German Embassy Series
On Friday, the second of this season's Embassy Series, this one at the German Embassy, brought together a good septet of chamber musicians for a poorly conceived program of mostly Telemann and a little Bach. The Bach was the Fifth "Brandenburg" Concerto, and its inclusion here served mainly to underscore how much more interesting Bach's music is than Telemann's and how distorted this wonderful music can sound (even with as good a piano soloist as Ann Schein) when the "tutti" ("everyone") sections are played by a quartet of instruments rather than a chamber orchestra.
The big piece on the remaining Telemann portion of the program was the eight-movement "Trauer-Musik eines Kunsterfahrenen Kanarienvogels" ("Funeral Music for an Artistically Experienced Canary"), a caricature of a funeral cantata in full baroque grandeur.
Baritone Jerome Barry (who is the driving force behind the Embassy Series) has a gift for languages and for dramatic declamation, and he did everything that could be done for this cantata and perhaps more. But Shakespeare was right when he held that brevity is the soul of wit, and Telemann should probably have paid him some heed.
Two of Telemann's slight flute and violin duets, played with unassuming charm by flutist Angela Mullins and violinist Peter Sirotin, and a Telemann String Quartet (or "Sonata") played by violinists Sirotin and Earl Carlyss, violist Victoria Chiang and cellist Igor Zubkovsky rounded out the program.
The music of Johann Strauss Jr., whose extensive musical family left an indelible mark on Hapsburg Vienna, invaded America in two massive stages. Friday night, to note the centenary of Strauss's death, the Austrian Embassy presented music historian Thomas Gayda, along with soprano Stefanie Kopinits and pianist Michael Lakner, in a fact-filled survey of Viennese song linking the Old World with the New.
The first wave of Strauss music came during the composer's lifetime. In 1872, at a Boston jubilee concert, Strauss led a mammoth chorus in his "Blue Danube" and other waltzes that became instant hits in the parlor music fare in America. The next major Strauss wave surged in America when many prominent Strauss-influenced Austrian Jewish composers such as Wilhelm Grosz and Erich Korngold immigrated to Hollywood and New York in the 1930s. Here, Gayda noted, their works soon made themselves felt in films and on the American musical stage.
Kopinits, zestfully accompanied by Lakner, brightened Gayda's talk with songs capturing that ineffable quality of the Straussian-Viennese waltz: the lilt of a delayed main beat, the effervescent lyricism of the operetta and the sultry innuendos of cabaret, all inseparably linked. Kopinits ably demonstrated, as she later remarked, that Viennese song "just comes naturally out of me."