Conservatory Whippersnappers Shouldn't Be Allowed To Use Percussion

Some comments on the Chicago Symphony’s concert of Hindemith and Berlioz last night…I’m not even saying that the premiere piece, by some Julliard phenom, “explosion” whatever is bad, but it combines shallow and egregious noisemaking a la Joseph Schwantner in the 80’s with the new tonal “accessibility” of composers like Del Tredici and Corigliano. Actually, I choose these three references carefully; with its toy piano and syrupy harps it sounds like the latter two composers, and with its 57 percussionists banging on hubcaps and shaking coin jars it sounds like the former. For me it was torture.

Definitely not torture was Paul Hindemith’s charming, if dated, overture to Neues vom Tage, which probably reminded most seasoned listeners of Weill, and the genuinely moving Trauermusik for viola and strings, played with exceptional dignity and elegance by Pinchas Zuckerman. Apparently Hindy wrote it in one day, as a quickie memorial for whichever king died in 1939. See what craft can do for you! I must say, combining salty early Hindemith with the craftsmanlike style of his maturity was good programming. Leonard Slatkin was the very able conductor; Guess his ill conceived and ill received comment about female violinists and “turkey wattles” is forgiven and forgotten. Except not by me. I aspire to emulate the shrewish wife in a cartoon I once saw who is berating her beer-bellied hubby, glumly hunched over his Old Style in a working class tavern, thusly: “Do you think I forget 1957 and that crack you made about my knees!” 

I’d like to retract those cracks I made in 2008 concerning Berlioz’s Harold in Italy: while the violist may as well join the section, and while the work is disconcertingly not a concerto, it is a strangely sympathetic symphony. Cynicism vies with sincerity, the satanic vies with the sublime, the self-absorbed vies with the universal, the bucolic vies with the refined, this is a work divided against itself. It amazes and moves me, how the wildly egotistical Hector Berlioz gives us music of such searing honesty and integrity. I’m struck again and again by how fresh and relevant his pieces sound.

By the way, Wagner requires a triangle in the hour long Act 2 of his opera, Siegfried. For one stroke. Richard Strauss called this “A wise use of percussion.” And ask yourself why you’ll never forget that Brahms uses the triangle in the scherzo of his 4th symphony. And what wrecks the scoring of Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony? Now that’s a work in which all the soft passages are good and all the loud passages are bad. Yes, I’m exaggerating! But the best thing in the score is the spooky viola arpeggio tremolandos obbigato-ing the second subject of the first movement.

 

by Hector Berlioz, Daniel Barenboim, Eugene Ormandy, Paris Orchestra, Philadelphia Orchestra, Joseph DePasquale

 

Cpo Records

 

Naxos American

Features music by Jefferson Friedman, whose “Sacred Heart: Explosion” was visited on CSO attendees as the requisite modern piece on the Hindemith/Berlioz viola concert reviewed here.