Three alumni open New World chamber series with user-friendly program

By David Fleshler

Leonid Sigal performed in the New World Symphony's first chamber concert of the season Sunday afternoon.

Leonid Sigal performed in the New World Symphony’s first chamber concert of the season Sunday afternoon.

Contemporary classical music has long shed the forbidding reputation of a genre once dominated by cerebral, academic practitioners of atonality.

But even in this more audience-friendly era, the two works by living composers performed Sunday at the New World Symphony’s season-opening chamber concert in Miami Beach stood out for the sheer immediacy of their appeal.

The English composer John Rutter, best known for carols and choral music, composed his Suite Antique for a concert at which it would be paired with a Bach Brandenburg Concerto.

He poured melodies into this six-movement suite for solo flute, harpsichord and string orchestra. The work recalls the Baroque era in its mix of instruments and bustling, concerto grosso style. But in its wistful melodies and fiery fast movements, the Suite draws on three centuries of music, from the misty romanticism of its slow movements to a jazz-inspired waltz.

Handling the solo part was Brook Ferguson, principal flute of the Colorado Symphony, and one of three New World alumni who returned to perform in Sunday’s concert. She proved a master of all the work’s many demands, playing with haunting melancholy in the opening melody, deftly dispatching runs in the energetic movements that sandwiched the slow movements, and bringing effortless virtuosity in the jazzy waltz. The accompanying string players backed her with a full tone and clean style that’s essential for Baroque, or quasi-Baroque, music.

The American composer Joan Tower described her Island Prelude as the portrayal of a lush tropical island with a brightly colored bird soaring high above. Originally composed for solo oboe and string orchestra, it was arranged by the composer for woodwind quintet, which was the version performed Sunday.

The work gives a prominent place to the oboe, which personifies the tropical bird. Handling the part was Kevin Pearl, a Coral Springs native and assistant principal oboe of the Milwaukee Symphony, who was a New World member as recently as 2015.

From the opening, with long, low horn tones, the work builds as the other musicians join in, with sensual, yearning harmonies that create a world of lagoons, beaches and tropical jungle. But this was not one of those works that are long on atmosphere and short on everything else. Things happen.

The harmonies darken and turn ominous. The playing turns more percussive. Restless figures pass from flute to bassoon to oboe. On the oboe, Pearl brought a luminous tone and rock-steady technique to the part, as it turned spikier, requiring rapid runs, trills and fast leaps from note to note. After an oboe cadenza, dispatched by Pearl with style and vigor, the work returns to the evocative tone of the opening, closing in a mood of hard-won serenity.

The last half was devoted to Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence, a string sextet named for the city in which it was partly composed. Handling the first violin part was New World alumnus Leonid Sigal, former assistant concertmaster of the Florida Philharmonic Orchestra and current concertmaster of the Hartford Symphony.

This was a robust, energetic performance. If the other musicians couldn’t quite match Sigal’s distinctive style, they all capably brought out the melody and drama of the work. After a hard-driving opening Allegro, they performed a richly textured Adagio, with the emotional edge provided largely by the tonal intensity of Sigal’s playing.

They were particularly effective in bringing out the various colors and textures of the work–the light, bouncing theme of the Allegretto that recalls the composer’s ballet music, the wintry opening of the last movement, clearing the way for a committed account of the warm-hearted second theme that came to dominate the finale.


Posted in Performances

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Mon Oct 9, 2017
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