Lucid Culture


The Chelsea Symphony’s Valentine’s Day Concert 2010

On the scale of holidays to avoid and stay home, Valentine’s Day ranks somewhere below New Year’s Eve but ahead of the Fourth of July. And the V-day concerts around town are a joke: which Holiday Inns in New Jersey do all these no-name performers retreat to after bringing their “Easy Listening for Lovers” shows to the West Village for a little extra pay? Happily, we have the Chelsea Symphony as an antidote to all that. Sunday’s program was a characteristically adventurous, stylistically puddle-jumping treat juxtaposing a world premiere with standards and a welcome rediscovery.

This particular show was front-loaded. Arrangers have been doing orchestral versions of cabaret songs for a century – on the other hand, the debut of Seth Bedford’s Three Songs for Chansonnier and Orchestra proved as notable for its shrewd, witty arrangement, making full use of the ensemble’s voices and textures, as for its tuneful lyricism. Part Brecht/Weill, part Al Jolson, the triptych sandwiched a playful overture between a somewhat noir tribute to dissolution and a ragtimish murder ballad sung from the point of view of the victim. In front of the orchestra, Brent Weldon Reno’s potent baritone resonated with wry, rakish defiance.

Tschaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, a suite for cello and orchestra, was retro for its era, harkening back to Mozart. On the podium, Yaniv Segal led the ensemble smoothly through its casually contrapuntal post-baroque permutations, Izabela Bechowska subtly alternating between cool restraint and plaintiveness. This performance’s choice of obscurity was French Romantic composer Augusta Holmes’ aptly titled La Nuit et l’Amour. Essentially, it’s a song without words, shrouding a minuet beneath a lush arrangement where the strings hint and finally bubble over with unrestrained joy. Conductor Mark Seto explained to the audience beforehand how Holmes was a contemporary of Bizet and far more popular at the time, although her lavish, Gallocentric suites for orchestra and choir “have not aged well,” as he put it. This one has: credit the orchestra with finding it.

Ironically, the Bizet they followed it with has aged less well. To most Americans, there are themes from Carmen that will only be known as schoolyard rhymes. Yet the orchestra played them with a meticulousness that a busier ensemble (the NY Phil, pre-Alan Gilbert, for example) wouldn’t even bother attempting. For a listener attuned to minutiae and the arrangement’s numerous, offhand gems – a quick rondo between bassoon, oboe and flute; a stark cello motif once appropriated by the rock band Botanica, and some genuine suspense in the faux-flamenco fluttering of the horns leading into the terse yet breakneck coda at the end – the performance was impressive, to say the least, maybe more than the work deserved.

Just so you know, the Chelsea Symphony’s popularity has grown to the point where you have to get to the venue a few minutes early now if you want a good seat. Good for them.

February 16, 2010 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment