New World members explore 20th-century chamber works

By Lawrence Budmen

Bohuslav Martin's Sextet was performed Sunday afternoon by New World Symphony members.

Bohuslav Martinů’s Sextet was performed Sunday afternoon by New World Symphony members.

Music from the first three decades of the 20th century made up the New World Symphony’s chamber music program Sunday afternoon at  New World Center. Rarely played works by Ernest Bloch, Bohuslav Martinů and Jean Sibelius proved a considerable challenge for the New World fellows.

Bloch’s Quintet No. 1 for piano and strings (1921) is an intense stylistic conflation of Bartok, Brahms, Russian modernists and the Judaic voicing of such Bloch works as Schelomo and Baal Shem. In the opening Agitato, microtones create eerie, unsettling harmonies. There is a sense of stillness and quiet contemplation in the Andante mistico before the music turns harsh and eruptive. The movement’s concluding string tremolos presage the relentless forward thrust of the Allegro energico. This final movement takes up nearly half of the score’s 35-minute time span and concludes with a yearning and nostalgic coda. With the haunting melody introduced by the viola, this final suggestion of mysticism comprises the best music in the score.

Bloch’s quintet was clearly meant as a significant chamber music statement but, ultimately, the score is less than the sum of its parts and remains strangely earthbound. The work’s hard-driving, percussive keyboard writing recalls the Bartok of the piano concertos. Kathy Tai-Hsuan Lee’s dazzling technique fully scaled Bloch’s demanding piano part in stalwart fashion. Violinists Ludek Wojtkowski and Cynthia Burton, violist Helen Hess and cellist Michael Frigo brought worthy  ensemble skill to an impassioned and committed reading.

Martinů’s Sextet in E-flat Major for piano and winds  (1929) proved an ideal palette cleanser between the afternoon’s two heavyweight offerings. Written during the prolific Czech composer’s seven-year sojourn in Paris, the charming work ripples with bright melodies in quick profusion. The wind writing varies from long lyrical moments for the clarinet to oboe lines that are alternately plaintive, raucous and jazzy.  In the second movement, Martinů pairs the clarinet and bassoon in duet, utilizing the latter for melodic purposes. The Scherzo is a solo for flute with piano. Replete with wild, airborne roulades, the showpiece was delivered with sterling technique by Kelly Zimba. A cheekily spun duet for two bassoons is featured in the fourth movement “Blues”—Gershwin in a French music hall. The march-like finale looks backward to the Petite Symphonie of Gounod and forward to the wind scores of Poulenc.

Pianist Lora Tchekoratova captured the élan of the work’s early movements and combined subtlety and brio in the merry pianistic romp of the finale. Adèle-Marie Buis’ agile and subtly colored oboe, Darren Hicks and Sean Maree’s burnished bassoons and Ron Kampel’s deep-toned clarinet all brought this delightful piece of entertainment music to vivid life.

The String Quartet in D minor (1909) is prime Sibelius from the opening solos for violin and cello to the robust finale. Sibelius’ signature full orchestral sound is ingeniously transferred to the four string instruments. The third movement Adagio di molto is the score’s heart, representing Sibelius at his emotive and volatile. 

The Sibelius performance proved more mixed, with the players’ reading too small in scale. Despite lively articulation, violinists Sarah Peters and Natsuki Kumagai’s tone sounded undernourished, particularly in the second movement Vivace. In the final Allegro, the four players were particularly emphatic and brought animated dash to the passing melodic fragments. Cellist Ashton Lim and violist Jesse Yukimura provided rich tone in their solos.

The New World Symphony’s chamber music series continues with violinist Roberto González-Monjas leading Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations, Enescu’s Octet in C Major and Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings with tenor Paul Appleby April 2 at New World Center in Miami Beach.; 305-673-3331.



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Mon Mar 6, 2017
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