Alfred Reed - Rosalind in the Forest of Arden
Claude Debussy Footprints in the Snow
Jacques Offenbach La Belle Helene (hosted by Sue Elliott: part 3)
Frederic Chopin Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise in E-flat, Op.22
Nick Brooke Grand Isle

The Classical Notebook

Classical KING FM announcers and featured musicians share their thoughts on local concerts, seasonal music and evergreen classical favorites.
by Geoffrey Larson posted Jul 1 2015 4:46PM
In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that as a clarinetist and lifelong Brahms devotee, I do have a tendency to fall in love with albums such as this. Clarinetist Andreas Ottensamer's second solo release plays to the strengths of his family's Viennese and Hungarian heritage, pairing Brahms' immortal Clarinet Quintet with a variety of arrangements by Stephan Koncz. Like the feel of an old family-run Hungarian restaurant outside the Gürtel in Vienna, this mix includes two classic Brahms Viennese waltz selections and Hungarian dances together with some of his Hungarian inspirations: the Two Movements of Leo Weiner and a set of traditional Transylvanian dances. Andreas is joined by violinist Leonidas Kavakos and other famous friends in what eventually amounts to something like a late-night chamber music jam session. They even managed to add the amazing sound of a cimbalom, a large Hungarian hammer-dulcimer instrument, played by Oszkár Ökrös. The principal clarinet of the Berlin Philharmonic and also a highly talented cellist and pianist, Andreas comes from a dynastic musical family that includes his father Ernst, principal clarinet of the Vienna Philharmonic since 1982, and his brother Daniel, also performing as principal clarinet of the Vienna Philharmonic since 2009.

Listening to this recording, one can't help but marvel at the smoothness and polish of Andreas' playing, and that wonderful darkness of sound that we have come to expect from Viennese and German playing that extends up even into the higher registers. I should really have a punitive "swear jar" ready to plunk in a dollar for each of my clari-nerd comments. Just the softness with which Andreas is able to place his fingers down over the tone holes of the instrument, achieving a seamless legato free from the slightest bump or pop as is so difficult throughout the Brahms Quintet, is magnificent. (Plunk, there goes that first dollar.) If you know and love Hungarian music, you probably saw the insane, barn-burning speed of that last Transylvanian dance arrangement coming, and Andreas and friends certainly have the fingers for it. At the risk of emptying my entire wallet into the clari-nerd swear jar, I could rant all day about Andreas' amazing breath control that gives him a wonderfully sustaining sound through the long phrases of the Quintet, and allows him to use dynamic contrast to great effect (two more dollars in the jar). However, technical blabber is so boring when one is speaking about first-class musicians. So what is their approach to the music?OTTENSAMER - BRAHMS -  THE HUNGARIAN CONNECTION

Possibly the most interesting aspect of this album is how Andreas and friends seem to use the style of the Hungarian music to inform their performance of the Brahms waltzes and Clarinet Quintet. The Weiner and Transylvanian dance arrangements are stylistically the folksiest, with appropriately schmaltzy string sliding and even the occasional growling in the sound of the solo clarinet. Endless ebb and flow of tempo rule the group's performance of the arrangements of the Brahms Hungarian Dances. It seems these arrangements actually strive to bring the music closer to its Hungarian origins – more of a un-arrangement of sorts – and here the ensemble nearly convinces us that they would be more at home playing in a narrow street in Budapest rather than onstage at the Philharmonie. The Viennese flair that the Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzes require is not a far cry from the charm of the Hungarian melodies, and including the short waltzes seems to bridge the stylistic gap between Brahms' Clarinet Quintet and his Hungarian Dances.

