Saturday, May 16, 2009

Program Notes: Recital, Spring 09

(In the post below this one, I have linked to a recording of my recital.)

Partita in a minor, BWV 1013; J. S. Bach (1685-1750)

Originally for solo flute, Bach’s Partita in a minor (c. 1720-1725) shares a style with much of Bach’s music for solo wind or string instrument, such as his cello suites and violin partitas. The piece is a dance suite, and the movements (Allemande, Corrente, Sarabande, Bourrée) are all popular Baroque dance forms in rounded binary form. Bach combines simple, arioso melodic writing, as in the Sarabande, with highly contrapuntal and complex passages, found throughout the Allemande and Corrente. The prevalence of arpeggios and wide leaps, which emphasize the chordal nature of Bach’s writing and allow his counterpoint to come to the surface, is reminiscent of writing for string instruments.

Each movement begins with a statement of the theme. In the Allemande, the arpeggiated theme repeats often, and is generally unaltered save for transposition. The music surrounding it, however, is altered each time for a great deal of variety. The Corrente is more fantastical, with a longer, more melodic theme. The theme here is treated more loosely, rarely coming back in its original form. The calm, regal Sarabande provides a striking contrast to the almost frantic motion of the other three movements, in which it is left to the performer draw melody and harmony out of strings of constant sixteenth-notes. The Bourrée Anglaise features the most distinct theme of the three fast movements. As in the Allemande, the theme comes back verbatim frequently, and makes good use of the distinctive bourrée rhythm, short-short-long.

Three Piece Suite for Oboe and Piano; Madeleine Dring (1923-1977)

Like the Partita, Dring’s Three Piece Suite (1984) was originally written for another instrument. The piece was adapted by Dring’s oboist husband, Roger Lord, from her Suite for harmonica and piano, and the result is both showy and idiomatic. Dring studied with Vaughan Williams, and the influence of his style, and that of the early 20th century school of British composition, pervades the Suite. This is particularly noticeable in the lush, pastoral Romance and the quirky, rustic qualities of the military Finale.

The opening Showpiece pairs perpetual motion with hints of seductive Orientalism. With few exceptions, the piano is distinctly secondary, providing an off-kilter underpinning for the oboe. A brief contrasting lyrical section near the end of the movement emphasizes the energy and drama of the movement’s close. The Romance features a serene melody over slow piano chords and arpeggios; though the piano occasionally shares the melody, the oboe is distinctly in the foreground of the movement. A more intense middle section pairs a slower tempo with more rapid notes to increase tension and emotion, but the movement ends as it began, in a lullaby or a gentle love song. The Finale is everything the Romance is not: boyish, energetic, and mischievous, the movement is filled with dramatic dynamic and stylistic changes. The piano plays a more active role here, adding to the excitement. As the movement drives to its close, Dring interrupts with short tranquillo interjections, rather than a single contrasting section. Three of these interjections lead back to the energetic mood which pervades the movement, but rather than closing loudly and brightly, the piece fades away into the distance, lento e dolce.

Concerto da Camera; Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco (1895-1968)

Born in Italy, Castelnuovo-Tedesco immigrated to the United States shortly before World War II, and found a new home in Hollywood, where he composed for many films and strongly influenced later film composers like Henry Mancini and John Williams. His Concerto da Camera (1950) is a dramatic work with many Baroque influences. Unlike the Dring Suite, the piano (originally orchestra) plays an active and equal role; each movement contains fugal sections.

The first movement, Moderato-Grave, opens with imitation between the oboe and piano, and the oboe’s solo entrance is replicated to some degree in all four movements. This movement is relatively sparse, and generally melancholy and calm, alternating between similar yet distinct tempos and themes. Nevertheless, there are moments of emotional strength. The Giga again opens with a solo oboe and fugal material upon the entrance of the piano. The movement has a frantic air, and uses the high register of the oboe to great effect. A contrasting middle section transforms the movement’s main theme into a dolce song, before returning to the original energetic, dance-like mood. The Aria is reminiscent of trio sonata texture, the piano functioning both as a fugal voice and a steady underpinning of eighth-notes. The movement’s two themes work together, the flowing initial theme consistently leading to resolution in the more active and emotional second theme, and the movement ends with a quasi cadenza on the second theme. Though the fourth movement does contain some fugal material, in general the division between the oboe and piano is more distinct. Abrupt tempo changes and exaggerated effects increase the energy of the movement, while a heavy emphasis on the first beat of each measure lives up to the movement’s initial marking, pomposo. The movement ends with a flourish; as each of the first three movements fades away, the bold ending of the piece is all the more effective.

