Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Music roundup: Orchestras stand out in Shostakovich, Mendelssohn

Philippe Entremont. (Photo by Alvaro Yanez)


By Greg Stepanich

Boca Raton Symphonia‭ ‬(Sunday,‭ ‬March‭ ‬20,‭ ‬Roberts Theater,‭ ‬Boca Raton‭)

The Boca Raton Symphonia closed its most recent concert Sunday with one of its better recent performances,‭ ‬one that seemed well-suited to the orchestra‭’‬s current period‭ ‬of experimentation and expansion.

Philippe Entremont,‭ ‬in his first year as conductor of the group,‭ ‬also appeared as piano soloist in the Beethoven Triple Concerto and led an instrumental excerpt from‭ ‬a Richard Strauss opera.‭ ‬But it was the closing work,‭ ‬Rudolf Barshai‭’‬s chamber orchestra arrangement of the Third String Quartet of Shostakovich,‭ ‬that had the sharpest profile.‭

One of several Shostakovich orchestrations under the title of Chamber Symphony‭ (‬this one is in F,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬73a‭) ‬that Barshai created,‭ ‬this‭ ‬reworking of the Third Quartet is faithful to the spirit of the original in that it has the same sense of impishness and wit,‭ ‬but Barshai adds a special dark coloring to the music by using his winds in lower registers early on.

Those same winds are used relatively sparingly to underline the music,‭ ‬which even here is still basically a work for strings.‭ ‬Ensemble was good overall,‭ ‬with logical tempi and a strong sense of unity of purpose.‭ ‬There was fine solo work throughout as well,‭ ‬from violist Michael Klotz,‭ ‬flutist Jeanne Tarrant,‭ ‬cellist Jason Callaway,‭ ‬oboist Erika Yamada and violinist Misha Vitenson.

Entremont‭ ‬kept a firm hand on the work‭’‬s narrative arc,‭ ‬moving from the pizzicato smirk at the end of the first movement to a heavy drive for the three-note‭ ‬motif that starts the second movement with no letup in energy or a long pause.‭ ‬In general,‭ ‬this was not a performance that indulged in any longueurs,‭ ‬even with the Beethoven-style figure that opens the fourth-movement Adagio,‭ ‬which‭ ‬moved along in a business-like manner into a sound world that‭ ‬was moody but not inert.

There was some gratifying attention to super-soft dynamics at the outset of the fifth-movement finale,‭ ‬and the transition to the sunnier,‭ ‬klezmer-tinged main theme of the movement was akin to a long-awaited break in the clouds.‭ ‬This was a somewhat demanding,‭ ‬difficult work with which to end the concert,‭ ‬but it was played with impressive skill,‭ ‬and like much of Shostakovich‭’‬s best music,‭ ‬it has that mix of bruised tonality and seriousness of purpose that seem so emblematic of‭ ‬20th-century witness.

Sunday‭’‬s concert at the Roberts Theater on the campus of St.‭ ‬Andrew‭’‬s School in Boca Raton‭ ‬opened with a chamber orchestra version of the opening string sextet from Richard Strauss‭’‬ 1942‭ ‬opera,‭ ‬Capriccio.‭ ‬This is music of Strauss‭’‬ late manner,‭ ‬warm and slow-moving despite the occasional note-blizzard viola solo and a tempestuous contrasting section,‭ ‬and the Symphonia‭’‬s strings brought creaminess and confidence to it.

Ensemble at some points in the initial going was not precise,‭ ‬and the same was true at times in‭ ‬the final pages,‭ ‬but it didn‭’‬t detract much from the‭ ‬basic‭ ‬effect,‭ ‬which‭ ‬was sweet and highly emotive,‭ ‬or the high level of accomplishment the group demonstrated in playing it.

Violinist Ludwig Mueller and cellist Christophe Pantillon joined Entremont for the Beethoven Triple Concerto‭ (‬in C,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬56‭) ‬that ended the first half.‭ ‬For the most part,‭ ‬this also was a good performance of an unfairly neglected work,‭ ‬and it made a forceful impression on the audience.

