A Minor, K 310. (Rachmaninoff used the indication “Lugubre” in his early Piano Trio, played a couple of weeks ago at the festival.)

The realizations of these two works, and the more cheerful Piano Sonata No. 17 in B-flat Major, K. 570, brought out voices never heard before, perhaps not even to the composer.

Most of Mozart’s published piano sonatas began life as keyboard improvisations. Unlike the Haydn sonatas, they can be sight-read by any moderately proficient pianist.

Could it be that their appeal lies largely on the surface, that simplicity in their rendering might be a virtue? And skip the repeats as soon as the audience begins to cough.

The most exciting part of the afternoon was its beginning, hearing the Variations, Op. 24, by Oliver Knussen, a British composer who was a close friend of the pianist and wrote the Variations for him. The tragic Mozart works may have been intended as a memorial to Knussen, who died this year.

The variations are indeed “concise,” to the point of making Anton Webern seem long-winded. Indeed, the theme of the variations sounds like half a tone row, and Serkin never loses sight of it through thick and thin, with some virtuoso etudes thrown in. Its six minutes, passed rapidly.

It was also a treat to hear Schumann’s “Waldszenen,” Op. 82, outside the confines of a student piano recital. Serkin made the ephemeral vignettes seem more profound than they are, in particular the “Vogel als Prophet,” in which the bird’s prophecy is a melodic peace and harmony that escaped the composer.

Serkin has an irritating habit of pausing for what seems an eternity with his hands on the keys, before he allows the awe-struck audience to applaud,. It goes with his huge fermatas, which have enough room to recapitulate an entire theme.

But who else would dare to perform one of Bach’s two-part inventions as an encore?

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

A Memorable “Marriage”

Opera Maine
“Marriage of Figaro”
Merrill Auditorium
July 25, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

If you don’t have tickets already, buy whatever is available for Opera Maine’s new production of “The Marriage of Figaro.” on Friday. It has everything—a great cast of singers, an interesting Downton Abbey-style set by Portland’s Christopher Akerlind, an understandable plot (if chaotic at times), Mozart’s music played by a fine orchestra under maestro Stephen Lord, humor, romance and sex. Even the supertitles are good.

Thanks to artistic director Dona D. Vaughn for one of the most memorable presentations of this work in recent years.

Where to begin? Probably with Figaro himself, sung by bass-baritone Robert Mellon. If he were not a world-class singer, he could make a career as a stand-up comic. HIs facial expressions as he tries desperately to explain events in the countess’ chamber are priceless, like his antics with the dowdy Marcellina, sung by mezzo-soprano MaryAnn McCormick. He is perfectly cast.

Speaking of perfect, soprano Maeve Höglund as Figaro’s betrothed, Susanna, had better be careful or she will be type-cast as Mozart’s favorite heroine. She is a fine actress, and her voice has remarkable clarity and power without a hint of shrillness. Her duets with soprano Danielle Pastin, as Countess Almaviva, are enthralling in their subtle contrasts of tone and timbre.

Baritone Keith Phares makes an ideal foil for Figaro and Susanna’s machinations as the pretty-boy Count Almaviva who has abolished his droit de seigneur powers because he can fool around quite as well without them. I got the impression that the lovely flower-girl chorus was composed primarily of his conquests among the servants.

Among the principals, mezzo-soprano Hongni Wu stole the show as the equally lecherous Cherubino, the teenaged go-between who loves the Countess but will take anything he can get. He/she lightens up the stage whenever she appears. My theory is that she is Mozart, who puts himself in his operas the way Alfred Hitchcock did in movies.

The ancillary roles are sung and acted with humor and authenticity. Special mention should be made of bass Kevin Glavin, as the scheming Dr. Bartolo. His rapid-fire rendition of legal polysyllables must have inspired Rossini’s “Largo al factotum,” in his own “Barber of Seville.”

The Victorian sets work quite well, as do the costumes by Millie Hiibel. The first three acts take place in rooms typical of those in a British manor, suggested by a tapestry-like background. They provide a feeling of intimacy, yet with ample room for Mozart’s characteristic device of characters at odds with each other singing from opposite sides of the stage.

The final seduction scene, however, takes place in a “pine grove” portrayed by huge pinecone-like scales in the background, with the foreground dominated by two giant segmented horns. Tree trunks, phallic symbols, or the duplicate horns of a cuckold? The characters in their cloaks look like wraiths, indicating that something serious is at stake.

