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Heuwell Tircuit

Heuwell Tircuit is a composer, performer, and writer who was chief writer for Gramophone Japan and for 21 years a music reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle. He wrote previously for Chicago American and the Asahi Evening News.

Articles by this Author

CD Review
September 29, 2009

Avie Records has begun a new series of recordings of Schubert’s late piano works, featuring the estimable pianist Imogen Cooper, who has recorded little in recent years. Volume I is just out, containing five important and varied Schubert compositions on a pair of CDs (AV2156).

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CD Review
September 15, 2009

Beethoven’s music can be played in many ways: by emphasizing its sheer momentum by tearing ahead, or its dramatic dynamic shifts by overdoing the extremes a bit, or its contemplative virtues by taking time to sniff the daisies along the way. These can run to extremes when it comes to his monumental output of 16 string quartets.

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Upcoming Concert
August 17, 2009
Opening the San Francisco Symphony season with Mahler is a safe bet, especially with Michael Tilson Thomas’ passionate advocacy sure to be in force. Thus, his opening series — running September 16, 17, 19, and 20 — offers an all-Mahler program; and indeed, all September’s three weeks feature Mahler’s music. What’s especially interesting about that first series is that it consists of two truncated Mahler compositions: the “Five Rückert Lieder” and the First Symphony, “Titan.” As if to trump even those events, the Rückert songs will be sung by no less than mezzo-soprano Susan Graham.

The “Titan” has always been among the more frequently programmed of Mahler’s symphonies. The “Titan” is so standard that it will also be featured on the May 10 program of the visiting Los Angeles Philharmonic, under conductor Gustavo Dudamel.

Few of Mahler's works recommend themselves so thoroughly to a general audience. Tuneful, comic in the grotesquerie of the third movement (a funeral march based on a minor-key transposition of "Fré re Jacques"), and romantically heroic in its sprawling final movement, it testifies to Mahler's later, often-quoted remark that a symphony "should be like the world: It must embrace everything."

But the youthful Mahler also knew what to discard. When Mahler first performed it in Budapest, it was in five movements, with subtitles like "From Inferno to Paradise" (for the last movement.) Eventually, Mahler realized just how corny those subtitles were and dropped them. He also excised a movement, which is sometimes performed under its original German title, Blumine. It's a lovely thing, but without it the symphony clocks in at a manageable (for Mahler) 70 minutes.

The cycle of five poems that Mahler set to lyrics by Friedrich Rückert first saw print in 1905. Four dated from 1901, and one more from 1902. They were published under the title Seven Last Songs. (That last is the score I own.)

But in those editions the Rückert songs were preluded by two settings from the folk poetry of Das Knaben Wunderhorn: “Revelge” (Reveille) and “Der Tamboursg’sell” (The drummer boy). Each centers on military deaths, the first with a large, noisy orchestration, the second slow and thinly orchestrated. Each constitutes a morbid funeral march of sorts. Since the Wunderhorn songs are much earlier, these were eventually reunited with the other songs from that collection.

Try, for example, “The roll-call, lo! The dead comrades muster, grim skeletons all, all ...” in “Revelge.” That would be no way to introduce the Rückert songs, which are about love, blossoms, and light. They equally suit any category of voice, the richer the better. And with mezzo Graham, we’ll surely hear that from the stage.

 

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CD Review
August 11, 2009
I’d thought I’d seen every possible CD combination, but leave it to Bridge Records to come up with an original, refreshing Tchaikovsky release. The one CD contains the composer’s two largest and most important piano works, played to the tens by virtuoso Vassily Primakov: The Seasons, Op. 37b, and the big Grand Sonata in G Major, Op. 37 (Bridge 9283).
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Upcoming Concert
August 3, 2009
Among the gems in the crown of the San Francisco music scene are the Friday evening and Sunday 4 o’clocks at Old First Church. Those offer chamber music and recitals of quality programming by some of the Bay Area’s finer musicians — and at an exceptionally affordable price, too.

While the majority of the programs feature classical repertory, in recent years jazz programs have been added to the mix. With the August music dog days under way, there are some yummy prospects on offer by Old First Concerts, situated in the church on Sacramento Street at Van Ness Avenue. Considering the ready availability of public transportation, there’s no need to resist, especially if, like me, you’re a nondriver.

Most programs mix standards with an example or two of something adventurous. The cello and piano duo of Robert Howard and pianist Elizabeth Dorman is typical. Their Aug. 21 recital offers Beethoven’s Fourth Sonata and the Rachmaninov Sonata as the standards, but they open with Alberto Ginastera’s early Pampeana No. 2, his pastoral homage to the Argentinian pampas. They close with Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, drawn from his ballet Pulcinella, after Pergolesi.