The rubato that is taken to such wonderful extremes in the waltzes and Hungarian dances is not always at home in the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, however. In primarily the first and second movements of this performance, as technically assured and emotionally sound as the playing is, such excessive stress and rubato is applied that the basic rhythm is distorted multiple times within a single passage, and passionate phrases nearly always rush. This kind of playing can honestly create moments that are tremendously compelling and beautiful, but when it is used throughout the piece without variation it becomes exhausting. Why not present the opening statements of these amazing cantabile themes in a more straightforward, honest manner, but then use all the rubato and stress to make their restatement something different in the recapitulation? As fascinated as Brahms was by the fervor of Hungarian music, his Clarinet Quintet comes from a different, less overt, deeply personal place. The performance seems almost uniformly espressivo, but seems to cut the final notes of the second and third movements curiously short and misses opportunities to show the simplistic beauty of certain passages. Of course, given the choice of a performance played almost metronomically without rubato and one that occasionally goes slightly overboard, I would always choose the latter, and this recording's artistic achievement cannot be ignored. The ensemble achieves magic with soft dynamics of incredible delicacy and fiery fortes of tremendous force. It's worth listening just to hear Ottensamer and Kavakos trading melodies and playing together in octaves at the start of the second movement, and the addition of Antoine Tamestit's viola countermelody in the recapitulation makes for possibly the best performance of these passages ever recorded. Pitch is stunningly accurate throughout, balance is uniformly superb, and Andreas' gorgeous sound is captured with breathtaking quality by the engineers.

The recording as a whole does something really quite special: although it is immaculately rehearsed and prepared, it still has a striking spontaneity that shows just what a delight it must have been for these world-class musicians to have recorded together. It's beautifully polished inside and out; if the cover shot wasn't enough to cement Andreas Ottensamer's status as a contender for a Buzzfeed Top Ten Classical Musician Hunks article, the seemingly endless glamour shots filling out the liner notes should definitely do the trick. It certainly deserves to be picked up by more than just the infatuated 14-year-old clarinet girl, and serves not only as a shining artistic product but one that shines a light on the origins of Brahms' Hungarian fascination.

Geoffrey Larson is the Assistant Music Director at Classical KING FM 98.1, and the Music Director of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra.
by Melinda Bargreen posted Jun 25 2015 8:56AM

How often do you have the chance to hear a 100-year-old concert pianist in recital? A recital, moreover, that encompasses important works of Bach, Mozart, and Chopin?
Well, there was Mieczys┼éaw Horszowski (1892-1993), who died before his 101st birthday (but apparently played his last performance at age 99). And then there was  . . . well, nobody.

Randolph Hokanson’s June 24 recital at his residence, Bayview Manor on Queen Anne Hill, was presented two days after the pianist’s 100th birthday, to a capacity crowd of residents, fans, and music lovers. The astonishing fact about this performance was not just that it took place at all – but how good it actually was.

Hokanson retired in 1984 from the music faculty at the University of Washington, but he hasn’t lost the professorial desire to enlighten his audience with information about the composers and the works he performed. The familiar twinkle in his eyes, the quick quips and obvious deep love for music, are all as evident as always with this beloved artist. He is a little slower to make his way to the keyboard these days, using a walker for balance. But there’s nothing slow about his agile fingers, galloping through Bach Preludes and Fugues, a Mozart sonata (with the excellent violinist and longtime duo partner Marjorie Kransberg-Talvi), and a Chopin set that included two Etudes and a Nocturne.

With his student and friend Judith Cohen at hand to turn the pages, Hokanson explained to the June 24 audience that he had made some substitutions to the planned program because an old hand injury had affected his ability to “stretch” the right hand to a wider compass. He replaced the mighty, thundering Chopin Ballade in F Minor with a different set of shorter pieces. Hand injury or not, those two Chopin Etudes Hokanson chose are definitely not for sissies. The technical requirements of the whole program were uncompromising, and most of the time they were very successfully met.

What a life lesson for all of us! A gifted man, one who inspires tremendous affection and who has taken continued lifelong joy in sharing his gifts with students and audiences, has learned how to make beautiful music even with a few concessions to extreme age. He still has much to teach us, as listeners discovered from Hokanson’s explanatory prefaces to the works on the Bayview program, many of them bearing his own nicknames. The songlike phrasing in the right hand, the telling details, and the obvious love for the music – all longtime Hokanson attributes – are still there.

If you don’t know his wonderful autobiography, “With Head to the Music Bent: A Musician’s Story” (Third Place Press, 2011), you have a treat in store. In this memoir, Hokanson calls up rich details of his eventful life, including his studies “between the wars” in London, his narrow escape from a torpedoed ship during World War II, his concert tours, and his musical experiences with such important mentors as Dame Myra Hess.

