Weilerstein, MTT close New World season in high style

By Lawrence Budmen

Alisa Weilerstein performed Britten's "Symphony for Cello and Orchestra" with the New World Symphony Saturday night.

Alisa Weilerstein performed Britten’s “Symphony for Cello and Orchestra” with the New World Symphony Saturday night.

British music, both gentle and thorny, and a riveting performance of a familiar Beethoven symphony comprised the menu for the New World Symphony’s final program of the season on Saturday night. The brilliant cellist Alisa Weilerstein lit up the New World Center stage with a stunning solo turn in a score by Benjamin Britten many cellists dare not attempt.

New World’s gifted conducting fellow Dean Whiteside opened the evening with “The Walk to the Paradise Garden” from the 1906 opera A Village Romeo and Juliet by Frederick Delius. (The work was performed in the orchestral arrangement by Sir Thomas Beecham which omits the vocal parts.) Following the opening soft tones from bassoons and horn, an oboe gently assayed a melody of  pastoral caste. Whiteside conveyed a supple sense of dramatic undertow in this impressionistic idyll. Soft timpani underpinning and harp arpeggios came through clearly without intruding on the quiet wind and string writing. The entire score flowed like the beautiful nature portrait that it is.

Britten’s Symphony for Cello and Orchestra was written in 1963 for Mstislav Rostropovich. Britten conducted the premiere in Moscow the following year. With orchestra and soloist as co-equals, Britten’s work is not a concerto in the traditional manner. This is a craggy, austere yet rewarding score that challenges the technical acumen, stamina and concentration of the solo cellist.

Welerstein attacked the slashing opening chords with appropriate harshness. Her light touch and singing tone brought lift and force to the lyrical melody of the second subject. Even in the cello’s highest reaches, Weilerstein’s sound remained beautiful.

The soloist displayed fine dexterity in the fiendishly difficult Presto Inquieto. Playing short bow strokes at rapid tempo, she breezed through this Paganini-like scherzo and brought richness and depth of tone  to the contrasting, almost romantic secondary theme.

The score reaches its zenith in the third movement Adagio. Over pounding timpani and eerie strings, Weilerstein’s darkly shaded timbre glowed in the elongated solo line. She encompassed both the bravura and dark pathos of  the cadenza that connects the third and fourth movements.

A triumphant trumpet chorale introduces the concluding Passacaglia, the music turning optimistic and joyful. Weilerstein’s tour de force was matched by the orchestra’s  polished corporate gleam. Tubist Jarrett McCourt on tuba and double-bass player Michael Fuller contributed exceptional solo contributions.

Following a standing ovation, Weilerstein gave a flowing, lyrical performance of the Sarabande from Bach’s solo Cello Suite No. 3.

Michael Tilson Thomas

Michael Tilson Thomas

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major (Eroica) may be familiar repertoire but there was nothing stodgy or rote about Tilson Thomas’ freshly conceived performance. This was Beethoven in the Toscanini mode with crisp articulation and the opening Allegro con brio tautly controlled. Thematic phrasing was sharply and expressively contoured and exchanges between winds and strings astutely balanced.

A relentless pulse underpinned the Marcia funebre. Violin sonority was especially silken and Tilson Thomas brought the full quotient of ballast to the brass climaxes. The churning rhythm of the Scherzo was emphatically underlined with the horn trio vigorously shaped and accurate.  Tilson Thomas brought strong momentum in the finale, with each of the variations strongly characterized and the final coda taken at full throttle and with sonorous weight.

Following the performance, Tilson Thomas asked the New World fellows who were leaving at season’s end to stand and be acknowledged–a well-deserved tribute after a season of consistently fine performances.

The program will be repeated 2 p.m. Sunday at the New World Center in Miami Beach.  nws.edu; 305-673-3331

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Weilerstein, MTT close New World season in high style”

  1. Posted May 11, 2017 at 7:57 am by Mario

    Another season wraps up. Thank you for your coverage and honest critiques of the performances in South Florida. May we continue to have classical music in the subtropics.

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