"The Concert"

Podcasts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum's Tapestry Room - sharing classical music performances with the world.

The Concert

Classical Music Podcasts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum

255. Summing it Up


Works by Bach and Brahms performed by the Borromeo String Quartet and Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute on August 7, 2016 and April 10, 2016.

  • Bach: Preludes and Fugues from Well-Tempered Klavier Book 1 arr. Nicholas Kitchen: F Major, F Minor, B-flat Minor
  • Brahms: String Quintet No. 2 in G Major, Op. 111

Both of the works on our podcast this week have a sort of finality, a sense of summing things up, or making a statement that is somehow comprehensive, and that’s saying a lot given the composers in question: Johannes Brahms and Johann Sebastian Bach.

We begin with a novel setting of a familiar work: a selection of preludes and fugues from Bach’s Well-Tempered Klavier, arranged for string quartet by Nicholas Kitchen of the Borromeo Quartet, who we’ll hear playing on the recording. The Well-Tempered Klavier consists of 24 small pieces, one prelude and one fugue in each key, ascending chromatically from C to B.

Then, we’ll hear a piece that Brahms apparently intended to be his last: the String Quintet in G Major, Opus 111. Brahms lovers may already be raising an eyebrow at that last statement, because this was not, in fact, the last piece Brahms wrote—he went on to publish another 11 works, much to the delight of the clarinetists, pianists, and singers who regularly perform these final few works today.

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256. Taking it Slow


Works by Vivaldi and Beethoven performed by the Gardner Chamber Orchestra and Musicians from Marlboro on September 11, 2004 and October 19, 2014.

  • Vivaldi, Antonio: Concerto in C Major for Soprano Recorder and Orchestra
  • Beethoven, Ludwig van: String Quintet in C Major, Op. 29

The two pieces on this podcast have many points of difference: different eras (Baroque and Classical), different instrumentation (a recorder concerto and a string quintet), and different performers. The list goes on. But as different as they are, both works share a wonderful commonality at their core: a gorgeous slow movement.

The first slow movement we’ll hear comes right in the middle of Vivaldi’s Concerto in C Major for sopranino recorder and orchestra, played by Aldo Abreu and the Gardner Chamber Orchestra. When the piece begins, the recorder enters on a dazzling, virtuosic note, but it is the middle movement where he truly gets to stretch out and show not just his technical prowess, but his musicality.

After the Vivaldi, we’ll hear Beethoven’s String Quintet in C Major, Opus 29, played by Musicians from Marlboro. Like Vivaldi, Beethoven’s slow movement comes second, after a cheery opening allegro. This slow movement has a lovely, Mozartean quality, tending to the “sweeter” side of “bittersweet.”

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254. New Directions


Works for string quartet by BartĂłk and Webern performed by the Omer Quartet on November 27, 2016.

  • BartĂłk: String Quartet No. 1, Op. 7
  • Webern: Six bagatelles for String Quartet, Op. 9

In this podcast, we’ll follow two 20th century composers on their quest for new directions and inspirations, in a musical landscape increasingly reaching beyond traditional ideas about form and tonality.

We begin with Béla Bartók’s First String Quartet, his Opus 7, a three-movement work. It begins quite somber, but the mood gradually brightens, and by the last movement, it has begun to exhibit some of the Hungarian folk color that became such a unique and defining part of Bartók’s voice as a composer.

After the Bartók, we’ll hear a brief work, written around the same time, but by a composer with a very different musical vocabulary. Like the Bartók work, Webern’s Six Bagatelles for String Quartet were a relatively early composition, Webern’s Opus 9, and the composer was still finding his voice, and his way of working within the atonal system that he and his teacher Schoenberg were developing.

We’ll hear both pieces performed by the skilled musicians of the Omer Quartet, an ensemble formed at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and currently in residence at Boston’s New England Conservatory.

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253. Small Packages


Works for clarinet and piano by Berg and Weber performed by Raphaël Sévère, clarinet and Paul Montag, piano on October 23, 2016.

  • Berg: Four Pieces, Op. 5
  • Weber: Grand Duo Concertant, Op. 48

On this podcast, number 253, we’ve got a couple great pieces that come in smaller packages than you might expect: a set of four miniatures by Berg and a duet masquerading as a concerto, by Carl Maria von Weber. Both pieces are scored for clarinet and piano, performed by clarinetist Raphaël Sévère and pianist Paul Montag.

Berg’s “Four Pieces”, Opus 5 is a petite suite of four movements, each lasting less than two minutes. Though brief, each piece makes an impactful and evocative musical statement. The music is atonal but pleasingly melodic, like much of the composer’s work.

The Berg serves to whet our appetite for a slightly more substantial work: Carl Maria von Weber’s “Grand Duo Concertant,” Opus 48. Weber wrote this virtuosic duet over a couple of years leading up to his 30th birthday. It requires a true partnership between the woodwind and the keyboard, with both taking on critical roles musically.

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252. Baroque Inspirations


Works for piano by Handel and Brahms performed by Charlie Albright, piano on October 2, 2016.

  • Handel: Chaconne in G Major, HWV. 435
  • Brahms: Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel, Op. 24

This podcast starts with the Baroque composer George Frideric Handel, in more ways than one.

The first work on the podcast is, indeed, by Handel: his Chaconne in G Major, a set of about 20 very brief variations, each built on a recurring eight-bar bass line.

Following that, we have another set of variations on a theme by Handel, this time written by another composer: Brahms’ Variations and Fugue on a theme by Handel, Opus 24. This piano piece has a distinctly Romantic sensibility, but Brahms clearly delighted in uncovering and augmenting the many musical possibilities present in Handel’s fairly simple theme.

When Brahms published the piece in in 1860s, it stood apart from the musical explorations of contemporaries like Wagner and Liszt; it seemed much more related to composers who came before—a homage, perhaps, to Bach’s famous Goldberg Variations or Beethoven’s Diabelli Variations.

We’ll hear both works—Handel’s Chaconne, and Brahms’ Variations on Handel—performed by pianist Charlie Albright.

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