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Concert review

Smoldering Sibelius, blazing Brahms from New World Symphony

Sun Nov 21, 2021 at 12:54 pm

By Lawrence Budmen

New World Symphony guest conductor Christian Reif and featured performer Augustin Hadelich performing Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor on Saturday in Miami Beach. Photo: Siggi Bachmann

Some violinists bring dazzling displays of virtuosity to every performance. Others probe deep beneath the surface of the music while fully encompassing a score’s technical demands. Firmly in the latter group, Augustin Hadelich made a welcome and overdue return to South Florida on Saturday night alongside the New World Symphony at the New World Center in Miami Beach. 

From his entrance in Sibelius’ Violin Concerto in D minor, Hadelich radiated deep searing pathos amid the white heat of this celebrated showpiece. He was not afraid to bend and shape a phrase or take a slower tempo to bring out the score’s emotional depth. 

In the first movement’s lengthy cadenza, Hadelich was more than equal to the music’s bravura dynamics.  He spun the expressive pages of the Adagio di molto with nicely varied vibrato and a wide dynamic palette. He sailed through the pyrotechnics of the finale with aplomb at a brisk pace, his sure-fire technique and rhythmic acuity radiating edge-of-the-seat excitement.

Conductor Christian Reif, who was impressive substituting for Michael Tilson Thomas at the New World’s season opener in October, was a skilled collaborator. He built Sibelius’ climactic orchestral volleys with sure command while never overwhelming Hadelich. Myriad instrumental details that are often obscured were pinpointed with clarity.

Repeatedly called back to the stage by a standing, cheering audience, Hadelich obliged with a terrific encore of “Louisiana Blues Strut” by Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson. Here Hadelich exhibited the idiomatic bluesy slides and unbridled verve of a true jazz fiddler and left concertgoers hoping this superb, multi-faceted musician will return soon.

Reif, a former New World conducting fellow, opened the evening with “A Short Piece for Orchestra” by Julia Perry (1924-1979). Perry’s works, which were played more frequently in Europe than America during her lifetime, are receiving a deserved revival. This eight-minute miniature is similar to Samuel Barber’s “Three Essays for Orchestra,” with astringent outer sections buttressing a more lyrical central episode that spotlights the wind players. Reif’s crisp pacing highlighted Perry’s brilliant orchestration and he drew vigorous playing from the large ensemble.

Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor may be a familiar symphonic standard but Reif’s enlivening reading, which concluded the concert, was anything but staid. This was a young conductor’s Brahms – robust, finely detailed and well played if not always subtle. The slow introduction was given due weight with the timpani strokes emphatically realized, and Reif’s rapid fire pacing of the remainder of the first movement infused high tension and visceral excitement. He also brought out the strong Brahmsian undertow of the low string writing, the seven double basses ever present in the corporate sound compass. 

The Adagio was shaped broadly, with Reif drawing a large sonority from the strings. In the crucial violin solo,  Jung Eun Kang’s singing tone and astute shaping captured Brahms’ outpouring of long-limbed songfulness. The Un poco allegretto e grazioso third movement was given appropriate Alpine verve. In the monumental finale, Scott Leger’s sonorous horn and the stirring chorale theme, played with tonal gleam by three trombones, set the stage for that spacious melody that recalls Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”  Reif never allowed the momentum to flag: He built the concluding pages to a grand crescendo and a triumphant reprise of the chorale by the full ensemble.

Some repertoire can sound tiresome in repeated performances. Reif’s incisive leadership and the orchestra’s precise articulation proved anew that Brahms’ first full fledged symphonic essay is an eternal classic.

The program repeats 2 p.m. Sunday at the New World Center in Miami Beach.

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