For citation info, please contact me by leaving a comment on this post, or emailing racheloboes [at] gmail [dot] com. Please credit Rachel Becker if using quotes/specific information from these notes.

My recital!

I've uploaded the videos of my recital here.

(This was recorded on my digital camera, and I did not know before hand that my camera would only record for three minutes at a time, or that the battery would only last for 45 minutes of a 50 minute recital. Thus the questionable sound quality, the odd breaks in the middles of movements and the fact that the Concerto only has three movements. )

I'm particularly happy with the first and third movments of the Bach, and the first and third movements of the Concerto. The Dring is by far the weakest of the three, partly because I changed reeds and partly because it was the point at which my nerves caught up with me, though I must admit I'm much happier with it after listening to the CD of my recital.

I do think that this is a fair indication of my playing ability, which I'm pleased about. Yes, I can play the pieces with fewer wrong notes, and yes, my tone slipped a few times and my reed started to go a few times, but in general, I played near the best of my ability, especially in terms of tone and intonation.

Any and all comments are welcome, whether praise or concrit. :-)

If anyone would like to hear the fair copy of my recital, I would be glad to get you a copy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I'm sorry, I had intended to have another post before my recital, but unfortunately I had a family emergency which took up at least all of my spare emotional time.

In short, both of my dress rehearsals went really well, and I had a reed break-through. We're each allotted 3 hours of dress rehearsal time in our performance space, and I split mine up so that I had one rehearsal a week before, and one a few days later. This was nice because it meant not only that both my professor and one of the symphony guys could come hear me play, but that I had time to process and alter anything specific to the space.

My reed breakthrough was a bit embarrassing, actually. It turns out that I've spent my whole life tying on my reeds backwards. I've always tied reeds "overhand," though with the typical overlap, which means that my tying did not push against the overlap, but rather slid it further to the right. Having fixed this, I'm surprised at the immediate difference. I haven't yet made very many reeds since, but every one I've made has had a distinct low crow, and I can tell that the opening is more stable. I'm very excited; I think this will really make a difference in my consistency.

I was lucky enough, also, in the time leading up to my recital, to have time to work not only with my professor and two of the symphony oboists, but with Petrea Warneck, who has come up for several weeks to give lessons and teach masterclass. I found that working on reeds with her was particularly helpful, as her reed is built a little more similarly to mine than my professor's. For example, both hers and mine are on the longer side. I was hoping to play my recital on reeds which I had made independently, but it turned out that both of the reeds I played on were ones which I had made and Ms. Warneck had polished up. And in the end, I couldn't refuse to play on the best reeds in my box because on (hazy) principal.

I haven't recieved the fair copy of my recital recording yet, but I asked one of the oboists in the studio to record it on my tiny digital camera. Overall, I'm quite happy with how I played, and I thought that I maintained good tone and phrasing even when I was pretty tired, though of course I can nit-pick it to death (tempos, bizarre missed notes, fatigue, tuning slips, etc.). Once I figure out how best to do so, and once I have a chance to listen to a good recording, I will upload a few of the videos (along with more thoughts on them) for anyone who's curious. I'll also post my program notes, which are much less extensive than last year's.

I'm incredibly relieved that my recital is over, but I can't fully relax quite yet; I have an excerpt board on Monday, for which I have to learn excerpts from The Top Ten, plus the exposition of the Mozart Concerto. Luckily, I've played the majority of the excerpts before. I do have to learn the opening of Don Juan, though. I love playing it, but I need to get my tonguing up from 72 to 84.