We started tonight’s show with a tribute to Ravi Shankar, who passed away this past week at the age of 92. He was an absolutely amazing musician, influential in Indian classical circles and world-wide. He famously influenced George Harrison during Harrison’s tenure with the Beatles, resulting in Harrison using the sitar in several Beatles recordings, and his appearance at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival was notable (interestingly, he had refused to play on the same day as Jimi Hendrix, stating that he found Hendrix’s destruction of his guitars to be disgusting; he also did not care for the manner in which some in pop culture was associating his traditional music with “the vulgarity of rock music”, and did not care for the association of his art with drug use. Although some in Indian classical circles accused him of “selling out”, he maintained a high degree of spirituality within his music (ragas are largely intended for meditative purposes). Tonight we heard two 23 minute ragas, recorded by Shankar for an unknown Indian label at some point in the ’50s (the documentation on my imported material does not provide any background info, although the recording quality is good): Raga Mohan Kauns, and Raga Hemant.
As December 14 is the anniversary of the birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, it is my tradition to devote a show to some of his music. While we did not give the entire show over to Beethoven this year, we still heard some lovely music from the great master. We started with Beethoven’s Piano Quartet in D, WoO36 No. 2. This is one of several piano quartets that he wrote at the age of 14, displaying the influence of Mozart while at the same time suggesting the stylistic direction that he would yet travel. Tonight’s performance was recorded live at the Lugano Festival in 2007 by Karin Lechner (piano), Alissa Margulis (violin), Lida Chen (viola), and Mark Drobinsky (cello).
We also heard a lovely Trio for Piano, Clarinet and Cello, Op. 11. Written in 1798, four years after Beethoven concluded his studies with Joseph Haydn, the score actually allows for a violin to be substituted for the clarinet, but the inclusion of the clarinet gives the work a lovely color palette, and gives us a glimpse at Beethoven’s deep appreciation for chamber music. Indeed, while one might first consider the grand, dramatic symphonies when first mentioning Beethoven, his voluminous chamber music works (especially if one considers the solo piano works to be among those ranks) are just as wonderful. Tonight’s recording, with Rudolf Serkin (piano), Richard Stoltzman (clarinet) and Alain Meunier (cello) was recorded at the Marlboro Festival in 1974.
We closed tonight’s show with a cantata that Beethoven wrote for the accession of Emperor Leopold II to the throne of the Holy Roman Empire, which took place in 1790. Neither this work, nor its companion cantata that was written to honor the passing of Emperor Joseph II, was performed in Beethoven’s lifetime, and both works remained unpublished until almost a century later. The cantata for Emperor Joseph was at one point scheduled to be performed (it had been written on commission), but was apparently cancelled, possibly due to the difficulty of the score. No known performance was set for the Leopold cantata, but it also had virtuoso parts, and some see in it a foreshadowing of his eventual composition of his Ninth Symphony. We heard the Corydon Singers and Orchestra, conducted by Matthew Best. The soloists were Judith Howarth, Jean Rigby, John Mark Ainsley and Jose van Dam.