Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Awestruck, Transcendent, Epic Grandeur from the Spectrum Symphony

One of the most transcendent concerts of 2016 happened Friday night at St. Peter’s Church in midtown, where the Spectrum Symphony played not one but two rare concertos for organ and orchestra by Poulenc and Balint Karosi, the latter a world premiere. First of all, beyond the famous Saint-Saens Organ Symphony, there isn’t much organ repertoire that incorporates much of anything other than brass – simply because church organs are loud. And paradoxically, to mute the organ as a concerto instrument would make it redundant: you can get “quiet organ” with woodwinds. So this show was doubly auspicious, incorporating both the Poulenc Concerto for Orchestra, Strings and Timpani in G along with works by Bach, Mendelssohn and the exhilarating, rivetingly dynamic Karosi Concerto No. 2 for Organ, Percussion and Strings, with the composer himself in the console. Conductor David Grunberg, who is really on a roll programming obscure works that deserve to be vastly better known, was a calmly poised, assured presence and had the group on their toes – as they had to be.

Another problematic issue with music for pipe organ and other instruments, from both a compositional and performance prespective, is the sonic decay. Not only do you have to take your time with this kind of music, you have to be minutely attuned to echo effects so that the organ and ensemble aren’t stepping all over each other. The acoustics at this space happen to be on the dry side, which worked to the musicians’ advantage. The strings opened by giving a lively, Vivaldiesque flair to the overture from Bach’s Orchestral Suite No, 3, BWV 1068, a clever bit of programming since the eight-part Poulenc suite – performed as an integral whole – opens with a robust shout-out to Bach before going off in all sorts of clever directions.

Organist Janos Palur parsed the piece with a deliberate, carefully crafted approach well-suited to its innumerable shifts from one idiom to another, from the baroque, to vividly lingering Romanticism, to a robust, completely unexpected dance and more astringent tonalities. Poulenc’s genius in assembling the piece came through in how integrally the organist and ensemble played it: both were clearly audible and rewardingly supportive of each other when in unison, and when not, transitions between solo organ and the strings were confidently fluid and natural. As the piece unwound, it took on a Gil Evans-like sweep and lustre, the lowest pedals and bass paired with sonic cirrus clouds floating serenely above the dark river underneath.

Percussionist Charles Kiger got even more of a workout with the Karosi premiere than he did with the Poulenc. Switching seamlessly from one instrument to another, his vibraphone amplified uneasy pointillisms that a different composer might have arranged for glockenspiel. Otherwise, his terse kettledrum accents bolstered Karosi’s stygian pedal undercurrents, and his mighty, crescendoing washes on the gongs provided the night’s most spine-tingling, thundering crescendos.

Yet for all its towering, epic grandeur, the concerto turned out to be stunningly subtle. Seemingly modeled on the architecture if not the melodies of the Poulenc, Karosi quickly quoted from the same Bach riff that Poulenc used and then worked his way through a completely different and even more adventurously multistylistic tour de force. There were allusions to the haunted atmospherics of Jehan Alain, the austere glimmer of Naji Hakim, the macabre cascades of Louis Vierne, and finally and most conclusively, the otherworldly, awestruck terror of Messiaen. But ultimately, the suite is its own animal – and vaults Karosi into the front ranks of global composers. It’s almost embarrassing to admit not being familiar with his work prior to this concert. Not only is this guy good, he’s John Adams good. Let’s hope for vastly more from him in the years and decades to come. And the Spectrum Symphony return to their new home at St. Peter’s on January 27 at 7:30 PM with a Mozart birthday party celebration featuring his “Prague” Symphony No. 28,

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November 6, 2016 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, organ music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dreamy, Woodsy Sounds from Makoto Nakura

Viirtuoso marimba player/vibraph0nist Makoto Nakura has a thematic album of new works by contemporary composers titled Wood and Forest just out on American Modern Recordings. If soothingly earthy sounds are your thing, he’s playing the cd release show at the Rubin Museum of Art, 150 W. 17 St. on Wednesday, Nov 14. The concert begins with a museum tour at 6:15, a brief break for refreshments and then the show at 7; $15 advance tickets are still available as of this writing. Also on the program is Nakura’s eclectic percussionist labelmate Robert Paterson, whose latest album showcases his pioneering six-mallet technique.

The version of Jacob Bancks’ The Trees Where I Was Born on Nakura’s album is a condensed arrangement of a work for orchestra and choir. As Nakura plays it, solo, it shifts from slightly jungly to strolling and folksy, through a spacious nocturne and then a crescendo that swells while maintaining a hypnotic Southern forest ambience. Violist Kenji Bunch’s Duo for Viola and Vibraphone features the composer joining Nakura on this triptych. A brightly circling, twinkling night theme hints at a brisk bustle, goes more cantabile and then illustrates birds in flight with a jaunty bounce that turns into something akin to March of the Baby Penguins.

By contrast, Paterson’s Forest Shadows opens with a dappled insistence but soon goes macabre: these woods are haunted! Based on plainchant, Bancks’ Arbor Una Nobilis is a long mini-suite, Jesse Mills’ violin mingling and sometimes dancing with the marimba through minimialist, staccato insistence, echoes of the baroque, quiet ambience and then a slightly more muted return.

Winik/Te, by Carlos Sanchez-Gutierrez uses a Mayan myth as metaphor for ecological crisis, men made of mud and wood up to no good in the forest. Rubato rhythms and surreal conversational exchanges create the most vivid work here (along with Paterson’s eerie cinematics). The album concludes with Michael Torke’s After the Forest Fire, a portrait of destruction and renewal featuring Wilhelmina Smith on cello and David Fedele on flute, which quickly expands into the album’s most anthemic track. Throughout the pieces, Nakura’s nimble malletwork creates an echoey resonance that’s by turns trance-inducing, bracing and often utterly pillowy. To say that an album is good to fall asleep to is usually an insult to the extreme: as far as this one’s concerned, it’s hard to think of any recent release that’s as pleasant a launching pad to Dreamland.

November 13, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment