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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The East Coast Chamber Orchestra Provide a Lush, Sweeping Coda to This Year’s Naumburg Bandshell Concerts

Yesterday evening was this year’s final installment of the newly resumed and increasingly popular Naumburg Bandshell concerts. Needless to say, it’s been heartwarming to see attendance continuing to grow like it has in the last couple of weeks, although considering how this city was deprived of live music for the better part of the past two years, that turnout is hardly a surprise.

Self-directed string ensemble the East Coast Chamber Orchestra opened their own return to the bandshell with Adolphus Hailstork’s Sonata di Chiesa, a series of variations on allusively gospel-tinged themes. The orchestra quickly shifted from a stern march to a triumphant hymnal swirl with violin and cello front and center in majestic, restrained interplay which grew more carefree. A lively, buoyant dance interlude gave way to what might be termed a balmy southern soul pastorale which resonated in the early evening mugginess hanging over the park.

Slowly and methodically, the ensemble brought the theme down to the cellos out of a Dvorakian wariness, then rose with more than a hint of stately plainchant that grew more lush and windswept. The orchestra took it out with a return to a triumphant waltz.

Next on the bill was a triptych bookending a pair of rare Peruvian renaissance songs around a Josquin lost-love canon, arranged for strings by Maureen Nelson. Matching sumptuous sweep with an icepick precision from the violins, these fifteenth-century pieces reflected European grace more than any discernible indigenous influences.

The orchestra wound up the evening with a vigorous, richly dynamic, Mahlerian arrangement of Schubert’s String Quartet No. 14, “Death and the Maiden.” A stiletto grace underpinned the initial heroic theme: the first of the series of blustering riffs from the cellos, before the false ending, packed a visceral wallop. The effect was much the same again after the group returned from a comfortably lulling counterpoint.

It didn’t take long for the orchestra to bring that anthemic edge back after the initial ballad theme in the andante second movement, where the heroine is reassured that she shouldn’t fear the reaper.

Awash in wistful lushness, the third movement rose to a High Romantic angst that a mere four strings couldn’t have hoped to match. Impressively, the coda was as balletesque as it was symphonic. They encored with an unhurried arrangement of the Bach chorale Schmucke Dich, o Liebe Seele, raising it to a plushness considerably beyond the spare version which is a staple of the organ repertoire.

One issue that needs to be resolved for next year, which wasn’t a significant problem earlier this summer, was when a Parks Department truck with a shrieking backup alarm interrupted the end of the Peruvian baroque suite…and then returned during one of the concert’s quietest moments. Stupidity? Sadism? There are two ways to deal with that issue. It couldn’t hurt for the organizers (and the New York Philharmonic, whose Central Park shows have been just as rudely interrupted) to get the word out to those behind the wheel. A simpler solution would involve a pair of wire cutters.

August 3, 2022 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fond Farewells and New Revelations at This Year’s Concluding Naumburg Bandshell Concert

Tuesday night in Central Park, a collective “awwwwww” swept through the crowd when the Naumburg organization’s Christopher London announced that the East Coast Chamber Orchestra‘s concert with pianist Shai Wosner would be the final one of the summer at the bandshell. What a blessing it has been to have these performances at a time when orchestral music has never been more imperiled. And what a great year it’s been! At this time last year, who would have imagined that we would be in a position to be so celebratory now?

It was a night to revisit familiar Mozartean comfort in newfound intimacy, but also to be entranced by far more recent material. The evening’s piece de resistance was Hanna Benn‘s Where Springs Not Fail, based on a morbid Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. Dov Scheindlin, one of the three violists in the orchestral string collective, introduced it as “impressionistic and haunting,” which turned out to be an understatement. With an elegance that would define the night, the group parsed its slow, somber, insistent pastoralia with collegial attention to dynamics, anchored with visceral intensity in the lows.

Bassist Anthony Manzo introduced a mournfully tolling theme, the ensemble rising toward fullscale angst but not quite going there. Eventually a sense of closure, however mournful, appeared. The fade down at the end was obliterated by a passing helicopter. Technology destroying the soul: a metaphor for 2021 from above, literally.

The orchestra found even more angst in Osvaldo Golijov’s 1996 composition Last Round, equal parts boxing parable and salute to the composer’s iconic countryman and foundational influence Astor Piazzolla. As a portrait of the combative godfather of nuevo tango bedridden after a stroke and battling but slowly and ineluctably losing it, it’s set up as a couple of string quartets with the bass in the center as referee.

Sparks flew as agitation rose, then a poignant quote from Piazzolla’s Libertango appeared and was spun through a series of permutations. The sudden glissando at the moment of death was crushing; the group’s rise from a hush to a picturesque series of reflections was a vivid an elegy as anyone could have wanted.

The big hits with the crowd were Mozart favorites, which Wosner played from memory with exceptional attunement to underlying emotion. His approach to both the Piano Concerto No. 114 in E flat and No. 12 in A was unhurried, and spacious, and insightful to the nth degree: he’s really gone under the hood with this material.

He opened the night’s first concerto with a liquid, comfortably nocturnal legato, then left no doubt that the second movement was a love song. The conclusion was irresistibly fun, a puckish game of hide-and-seek, and the strings responded in kind.

The closing concerto was just as fresh and convivial, Wosner taking his time with the lustrous contentment of the opening movement, then backing away even further for a muted tenderness and then a sudden sense of trouble around the corner, a cautionary tale stashed away inside a glittery wine-hour piece for the entitled classes of Vienna, 1782-style. Both of these pieces are as standard as standard repertoire gets – and how rare it is that an ensemble can bring out as much inner detail as Wosner and the orchestra did here.

The pianist encored with a poignant, affectionately paced version of Schubert’s Hungarian Melody, D817. This is it for 2021 for the Naumburg Concerts, but a series for 2022 is in the works.

August 5, 2021 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment