Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Music reviews: Fine new music for cello; PB Symphony charms; Delray Quartet advances

Justin Dello Joio.

Carter Brey and Christopher O‭’‬Riley‭ ‬(Dec.‭ ‬19,‭ ‬Kravis Center‭)

World premieres are always special,‭ ‬but they don‭’‬t always suggest that they will make a lasting impact on the culture.

But composer Justin Dello Joio‭’‬s‭ ‬Due per Due,‭ ‬which was given its debut by cellist Carter Brey and pianist Christopher O‭’‬Riley,‭ ‬is a worthy new work that deserves to be added to the programs of ambitious cellists looking for something new to add to their solo programs.‭

The first of its two movements began with fragments and wisps of things,‭ ‬including a passage for high harmonics against a clinking of glass in the upper reaches of the piano.‭ ‬But the heart of the movement was a song,‭ ‬highly emotional and lyrical,‭ ‬but also somewhat restrained,‭ ‬just shy of total release.‭

The second‭ ‬movement,‭ ‬a perpetual-motion romp,‭ ‬had Brey and O‭’‬Riley almost continually playing rapid scale figures,‭ ‬which toward the end were regularly interrupted by sudden chordal outbursts.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a tough piece to play,‭ ‬but rewarding to listen to,‭ ‬and Brey and O‭’‬Riley gave it a stellar performance.

The piece received a warm response from the midsized house,‭ ‬which included the composer himself,‭ ‬who stood and applauded his interpreters.‭

Also on the program was a somewhat rough-and-ready version of a Bach gamba sonata‭ (‬No.‭ ‬3‭ ‬in G minor,‭ ‬BWV‭ ‬1029‭) ‬in which Brey was noticeably out of tune with the piano until midway through the first movement.‭ ‬The principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic showed his true mettle in the second movement,‭ ‬demonstrating a noble,‭ ‬lovely tone that suited the music admirably.

The second half of the program was devoted to the Cello Sonata of Edvard Grieg‭ (‬in A minor,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬36‭)‬,‭ ‬and here,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬Brey’s beautiful sound quality made the most of the Norwegian composer’s distinctive melodies.‭ ‬O’Riley was a fine accompanist,‭ ‬restraining himself when he could easily have let loose with the pyrotechnics of Grieg’s piano writing.

The encore was a tasteful,‭ ‬elegant‭ ‬Daisies‭ (‬Op.‭ ‬38,‭ ‬No.‭ ‬3‭)‬,‭ ‬a transcription of the Rachmaninov song.‭ ‬– G.‭ ‬Stepanich

Ramon Tebar.

Palm Beach Symphony(‬Dec.‭ ‬15,‭ ‬Society of the Four Arts‭)

A very large audience at the Society of the Four Arts on‭ ‬Dec.‭ ‬15‭ ‬heard what the late Sir Thomas Beecham‭ ‬called‭ “‬lollipops‭”‬ --‭ ‬sweet short pieces of a classical nature‭ ‬– for the first concert of the Palm Beach Symphony season.‭

It also marked the first concert with Ramon Tebar as the group‭’‬s music director,‭ ‬and he‭’‬s a man with much to celebrate these days:‭ ‬he just won the Henry C.‭ ‬Clark Conductor of the Year award from Florida Grand Opera,‭ ‬and he‭’‬s a new father to baby Isabel,‭ ‬born Dec.‭ ‬8,‭ ‬a week before the concert.

Aaron Copland‭’‬s‭ ‬Three Latin-American Sketches began the program.‭ ‬The first sketch has sharp,‭ ‬cutting,‭ ‬staccato rhythms with dissonant tonal passages,‭ ‬distinctly Copland.‭ ‬The second was sensitive and lingering,‭ ‬shaped nicely by Tebar.‭ ‬Working hard in the last sketch,‭ ‬the strings shone and the percussionists outdid themselves.

Next followed Samuel Barber‭’‬s justly famous‭ ‬Adagio for Strings.‭ ‬Putting down his baton,‭ ‬Tebar led a golden interpretation,‭ ‬bringing out the long elegiac line as the strings swept up to a climax‭ ‬--‭ ‬a deafening long pause,‭ ‬then the downward glide to a pianissimo ending.‭ ‬One could hear a pin drop.‭ ‬Cautiously, the audience picked up on a well-deserved ovation for this work,‭ ‬which belongs in the pantheon of great string pieces by Elgar, Holst, Grieg and Warlock. ‭

‬Before intermission,‭ ‬Copland‭’‬s‭ ‬ Appalachian Spring‭ ‬ got an inconsistent reading.‭ ‬Written in‭ ‬1931‭ ‬for the savvy Martha Graham‭ (‬whom I knew‭) ‬and her dance company,‭ ‬she took her lead from Igor Stravinsky‭’‬s association with Serge Diaghilev‭’‬s Ballet Russes.‭ ‬Copland was savvy,‭ ‬too,‭ ‬incorporating the‭ ‬Simple Gifts hymn of Mother Anne Lee,‭ ‬whose Shaker settlements stretch along the top of the Appalachian Trail in New England.‭

It was wordsmith Ira Gershwin who coined the title‭ ‬Rhapsody in Blue‭ ‬for his brother George‭’‬s 1924‭ ‬classical‭ ‬concerto‭ ‬tribute to the‭ ‬jazz‭ ‬world.‭ ‬Venezuelan pianist Kristhyan Benitez shone as the soloist here,‭ ‬with a brilliant and sensitive handling of the keyboard.‭ ‬There were a few fluffs,‭ ‬but overall the piece was a blockbuster,‭ ‬and the audience gave‭ ‬it‭ ‬a standing ovation.‭

‬Leonard‭ ‬Bernstein‭’‬s ‭ ‬Three Dance Episodes from his musical‭ ‬On the Town,‭ ‬about three sailors on shore leave in New York City,‭ ‬had a rousing performance.‭ ‬The brassy first ‭ ‬dance set the scene.‭ ‬In the second dance,‭ ‬the clarinet was prominent with trumpet‭ ‬obbligato soaring over incoming strings.‭ ‬In the third dance, Tebar was in his element,‭ ‬visibly dancing on the podium to Bernstein‭’‬s catchy tunes. ‭–‬ Rex Hearn

Tomas Cotik.