But all is resolved in the end, the lighting becomes more cheerful, Susanna and Figaro, and the Count and Countess are reconciled, and the entire cast joins in a gigantic chorus. The curtain falls and it is time for the cheers, bravos and flowers.
Next year “The Magic Flute.”

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

Festival Fireworks

Bowdoin International Music Festival
Studzinski Recital Hall
July 4, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

Due to the July 4 holiday, a smaller crowd than usual heard some fireworks of their own at Wednesday’s concert of the Bowdoin International Music Festival at Studzinski Hall. The display took the typical “sandwich” form, with a contemporary work, John Harbison’s (b. 1936) Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano, between two popular classics.

The program began with the Mozart Violin Sonata No. 32 in B-flat Major (K.454), with the viola, played by Masumi Per Rostad, substituting for the violin. The piano part, played by Chiao-Wen Chang, often dominated the performance. Whether this was due to Mozart’s wanting to show off his skills in front of a visiting virtuoso, or to differences in the sound and articulation of the stringed instruments, is unclear. One listener likened it to a waltz between a dolphin and a manatee.

The viola came off best in the song-like Andante, but there were a few fireworks in the final Allegretto, with some rapid-fire exchanges that would have been difficult enough on the violin.

The Harbison, played by Ayano Ninomiya, violin, and Tao Lin, piano, contained aerial bombs in the form of a brutalist (and virtuoso) ostinato of rapid-fire chords in the Rondo, the fourth and semi-concluding movement, since the sonata tapers off in a final “Mysterious Postscript.”

The  five-movement work begins with an intense and uncompromising Sinfonia, but loosens up substantially as it goes along. The second movement, Intermezzo: Grazioso, has a pleasant conversation in stacatto utterances between the violin and piano.

The piece de resistance, however, was the great Piano Trio in A Minor of Maurice Ravel, which contains everything but the kitchen sink, as if the composer suspected that he would die in the Great War, which he almost did. There are echoes of “La Valse,” ghosts from “Tombeau de Couperin,” Basque themes and Malaysian music,al forms, which influenced both Ravel and Debussy. Somehow, it all comes together gloriously

Like the Mozart sonata, the trio generally leans toward the piano part, but Alan Chow kept it under control, even in the virtuosic Pantoum; Assez Vif, (and in spite of a wolfish bass string in the Steinway. ) He was partnered brilliantly by David Bowlin, violin and Ahrim Kim, cello. A complete fireworks display from set pieces  through pinwheels to multiple rocket bursts. The students in the audience cheered and the rest gave it a rare standing ovation.

Coming up next Wednesday is the sui generis “Quartet for the End of Time” by Olivier Messiaen.

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

The Ariel Quartet:Two Out of Three Isn’t Bad

The Ariel Quartet
Hannaford Hall, USM Portland
April 18, 2018
By Christopher Hyde

When I first started writing music reviews for the Portland Press Herald years ago, I felt like Diogenes and his lantern, looking for an honest man. My search was for the quintessential, live, Brahms performance. Like Diogenes, I never found what I was looking for, although several came close.

My hopes rose when I heard the Ariel Quartet, brought to Hannaford Hall on Wednesday night by Portland Ovations. The monumental Brahms Piano Quintet in F Minor, Opus 34, was the final work on a program that began with one of the most delightful readings of the Mozart Piano Quartet in E-flat Major (K.493) that I have heard anywhere.

The performance was as highly polished and full of intricate relief as a piece of Georgian silver. What can easily become a concerto was held in check by Navah Perlman, whose playing made the piano into one more voice in the quartet, although a lively one.

Sometimes one could not tell where the piano ended and the cello—or the viola, or the violin— began. A true conversation among equals, although inevitably, in the finale, the piano became more equal than others.

The reading was perfectly paced, from beginning to end, and somehow or other, the string players were able to achieve a degree of crisp articulation that matched that of the piano.

It seemed impossible to better that accomplishment, but the Ariel did just that in the Bartok Quartet No.1, as great a masterpiece in its own right as the Mozart. You could cut the concentration with a knife, and the dedication was of the kind that Bartok deserves but seldom gets in even the most prestigious recordings. (I bought the Ariel recording at intermission, something I very seldom do.)

From the opening exchange between the first and second violins, it was apparent that something special was happening, with the microtones producing a complex cloud of overtones. What followed was a taste of Bartok’s nocturnal world (frog fugue, mist over the lake, sighing reeds) and some of his best references to folk dances that never were. He brings forth from four instruments sonorities never heard before, without violating their musical nature.

