Cap­i­tal C that rhymes with T that stands for Tengstrand

Pasatiempo - - IN OTHER WORDS - — James M. Keller

In the realm of clas­si­cal mu­sic, Clas­si­cal mu­sic with a cap­i­tal C — de­not­ing com­po­si­tions from the sec­ond half of the 18th cen­tury — sets a stan­dard when it comes to rhetor­i­cal logic and bal­anced dis­course. Much of it is tech­ni­cally un­en­cum­bered when com­pared to the vir­tu­osic de­mands of en­su­ing cen­turies, but it makes its own un­for­giv­ing de­mands in­volv­ing el­e­gant lines and ex­posed tex­tures. Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica de­votes a week­end to Clas­si­cal reper­toire ev­ery year dur­ing this sea­son, of­fer­ing two go-rounds of an orches­tral pro­gram plus a recital by the week’s soloist. This year the or­ga­ni­za­tion was thrown for a loop when the sched­uled soloist with­drew only a cou­ple of weeks ear­lier “due to an un­ex­pected sit­u­a­tion” (to quote the group’s tan­ta­liz­ing words), and it brought in as a sub­sti­tute Per Tengstrand, a Swedish pi­anist who had ap­peared with the en­sem­ble on sev­eral pre­vi­ous oc­ca­sions.

Poor soul. He ap­par­ently picked up a bug en route, and then his solo recital fell on an evening when Santa Fe was socked by an ag­gres­sive snow­storm, which greatly di­min­ished at­ten­dance. At least the show went on, and three cheers for that. To Tengstrand fell the closing num­ber on the sym­phonic pro­gram, Mozart’s Pi­ano Con­certo in C mi­nor (K. 491). He and the orches­tra, con­ducted by Thomas O’Con­nor, seemed gen­er­ally in sym­pa­thy with this con­certo’s de­monic soul, but in the end their in­ter­pre­ta­tion proved mostly monochro­matic. Pi­ano scales were very of­ten not more than just scales. In the first move­ment, for ex­am­ple, they failed to build mo­men­tum and drama at the crit­i­cal junc­ture where the devel­op­ment cas­cades into the re­ca­pit­u­la­tion, a case in point of the way in which the best com­posers de­signed Clas­si­cal-era struc­tures to pack an emo­tional wal­lop. Here it was a ne­glected op­por­tu­nity. Missed notes are not usu­ally se­ri­ous of­fenses in and of them­selves, but it be­came in­creas­ingly hard to over­look the many off-tar­get land­ings of Tengstrand’s fin­gers, the mo­men­tary dis­so­nances in­flict­ing lit­tle scars on Mozart’s crys­talline tex­ture. As Mozart did not write a ca­denza for the first move­ment, Tengstrand played one he had pre­pared him­self, in the course of which he worked his way to­ward an imag­i­na­tive pas­sage that flirted with Lisz­tian har­monies. His best play­ing ar­rived in the mid­dle part of the open­ing rondo re­frain, a pas­sage he en­dowed with rhyth­mic élan and tonal shad­ing that would have been wel­come ev­ery­where in the piece.

The “off” fla­vor of the con­certo was ex­ac­er­bated by the orches­tra’s wind sec­tion, par­tic­u­larly the oboes and clar­inets, which seemed to sense that they would not project over the pi­ano and over­com­pen­sated by pro­ject­ing un­pleas­antly stri­dent tim­bres. This was baf­fling, as the winds had not shown this ten­dency in the con­cert’s open­ing item, Haydn’s Ox­ford Sym­phony. In fact, the orches­tra’s sound in that work was cen­tered in the deeper reaches, and more bright­ness from the oboes might have in­jected some light into the turgid tex­tures. On the whole, the Haydn came across as tense and un­remit­ting. The notes were in place, but one wished for more care­ful distinc­tion in the ar­tic­u­la­tion of phrases and more metic­u­lous high­light­ing of the dif­fer­ences that sep­a­rate one idea from the next — in short, a more clearly de­lin­eated char­ac­ter. Th­ese were solid, hon­or­able per­for­mances, but if works by Haydn and Mozart are to be pre­sented specif­i­cally in the con­text of a Clas­si­cal Week­end, one might rea­son­ably ex­pect that the per­for­mance would be crafted with spe­cial at­ten­tion to the niceties of that style.

The most sat­is­fy­ing ex­panse of the con­cert came in the mid­dle with Stravin­sky’s Dum­bar­ton Oaks Con­certo. While not a work from the Clas­si­cal pe­riod, it draws in­spi­ra­tion from that era. Com­posed in 1937-1938, it is one of Stravin­sky’s so-called neo­clas­si­cal works. Although it was os­ten­si­bly in­spired by Bach’s Bran­den­burg Con­cer­tos and ac­tu­ally quotes the third of them at its out­set, its place­ment in this con­cert help­fully un­der­scored the fact that it owes as much or more to Haydn. Here the group’s sonori­ties were beau­ti­fully bal­anced. Stravin­sky’s tricky rhythms kept play­ers and lis­ten­ers on the edges of their seats, and the au­di­ence seemed de­light­edly swept up in the work’s mo­toric buoy­ancy.

May I tell a story? Stravin­sky called the piece merely Con­certo in E-flat. It was com­mis­sioned by Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, a so­cially prom­i­nent cou­ple who lived in a man­sion named Dum­bar­ton Oaks in the Ge­orge­town sec­tion of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. It sat (and still sits) above the Po­tomac at a spot that had long been called the Rock of Dum­bar­ton be­cause of its pre­sumed re­sem­blance to Dum­bar­ton Rock in Scot­land. The Blisses ar­ranged for Stravin­sky’s French acolyte Na­dia Boulanger to con­duct the pre­miere at their man­sion. Stravin­sky was in Europe at the time and was baf­fled by the tele­gram he re­ceived from them: “Per­for­mance Con­certo Dum­bar­ton Oaks Wor­thy of the Work.” The cu­ri­ous name threw him for a loop, and he wrote to his pub­lisher: “It wasn’t Na­dia who con­ducted, for rea­sons they don’t give me. Ill­ness? Or was she at the last minute afraid of not know­ing the work well enough? Ac­cord­ing to Mrs. Bliss’s ca­ble it was a cer­tain Dum­bar­ton Oaks who con­ducted.” When the Blisses’ mes­sage was ex­plained to him, he was per­fectly con­tent that his piece should be named af­ter their house. Not so his pub­lisher, who protested that “in both French and Ger­man it sounds like the noises of ducks or frogs.”

Per Tengstrand

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