Delray String Quartet‭ (‬Dec.‭ ‬3,‭ ‬All Saints Episcopal Church,‭ ‬Fort Lauderdale‭)

Not every composer wrote string quartets with four more-or-less equal voices.‭

The earliest quartets,‭ ‬and the quartets of later writers such as Gaetano Donizetti,‭ ‬can often be a workout for the first violin,‭ ‬with the other three instruments playing backup.‭ ‬But much of the canonical repertoire requires all four of the players to be equally able,‭ ‬and the foursome that doesn‭’‬t have a deep bench finds musical life to be a struggle.

So it‭’‬s a pleasure to report that the new second violinist of the Delray String Quartet,‭ ‬Tomas Cotik,‭ ‬makes a fine addition to this ambitious group,‭ ‬which opened its seventh season Dec.‭ ‬3‭ ‬with a concert at All Saints Episcopal Church in Delray Beach.

Cotik,‭ ‬an Argentinian-born musician who has recently joined the faculty at the University of Miami,‭ ‬replaces Megan McClendon,‭ ‬a one-season replacement for Laszlo Pap,‭ ‬a founding member of the quartet.‭ ‬Pap now leads the Fort Lauderdale String Quartet,‭ ‬which is under the auspices of the Symphony of the Americas.

Cotik also has a strong and distinctive sound,‭ ‬and in most of the concert he and violist Richard Fleischman supplied a vivid,‭ ‬virile middle to the music,‭ ‬with solo work from both men making full impact.‭ ‬This first concert of the season had two major events,‭ ‬the first being the performance of the String Quartet No.‭ ‬4‭ ‬of the American composer Kenneth Fuchs.

Fuchs,‭ ‬a Broward County native who studied at the University of Miami before moving on to Juilliard,‭ ‬was on hand to discuss his brief but engaging one-movement quartet,‭ ‬subtitled‭ ‬Bergonzi,‭ ‬in honor of the UM-based quartet for whom it was written.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a relatively light but tautly constructed piece built on a three-note rising motif first sounded by the viola.‭ ‬That trades off with a gentler three-note motif introduced by the cello,‭ ‬and the music soon expands into a busy,‭ ‬energetic sonic tableau,‭ ‬music that sounds very open and very American.

In the middle,‭ ‬the cello motif is transformed into a moody,‭ ‬expectant theme over a pizzicato version of the three-note opening material‭; ‬in the‭ ‬last section,‭ ‬the feeling of purposeful energy resumes.‭ ‬It is a fine piece of music,‭ ‬and the Delray played it well,‭ ‬though with a certain tightness and tension that sounded at times as though the players were somewhat too concerned with precision.

Despite‭ ‬its speedy tempo and offbeat accents,‭ ‬this is essentially positive,‭ ‬forthright music,‭ ‬and it would have benefited from a greater sense of relaxation and ease.‭ ‬Still,‭ ‬it was impressive that the Delray began its season with a piece of recent contemporary American music,‭ ‬which to my mind is the logical core repertory for this quartet.

The Second Quartet of Johannes Brahms‭ (‬in A minor,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬51,‭ ‬No.‭ ‬2‭)‬,‭ ‬which closed the concert,‭ ‬is one of his most familiar pieces of chamber music,‭ ‬and the Delray gave its rolling‭ ‬first movement a sound that was well-balanced and elegant.‭ ‬The short‭ ‬ritardando transition passages,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬slowed things down a little too much,‭ ‬which hurt the narrative momentum.

First violinist Mei-Mei Luo offered a lovely reading of the main theme of‭ ‬the slow second movement,‭ ‬and the quartet handled the dramatic contrasting section capably.‭ ‬The third movement also was a bit on the slow side for my taste,‭ ‬though I‭’‬ve heard other performances at about that speed.‭ ‬But it lacks lift at this pace,‭ ‬and the‭ ‬expectation-and-mystery tradeoff here sounded tentative rather than deliberate.‭ ‬The Allegro vivace was quite good,‭ ‬though,‭ ‬from the standpoint of pace,‭ ‬technical accomplishment and ensemble.

The finale clipped along smartly,‭ ‬and the players attacked the music with considerable force and excitement.‭ ‬The transition to the A major section toward the end was beautifully done,‭ ‬with some fine playing by cellist Claudio Jaffe.‭ ‬Overall,‭ ‬while some of the music was too cautiously approached,‭ ‬this was a strong performance of this repertoire staple,‭ ‬and another important stage in this quartet‭’‬s development.‭ ‬

Transportation problems had me arriving late at the concert,‭ ‬so I missed all but the last movement of the opening piece,‭ ‬the‭ ‬Bird Quartet‭ (‬in C,‭ ‬Hob III:‭ ‬39‭) ‬of Haydn.‭ ‬The finale had good ensemble and a snaky kind of energy that was more forceful than the usual powdered-wig approach,‭ ‬and‭ ‬it worked well.

For an encore,‭ ‬the quartet played Fleischman‭’‬s arrangement of‭ ‬a piece called‭ ‬Melody,‭ ‬by the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla.‭ ‬The Delray played it with the requisite high emotion for an effective interpretation of this composer‭’‬s music. – G.‭ ‬Stepanich

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