McGegan, New World go for Baroque

By Lawrence Budmen

Nicholas McGegan led the New World Symphony in a Baroque program that avoided familiar fare Saturday night.

Nicholas McGegan led the New World Symphony in a Baroque program that avoided familiar fare Saturday night.

Nicholas McGegan, one of the world’s preeminent Baroque specialists, made his return to the podium of the New World Symphony Saturday night at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach, offering a crash course for the orchestra’s fellows and audiences alike in stylish, period-oriented performance that never succumbed to pedantic academism. Indeed with music by J.S. Bach, Corelli, Vivaldi, C.P.E. Bach and Jean Marie Leclair, the program was aptly titled “A Baroque Feast.”

Beginning with the familiar and then branching out into more esoteric fare, McGegan celebrated the 325th anniversary of Johann Sebastian Bach’s birth with a performance of the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F Major that was festive in more ways than one. With his springy rhythms,  and sharp accents and attacks, McGegan always makes Bach dance. The Adagio was appropriately songful, the beautifully articulated oboe solo almost operatic. Robust energy and dramatic pauses turned the four-part final movement into a delightful mini-suite.

Seating the strings to the left of the podium and winds to the right with the all-important harpsichord continuo directly in front of the conductor, McGegan drew sprightly, vibrato-less playing from the ensemble. In recent seasons the New World’s horns have been inconsistent but their exposed role in the Brandenburg was essayed with verve, showmanship and spot-on accuracy.  McGegan’s emphasis on the winds and the horns helped avoid the stodgy or routine in a joyous Bach performance.

McGegan gave the strings an incisive edge for works by Corelli and Vivaldi. The conductor evoked fury in the opening movement of Corelli’s Concerto grosso in D Major, saving the best for last with a spiffy reading of the chirpy Vivace finale, polished to a fine sheen. McGegan’s attention to inner voices kept textures sharp and clear, the violas’ voices wonderfully prominent in the outer movements.

Brilliant solo work by violin, cello and harpsichord players added panache to Vivaldi’s Concerto grosso in D minor, Op. 3, No.11. The transparent lightness of the period textures caressed the ear. McGegan’s fierce drive kept the music airborne and lithe.

Carl Phillip Emanuel Bach’s Symphony No. 6 in E Major provided a graceful interlude of pre Mozartean classicism, the conductor virtually dancing on the podium in the rapid music. The Allegro spirituoso finale was particularly striking and original, a thematic fragment in lieu of the usual brisk melody providing the principal subject. Crisp string playing complemented McGegan’s vigor, tempos accelerating in hard drive Toscanini fashion.

McGegan’s own arrangement of music from Jean Marie Leclair’s 1746 opera Scylia and Glaucus concluded the program. Best known as a violinist and composer for strings,  Leclair’s career at the French court came to an end in 1760 when he was murdered. His operatic ballet score is lively and varied, the inevitable wind machine of French Baroque opera making its appearance in the final Symphonie.

While Leclair’s aristocratically fanciful score lacks the instrumental and melodic inventiveness of Rameau, the charming melodies and lovely wind writing (particularly for two flutes) are entertaining and felicitous. A remarkably soft and romantic Passacaglia and gorgeous Air: Sicilian are particularly inspired. With an enlarged instrumental ensemble in top form, McGegan drew playing of great delicacy and beauty as well as heft, repeating the final Symphonie after resounding applause.

The New World Symphony repeats the program 2 p.m. Sunday at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach.

Posted in Performances

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Sun Mar 28, 2010
at 1:06 pm
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