Both Mueller and Pantillon proved to be‭ ‬expert players,‭ ‬but they both had some intonation problems,‭ ‬particularly‭ ‬in‭ ‬Pantillon‭’‬s‭ ‬high-register entrance with the‭ ‬theme in the Polish rondo finale,‭ ‬and‭ ‬more importantly‭ ‬there was something of a lack of‭ ‬cohesion between the three soloists.‭ ‬I think most of this had to do with the hall‭; ‬Entremont‭’‬s piano‭ (‬which he played winningly‭) ‬faced in,‭ ‬away from the soloists,‭ ‬as it usually does when the pianist serves as conductor and soloist.

But the piano sounded distant and foggy from the audience,‭ ‬its notes swallowed up by the concrete,‭ ‬and it rarely sounded like a partner with the other two.‭ ‬With acoustics like those of the Roberts,‭ ‬it might have been better to set up the three men piano-trio style and have someone else conduct.‭ ‬The way it was,‭ ‬it was difficult to hear the juxtaposition of the three against the orchestra.

Yet there was still plenty of good music to be heard,‭ ‬and this was essentially a fine reading of one of the more interesting concertos in the repertoire,‭ ‬particularly in the finale,‭ ‬which had an engaging sense of high spirits and dazzle toward the close.

The Boca Raton Symphonia‭’‬s next performances are set for‭ ‬8‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Saturday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬9,‭ ‬and‭ ‬3‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Sunday,‭ ‬April‭ ‬10,‭ ‬at the Roberts Theater.‭ ‬Conductor David Commanday will lead pianist Soyeon Lee‭ ‬in the Piano Concerto No.‭ ‬23‭ (‬in A,‭ ‬K.‭ ‬488‭) ‬of Mozart,‭ ‬on a program that also includes the‭ ‬Italian‭ ‬Symphony‭ (‬No.‭ ‬4‭ ‬in A,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬90‭) ‬of Mendelssohn‭ ‬and Aaron Copland‭’‬s‭ ‬Music for Movies.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬376-3848‭ ‬or visit‭ ‬www.bocasymphonia.org.

‭***

Ramon Tebar.


Palm Beach Symphony‭ (‬Thursday,‭ ‬March‭ ‬17,‭ ‬Palm Beach Atlantic University‭)

Assisted by a generous acoustic,‭ ‬conductor Ramon Tebar led his Palm Beach Symphony in an exciting evening‭ ‬of interpretive‭ ‬muscularity‭ ‬Thursday in the fourth concert of the orchestra‭’‬s current season.

Tebar,‭ ‬a‭ ‬32-year-old Spaniard who was recently named music director of Miami‭’‬s Florida Grand Opera,‭ ‬is an energetic,‭ ‬passionate young conductor who shepherds his vocal and instrumental flocks through performances of great vitality.‭ ‬He is always thoroughly engaged in the music he‭’‬s making,‭ ‬and he brings a nice spark of star power to each of his podium appearances.

Thursday‭’‬s concert in the DeSantis Chapel on the campus of Palm Beach Atlantic University was most enjoyable,‭ ‬not least because the acoustics of the chapel help round out and fill‭ ‬out the sound of the orchestra.‭ ‬It sounds like a much bigger band because of it,‭ ‬and‭ ‬you could hear the players growing more confident as the concert went on.‭ ‬(After all,‭ ‬that‭’‬s literally what good feedback will do for you.‭)

There were two important symphonies in D major‭ ‬(and minor‭) ‬on the program,‭ ‬both from early in the respective composers‭’‬ careers:‭ ‬Haydn‭’‬s No.‭ ‬6‭ (‬called‭ ‬Le Matin‭)‬,‭ ‬and Mendelssohn‭’‬s No.‭ ‬5‭ (‬Reformation,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬107‭)‬,‭ ‬which is actually a much earlier work than its chronological or opus numbers would indicate.

