Barry Plaxen’s Continued Review of the Shandelee Music Festival 2019: Week # 2

 The Shandelee Music Festival

Livingston Manor

In the Heart of the Beautiful

Catskill Mountains

August 13, 2019 - Ensemble Mélange

     The second week of the 2019 Shandelee Music Festival began on August 13, with “An Evening of Interactive Chamber Music.” Interactive meaning the audience is invited to actively participate in the selection of works, choosing from a menu of 20 works. Only the opening and closing works were “givens.” We heard 9 “chosen” works performed by one soprano and six musicians performing on oboe, clarinet, violin, piano and cello, the complement for the Ensemble Mélange.

The musicians spoke prior to each piece being played and some of them were inept volume-wise and/or diction-wise. Though I liked the “live” connection between the audience and the performers, I did not appreciate the fact that most of the music was single movements from works, rather than the entire work, which I prefer. At intermission, other Shandelee regular attendees expressed those same concerns.

Though the 9 audience-chosen works were well performed, I had reservations about the selection process. If you do not appreciate some of the choices and had hoped to hear other works, it affects your evening’s enjoyment – sitting while knowing you MIGHT HAVE HEARD other works more to your liking if they were chosen or if your number had been called.

Though I did not enjoy sitting and worrying whether or not I’d hear what I wanted to hear, my happier moments included hearing exceptionally well done movements from a Faure Violin Sonata and a Brahms Piano Quartet (with an oboe instead of a viola), and an excellent arrangement for quintet by Jonathan Keren of Leonard Bernstein’s “Overture to Candide.”

August 15 – Maxim Lando, Piano

 

For the second concert of the week on August 15, when the Sunset Pavilion house lights dimmed, a tall, lanky man rapidly strode down the aisle, exuberantly bounded onto the stage, quickly bowed, quickly sat down on the piano bench with great authority – all seeming like one continuous, flowing movement of his body, - and without taking any time to gather himself, furiously began to play a furiously-composed, showy and somewhat jazzy “Toccata, Op. 40” by Nikolai Kapustin (b.1937). I had no idea hands could move so fast. I was enrapt. Little did I know then what we, the audience, were in for. My elation was just beginning!

Unlike the showy first piece, Beethoven’s “Sonata, Op. 109 (#30), is very VERY emotional and passionate. Pianist Maxim Lando made every moment count. From tender to elegant to dynamic and back to tender. Mesmerizing! Majestic!

Then: Scriabin “Prelude in B Minor, Op. 11, No. 1 (very palatable and “easy” for Scriabin) & Aleksandr Lyapunov’s (1857-1918) “Transcendental Etude Op. 11, No. 2” both played with great aplomb.

Then: Nikolai Medtner’s (1880-1951) “Fairy Tale, Op. 51, No. 3” and Scriabin’s “Etude in D Sharp Minor, Op. 8, No. 12”, both performed with great dexterity, agility and showmanship – yet with tenderness.

Thank you, Maxim, for playing from memory.

Intermission

Then: I was never a fan of Franz Liszt. Romantic solo piano music after Beethoven - extending the boundaries of what is possible on the baby grand? Chopin, Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Bartok. They were my Gods. Until Maxim Lando.

Lando loved Liszt’s “Transcendental Etudes” since he was five years old. He “always envisioned playing them as a complete cycle, and not as they are usually played” – a few here and a few there.

Thank you, Maxim, for speaking loudly and clearly.

For Etude # 4 “Mazeppa” – Lando continued to enthrall with his never-before-seen (by me) speed, creating great excitement. Watching him watch his hands is thrilling in itself.

I wonder if Liszt’s “Transcendental Etudes” is considered his greatest masterpiece. If not, it was that tonight. Stirring! Bless you, Maxim. Bless your hands.

Then: HOORAY! An encore. What could possibly follow all of the above? What can also be as fast if not faster, as furious if not more furious, or even better, what encore piece can get faster and faster with each section, more and more and more furious with each repetition of the melodic passages? DOH! The “Gypsy Dance” from Carmen! Of course! (“Variations on a Theme from Carmen” by Vladimir Horowitz).

August 15, 2019, a day that will live in fame. A famous day for the Shandelee audience. We were treated to a great pianist. If we were not in the presence of greatness, we certainly were in the presence of possible future greatness. Move over Schnabel, Rubenstein, Ashkenazy, Horowitz. Here comes Lando! There, I’ve said it.

Oh yes, did I mention he is 16 years old?

August 17, 2019 – Andrew Arceci and Company

 

The Shandelee Music Festival closed with a softer, gentler concert, with music from a softer, gentler time. Mostly Late Renaissance and Early, Middle and Late Baroque, with the return of Andrew Arceci and Company to the Festival. A good contrast to the previous concert. Just what the senses ordered.

For the event titled “Evening of Early Music,” we heard songs and chamber works by a variety of composers, played on baroque violin, baroque viola, baroque cello, baroque guitar, viola da gamba, violone (double bass) and theorbo.

A clever programming occurrence were three versions of “Ombra mai fu” sung beautifully by soprano Teresa Wakim, composed by Francesco Cavalli, Giovanni Bononcini and - the most famous one - by Handel. (Bononcini’s version starts out exactly as Handel’s).

I found the writing of the earlier composed pieces quite interesting as you could note (pun intended) the classical music foundations into which Bach, Handel, Telemann and Vivaldi would later bring a greater range of emotions. The evening started out with what was mostly violin duets with the other instruments accompanying or providing counterpoint. The exception was a wonderful theorbo solo by Alessandro Piccinini, performed by William Simms. Later in the program, the highlight for me was a remarkable Vivaldi motet, “In furore justissimae irae” that Wakim sang with clean and exciting coloratura fireworks. But I would say the highlight for the audience was a delightful offering of Vivaldi’s variations of the oft-used-by-composers Spanish song, “La Follia” (Vivaldi’s “Variations on a theme of Corelli). It served as a rousing “thank you” to the folks at Shandelee for their bringing wonderful music “up to the mountain.” We look forward to the 2020 Summer Concert Series.

 Shandelee will continue presenting world class concerts for 2019-2020 in conjunction with and at Bethel Woods in September, October and April. For information visit:

https://www.shandelee.org/

 

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