About us / Contact

The Classical Music Network

New York

Europe : Paris, Londn, Zurich, Geneva, Strasbourg, Bruxelles, Gent
America : New York, San Francisco, Montreal                       WORLD

Your email :



Megalomania and Metaphysics

New York
The DiMenna Center for Classical Music, 450 West 37th Street
02/23/2013 -  
Symphonies of Song: Previewing the Salzburg Biennale
Michel Galante: Megalomania
Robert Schumann/Kinny Szeto: Symphony No. 3 (“Rhemish”), opus 97 (World Premiere)
Aureliano Cattaneo: Canto (U.S. Premiere)
Georg Friedrich Haas: ...wie stille brannte das Licht (U.S. Premiere)

Sharon Harms (Soprano), Stephen Gosling (Piano)
The Argento Chamber Ensemble, Michel Galante (Conductor)

M. Galante (© Courtesy of the artist)

Two groups, the JACK Quartet and the Argento Chamber Ensemble, have an almost umbilical tie with that difficult but always rewarding composer, Georg Friedrich Haas, but last night, Mr. Haas was the icing on a variegated concert under the sobriquet, “Symphonies of Song”.

The first work, though, by Argento conductor Michel Galante, was anything but songful. That astounding pianist, Stephen Gosling, played the premiere of Megalomania, a title which did not (hopefully) refer to either composer or pianist. Instead, Mr.Galante’s program notes spoke of a companison who was, unbeknownst to him, “suffering from a severe mental disorder.” Thus his work was trying to make sense of the “darker, more destructive potential of the human mind.”

Thus, Beethoven style, he might have re-titled this relentlessly aggressive work, “Rage Over A Lost Friend.” The piece was plainly bi-polar, with Stephen Gosling, plunging over the keyboard, but always contrasting the top notes with the deep bottom. It was a whirl of scales and chords, but that incessant bouncing had a manic quality, as if the composer was always unsettled, unable to find a core, unable to find a rest until the disturbing end. And in that way, it was an amazing accomplishment.

The following work, involving most of the Argento Chamber Ensemble, was a complete Schumann symphony (the limpid Third), arranged by the multitasked Kimmy Szeto. Mr. Szeto is not only a teacher, violinist, pianist and director of the Argento Chamber Ensemble, but has already arranged one Schumann symphony as well as Janacek: and Wagner. And while he did a stylish enough job, paring the “Rhemish” down to a woodwind quintet, trombone and string quintet, one must ask whether it was worth the effort.

Arnold Schoenberg’s chamber arrangement of Mahler’s Song of the Earth did bring out the songs beneath the contrapuntal skein. Far from being a “cover edition” of Mahler, it was a minor revelation of Mahler’s complexity. Robert Schumann, though was straightforward in this symphony. And while he was no Berlioz or Schubert, his orchestration gave a more than adequate reflection of his very complex mind, frequently as “bi-polar” as composer Galante’s Megalomania.

Mr. Szeto’s creditable arrangement resulted in the Argento Chamber Ensemble sounding like (oh, I never thought I’d say it!), a village band. This wasn’t because of multiple errors from the French horn, or because the flute piercings over the strings (perhaps because I was sitting in front of the instrument). But because the orchestra seemed thin, even banal. Mr. Szeto’s transcription was a literal dilution of the Schumann, as if economics precluded a whole orchestra.

The string quintet could have been the genesis of a string orchestration, the lovely duet between violin and clarinet could have foretold more novel styles. Potentially, Mr. Szeto noted that Schumann did want to arrange his Cello Concerto for soloist and string quartet. Mr. Szeto could do a masterful job with that.

After the intermission, though, it was no time for quibbling, as Europeans Aurealiano Cattaneo and Mr. Haas had music which challenged more than it superficially satisfied.

One could safely ignore the recondite explanatory notes of Mr. Cattaneo, “rebuilding the line through the reflected image of possible unions of points.” Instead, this was a study in tonalities, the first half delving into all the microtonalities of a single note. The eclectic ensemble–soprano saxophone, trombone, percussion, piano, violin and cello–wavered, veered, peered over one tone, barely moving, cut only by the pianist weaving in and out of the piano box or making unobtrusive taps. The second part was a series of quick scales by all the instruments, but somehow adhering to the original nuances and shadows.

G. F. Haas (© Coco T. Dawg)

Mr. Haas needs no introduction to New York. His works delve into deepest darkness. (The JACK Quartet played a one-movement 45-minute work without a single light in the Austrian Cultural Forum) or they work with spatial emptiness.

In ...wie stille brannte das Licht (no translation in the program, but probably, “...how still the light burns”), after a deafening introduction for the full Argento Chamber Ensemble, his music involved four German poems, few of whose words reflected the music.

S. Harms (© Sharonharmsvoice.com)

Though actually there were resonances. When that powerful Sharon Harms sung “the subtle breath roars...digs up the deep roots...the road whirrs and wails up the heart’s blood”, one doesn’t expect Elton John. And Mr. Haas supplied all the shuddering, the blood-curdling quasi-Lunaire chant-songs essential for a very vibrant performance.

Needless to say, Mr. Galante conducted this arresting enigmatic music with the passion and, presumably, all the understanding it deserved.

Harry Rolnick



Copyright ©ConcertoNet.com