An even more original idea is Daniel Glover’s Aug. 9 program devoted entirely to piano homages by one composer to another. The list promises musical genuflections toward Haydn, Dukas, Chopin, Liszt, Debussy, and Ravel. (The latter two, for instance, each wrote a homage to Haydn on commission from a magazine.)

To boot, on Aug. 28 there’ll be another program of Old First’s “Basically British” series, its 12th. This piano–string quartet concert will be played by members of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. They’ve programmed the Fantasy Quartet by Frank Bridge, who is best known as Benjamin Britten’s teacher. Chamber music by the prolific French composer George Onslow (1784-1853) completes the evening.

The only jazz program this month is “Jazzberry Patch,” on Aug. 16, a Sunday program at 7 p.m. rather than the usual 4 p.m., which offers a program of jazz classics and some new original pieces. These are to be played by Don Pender’s newly formed quartet. (Atypically for a classical music concert, Old First averages one jazz event per month.)

August, alas, offers no choral program, nor indeed a single vocal recital. Except for July’s International Children’s and Youth Choral Festival, there’s nothing of the sort in sight through to late next month. (The current list runs only through Sept. 26.)

As these concerts are open seating, the largest groups tend to sit down front on the main floor — not a good choice, in my experience. You pick up too much of the sounds of the instruments being played: string scrapings, pages being turned, the occasional bit of squeaking from a chair or music stand. Such things are a bother if you’re really listening.

An even larger drawback from up front is that you’ll miss the blended resonance of the hall. Best to sit back a bit or, better yet, in the balcony. That’s particularly true of Old First, whose balcony has the best sonics to be had in the hall. In any case, be assured you’ll be hearing quality music in sterling performances.

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Opera Review
July 17, 2009

Levelheaded dedication flashed on Friday evening at the San Francisco Conservatory’s concert hall, as conductor George Cleve opened this season’s Midsummer Mozart Festival with a display of brilliance. If anything, it all went to prove how much variety Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart produced in his all-too-short lifetime.

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Chamber Music Review
July 10, 2009

A program titled “Romancing the Voice” opened Old First Church’s summer season Friday evening, with the Eos Ensemble and guest mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack as featured soloist. The basic ensemble of five chamber musicians was made up of violinists Craig Reiss and Mariya Borozina, violist Caroline Lee, cellist Thalia Moore, and pianist Marilyn Thompson.

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Chamber Music Review
July 16, 2009

Before opening the annual Midsummer Mozart Festival, there’s a tradition that musicians from the festival orchestra get together for smaller chamber music concerts of the great composer’s music. Because the possibilities are nearly infinite as regards instrumentation, anything can turn up as they preach to the faithful.

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CD Review
June 9, 2009
Prokofiev’s nine piano sonatas form one of the major cycles of the 20th century, and have often been recorded individually. But complete sets in one package are exceedingly rare. So Prokofiev specialist Anne-Marie McDermott’s new set of all nine, in modern sonics, fills an important gap. And her virtuosity and stylish performances are a delight. As a tasty bonus, the collection includes Prokofiev’s antsy, early Sarcasms, Op. 17.

Prokofiev was a prodigy.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
June 3, 2009

Musical repertory is full of masterpieces that rarely get programmed. Largely, it’s a matter of either instrumentation or length. On Wednesday, with a full orchestra and a handful of soloists available, Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony concentrated on five of those masterpieces, as part of their “Schubert/Berg Journey.”

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Opera Review
May 29, 2009

After 17 years as music director of the San Francisco Opera, Conductor Donald Runnicles was given a rousing farewell tribute Friday evening in the Opera House.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
May 17, 2009

The San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra featured two first symphonies in excellent performances in their concert at Davies Symphony Hall on Sunday. Conductor Benjamin Shwartz had clearly prepared his charges well as the orchestra outdid even their usual high standards. And there was a minor scare thrown in for good measure.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
April 24, 2009

Guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier split his San Francisco Symphony program right down the middle last week to form a gratifying string of four evenings at Davies Symphony Hall. His first half offered two contrasting works from Paris, his second half two wildly contrasting works from Ralph Vaughan Williams’ London.

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Chamber Music Review
April 18, 2009

This year’s season of the Avedis chamber music concerts has been devoted to small surveys of a given composer and his associates, per program. Saturday afternoon in the Palace of the Legion of Honor, it was Mozart’s turn, with “Mozart and Friends.” Ironically, the program might also have been called “Beethoven, His Friends and Students.”

Haydn’s Flute Trio No. 1 in C Major, “London,” opened the program, followed by Mozart’s Flute Quartet in A Major, K. 298, and Andreas Jakob Romberg’s Flute Quintet in B-flat Major, Op. 21, No.

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Chamber Orchestra/Orchestra Review
March 26, 2009

The March 25-28 concerts of the San Francisco Symphony, under guest conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, offered a masterpiece, a super masterpiece, and one outright dud. Along the way, we heard a new wunderkind pianist and an up-and-coming bass-baritone as soloist, plus astounding mastery from the Symphony Chorus.

