Context Trouble--Andras Schiff does out-of-context Scarlatti.
Thursday, March 19, 1998
Did I miss something? I thought Scarlatti was an early 18th-century, expatriate Italian living in Spain, a Baroque contemporary of Handel and Bach who set his visionary sights on the fledgling classical style. But, in the hands of Andras Schiff, last Friday''s guest of the Carmel Music Society, Scarlatti was transformed into Chopin, full of deep ruminations, anguished sentiments, precious sighs and plenty of show-off virtuosity.
At intermission, those who praised Schiff''s hour-long perusal of some 13 Scarlatti sonatas found themselves defending the composer on merit and the performer on technique. It was the gulf in between, however, where lay the problem. Somehow, Schiff gave himself license to ignore Scarlatti''s historic context and unique stylistic integrity. In the manner of his time, Scarlatti''s music was all charm and wit, with an occasional drop of sarcasm. That these features are not written in bright red on the printed score does not obviate the artist from seeking other ways to learn them; ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.
What is revealed in the printed score is a clever manipulation of practice materials--scales and arpeggios--motivated by infectious rhythms, adroit syncopations and a new freedom of expression. Further, Scarlatti positions himself in the proto-classical camp that favored homophonic textures and primary melodies supported by simplified harmonies. (He also innovated many virtuosic techniques of execution.) Scarlatti anticipated the dynamic possibilities of the fortepiano (and, by extension, the modern piano) which is why his music sounds so well on the instrument. Vladimir Horowitz etched Scarlatti with brilliant clarity; Anthony di Bonaventura focused his lyrical instincts on Scarlatti''s tunefulness and phrasing. But, unlike Schiff, in their very different interpretations neither of these men disregarded the essentials of Scarlatti''s character.
Following intermission, Schiff played an early Haydn sonata that, at the outset, seemed more suitable to Scarlatti. He then went on to exaggerate Schumann''s big Sonata in F Minor with purple Lisztian vulgarities that would have made Liszt blush. Go figure.
While Schiff certainly played all over the piano, his weird stylistic anachronisms left little evidence of artistry. (The instrument itself, a slick-sounding, noticeably out-of-tune, $100,000 Hamburg Steinway, had arrived last week into the welcoming arms of the CMS.)
The Music Hall at Monterey Peninsula College was filled to overflowing Saturday night when guitarist/composer Peter Evans joined John Anderson and the Ensemble Monterey chamber orchestra. Evans, who performs infrequently, put himself and the room at ease with twinkling comments. His Montereyanas suffered a momentary divergence between guitar and orchestra, which, Evans explained afterward, served to remind him that as a soloist he could impulsively speed up or slow down, but not with an orchestra in tow. Taking the blame, he added, "The conductor''s baton may be short, but it smarts." Evans'' set began with Sevillanas, five sophisticated Seville dances that imposed tricky rhythms on the orchestra. To cap the evening, Evans transposed himself from guitarist to narrator for the premiere of his symphonic suite, The Hums of Edward Bear. Evans described four scenes and recited their accompanying verses ("hums") from Winnie the Pooh, after which each was then restated and elaborated with charming and colorful results on five winds, three brass, nine strings and percussion. Since Pooh is neither a minor-key kind of bear, nor an avant-gardiste, Evans'' music stuck to major scales and clear, upbeat cadences.
Astanding-room-only audience at Santa Catalina Performing Arts Center was electrified by Youth Music Monterey''s "Pro-Am" concert Sunday afternoon. Under John Larry Granger, the less-experienced, 61-piece Youth Orchestra showed plenty of strength. The violins were especially impressive in Ippolitov-Ivanov''s Procession of the Sardar.
TheHonors Orchestra, and its stand-for-stand counterpart of professionals from seven Central California orchestras, filled the stage with more than 100 musicians, as Granger led an explosive reading of Herold''s Zampa Overture that threatened to knock down the walls. With high ambitions and triumphant success, three HO teens took the spotlight for the long, first movement of Beethoven''s >"Triple" Concerto in C. Concertmaster Erica Brewer and first cellist Rushad Eggleston both showed great gains since their previous concerto exposure with the group, while Paula Jossan, an Honors Orchestra violinist, displayed startling skill and musicality at the piano. With the full complement back on stage, guest conductor Clark Suttle led a thrilling performance of Rimsky-Korsakov''s Russian Easter, a symphonic showpiece that flatters all orchestral choirs and many first chair players. Stand-outs among the latter were Brewer, Eggleston, flutist Shannon Anderson, clarinetist Evan de la Torre and trombonist Joshua D. Williams. Each of the three works enjoyed loud cheers and sustained applause.
Last Week''s Quiz: Emma Bardac left her lover, one of the most influential French composers, to marry another. Name them. Answer: Gabriel Faure and Claude DeBussy. (Clarification: Bardac never married Faure; she divorced her banker husband in order to marry Debussy in 1905.)
This Week''s Quiz: What 19th Century composer wrote an opera called Die Rheinnixen (The Rhine Nixies), first produced in 1864? cw
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