Lucid Culture


Saturday Night Magic with the Spectrum Symphony

It’s always a treat to discover an excellent new orchestra. Saturday night on the upper west side, the Spectrum Symphony and the New York Festival Singers joined forces for a concert as richly captivating as anything that could have possibly been happening just a couple of blocks east at Lincoln Center or at Carnegie Hall. A member of the string section noted sardonically during the intermission that this orchestra is “the pickup group of pickup groups.” If that’s the case, one can only wonder what kind of transcendence they could deliver with a few more rehearsals. As it was, the whole orchestra was cohesive, nuanced and responsive to conductor David Grunberg’s matter-of-fact, determined focus.

They opened with the Mozart Piano Concerto No. 20. This isn’t Mozart in hurried, let’s-get-this-over-with mode. It’s a lively, tuneful piece that recycles a few motifs from Don Giovanni, lit up with dynamic shifts and energetic exchanges between voices. Guest Steven Graff brought an agile, rapidfire, imaginative edge to the piano, notably his own improvised cadenzas, which were as bitingly entertaining as they were anachronistic, taking the piece two hundred years into the future. Yet these made a perfect fit with the music.

A percussionist supplied a single, funereal bell note as the strings swirled and rose in Arvo Part’s Cantus In Memoriam Benjamin Britten with a restrained shimmer, hypnotic and vividly regretful (Part was reputedly chagrined that he never met Britten). The concert concluded with a rewardingly lush, ornate take on the Faure Requiem. Conventional wisdom is that it’s a lighthearted view of death, and that’s hardly the case. Faure reputedly wrote it on a lark, but this ensemble gave it majesty and depth, the richness of the choir blending with the swells of the orchestra, the organ utilizing stops in the center of the church, creating an all-emcompassing, surround-sound experience for those lucky enough to be in the right place.

The soloists, soprano Beverly Butrie and baritone Alec Spencer were superb as well. Butrie has a voice that ought to be heard more. It’s original, and it’s grounded in a considerably lower resonance that you would expect from a true soprano, even though she hit the high notes in this piece with a nonchalance and a liquid yet firmly anchored vibrato that fit like a glove with the demands of her solos. A delivery like hers is more typically found in the Middle East and India, but not so much here, all the more reason to seek her out. By contrast,  Spencer went for intensity, stayed in the haunted zone and never left. As the work shifted from methodical and somber to more airy and ethereal, Grunberg and the orchestra maintained an unhurried focus, letting the piece breathe and the polyphonics reach toward something closer to a spree than a sepulchre. The Spectrum Symphony performs regularly but not frequently; watch this space for future concerts.

November 15, 2012 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Name That Tune with the International String Trio’s Help

Old habits die hard. If you go back as far as the radio-and-records era, you were probably used to having a cd – or if you were lucky, a vinyl album – to refer to for song titles and now-archaic things like liner notes and musician credits. As fast as all those things are disappearing, jazz bloggers are obsessive about them. But sometimes it pays to resist OCD and leave the news release and the promo copy out of sight and just get a handle on the music. That’s the approach that everybody ought to take with the International String Trio’s new album Movie Night. Just listening to Slava Tolstoy’s nimble gypsy jazz guitar, Ben Powell’s elegantly nuanced violin and Ippei Ichimaru’s terse bass will get your head bopping and eliminate any prejudices that might arise from a peek at the credits.

Here’s why – this is a concept album, a collection of the band’s favorite movie music. It’s not known what opinions the band have, if any, about the movies themselves. Which is why it’s best just to catch the lively, carefree violin and gypsy jazz allusions on the breezy first track and ask yourself, what on earth is that? It’s too straightforward to be a pop song and you probably won’t recognize it, and here’s why: it’s the Feather Theme from Forrest Gump. In case you’re wondering, there’s nothing from Xanadu, or any of the Friday or Elvis movies here – although those flicks, forgettable as they were, all had some good tunes.

If gypsy jazz is your thing, you will enjoy the trio’s versions of the two Django Reinhardt classics here: the group gives them both the groove and the bite those songs deserve. What is that sad waltz with the biting violin solo out? That’s I Will Wait for You, a Michel Legrand composition from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. And what’s that jaunty early swing number? Singing’ in the Rain? That’s right – these guys transform that moldy old schlockfest into something actually listenable.

Track six is a pensive, pretty ballad: could this be French? No, it’s the Schindler’s List Theme, by John Williams. That other understatedly moody, pretty waltz? Stephen Flaherty’s Once Upon a December, from the film Anastasia. And that sprightly Irish reel? That’s an acoustic cover of the Dropkick Murphy’s I’m Shipping Up to Boston and it’s way better than the original, Sox fans be damned!

Is that other waltz Haydn? No, it’s Shostakovich, done nonchalantly as gypsy jazz with Powell out front and center. David Raksin’s Theme from Laura is well-known, as is Maurice Jarre’s Somewhere My Love – but who knew that one had a laid-back, minor intro before the syrupy theme kicks in? The album closes with a matter-of-fact version of the Tennessee Waltz – wait a minute, that’s Ashokan Farewell. Aw heck, all those old folksingers ripped each other off. Who is the audience for this? Gypsy jazz fans may find these takes inspired but some of the source material on the weak side; otherwise, fans of the more accessible side of chamber and folk music won’t go wrong giving this a spin.

November 15, 2012 Posted by | classical music, folk music, irish music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment