New World’s Chopin tribute undone by rough and unready playing

By Lawrence Budmen

Frederic Chopin

Frederic Chopin

On the eve of the 200th anniversary of Frederic Chopin’s birth, the New World Symphony paid tribute to the romantic poet of the piano with a rare performance of his Trio in G minor for violin, cello and piano, the centerpiece of Sunday afternoon’s chamber music concert at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach.

The work of an ambitious 19-year-old Warsaw Conservatory graduate, the Trio is a large-scale essay replete with stormy, brooding gestures, the deep melancholy only dispelled by the final rondo based on a Polish folk theme. The agitated Scherzo features a passionate melody worthy of Schumann and the Adagio springs from the deep well of noble chamber works that sang forth from Brahms, Schubert and Mendelssohn.

This impassioned score demands a performance worthy of its bold gestures and  the New World fellows were not fully up to the task, delivering a half-baked rendition. Only Hyojin Ahn, despite the harsh tone of the house Yamaha, offered pliant, wonderfully idiomatic playing that did full justice to the young Chopin’s genius. Her power in the score’s opening movement, poetry in the calm of the Adagio and rhythmic buoyancy in the dance-inflected finale illuminated the attractive work’s dark moods. Unfortunately she was undermined by a reticent cellist and weak violinist who struggled with problematic intonation.

The less-than-satisfying Chopin performance was symptomatic of a larger problem that has plagued the New World’s chamber concerts since the departure of longtime chamber-music director Scott Nickrenz last summer. Unlike seasons past when New World chamber ensembles performed with highly varnished technical proficiency, too many performances this season seemed unprepared, the musicians often struggling just to play the notes accurately.

This was again evident in Tchaikovsky’s familiar String Quartet No.1 in D Major. Violinists Brian Fox and Alexander Martin, violist Anna Pelczer and cellist Anne Lee opted for a dispassionate, objective approach to this intense, emotionally vital work. The famous Andante cantabile was played at a faster-than-normal clip with spare vibrato. In a well rehearsed, proficient rendition, such a revisionist deconstruction might have yielded some rewards but this performance was often just chaotic. The violinists sounded scratchy and imprecise in rapid passages, the violist too prominent. An initially exciting Allegro finale descended into a coarse mess in the coda. The New World players and coaches must strive for more finely polished, professional music making in future chamber concerts.

On the plus side, a delightful revival of Leos Janacek’s Youth provided a wonderful showcase for five of the orchestral academy’s wind players. Stemming from the Indian summer of wondrous inspiration that marked Janacek’s final decade, Youth has formal and nationalistic roots in such works as Dvorak’s Serenade for Winds. Like that work, Youth is filled with lively, enchanting melodies and imaginative instrumental combinations. Rosalyn Black deserves special credit for her mastery of the high horn part, her intonation always right on the mark. Oboist Alison Chung’s lovely tone and rapid articulation took pride of place in a fine performance of an enticing work.

The afternoon opened with Witold Lutoslawski’s Mini Overture for Brass Quintet, an adroit series of festive fanfares laced with harmonic astringency.

Posted in Performances

5 Responses to “New World’s Chopin tribute undone by rough and unready playing”

  1. Posted Mar 01, 2010 at 3:40 pm by Joy Payton-Stevens

    Were you even at the performance? Besides simply not even getting the names of performers correct, your musical impressions are way off the mark. Unless by scratchy, you mean passionate. And if by objective, you mean musically organic. Try actually showing up to the next concert and see what you hear then…

  2. Posted Mar 02, 2010 at 1:25 am by ????????

    Perhaps if you are going to tear into performers and name them, you might do well to at least make a slight effort to attempt to get the names right. You should be flat out embarrassed.

  3. Posted Mar 02, 2010 at 1:54 pm by Allan Reynolds

    The Janacek is 17 minutes long. Are you telling me that you watched and listened to this piece for 17 minutes and didn’t notice that there were 6 players (not 5 as mentioned in your review) on stage? You didn’t get the players names right in the Tchaikovsky. The players names were projected on the wall behind them before and after they played? How can a person that actually attended the concert make these kinds of egregious factual errors?

  4. Posted Mar 02, 2010 at 2:02 pm by How Embarassing

    Scott Nickrenz rarely had anything to do with a concert, aside from programming it.

    There are pictures of the musicians located in the back of the program books for everyone’s reference. Personnel changes happen. Before ripping people apart publicly, at least get the facts straight.

    There were six players in the Janacek, not five. No mention of the bass clarinet added to the standard wind quintet?


  5. Posted Mar 02, 2010 at 6:04 pm by Lawrence A. Johnson

    The reason there were some incorrect musician names in this review was because the names were wrong in the pre-printed program. Due to late, unannounced substitutions, the lineup changed. The correct musician names were projected on the back wall after the performance but—without any indication that the printed program was in error—Mr. Budmen relied on the program when writing his review as critics routinely do.

    The correct names are now attributed.

    Lawrence A. Johnson

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Mon Mar 1, 2010
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