New World members pay elegant homage to a bygone Paris

By Inesa Gegprifti

Soprano Michelle Bradley joined New World Symphony members in a chamber program of French music Sunday afternoon.

Soprano Michelle Bradley joined New World Symphony members in a chamber program of French music Sunday afternoon.

With vintage black-and-white photos of the City of Lights projected inside the New World Center auditorium, the scene was set before a note was played at “An Afternoon in Paris.” The musicians did their part as well in this Sunday matinee chamber program in Miami Beach, with New World Symphony fellows and soprano Michelle Bradley conjuring the charmant air of a beloved world capital that has long cultivated its own aesthetic.

This program of four works spanning 1886-1926 opened with its chronological end point, the neo-Classically- tinged Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano by Francis Poulenc. The somber ceremonial introduction, with its dotted rhythms and trills, swiftly transitions into a tongue-in-cheek Presto; pianist John Wilson, oboist Kristin Kall, and bassoonist Francisco J. Joubert Bernard displayed impeccable musicianship throughout the fast-paced unison figurations. Kall and Bernard projected the melodic conversation of the Andante with elegance, and smart voicings from Wilson in the humorous, march-like Rondo opened a path for the double reeds to glide through their crisp and articulated passages

A sharp U-turn from the lightheartedness of Poulenc’s trio, Ernest Chausson’s Perpetual Song, Op. 37, is scored for soprano, string quartet and piano (and abject romantic despair). This 1898 setting of a Charles Cros poem is Chausson’s last completed work, imbued with dark vocal colors sung from the standpoint of a woman abandoned by her beloved.

Bradley’s voice floated gracefully above a layer of  tremulous strings, and she consistently sustained the song’s heightened emotional pitch. Her voice was always commanding in its clarity of diction, intensity of vibrato and its capacity to summon the piercing high note that completes this work over an instrumental fadeout.

The first half ended with another emotional swing. Written during World War I by André Caplet, Les prières is a setting of three Catholic prayers: the Lord’s Prayer, Ave Maria and Nicene Creed. Scored for soprano, string quartet and harp, it brings the liturgy into the art-song genre. The overall mood of the work is one of dreamy wonderment.

Violinists Jessica Ryou and Hye Jin Koh, violist Kip Riecken and cellist Blake-Anthony Johnson spun a sweet and warm fabric of sound, while harpist Chloe Tula elevated the texture with an ethereal accompaniment. Bradley’s speech-like phrasing, lovingly enclosed by the ensemble, surged on the words “God” and “life everlasting.”

The Carnival of the Animals, by Camille Saint-Saëns, made for a whimsical finale. Written in 1886 and played at private recitals for friends, the suite wasn’t formally published or performed under his name until 1922 — a year after his death — in keeping with the composer’s wishes. Saint-Saëns feared that a work he regarded as something of a trifle might injure his reputation as a serious composer

The 14 miniatures of this piano-centric work are teeming with onomatopoeia and take audible delight in their creation and exploration of an animal tableau. There is the regal “Lion’s March”; the gloomy slowness of “Tortoise”; the nonchalant waltz of “Elephant”; the mystery of “Aquarium”; the whining glissandi of “Donkey”; the airy, virtuosic “Aviary” and obsessive, lonely “Cuckoo”; the sublime “Swan”; and even the pompous, yet uncertain, “Pianist.”

The composition employs a string quintet, flute, piccolo, clarinet, two percussionists and two pianos, and the New World musicians beautifully captured the depictive spirit of the music. The second pianist, Kathy Lee, joined with Wilson to provide a sturdy foundation for the ensemble throughout, and “Fleet Animals,” scored for just the two pianos, was a testament to their flawless synchronicity.

New World Symphony presents a Percussion Consort program, “Verses and Vices,” 7:30 p.m. January 27 at New World Center.

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Mon Jan 22, 2018
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