A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Dec 14, 2011
01:47 PM
Classically Speaking

Last Minute Stocking Stuffers for Classical Music Lovers

Last Minute Stocking Stuffers for Classical Music Lovers

Thanks to the internet and affordable, fast shipping, it’s almost never too late to recommend a few items that you’re not likely to find in stock on the shelves. The first item could hardly be more timely: the tenth CD from the group known as The Kat Trio. Vlad and Vicki Gorbich, clarinetist and violinist (and husband and wife), are back in Madison for a stretch. They have been coming and going from their native Ekaterinburg, Russia, since 2000 (which has made it challenging to maintain an ongoing pianist; currently they enjoy the talents of Julia Page). They are artists in residence for Wisconsin Public Radio and the Chazen Museum … and you can catch them live tomorrow night at Oakwood Village West at 7 p.m.

Live concert is the best way to enjoy them, as they present an amazingly eclectic mix of classical repertory and arrangements of everything from hymns, jazz, novelty numbers or Stephen Foster and Jerrome Kern (I still have a year-old memory of their “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” wafting about in my head). Their latest CD is What Wondrous Love Is This, a collection of fourteen hymns and related works. Most of the selections were suggestions from fans of their previously themed recording, On Eagles Wings. But as you can see from their website (thekattrio.net), a survey of their ten CDs covers an impressive gamut of styles.

If you have happy memories of last April’s La Traviata courtesy of Madison Opera,and wished you could have shared it with someone, buy the new Grammy–nominated DVD featuring soprano Renee Fleming, tenor Joseph Calleja and baritone Thomas Hampson. The Royal Opera House production, conducted by Antonio Pappano, is sumptuously traditional, ravishingly sung and can stand repeated viewings. The icing on the cake is a twenty-minute bonus feature of Pappano discussing the role of Violetta with Fleming—rarely have I heard such meaningful insights delivered in understandable language as is offered here. The disc is offered on the Opus Arte label.

A couple of quick mentions from one of my favorite “other” labels over the years, ECM. For the twenty-plus years I’ve been following them, the company has consistently offered unusual repertoire and compelling artists, with every disc of the highest technical quality. A perfect example of this is the new disc by Gidon Kremer, violinist, and a couple of his friends, cellist Giedre Dirvanauskaite and pianist Khatia Buniatishvili. The main event looks tame enough—the Tchaikovsky Piano Trio, Op. 50—but if you want to discover a neglected near-masterpiece, this is the place to do it. The CD is filled out by the Trio of Victor Kissine (b. 1953); his single-movement work is populated by ephemeral gestures and dreamlike silences.

The very traditional presented in near-perfection comes courtesy of oboist Heinz Holliger’s latest CD of Concertos and Sinfonias for Oboe, all drawn from J.S. Bach. Let’s put it this way: If you’re one of those folks who has subscribed to the theory that the oboe is “the ill wind that nobody blows good,” Holliger will change your perspective in about a minute or so.

Similarly, pianist Andras Schiff is no unknown quantity in classical circles, nor is the music of Robert Schumann. But for the piano fanatic on your list who is a sucker for Romantic piano, Schiff gives us double the pleasure: A two-CD set that includes the mostly famous from Schumann’s catalogue of piano music: “Papillons,” the Sonata in F-sharp minor, “Kinderszenen,” the “Fantasie” Op. 17, “Waldszenen” Op. 82,and the theme and variations known as “Geistervariationen.”

Then again, a ticket or two to some live local music is always a great idea (and they usually invite the gift-giver to accompany them!).

Check in first thing next week for a special, really last minute guide to some off the charts Beethoven. See you there …

Photograph of The Kat Trio: left to right, Julia Page, Vladislav Gorbich and Victoria Gorbich.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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