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Choral Review
March 22, 2009

The San Francisco Bach Choir celebrated the 324th anniversary of Bach's birth on Sunday afternoon in Calvary Presbyterian Church by presenting three of his cantatas and three of his even finer motets. Actually, the concert was a repeat of their Saturday performance, his actual birthday. It all went to prove that, while always serious, Bach was not always at his very best.

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Upcoming Concert
March 24, 2009
One of the best-planned and at the same time oddest-looking piano recitals I’ve ever encountered is coming up two Sundays hence, in San Francisco’s Herbst Theatre. There, the distinguished French pianist Pascal Rogé will play a survey of basic French piano music from 1830 (Chopin’s Op. 10 Étude No. 1) to 1929 (Poulenc’s First Nocturne). While largely devoted to works of Chopin and Debussy, along the route the program includes examples of Fauré and Ravel — besides the one Poulenc composition.

As a nice touch, Rogé has mixed composers by title type. He opens with three Nocturnes (Fauré, Chopin, and Poulenc), then plays four Waltzes (Ravel and Chopin), two Mazurkas (Debussy and Chopin), and on like so, with Études and a lot of Préludes, plus a Ballade to open and close that sequence. He’s offering a remarkable 24 works at one go, though only the final Chopin Ballade No. 4 is large-scale.

Born in Paris in 1951, Rogé entered the Paris Conservatory at the tender age of 11, also making his Paris debut that year. He graduated, with honors, in piano and chamber music in 1966, then went on to a major career, playing with all the major orchestras. He’s also been a mainstay of London Records, winning all the major European prizes. His recording of Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concertos, for example, won a Gramophone Award, the Edison Award, and a Grand Prix du Disc — a trifecta in the record industry.

All three of the opening Nocturnes are in C major: Fauré’s Op. 33, No. 1; Chopin’s Op. 48, No. 1; and the Poulenc. Those are followed by three of Ravel’s valses nobles et sentimental and Chopin’s famous C-sharp Minor Waltz, Op. 64, No. 2; then come Debussy’s early Mazurka and Chopin’s Op. 33, No. 4, both in B Minor. (Bear in mind, a mazurka and a waltz are not far different in their use of three-quarter time. They vary largely in stressed accent: downbeats for a waltz, upbeats for a mazurka.)

Next come the really challenging Études: Chopin’s First in C Major, Debussy’s Pour les 8 Doigts (For eight fingers), and, very likely his most sensuous piano work, Pour les Arpèges composées (For composed arpeggios). Closing the first half is Chopin’s Op. 10, No. 12 in C Minor, the famous “Revolutionary” Étude.

The Étude group is followed by Debussy’s early Ballade Slave of 1890, influenced by his Moscow residency as piano teacher to Nadezhda von Meck’s children (she being Tchaikovsky’s famous patron). Rogé then launches into his largest block: nine Preludes by either Chopin or Debussy, all played off against one another.

He begins with Debussy’s Les Fées sont d’exquises danseuses (The fairies are exquisite dancers) and Chopin’s famous 15th in D-flat Major, the “Raindrop.” Three Preludes from Debussy’s Book I follow those: La Fille aux cheveux de lin (The maid with the flaxen hair), Le Vent dans la plaine (The wind on the plain), and Ce qu’a vu le Vent d’Ouest (What the West wind saw), before another Chopin Prelude, the No. 6 in B Minor, Tolling Bells. Then listeners will hear three of Debussy’s more complicated Preludes: La terrasse des Audiences au clair de lune (The terrace where the moonlight gives audience), Les Collines d’Anacapri (The hills of Anacapri), and Canope (Canopic jar). And for his big finish, Rogé plays Chopin’s virtuoso Ballade No. 4 in F Minor, Op. 52.

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Artist Review
March 8, 2009

Although the music of Olivier Messiaen is extremely popular these days, his songs are rarely encountered in live performance. Little wonder, for they're so overly demanding. Dramatic soprano Heidi Melton and pianist John Parr took on the major beast of the field, his largest cycle, Harawi, Sunday afternoon in Old First Church, and pulled off a triumph. They had drawn a larger crowd than expected and had them literally yelling "Encore!" at the conclusion; after an hour's intense musicianship, though, none was offered.

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Choral Review
March 3, 2009

Holding aloft its dedication and musicianship like a banner, Artistic Director Robert Geary led the Volti chamber choir through eight contemporary works Saturday evening, four of which were premieres. The program, at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church, also included the services of the amazing Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir.

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Recital Review
February 24, 2009

British pianist Paul Roberts’ Friday night recital-lecture at Old First Church turned out to be a rather iffy affair. On the whole, he left the impression that he’s more scholar than polished pianist. His objective was to untangle the roots of what would evolve into French Impressionism from Liszt’s piano style.

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