That Decisive Moment: Surprise Fireworks: This Week’s 8 Best Classical Music Moments on YouTube



that decisive moment

Members of So Percussion at Lincoln Center, from left: Adam Sliwinski, Josh Quillen, Eric Cha-Beach and Jason Treuting.CreditMichelle V. Agins/The New York Times

In addition to writing reviews, features and news during the week, our critics and reporters collect the best of what they’ve heard: notes that sent shivers down their spines, memorable voices, quotations that cut to the heart of the story. This week, we’re offering a glimpse into the research we’ve done on YouTube for articles.

Read the rest of our classical music coverage here.


Four Sticks, Many Rhythms

The accomplished musicians of So Percussion are exceptionally inventive in using ordinary objects as instruments, as they demonstrated recently in a performance of David Lang’s “man made,” a vibrant concerto for percussion, with the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. The players turned trash cans, corked wine bottles filled with various levels of water, and even piles of tree twigs into wondrous percussion instruments. They also, of course, have technique galore on traditional instruments, something that comes through in this 2009 video: an extended portion of Steve Reich’s “Drumming,” played on four matched drums. Catch the moment a couple minutes in when just two players seem to create enough rhythms for an entire percussion ensemble. ANTHONY TOMMASINI

Read our review of So Percussion’s performance at Mostly Mozart.


A Solo for Two

There is little, if any, room for error in string duets. With only two voices in play, there is nowhere to hide incorrect intonation or rhythm; mistakes can be brutally obvious and cringe-worthy. Brahms’s Double Concerto for violin and cello — which Joshua Bell performs with Steven Isserlis next week at the Mostly Mozart Festival — perfectly illustrates this challenge. In the piece’s opening minutes, the violin (here the great Anne-Sophie Mutter) and cello (Maximilian Hornung) share a continuous run of 16th notes passed back and forth seamlessly, followed by another run: an ascent in which they play the same notes, but in different octaves. The moment requires pure unison. Played too carefully, the music loses its thrill; too recklessly, it all falls apart. Therein lies the suspense of every performance, and the reason to keep returning to Brahms’s odd but exhilarating masterpiece. JOSHUA BARONE


Lost Blueprint?

Although I haven’t encountered a lot of music by the fast-rising composer Caroline Shaw, I’ve been intrigued by what I’ve heard. Her string quartet “Blueprint” (2016) will be performed at Tanglewood next Saturday. Here Ms. Shaw moves fascinatingly into and out of the past, with echoes of antiquity at the start, Beethovenian turns at times and even the use of Shostakovich’s signature motto. At times the music seems to lose its way altogether, sagging precariously early on, as if Ms. Shaw had lost the blueprint. But no: It turns out she knows exactly where she is going. JAMES R. OESTREICH


Surprise Fireworks

The great soprano Gundula Janowitz, who turned 80 on Wednesday, is known for her silvery purity (her recording of Strauss’s serene “Four Last Songs” is my, and many others’, desert-island pick) more than her explosiveness. Which is why this clip of her in an unfamiliar, volatile role, the warrior Odabella in Verdi’s “Attila,” is such a kooky treat — particularly the awkward bits, like this woozy little run. We should celebrate the artists we love for the risks they take that don’t quite pan out. ZACHARY WOOLFE


A Melodic River

Nothing against the string section of the Berlin Philharmonic, but the magic of this “Pavane” by Fauré is cooked up entirely by the wind section in the first 90 seconds before the violins get their say. The wind soloists shape-shift their instruments’ sounds in such a way that the melody appears to pour itself into a single river meandering through pockets of light and shade. Notice, for instance, how Emmanuel Pahud darkens the sound of his flute when he first picks up the thread from the bassoon. CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM


Dark Journey of the Soul

The superb English tenor Ian Bostridge will sing an oddity at Mostly Mozart next weekend: Hans Zender’s “composed interpretation” of “Winterreise” (“Winter Journey”), a sort of orchestrated deconstruction of Schubert’s great song cycle. It is perhaps worth contemplating the simplicity of the opening number, “Gute Nacht,” one more time before taking the plunge into complexity. Mr. Bostridge, who has made many travels of his own with this devastating work, here enacts a staging by David Alden. The spurned young lover sets out on a journey of the soul, trying in dark tones to sort out his plight. For the last verse, Schubert shifts stunningly to the major mode, injecting a ray of seeming hope: a grand and painful illusion. It comes almost as a relief when the music slumps back into the minor and quickly departs. JAMES R. OESTREICH


Making Bach Sparkle on a Flute

Claire Chase, the newly minted Harvard professor and flute wizard, is normally best known for her passionate engagement with new music. In this video she takes on a new challenge on an old favorite: how to make the famous organ Toccata by Bach roar and sparkle on a single flute. Listen to how the alternating high and low notes seem to blur into a double-stopped whole woven out of distinctly colored separate registers. CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM


Dvorak’s Transcendent Phrase

The conductor Leon Botstein, a tireless champion of overlooked works, made a valuable contribution to our understanding of opera recently at the Bard SummerScape festival with a rare staged performance of Dvorak’s fascinating, if imperfect, historical drama “Dimitrij.” One beguiling aria for soprano in this work anticipated the beautiful aria “Song to the Moon” from the composer’s best-known opera, “Rusalka” (which was presented in a new production at the Metropolitan Opera this past season). Many sopranos have excelled in the title role of the water nymph who yearns to be human, including Renée Fleming. For sheer, lustrous beauty it’s hard to top the great Slovak soprano Lucia Popp singing the aria in a concert from the early 1980s at the Zurich Opera House. The moment when she sings the melting phrase “O, moon, stay for a moment” is transcendently lovely. If only Popp, who died at 54 in 1993, could have stayed a little longer. ANTHONY TOMMASINI

Read our review of “Dimitrij” at Bard SummerScape.


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