Live Review: Jean-Yves Thibaudet’s Left Hand Sweeps D.C. Symphony Goers Onto Feet (2010.04.30)

Thibaudet is certainly the man for the job to enthrall and conductor Hans Graf contained the drama in excellent precision — without which we all might have drowned under the flood of French music: Debussy, contemporary composer Guillaume Connesson, and Ravel.

Guillaume Connesson peppers his work with influence from the more daring French greats that came after Debussy and Ravel, Messiaen and Dutilleux, blending them into an enveloping cinematic sweep of an orchestral whole. This work: The Shining One, draws inspiration from Abraham Merrit’s 1912 fantasy novel The Moon Pool.

If you read the novel, you’d know (like Connesson) that it begs to be music:

“Closer it drew and now there came to me sweet, insistent tinklings — like pizzicato on violins of glass, crystal clear; diamonds melting into sound.”

The tone color Connesson offers is 100% pure opaline glimmer. Was he successful? Yes, the audience got up to its feet.

But, did he describe accurately in music a creature of being without shape, who glides on the sea, up from the Earth’s core? Did he capture the essence of a created thing so evil it has become sweet, seductive and utterly elusive to those who try to study its mystery? Not quite. At no point did I get that thing I know Messrs. Messiaen and Dutilleux could have struck out for us: a kind of infernal joy or savoring horror.

A character observing “the Shining One” describes music “piercing the ears with a shower of tiny lances” that “made his heart beat jubilantly — and checked it dolorously.” In sum, he concludes: “So must Satan, newly fallen, still divine, have appeared.”

Thibaudet played it well, but he was no Satan in glory before me. I don’t think Connesson gave him or the orchestra quite enough. I hope I’m not out of line to suggest that he might have risked offense of ear to reap a greater reward from this material.

But perhaps he was only trying to be literary, and not literal. I will credit Connesson for not giving us a simple whitecap thrill of borrowings from Debussy and the watery stews of Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde.

Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand is an exceptional work, especially for a pianist like Thibaudet. His mastery of three pedals was fine, keeping notes ringing for doubling effects that made you swear he cheated with the right hand. His opening cadenza, after the call of an impressive contrabassoon, was daring, almost damning, with a tremendous thundering edge. His secret sauce is modulation. After a percussive snap and a lurch, he flowed along in rich, soft convulsions then back into rocket rhythms. There was some debate on who played it better Thibaudet this year or Chris O’Riley last year. If you heard ‘em, cast your vote below.

Now for the sweet stuff… The NSO delivered a Daphnis and Chloé suite that was as good as licking icing straight from the bowl. Graf’s lead was light. He conducted close to the body, made no extraneous movements, he’d just take a wider stance. The result? A gracious sunrise vaunted by piccolo. In short, we drank deep of a treat with no fat.

[Author’s Note: Next National Symphony must hear concerts: composer John Adams conducts. John Adams: Perspectives happens May 20-22. This week, he invites Leila Josefowicz to join him onstage for his Dharma at Big Sur. We won’t miss her!]

Video: Double Dagger – “No Allies”

DOUBLE DAGGER – “No Allies” from Matt Porterfield on Vimeo.

Today is the last day to leave a comment on our Masks review as part of the Double Dagger Does Europe contest.

The guys hopped across the pond yesterday, premiering the above video for “No Allies” on the site for influential British music illuminati, NME. The video was directed by local film luminary Matt Porterfield (Metal Gods, Putty Hill, Hamilton) and was shot in the venerable, now-retired first home of Charm City Art Space. CCAS moved up to bigger digs earlier this year in the form of the garage next door.

Contest: Double Dagger Does Europe

So I feel bad for leaving the site dormant for a bit while I get my act together. Therefore, I’ve arranged a little well-timed contest.

The local punk mavens in Double Dagger are kicking off a European tour next week. Also, our most frequently heard voice of Thrill Jockey, Paco Barba, is leaving the esteemed label. As a parting shot, he sent over 5 copies of the limited, hand-screenprinted 18″ x 25″ poster for Masks (pictured to the right) for us to give away.

Entry is simple: head over to my review of Masks, and leave a comment with your email. Preferably something interesting about the release, masks you wear, encouraging send-offs to DD for their tour, other DD-related anecdotes or miscellany. I’ll randomly pick 5 winners on May 12, when DD starts off their tour in Nottingham.

The only restriction is that the winner must be able to pick up the poster from downtown Baltimore. I’m too lazy/busy to ship.

If you are in Europe, be sure to check out one of the dates listed below:

Read the rest…

Album Review: Future Islands – In Evening Air (Thrill Jockey)

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MP3: Future Islands – Tin Man

This album is one of the most anticipated releases from a local artist in 2010. The anticipation is partly because, ever since their transplant here from North Carolina, Future Islands‘ rapturous live shows have caught on like wildfire, and partly because it serves as their debut on Baltimore fetishist label Thrill Jockey (who I hear may have signed yet another prominent Baltimore musician’s solo efforts). I am a bit ashamed to admit that I underestimated Future Islands. Frankly, I couldn’t have imagined they would deliver this strongly on an album. Until hearing their TJ 12″ EP and LP releases, I was convinced that Future Islands’ music was a gem that shone most brilliantly live, and lost the majority of its lustre in the studio.

Wave Like Home, put out on UK label Upset! the Rhythm, was characterized by a fair bit of mania, yet also (paradoxically) a uniformity of approach and tone. The parallels and comparisons to more prominent Wham City affiliates abounded. Synths were riding high and dominant in the mix, bass rumbled along turned to 11 (most often functioning as rhythmic propulsion), and Herring’s voice was unflinchingly raw and big. Though they surely traveled through many moods, they felt fleeting and devoid of any true weight. To my ears, their vision on that record was relatively less ambitious, aiming more to catalyze a dance party than anything else. In doing so I think that release was as close as Future Islands will get to channeling the electricity of their live shows onto a recording. However, with their closing track, they provided the best hint of future directions, delivering a standout ballad in “Little Dreamer.”

With In Evening Air, Future Islands seem to have had an epiphany. Read the rest…