John Frayne: Looking back on a noteworthy season

John Frayne: Looking back on a noteworthy season

By my count, I reviewed 40 concerts during the 2015-16 season, with two or three preview columns thrown in.

I heard much music, most of which I enjoyed. It was a pleasure to hear the classics brought to life in the concert hall, and I especially treasure hearing unfamiliar works that broadened my musical horizons.

Here are some highlights, as well as a few near misses.

Nathan and Julie Gunn gave a delightful cabaret show that I heard on Sept. 17, in the Studio Theatre at Krannert. The flow of a wide range of songs and jovial comments created a delightful, informal atmosphere.

The Jupiter Quartet, on Sept. 27, with Denise Djokic, performed memorably the great Franz Schubert Quintet in C Major, and on Oct. 13, the visiting Takcs Quartet was outstanding in its playing of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet.

The Chicago Symphony is always eagerly awaited in the Foellinger Great Hall, and that concert on Oct. 10, with conductor Semyon Bychkov, was stirring, with two Johannes Brahms masterpieces, the Symphony No. 1, and the Violin Concerto, with a sensitive solo performance from violinist Renaud Capuon.

At the Sinfonia da Camera concert of Oct. 17, a less familiar work by Ludwig van Beethoven, his "Prometheus" Ballet, with commentary by conductor Ian Hobson, was partnered with an intriguing attempt by Robert Chumbley to set the famous 1812 "Immortal Beloved" letter to music. Riccardo Herrera was eloquent in the long and expressive solo.

On Oct. 24, the Champaign-Urbana Symphony, led by Stephen Alltop, with the UI Oratorio Society, prepared by Andrew Megill, gave a powerful performance of Joseph Haydn's great oratorio "The Creation."

I do like to hear unfamiliar opera, and the production of Hector Berlioz's "Beatrice and Benedict" by Lyric Theatre Illinois, which I heard on Nov. 5, I found thoroughly enlightening and enjoyable.

The Isabel Leonard, mezzo-soprano, and Sharon Isbin, guitar, concert on Nov. 14 had sound problems but finished strong.

The traditional Holiday concerts were further enlivened this past season by a concert on Dec. 19 of Renaissance Christmas music given by the vocal group "ecco," led by its organizer, Megill.

As the spring half of the season got going, I enjoyed the Champaign-Urbana Symphony concert on Jan. 30, devoted to music of Jeff Beal, whose work for the TV hit series "House of Cards" has brought him fame. The Feb. 3 concert by cellist Matt Haimovitz and the trio "Voice" suffered by trying to do too much, but Haimovitz's missionary zeal was heart-warming.

Nicholas McGegan brought his authentic instrument Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra to town on Feb. 16 and familiar George Frideric Handel top hits were balanced by Handel opera arias, beautifully sung by Susan Graham.

If I had to choose the most memorable musical experience of the season it would be the Schubert sublime Mass in E-Flat Major, heard at the Sinfonia da Camera concert on Feb. 21. This magnificent work was performed by the visiting Webern Kammerchor from Vienna, and the UI Chamber Singers, with the Sinfonia, conducted by guest Johannes Hiemetsberger. These combined choruses were conducted by guest Megill in the second half of the program in tuneful American works by John Corigliano and Leonard Bernstein.

Majesterial pianist Richard Goode gave an impressive recital devoted to keyboard works of Johann Sebastian Bach on March 10. I do have a list of works that I would call "Once was Enough!" and on this list would be Olivier Messiaen's loud and aggressive "Exotic Birds" at the March 12 Sinfonia da Camera concert, but it was balanced by a lovely performance conducted by Hobson of Maurice Ravel's "Mother Goose Suite."

The highlight for me at the Jupiter Quartet concert on March 15 was the quicksilver work by Gyrgy Ligeti, "Nocturnal Metamorphoses."

At the April 15 C-U Symphony program, entitled "Brass Blowout," I enjoyed the rarity of hearing Robert Schumann's "Concert Piece for 4 Horns," and the encore, the Richard Wagner Prelude to Act 3 of "Lohengrin" played by every brass player in sight. It was a real blast!

The eloquent playing by Csaba Erdlyi of his completion of Bela Bartok's unfinished "Viola Concerto" was the highlight of the Sinfonia da Camera concert on April 23.

When the Utah Symphony came to town on April 27, the hyperkinetic performance by percussionist Colin Currie of Andrew Norman's Concerto "Switch" was perhaps more vivid to the eye rather than to my overwhelmed ear. The playing level of this orchestra, forcefully led by Thierry Fischer, was quite impressive.

And among recent positive experiences, I was greatly impressed by young flutist Matthew Reeder, who gave a wow performance of Otar Gordeli's Concertino for Flute and Orchestra at the admirable East Central Illinois Youth Orchestra concert, ably led by Kevin Kelly on May 26th.

Recently, at the Baroque Artists of Champaign Urbana on May29, the glories of Claudio Monteverdi's Madrigal "The Battle of Tancredi and Clorinda" were revealed to me, particularly through the intense singing of the narrator's role by Thom R. Baker. The concert was ably conducted by Chester Alwes, and the singing of the BACH chorus was admirable throughout.

It was quite a year, and I look forward to having the summer silence broken by season 2016-17!

John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at frayne@illinois.edu.

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