Kilted Quartet: The Week in Classical Music | Modern Society of USA

Kilted Quartet: The Week in Classical Music

Kilted Quartet: The Week in Classical Music

[Read all of our classical music coverage here.]

Readers! I went west last weekend to hear Esa-Pekka Salonen’s first concerts with the band he’ll soon take over, the San Francisco Symphony. It was an exciting evening, with the promise of a happy marriage: intense, committed yet self-effacing playing from a very good orchestra.

It’s a sly, darkly gorgeous piece, and a perfect complement to Strauss’s “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” Sibelius’s “Four Legends from the Kalevala” (also known as the “Lemminkäinen Suite”) ended things with color: lithe brooding and taut energy.

Speaking of the New York Phil, this weekend is bringing the premiere performances of Julia Wolfe’s “Fire in my mouth,” about the 1911 Triangle shirtwaist factory fire. Michael Cooper did a lovely piece walking around with Ms. Wolfe and shopping for an unusual instrument: scissors.

And before I sign off, a treasure: The great baritone Ettore Bastianini was just 44 when he died of cancer, on Jan. 25, 1967. He deserves deep listening, and here’s a start:

Enjoy the weekend. ZACHARY WOOLFE

Hello from Paris, where so far this week I have been to a sleepy concert by Paavo Järvi and the Orchestre de Paris (missing its soloist Radu Lupu, who was replaced at the last minute by Nelson Goerner in Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto) and the premiere of a new production of Scarlatti’s “Il Primo Omicidio” at the Paris Opera.

This Baroque oratorio, staged inside the Baroque-inspired Palais Garnier, was directed by Romeo Castellucci — more on that next week — and conducted by René Jacobs, who recorded the piece with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin in the late 1990s. (On that album, he also sang the countertenor role of God.)

Here, he led the Belgian ensemble B’Rock, with a beefed-up orchestration to more easily fill the Garnier. Normally I would be skeptical of expanding an orchestra simply for volume; it risks sacrificing the score’s details and texture. But, under Mr. Jacobs’s baton, B’Rock still sounded like a small chamber orchestra: nimble, clear, precise. And restrained, reserving its most powerful sound for dramatic effect, which added a sense of theater to a piece whose plot often verges on inertia. JOSHUA BARONE

Any ensemble making its American debut is likely to feel some jitters, especially when the program includes a masterpiece as dense and thorny as Beethoven’s Op. 130. But on Sunday, members of the Maxwell String Quartet had an additional reason for feeling a little, well, vulnerable.

Addressing the audience at the New School, the group’s cellist, Duncan Strachan, explained why. “I must say,” he said, “this is a very high stage for kilts.”

Flashes of thigh, and wit, are not the only reason to take note of the Maxwell Quartet, which hails from Scotland and advertises that fact both in its dress and in its repertory, which includes striking arrangements of folk music. (As the sole Englishman in the lineup, the violist Elliott Perks wore tartan trousers.) As Sunday’s eloquent performance demonstrated, the players bring the same charisma and sense of adventure to their selections.

The slightly tart, resiny sound of traditional fiddle playing carried over beautifully into fresh readings of Haydn and into the Beethoven. But perhaps the most arresting moment was James MacMillan’s “Memento” from 1994, in which wisps of a melody floated on hazy harmonies and coalesced into heaving sighs before dissolving again into ghostly strains, rendered with a kind of fierce tenderness. CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM

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