This is the kind of music one can listen to a hundred times and always hear something new…and enchanting.

What about the Brahms? God knows, and she isn’t telling. Let’s just say that after what had gone before, it was a disappointment. Someone was ill, the quartet had used all its energy in the tirst two works, or maybe they just don’t like Brahms. (There are people like that, hard as it is to imagine.)

As a pianist, I have a theory. After intermission, Perlman played a very tentative Schumann Arabesque (Op. 18). Sometimes, when one piece goes wrong, so does everything else, and it’s advisable to go back to scales for the rest of the evening. It could happen to professionals too, I suppose, but they don’t have the luxury of quitting.

The other work on the Ariel Bartok recording is the Brahms String Quartet No. 2, so we’ll see.

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

A Flawed “Emperor”

Portland Symphony Orchestra
Merrill Auditorium
Mar. 20, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

“Even Homer sometimes nods.” Great composers have their off days, even Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the late opera “La clemenza di Tito,” whose overture led off the program of the Portland Symphony Orchestra Tuesday night at Merrill Auditorium.

A packed house had come to hear one of the candidates for music director, Ken-David Masur, lead the orchestra in Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto, (No. 5 in E-flat Major, Opus 73), with Russian-born pianist Natasha Paremski.

An added bonus, after intermission, was the seldom-heard Symphony No. 6 in D Major, Op. 60, of Antonín Dvorák, the reason I added the familiar quote about Homer. In most cases there is a reason why works are seldom heard, and the No. 6 is not one of Dvorák’s most inspired compositions.

Sometimes conductors, or soloists, contrive to make a work sound better than it is, but that was not the case on Tuesday. The symphony was certainly pleasant and well played, but lacked inspiration or excitement. Even the Furiant third movement did not come up to the level of any of the Slavonic Dances, which it resembled. Could it have been a dance left out of that set? Waste not, want not.

The rest of the work has the composer’s authentic Bohemian flavor, but in it he lacks the confidence to utilize Slavonic themes to the full extent, which makes it sound somewhat derivative.

Getting back to the main event, one of my favorite concertos of all time, it was also well-played, tempo giusto and accurate to a fault. Paremski has one of the most beautiful portamento techniques I have ever heard—like a string of well-matched pearls, as my piano teacher used to say. In that regard, she was perfectly suited to Beethoven’s writing for piano.

In other regards, not so much. The bass lacked power, and the sforzando chords often sounded febrile rather than powerful. The orchestra and piano occasionally ran on different tracks, and the whole lacked coherence and drive, in spite of some memorable passage work and interplay between the piano and orchestral sections.

The audience gave it the usual standing ovation, and Paremski, thankfully, did not play an encore, but all-in-all, the performance was not the transcendent experience it could have been. I was once admonished: “A musical performance is not a religious experience.” To quote Woody Allen in another context: “It is if it’s done right.”

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

The Quintessential Quintet

Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet
Hannafod Hall, USM-Portland
Feb. 1, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

I tried to get my son interested in playing the French horn but he became a professional fox hunter instead. (The horn was used primarily as a signal in stag hunting, but close enough.)

That family history crossed my mind while listening to a concert by the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet Thursday night at Hannaford Hall. Portland Ovations has a way of bringing the world’s finest classical musicians to Portland, and the Berlin Quintet is no exception.

Formed in 1988, it comprises Michael Hasel, flute, Andreas Wittmann, oboe, Walter Seyfarth, clarinet, Marion Reinhard, bassoon, and Fergus McWilliam, horn.

Horn? What is so obviously a brass instrument doing in a woodwind quintet? Apparently, the mellow sound of the horn, rather like that of an alto saxophone, blends so well with woodwinds that it often serves as a transitional bridge between that section and the brass in an orchestra, and perfectly rounds out the complement of voices in a woodwind quintet.

It certainly works for the Berlin Quintet, which began the program with three highly unusual pieces by Mozart, originally composed for mechanical organ, a sort of music box in which the cylinder pins open air valves instead of plucking tuned steel bars.

The transcriptions, by Hasel, follow the originals faithfully, without additions or subtractions —the compositions are multi-voiced—and open a window on little-heard works, written during Mozart’s final year of life. They are fascinating glimpses, since Mozart seldom wrote a pedestrian note, but not up to his usual standards, in spite of a delightful fugue and double fugue that indicate a late study of Bach.

