New World members show striking versatility in chamber program

By David Fleshler

The artistic versatility that the New World Symphony attempts to instill in its musicians was on display Sunday in a concert that spanned chamber music of Brahms, Villa-Lobos, Shostakovich and Lukas Foss.

The playing was technically at a high level and the ensemble unity impressive, but what was most striking about the concert at New World Center in Miami Beach was how the young musicians entered so successfully into the spirit of each work—the nostalgia and turbulence of a late Brahms trio, the glittery sophistication of Lukas Foss’ quintet Tashi, the youthful—but already faintly sardonic—sensibility of an early Shostakovich octet.

The concert opened with Heitor Villa-Lobos’ Quintet in the form of a Choros for wind instruments, a work rooted in both European classical music and Brazilian dance rhythms (In Portuguese the verb chorar means to weep or lament.). The playing was warm and relaxed in the ensemble sections that seemed rooted in tropical Brazil, crisp and spirited in the more brittle sections that were closer to European music.

Tashi by the late German-American composer Lukas Foss is becoming something of a staple of the New World’s repertoire, having been performed twice before at chamber concerts (the previous time, in 2002, with the 79-year-old composer in attendance). It is a masterly work of orchestration, if that term can be applied to composition for six instruments – two violins, clarinet, viola, cello and piano. Foss’ work calls for strange textures and unusual effects, and the musicians delivered, for a performance that expressed all the gleaming surfaces of a work that often seemed like it was all surfaces.

At the piano, Michael Linville, the New World’s associate dean and director of chamber music activities, had to reach inside the instrument with one hand to muffle the sound he made with the other, and he contributed expert, liquid streams of running notes (not muffled, this time), against a static, glassy accompaniment in the strings. In the concluding Allegro comodo, as the music gained energy, string players were required to slide notes up the fingerboard, concluding, as the piece died out, by fingering notes without playing them, as if someone had pressed the mute button.

Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet, Op. 11, written in 1924 and 1925, when the composer was in his late teens, contains hints of the style of his maturity. Written with an almost symphonic richness, this is clearly an extremely difficult work, with lightning-fast passages for the violins. The work opens with an anguished slow movement, played with dark intensity and a taut ensemble unity. First violinist Jennifer Chang played brilliantly in her demanding part, which jumped in rapid passages to instrument’s uppermost notes. The last movement, with frenzied violin passages over a galloping accompaniment in the lower strings, came off as the tour de force it was presumably intended as by the young composer, with a headlong, driving momentum. Throughout the performance, attacks were knife-edge precise and fearless, without a trace of diffidence in approaching this difficult, exposed music.

The concert concluded with Brahms’ Trio in A Minor for clarinet, violin and piano, Op. 114, a product of the composer’s late-life fascination with the clarinet. The instrument is more integrated into the ensemble here than in the Clarinet Quintet, and clarinetist Timothy Dodge did a graceful job with his part. More prominent was the cello, and Christine Christensen brought a warm, throbbing tone to the first movement, and played with gypsy-like intensity and drive in the last. Pianist Marnie Hauschildt played Brahms’ blocky chords and cross-rhythms in a forceful, vigorous and accurate manner that brought a crisp percussiveness to the performance without overwhelming the other instruments.

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Sun Mar 13, 2011
at 9:16 pm
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