Denève, Moser and New World find depth in orchestra showpieces

By David Fleshler

Stephane Deneve conducted the New World Symphony Saturday night in Miami Beach.

Stéphane Denève conducted the New World Symphony Saturday night in Miami Beach.

In typical performances, the populist tone poem The Pines of Rome provides twenty minutes or so of colorful, tuneful music.

But on Saturday at New World Center in Miami Beach, conductor Stéphane Denève and the New World Symphony made Respighi’s portrait of the Italian capital into something much more.

All sections of the orchestra distinguished themselves, creating a vibrant, dramatic series of portraits of the city. Strings played with great richness and sensuality in the yearning melody that depicts the moon shining on the city’s pine trees. Portraying the Roman catacombs, horns and winds produced wizened, crackling tones, creating an atmosphere that was somber and eerie. The ghostly notes of an off-stage trumpet contributed to the otherworldly tone.

Most striking was the last section, a portrayal of a Roman legion marching on the Appian Way. Denève deployed trumpets on auxiliary stages above both sides of the orchestra. This allowed him and the orchestra to create a finale of spectacular sonic breadth and force, with trumpets, horns and other instruments ringing out with brilliant clarity over a surging orchestra, giving a vivid, swaggering portrait of Rome’s past military glory.

Johannes Moser

Johannes Moser

Earlier in the program cellist Johannes Moser took the stage for a terrific performance of Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1. This was a big, robust interpretation, but one with the precision and elegance of execution that’s essential in Saint-Saëns’ music. Moser conquered the concerto’s formidable technical hurdles–the passages requiring the bow to bounce from string to string, the rapid series of multiple tones at once–without allowing them to disturb the smooth surface.

He played the beginning–a series of runs that descend into a musical chasm–with particular urgency, opening in an headlong rush and suddenly dropping in volume in a manner that gave the passage extra, ominous force.

The concerto is rich in melodies, and Moser did much more with them then just slather them with throbbing vibrato (although he deployed lots of that). He bowed and phrased in such a way that each melody had its arc, without distorting the music through over interpretation. Toward the end of the work, he suddenly dropped in volume, making room for a ferocious crescendo to its conclusion.

As an encore, he and the orchestra played “The Swan” from Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, and there were nods of recognition in the audience as the familiar melody unfolded. With his rich tone, Moser could have gotten away with mailing in a pedestrian performance. But he did much more, playing the melody with unusual softness, delicacy and sensitivity, which made the melody especially moving in its reprise after the restless middle section.

The concert included the U.S. premiere of the French composer Guillaume Connesson’s E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare (And the River Sparkles Brightly in the Valley), an evocation of the Tuscan landscape as the sun reemerges after a thunderstorm.

For a contemporary work–and particularly following some of the acidic sounds of last week’s new music concert on the same stage–this lushly scored depiction of nature was very easy on the ears. In tone and orchestration, it resembled the works of Debussy, Ravel and early Stravinsky.

Connesson evoked the reawakening of nature with rustling wind instruments, which seemed to have been used from time immemorial to depict birds, butterflies and bees. Broad melodies in the strings, smoothly played by the orchestra, lead to big outbursts of climactic lyricism.

In addition to his musicianship, Denève has an engaging stage manner, taking clear pleasure in the playing he was drawing from the orchestra. Denève, principal guest conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra and incoming music director of the St. Louis Symphony, was generous with solo bows for members of the orchestra, beating his baton on the score to applaud them. And after the performance of the Connesson work, he held the score in front of the audience as if to let the composer share in the applause.

The concert opened with Berlioz’s Overture to Benvenuto Cellini, led by New World conducting fellow Dean Whiteside. Aside from an excessively brassy opening that obliterated the contributions of the other musicians, this was a vigorous, exciting performance of this concert staple. Strings were warm and focused in their opening melody, and Whiteside led a buildup to a clanging, brilliant finale.

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

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Sun Apr 8, 2018
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