They were followed by the Quintet, Op. 10 (1929) of Pavel Haas who, like his contemporary Erwin Schulhof, ended his life in a German concentration camp. Sounding like a melding of Stravinsky and Kurt Weill, it was more interesting than the Mozart, ending in a fiendish dance and a chorale-like epilog.

If civilization survives into the next century, György Ligeti will be remembered, and played, as one of the great masters of Western music. Certainly his Six Bagatelles, (1953) with their homage to Bartok, are masterpieces, exhibiting brand new sounds, rhythmical patterns, and playfulness, all of which are both unexpected and, once heard, perfectly inevitable. They are also immensely difficult, and one hopes that musicians of the 22nd Century will be as accomplished as those of the Berlin Philharmonic are today.

The Carl Nielsen Quintet, Op. 43 (1922), which ended the program, is as unusual, in its own way, as the Ligeti. Nielson is often considered a Danish folk-artist, like Greig in Norway, but he combines his folkish tunes with avant garde flourishes that sometimes border on the absurd, contrasting with his sadder and more melodic sections,

The work also contains some exquisite solos for bassoon and horn, demonstrating the important place both instruments have among the woodwinds.

After a prolonged standing ovation, the quintet played an encore of Blues by American jazz and classical composer Gunther Shuller.

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

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.

Youth Takes Center Stage at PSO’s Final Concert

Portland Symphony Orchestra
Merrill Auditorium
May 16, 2017
by Christopher Hyde

There’s an adage that used to appear regularly on office walls, to the effect that “Youth and skill are no match for old age and treachery.”
Sometimes youth and skill do win out, however, an example being last night’s concert of the Portland Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Marcelo Lehninger, 31, and featuring violinist Alexi Kenney, 23.

It’s too bad that Lehninger is already spoken for (by the Grand Rapids Symphony) or the PSO’s search for a music director would be over. He elicited the best performances from individuals, and the orchestra as a whole, of any conductor I have heard in recent years. while Kenney’s performance of that old chestnut, the Bruch Concerto No. 1 in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra (Op. 26) made it sound better than it is.

Kenny has superb technique, but even more important a melodic gift that was perfectly suited to the Bruch. His dynamics have a complete range, but are understated, a characteristic that Lehninger’s conducting compensated for perfectly.

The concerto was so well played that it moved the capacity audience to a loud and long-lasting standing ovation…unfortunately, since that led to a solo encore. No,no, no..

You have just created the ideal mood intended by a great composer and you have to spoil it with a gnarly etude (Piazzola Tango Etude No. 3) that can’t compare musically and indicates only that the artist is showing off? For shame. This new post-concerto custom needs a holly stake driven through its heart.

The program began with a light hearted romp through Mozart’s Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro,” marred only by a pedantic program note that insisted on calling the composer “Amadè.” I’m sorry if Wolfgang never used the name Amadeus, but that’s what he will be called, now and forever, amen.

A  primary characteristic of youth made the Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, Opus 74, an experience to remember: daring.

At the very beginning, Lehninger called out individual solo voices in a way I have never heard before, then combined them into a musical shape like dots in a pointillist painting. The fermatas were long, some of the sounds almost inaudible, but always portentous.

The drums in the opening movement were the most powerful since the French Revolution, and the march a terrifying epitome of fascism. Lehninger also left no doubt that the final movement, which just peters out, is a suicide note.

The Sixth is both tragic and pathetic, but the performance Tuesday night was also hopeful, showing that no matter how familiar a work is, it can always be heard and performed in new, but nevertheless effective, ways by coming generations.

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

Mozart and Gershwin at the Franco Center

Kevin Ayesh, Piano
Franco Center, Lewiston

April 19, 2017

by Christopher Hyde

On Friday night I took my grandson, nine-year-old Jordan Seavey, to hear Kevin Ayesh, in the penultimate concert of the Franco Center’s 2016-2017 piano series.

It was a good choice. Jordan is beginning to study piano seriously and Dr. Ayesh is a noted teacher and performer whose approach is musical rather than virtuosic. In my experience, Lisztian displays often do more to discourage budding musicians than to inspire them.
Jordan also happens to love the Gershwin “Rhapsody in Blue,” which was the final work on the scheduled program. (The encore was Dame Myra Hess’ transcription of the Bach “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”)

Friday’s night’s performance marked the first time I had heard the solo piano score, written by Gershwin himself, and I liked it better than any of the versions orchestrated by Ferde Grofe, always excepting the opening clarinet glissando, which Ayesh imitated well on the piano.

