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Yannick Nézet-Séguin conducts Philadelphia Orchestra. Photo by Chris Lee
At Carnegie Hall on the evening of Tuesday, October 17th, I had the incomparable pleasure to attend a superb concert presented by the outstanding musicians of the Philadelphia Orchestra under the brilliant direction of Yannick Nézet-Séguin.
The program began auspiciously with an excellent performance of Jennifer Higdon’s propulsive, impressively orchestrated Fanfare Ritmico from 1999. I include the composer’s comment on the piece here:
Fanfare Ritmico celebrates the rhythm and speed (tempo) of life. Writing this work on the eve of the move into the new millennium, I found myself reflecting on how all things have quickened as time has progressed. Our lives now move at speeds much greater than what I believe anyone would have ever imagined in years past. Everyone follows the beat of their own drummer, and those drummers are beating faster and faster on many different levels. As we move along day to day, rhythm plays an integral part of our lives, from the individual heartbeat to the lightning speed of our computers. This fanfare celebrates that rhythmic motion, of man and machine, and the energy which permeates every moment of our being in the new century.
Also remarkable, and even more memorable, was a masterful realization of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s extraordinary Symphonic Dances, his final work. The first movement, marked Non allegro, is dynamic and rhythmic following a brief, quiet opening—and with a more meditative middle section—but ends softly. The succeeding Andante con moto is charming and playful with some dramatic moments while the finale is exuberant for much of its length but with unusual, lyrical interludes and ends climactically.
Even stronger was the amazing second half of the event, a fabulous account of Rachmaninoff’s magnificent Symphony No. 2—with this composition, musical Romanticism reached its apogee. The Largo introduction to the opening Allegro moderato is subdued and solemn but the movement is leisurely for most of its development but acquires great emotional intensity as it becomes more turbulent. The eccentric ebullience of the ensuing scherzo—its tempo is Allegro molto—is offset by the movement’s song-like second theme and its Trio too is especially exciting. The stellar Adagio is incredibly beautiful in its melodious sumptuousness and features some pastoral echoes while the closing Allegro vivace is affirmative if with somber undercurrents.
The artists deservedly received an enthusiastic ovation.
Photo by Pete Checchia.
At Weill Recital Hall, on the evening of Thursday, October 26th, I had the exceptional pleasure to attend an astonishing concert featuring the extraordinary Quartetto di Cremona, the members of which include violinists Cristiano Gualco and Paolo Andreoli, violist Simone Gramaglia and cellist Giovanni Scaglione.
The program began marvelously with a sterling account of Hugo Wolf’s wonderful Italian Serenade, his most famous piece outside the genre of the lied. Even more remarkable was a stunning rendition of Maurice Ravel’s glorious String Quartet—one of the supreme masterpieces of the form—the shimmering textures of which strongly recall the composer’s orchestral works. The initial Allegro moderato has a surprising intensity becoming more lyrical in passages and ending quietly, followed by an especially bewitching, briskly paced and energetic movement—markedAssez vif—with evocative, impressionistic sonorities. The subdued, reflective slow movement that succeeds it is solemn and more unconventional in structure while the dynamicfinaleis the most turbulent of the movements.
The second half of the event—devoted to a magisterial performance of Ludwig van Beethoven’s awesome, ambitious String Quartet in A Minor, Op. 132—was maybe equally memorable. Much of the opening Allegro is highly charged music although it is interlaced with that of a lighter, more graceful character, preceding an Allegro ma non tanto that is more cheerful, almost Mozartean, but with some intimations of greater seriousness. The weighty, exalting, slow movement—with a tempo of Molto adagio—has a religious gravity but with interpolations of melodious, quasi-Baroque episodes. The fourth movement—Alla marcia, assai vivace—is spirited and charming with contrasting interludes of an almost tragic cast while the exhilarating finale—marked Allegro appassionato—is exultant. An enthusiastic ovation was rewarded with an amazing encore: the incomparable First Counterpoint from Johann Sebastian Bach’s final work,The Art of the Fugue.
Emerson String Quartet receive standing ovation. Photo by Da Ping Luo.
At Alice Tully Hall, on the evening of Sunday, October 22nd, I had the exceptional privilege to attend the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s excellent farewell performance of the celebrated Emerson String Quartet. The members of the ensemble were violinists Eugene Drucker and Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton and cellist Paul Watkins.
The first half of the program was devoted to an accomplished account of the remarkable String Quartet in B-flat major, Op. 130, of Ludwig van Beethoven, presented here in its original version. The initial movement has a somewhat solemn, brief introduction marked Adagio, ma non troppo, with the main body an Allegro with more vivacious, brisk passages organized in a highly unconventional structure. The ensuing, short Presto is propulsive and ebullient and is followed by a slower movement—with a tempo of Andante con moto, ma non troppo—that is elegant, charming, graceful, even Haydnesque. The exquisite Alla danza tedesca movement that succeeds it—with an Allegro assai marking—is also delicate. The contrasting Cavatina—an Adagio molto espressivo—is ruminative, but not without lyricism—with a middle section that achieves an even greater intensity—and ends quietly. The astonishing, avant-garde, unusually ambitious finale—the famous, even infamous Grosse fuge, which the composer also published as an independent work—is agitated but gripping.
After intermission, the ensemble received the CMS Award for Extraordinary Service to Chamber Music in a modest ceremony. The second half of the concert was maybe even more memorable, consisting of an admirable rendition of Franz Schubert’s sterling String Quintet in C major, D. 956, which also featured cellist David Finckel, an original member of the group who left it in 2013. The opening Allegro ma non troppo movement is animated, melodious, and cheerful but not without darker undercurrents and more dramatic episodes, preceding an ethereal and enchanting Adagio with a tempestuous interlude. The marvelous, familiar Scherzo, marked Presto, is energetic and exhilarating, with a slower, more serious and inward Andante sostenuto Trio, and the finale, marked Allegretto, is dancelike and lively although with more pensive moments.
The artists received a very enthusiastic standing ovation.
The next Chamber Music Society program is on the evening of Sunday, October 29th, centered upon the great Russian composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff.
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