New World chamber series back on track in strong season opener

By David Fleshler

Anne-Marie McDermott peformed Brahms' Piano Quintet with members of the New World Symphony Sunday afternoon.

A tremendous performance of the Brahms Piano Quintet highlighted the season’s first chamber performance by members of the New World Symphony.

The orchestra presents several chamber music performances a year, allowing its young musicians to step out from the larger symphony orchestra experience for the more individualistic possibilities of small ensemble work.

This has yielded somewhat uneven results in the recent past, but Sunday’s performance at New World Center in Miami Beach was strong in all respects, with tight ensemble precision, a couple infrequently heard works to mix things up and the musical commitment that had seemed at times to be lacking from other New World chamber concerts.

The concert opened with Haydn’s Divertimento in C Major, nicknamed Der Geburtstag (The Birthday). Scored for flute, oboe, harpsichord and strings, this light work was given a crisp, lively performance without a trace of antiquarian dryness. Playing was precise. Intonation, a sore point in previous New World chamber concerts, was on target. The last movement featured solo turns by various instruments, played with energy and style by Kevin Pearl on the oboe and Ona Jonaityte on the flute. Haydn gave the first violin an opportunity for real virtuoso display—or embarrassing failure— in a coda consisting of running notes about as fast as anyone can play, and first violinist Colleen McCullough delivered all the notes in fine, light-fingered performance that brought the work to a spirited close.

Hindemith’s Three Anecdotes for Radio is a 1925 work composed for broadcast on Frankfurt Radio. This is strange-sounding music, not least for the unusual instrumentation of piano, trumpet, clarinet, violin and double bass. The first movement was given a bouncy, jaunty performance, with particularly energetic work by Brad Whitfield on the clarinet. Most effective was the second movement, eerie and pensive, with the musicians stretching the music out in a manner that maximized the tension. Hindemith treated the bass, violin and clarinet as an ensemble within the ensemble, and in the hands of these musicians the combination yielded a surprisingly rich, evocative texture.

For the Brahms, the New World Musicians were joined by the concert pianist and chamber musician Anne-Marie McDermott. She was an extremely attentive partner, her eyes as often on her colleagues as on the sheet music in front of her. Her playing never overwhelmed the string players but was assertive enough to provide the bony, hard-edged notes that gave texture to the first movement and the grandiose ascending chords that darken the opening of the last.

The quintet is full of nervous energy, ominous growls and whispers leading to moments of hard-won lyricism. It is cerebral music, the product of hard thought as much as creative spontaneity, and it requires both precision and passion to bring it off. The musicians delivered both, providing an energetic, intelligent performance that captured the work’s grim, driving power. With an exception here and there, intonation was again accurate. Ensemble precision was tight. Particularly fine was the impassioned playing by first violinist Alexander Chaleff, whose tone gleamed in the singing upper register passages but was never too sweet for this muscular music.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “New World chamber series back on track in strong season opener”

  1. Posted Oct 15, 2012 at 10:58 pm by Sally

    Funny that the reviewer should mention that Ms. McDermott was “attentive,” with eyes on her colleagues.

    I also noticed she seldom looked at her music. But I found it annoying that her eyes never seemed to connect with any one of her partners.

    In fact, I’ve never seen less eye contact in small ensemble playing. None of them seemed to be connected personally. Everyone just played their individual parts with minimal interpersonal communication i.e. eye contact and body language.

    There is no question regarding Ms. McDermott’s skill and virtuosity. Her performance was pianistically perfect.

    But, in my opinion, so perfect that she overwhelmed the beginning professionals she was playing with.

    I would have much preferred a beginning professional playing the piano in this group.

    It was an unbalanced performance.

    It was Ms. McDermott’s show.

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Sun Oct 14, 2012
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