The Haydn symphony was written in keeping with a concertante format that allowed the composer to show off the capabilities of his individual players,‭ ‬especially in the second movement,‭ ‬with its extensive work for solo violin and cello.‭ ‬But there are prominent solo wind moments in the other movements,‭ ‬which adds to the fresh,‭ ‬springy color of the music,‭ ‬helped along here by Tebar‭’‬s‭ ‬vigorous tempi.

The first movement had a lovely sense of lift and energy right from the first flute entrance,‭ ‬and the orchestra played all the rapid movements like a young man‭’‬s symphony,‭ ‬with exuberance and forward motion.‭ ‬Violinist Laura Miller and cellist Christopher Glansdorp tackled their solo work admirably,‭ ‬and in the same spirit‭; ‬Miller was slightly‭ ‬under pitch some of the time,‭ ‬but she had a good rustic touch to her initial statement,‭ ‬as if summoning the village band to order.

In the minor-key trio section of the third movement,‭ ‬which features bassoon and double bass,‭ ‬bassoonist Michael Ellert played deftly above a bass dance figure that sounded like a thunderous rumble in the chapel,‭ ‬giving the music a heavier dose of contrast than Haydn intended.‭ ‬In the finale,‭ ‬Tebar chose a headlong tempo that evoked the wide-open fields outside instead of the indoors ritual of Esterhaza,‭ ‬and the effect was‭ ‬invigorating.

The Stravinsky‭ ‬Danses Concertantes that came next was welcome not just for its rarity on local concert programming but for its excellence as a pairing with the Haydn symphony.‭ ‬Written‭ ‬(in‭ ‬1941-2‭) ‬in the neoclassic style of the Symphony in C,‭ ‬the‭ ‬Dumbarton Oaks concerto and‭ ‬Jeu de Cartes,‭ ‬it is filled with the wind solo work that was such an integral part of the composer‭’‬s contemporary style.

It also shares the Haydn‭’‬s sense of fun and innovation,‭ ‬with its unexpected accents,‭ ‬surprising‭ ‬instrumental combinations and overall feeling of good spirits.‭ ‬Tebar and his players paid scrupulous attention to dynamics as well as getting the offbeat accents right,‭ ‬and that helped throw the contour of the work into high relief.‭

This was a meaty,‭ ‬sometimes boisterous reading of the Stravinsky work,‭ ‬with sharp playing all around,‭ ‬especially from the winds,‭ ‬who have to carry much of the musical argument in the later movements.‭ ‬It‭’‬s a pity this work isn‭’‬t heard more often in area concerts‭; ‬it fit this program beautifully.

The concert closed with the Mendelssohn Fifth,‭ ‬which is not as effective a work as the later‭ ‬Scotch or‭ ‬Italian symphonies,‭ ‬but Tebar and the Palm Beachers gave it as persuasive a performance as I‭’‬ve heard in some time.‭ ‬The first movement was fraught with tension,‭ ‬and the second bubbled along at a good clip,‭ ‬and some pretty string sound in the contrasting section when violas and celli took up the main theme.

The third movement was smoothly played,‭ ‬and in the finale,‭ ‬Tebar went for bigness.‭ ‬Boosted again by‭ ‬the acoustic,‭ ‬this was the‭ ‬just the‭ ‬kind of celebratory epic sound Mendelssohn might well have been looking for in his mind‭’‬s ear when first he wrote his tribute to Luther‭’‬s revolution and borrowed his hymn for the finale.

The Palm Beach Symphony will wrap its season next week at the Flagler Museum with a performance featuring pianist Lola Astanova in‭ ‬the Rachmaninov Second Piano Concerto‭ (‬in C minor,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬18‭) ‬and the Symphony No.‭ ‬3‭ (‬in E-flat,‭ ‬Op.‭ ‬55,‭ ‬Eroica‭) ‬of Beethoven.‭ ‬The concert starts at‭ ‬7:30‭ ‬p.m.‭ ‬Tickets:‭ ‬$50.‭ ‬Call‭ ‬655-2657‭ ‬or visit www.palmbeachsymphony.com.

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