New World chamber season opens with extraordinary Schubert

By Lawrence A. Johnson

The New World Symphony’s chamber music series usually kicks off before the orchestra’s first concert but is a bit belated this year, opening Sunday afternoon more than two weeks after the Miami Beach ensemble launched its season.

No matter, for the generous and well-balanced program presented at the Lincoln Theatre offered a prime example of why these concerts are so important to a local music scene where chamber events are infrequent at best.  Word is clearly getting around, for the Lincoln Theatre was packed for Sunday’s program, which has not always been the case historically. Having Carter Brey, the New York Philharmonic’s principal cellist, as guest for two-third of the program clearly didn’t hurt.

 Written in Schubert’s productive last year before his death at 31, the String Quintet in C stands high even among the many peaks of Schubert’s chamber output, with an expansive breadth, extraordinary expressive range and inspired deployment of its instruments, the extra cello adding ballast to the sonority. 

 Violinists David Repking and Eri Hattori, violist Anna Pelczer and cellists Si-Yan Li and Brey delivered a rich-toned eloquent reading that encompassed the melodious Biedermeier surface as surely as the sudden lurches into the abyss. The elevated calm of the Adagio was rendered with great tonal finesse, the explosive dislocation of the middle section jarring in impact.

 In the finale, there was some loss of intonational focus in the inner voices, but, on the whole, this was a beautifully played reading of a difficult and challenging work. For an ad hoc ensemble, the musicians listened as closely and attentively to each other as a chamber group that had played together for years.

 Schumann originally cast his Andante and Variations for the odd hybrid of two pianos, two cellos and horn; he later had second thoughts and revised the work for just two pianos. After Schumann’s death, Brahms edited Schumann’s oeuvre, and elected to publish the original version for the first time, believing, correctly, that the expressive warmth and more varied colors of the horn and strings made for a richer work.

 It’s still an offbeat confection, but Sunday’s refined performance by New World members and Brey made the best possible case. At times, tempos were a bit too leisurely but the musicians brought out the invention and rhapsodic essence with dexterous handling of the tricky balancing, and elegantly turned horn playing by Robert Rearden.

 The afternoon’s centerpiece was another work for unorthodox forces, Bartok’s Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion. Written in 1937 and premiered by the composer and his wife, the sonata largely avoids bombast with a deft  interweaving of themes and subtle interplay between the two pianists, timpanist and percussionist.

Pianists Hyojin Ahn and Elaine Hou, timpanist Michael Israelievitch and percussionist Eric Renick displayed closely knit teamwork, with polished playing alert to dynamic marking. What was lacking in Sunday’s performance was a sense of the music’s mystery and atmosphere with a rather literal rendering of the Lento’s “night music,” and keyboard playing that felt inhibited and light in sonority, missing some of the music’s aggressive ferocity.


  Premiere of New World micro-concerts a clear success  

      On Saturday night the New World premiered a new initiative in which for  $2.50 one can hear a mini-program of 15-20 minutes.  The three separate performances were each spaced an hour apart and drew a large turnout, which bodes well for the aim of luring new audience members off Lincoln Road to sample some user-friendly classical music.   

 The first performance at 7:30 also marked the debut of the New World’s new conducting fellow, Edward Abrams.  Just 21 years old, the Oakland native directed a terrific, crackling performance of Copland’s difficult Music for the Theatre, which benefited from snappy, personality-plus solo work from trumpeter Louis Reed and clarinetist Timothy Dodge.

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Mon Nov 3, 2008
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