Gershwin himself was a pianist and the piano must have been what he heard in the railroad noises that inspired the work. It does feel closer to the spirit of the composition, and it seems to hold together better than the concerto-with-orchestra that Leonard Bernstein deplored as fragmented.

Ayesh is as much at home in Mozart as in Gershwin, opening the program with a remarkable performance of the Sonata No. 9 in D Major, K. 311.  It seemed an almost complete realization of the composer’s intentions in  dynamic range, tempo and clear delineation of voices.

His inherently thoughtful approach was not as useful in four works by Chopin that concluded the first half of the program. The opening Nocturne in C Minor, Op. 48, No. 1, was the most successful, bringing out the unusual amount of drama in the piece.

The well-known melody of the Etude in E Major, Op. 10, No. 3, was a bit idiosyncratic, but what is a pianist to do after a few centuries of repetition? I once asked a famous virtuoso how he maintained his feeling for a composition after a few hundred performances . He replied “fake it.”

I don’t have enough Polish blood to enjoy the mazurkas as I should, and the “Heroic” Polonaise in A-flat Major, which has become display rather than music, needs more artillery power than thought.

However, I very much enjoyed Ayesh’s interpretation of the Brahms Intermezzo in A Major, Op. 118, No. 2, especially his emphasis on the triplets in the central section, and the fermata before the final “A” in that beautiful arpeggiated chord.

The Impromptu No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 34 of Gabriel Fauré came as a revelation, full of sparkling French fireworks and a wistful middle theme that recurs in the coda. Very appropriate for the Franco Center.

And Jordan got to meet the artist at the regular champagne reception after the concert.

The final recital of the series will be on June 9, with pianist Tamara Poddubnaya and Music Without Borders Grand Prix winner Vassily Panteleev.

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

Philharmonia Quartett, Berlin

Philharmonia Quartett Berlin
Hannaford Hall, USM
March 19, 2017
by Christopher Hyde

An encore by a string quartet! The first I have heard in many years of listening to chamber music, and not a lollipop either, but the first movement of Beethoven’s Opus 18, No. 6.

The occasion was the conclusion of a Sunday afternoon concert at USM’s Hannaford Hall by the Philharmonia Quartett Berlin, one of the world’s pre-eminent ensembles, under the auspices of Portland Ovations.

The quartet had just concluded the Beethoven No. 15 in A Minor, Opus 132, to a standing ovation, when one of the members said something to the effect of : “Well, you liked that, so we’ll give you some more.”

I had been wracking my brains for what element  makes the quartet so special —balance, individualization of parts, resonance, microtone precision, passion, dynamics, what some have called “smoothness,” etc. etc., without coming to any obvious conclusion.

After the encore, I saw them entering the elevator, chatting like a group of high school students on a senior trip, and what had been under my nose during the encore, suddenly came to mind: They actually love what they’re doing. It’s what holds them together. I had seen that during the encore, but their cohesiveness was emphasized by their obvious comradery off stage.

The program itself was fascinating, beginning with a Mozart quartet, No. 8 in F Major (KV.168), that was light and lively, the composer making fun of convention with a fugue whose theme was so rapid that it defied the rules of counterpoint.

My favorite, however, was the late Shostakovich No. 15 in E-flat Minor (Op 144). There were no flies in Hannaford Hall, so I couldn’t check the validity of the composer’s dictum that the first movement should be so boring that it would make flies drop dead.

I found it fascinating, an exploration of what could be accomplished with the fewest possible notes, played sostenuto within a severely limited range of pitches. It was extremely effective in a macabre sort of way and lent itself to all sorts of Shostakovian transformations, from heart-rending shrieks to summer insects, to one of his famous sardonic waltzes, to, finally, a dirge to the tune of Happy Birthday.
One would have thought it another poke in the eye to Stalin, except that the dictator had already been dead 20 years when it was written. I think Shostakovich missed him.

I wasn’t as happy with the late Beethoven, also a No. 15, but in A Minor (Op. 132). Not because of its execution, which was well-nigh perfect, but because of my blind spot for these revered productions.

The “Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity by a Convalescent, in the Lydian Mode” (Note the comma. The movement is in the Lydian mode, not the convalescent.) goes on forever. One can imagine God saying: “Enough, Ludwig, I get the message.”

The final movement is livelier, but its false cadences are enough to drive one mad. Sorry. Mea culpa. I really have come to like the Grosse Fugue.

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