Birthday celebration will be a musical treat for all
By Peter Jacobi
He must be well pleased. Edwin Penhorwood is marking his 75th birthday, and to help him celebrate the occasion, the event, a lengthy list of colleagues from the Jacobs School of Music has readied a recital of his works for organ.
To be precise, here is the cast for what looks like an extravaganza to be performed in Auer Hall on Tuesday evening at 8: starting with five organists: Colin Andrews, Janette Fishell, Marilyn Keiser, Bruce Neswick and Charles Webb. Add two sopranos, Shannon Love and Riley Svatos; two trumpets, played by John Rommel and Joey Tartell; two horns, Dale Clevenger and Jeff Nelsen; Carl Lenthe on trombone; Daniel Perantoni on tuba; and John Tafoya on timpani. Add a chorus called Lobe den Herren and conductor Dominick DiOrio. It’s a distinguished lineup.
Birthday boy Penhorwood’s compositions, those to be performed, cover a range of decades, from “Psalm 47,” written in 1966, to several written this year. His organ works, he says, are based on well-known hymn tunes, African-American spirituals, and toccatas. The concert concludes with a festive Fantasy on “Praise to the Lord” for organ, brass, timpani and chorus.
The whole event sounds festive and serves as a deserved tribute to a gifted and giving musician: a rich array of local talents and the great Seward Organ paying homage to the man and his music.
A few recordings
I’ll be discussing CDs more extensively in weeks to come, but for now, let me mention three with local ties.
• There’s the CD titled “Joshua Bell BACH,” the violinist’s first major effort to capture on records the music of “the composer who got me hooked on music in the first place” and one of whose concertos was the choice when, as a 7-year-old, he made his first appearance with an orchestra.
Purists seeking a historically informed performance on period instruments will probably not be satisfied with the new recording.
The soloist explains his approach: “I believe that the early music movement has revolutionized the way the world listens to Baroque music, in a very good way. While I have incorporated in my musical philosophy much of what I have learned from this movement, I have also tried to retain in my approach to Bach some of the ‘modern sensibilities’ that are so rooted in the way I was taught to play the violin. The result is, I hope, a melding of the old and the new, which I suppose sums up what it is to be a classical musician in the modern world.”
Well, when the performing violinist is as good as Bloomington native Josh Bell, I bend, not that I am an unbending purist to begin with. I can enjoy those who play Bach the way virtuosi used to. And I enjoyed listening to this recording. One hears first the Violin Concertos No. 1 and 2 beautifully articulated, as one would expect, with the violinist’s Academy of St. Martin in the Fields as the comfortably collaborating chamber orchestra.
The most controversial element on the CD is the Bach Chaccone from his second Partita, surely one of the most challenging solo piano pieces ever written, a work severe, unyielding and powerful. To it, for it, Mendelssohn once prepared a piano accompaniment, which Bell decided to use but in a re-arrangement for orchestra by Julian Milone. The result is a definite softening of the original, not my preference but interesting and still a vehicle for violin virtuoso. Bell supplies the virtuosity, as he does for the remaining items on the CD: the famous Air on a G String and the Gavotte en Rondeau. (Sony Classical)
• We’ve been immersed the past couple of years with Shostakovich on a series of CDs issued by Cedille featuring IU’s resident string quartet, the Pacifica. Those of you who have listened to the group’s cycle of the Shostakovich quartets and those who have come to its periodic recitals in Auer Hall know how remarkable is the quality of the Pacifica’s music making. Well, now comes another CD, this one featuring the Pacifica plus the very fine Anthony McGill, first clarinetist of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.
The content of the new disc: Mozart and Brahms Clarinet Quintets. First, let me say that the pairing of the musicians is someone’s genius decision.
The Mozart quintet is exquisite to hear. I like the phrasing. I like the subtlety of approach. I like the beauty of tone the five musicians produce and the balance between the clarinet and the four strings. I love the music, of course, and appreciate the taste, the musicality, and elegance of style the performers bring to their assignment.
Perhaps even better than the Mozart is the Brahms. McGill must produce tones that range from almost not there in volume to stormy fortissimos. There are emotions to declare in this music. Clarinetist McGill does, and so do his string collaborators. The reading exudes great passion, just as Brahms undoubtedly wanted. Both the Mozart and the Brahms make for listening that excites. (Cedille)
• The cover of the third item I want to share states: “Lawrence Brownlee, Virtuoso Rossini Arias.” Well, virtuoso they certainly are, as Rossini written and as tenor Brownlee sung.
For the past 10 years or so, Brownlee and the perhaps still more famous Juan Diego Florez have shared the world stage as outstanding exponents of the bel canto music left by Rossini, Bellini and Donizetti. My own choice between the two, not because he is an IU grad but because I prefer the quality of his voice, has been Brownlee. The instrument is less nasal, of a purer quality and equally flexible. Both have enviable tops.
If you like the bel canto operas, in this case those of Rossini, I urge you to listen to Brownlee. He sings one aria each from eight operas, some of them not very well known: “La Gazza Ladra,” “Le Comte Ory,” “LOccasione fa il Ladro,” “Otello,” “Semiramide,” “Il Turco in Italia,” “La Donna del Lago” and “Zelmira.”
Each task is formidable, with gobs of flashy passages. Brownlee tosses everything off as if done easily. And throughout, one hears a voice of beauty attached to a musician of taste and the ability to conquer even the most florid passages. (Delos)
More to come.
Contact Peter Jacobi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
WHAT AND WHO: 75th birthday celebration for Edwin Penhorwood, focused on his organ music. Performers include current and former Jacobs School faculty members (five of them organists), a chorus, and two student sopranos.
WHERE: Auer Hall on the Bloomington IU campus.
WHEN: Tuesday evening at 8.