Also highly recommended: his nine-CD anthology, “The Pianism of Randolph Hokanson: The University Years (1949-1984),” compiled with the help of UW archivist John Gibbs, and the late audio engineer Al Swanson (with Gary Louie). This substantial souvenir of Hokanson in his heyday should be a part of every music lover’s collection.
by Melinda Bargreen posted Jun 11 2015 3:56PM
One of the nicest Junes in recent history has arrived now, and local music lovers know what that means: Strawberries. Sun hats. And music festival time!

Only a few weeks away, the Olympic Music Festival’s opener on June 28/29 will pay tribute to founder and violist Alan Iglitzin, who started up this little gem of a festival three decades ago on a charmingly pastoral Olympic Peninsula site. Iglitzin, also the founding violist of the now-defunct Philadelphia String Quartet, realized in 1984 that the 55-acre dairy farm near Quilcene would be a great summer home for the quartet. The concerts and the concept grew into the current format, with afternoon concerts on Saturdays and Sundays from late June to mid-September, with familiar regulars and a few newcomers performing chamber music in the bucolic ambience of the barn.

The opening program will feature Iglitzin and five colleagues in two warmly romantic string sextets of Brahms.  The next concert pair gets jazzy for the Fourth of July, with Gershwin’s beloved “Rhapsody in Blue”; further along the horizon there’s a special concert for families (July 18-19), famed violinist Sarah Chang (Aug. 1-2), and a visit from another rising fiddler, Ray Chen, winner of the 2009 Queen Elisabeth Competition in Belgium (Sept. 5-6). Find out lots more here.

Seattle music lovers have been eagerly awaiting the July 6 start of the Seattle Chamber Music Society’s Summer Festival, so expect some serious jockeying for tickets – especially when the likes of pianist Jeremy Denk, violinist/artistic director James Ehnes, and violinist Augustin Hadelich are in town. And the cellists! – nine of them, one great talent after another.

After some tinkering in recent years, the Summer Festival is settling into its former Monday-Wednesday-Friday mode, with pre-concert recitals and subsequent concerts in the Nordstrom Recital Hall at Benaroya Hall. This year’s repertoire does not neglect the tried-and-true classics – plenty of Mozart, Beethoven, and Brahms, from sonatas to the “Archduke” Trio – but there’s also an interesting twist: some unusual, and very great, vocal music.

In mid-festival, there’s a sequence of interesting vocal works, including Janacek’s seldom-heard but wonderful “The Diary of One Who Vanished” (for tenor and piano) and Mahler’s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen” (“Songs of a Wayfarer”), as well as Respighi’s “Il Tramonto.” A July 25 Family Concert will feature pianist Andrew Armstrong in an audience-engaging program about creating pictures with music.

There’s an array of opportunities to hear the music: a live Volunteer Park concert, live concert broadcasts in other regional parks (“Music Under the Stars”), and – of course – the live radio broadcasts on your favorite station, Classical KING FM 98.1!

Farther to the north, the Bellingham Festival of Music will launch its 2015 season on July 3 with an appropriate piece: Handel’s “Royal Fireworks” Music – as well as a Mozart Symphony and the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto with soloist Vadim Gluzman. That ought to provide fireworks indeed.

Bellingham offerings include such landmark works as Strauss’ “Four Last Songs” (with soloist Katie van Kooten); the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 1 with Arnaldo Cohen; and Haydn’s great oratorio “The Creation.” There’s a chamber afternoon with the Calidore String Quartet on July 12. The artistic director is Michael Palmer; the festival runs July 3-19.

 The following month, it’s the turn of the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, where artistic director Aloysia Friedmann and artistic advisor Jon Kimura Parker have scheduled a promising lineup for Aug. 6-22. Among the returning and new artists: the terrific Miro String Quartet, Oliver Aldort, cello; David Harding, viola; Desmond Hoebig, cello; Nathan Hughes, oboe; Lachezar Kostov, cello; Timothy McAllister, saxophone; Lorna McGhee, flute; Charlie Porter, trumpet; Orli Shaham, piano; Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, cello; Viktor Valkov, piano; and Sandy Yamamoto, violin.

There’s a children’s concert; a program for seniors, and some great repertoire, from a Russian-accented program to John Adams’ wild ride for two pianos, “Hallelujah Junction.” As usual, this one is well worth a scenic trip to Orcas Island. (A word of caution: this year, the Washington State Ferries system requires reservations on ferries from Anacortes to Orcas and back again. You can make reservations online here. Don’t just show up at the ferry dock, hoping to get on!)
 
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