New World Symphony opens chamber series with sparkling rarities

By Lawrence Budmen

Pianist Jeffrey Kahane performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 with members of the New World Symphony on Sunday.

The outstanding pianist Jeffrey Kahane bookended the New World Symphony’s first chamber music concert of the season in a four-hand romp by Chabrier and one of the great Mozart piano concertos Sunday afternoon at New World Center. In typical fashion, the generous program featured works that one is unlikely to hear on other South Florida concert stages.

Kahane was joined by New World fellow Wesley Ducote for Chabrier’s Cortège burlesque. Written in 1871, the brief vignette winningly suggests the spirit of the French musical hall that Poulenc and Les Six would later reprise in the early 20th century. Seated at one keyboard, Ducote spun the lyrical melodies of the central episode while Kahane skillfully articulated the fleet thematic threads in spirited manner.

Missy Mazzoli is a composer who has received much acclaim recently, particularly for her opera Breaking the Waves. Her 2008 score Still Life with Avalanche is an attempt at post-modern fusion, encompassing rock, Latin rhythms, minimalism and New Age sounds.

Intricate and dense in textures, the work emerges as a hodgepodge that never comes together. Drones from harmonicas open and close the nine-minute work. Flutist Leigh Stevens sparkled in the rhythmic segments and Scott Jackson stood out in the shifting meters of the violin part. Clarinetist Angelo Quail, cellist Ben Fryxell, pianist Thomas Steigerwald and percussionist Kevin Ritenauer formed the remainder of the excellent ensemble.

Steigerwald and Ducote teamed up for Debussy’s En blanc et noir (In White and Black) for two pianos. They adroitly captured the outward playfulness (reminiscent of the composer’s Children’s Corner Suite) and the inward pathos of the opening movement. The songlike dirge of the second movement, dedicated to Debussy’s friend Jacques Charlot who died in the First World War, arose from the twin keyboards in broken melodic lines, culminating in a grim quote of the Lutheran chorale “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Steigerwald and Ducote’s deft and sensitive touch illuminated the nervous humor and blurred tonality of the finale.

The Sonata No. 5 in F Major for winds and continuo by Czech Baroque composer Jan Dismas Zelenka proved a real charmer. With a stately opening movement, a gravely beautiful Adagio that is almost Bachian and a dancing final Allegro, the work’s fifteen-minute length seemed to pass in half the time. The precise intonation and tonal purity of James Riggs and Emily Beare’s oboes carried the inspired melodic lines. Justin Cummings displayed agility in the rapid flourishes of the bassoon part, which breaks away from its usual Baroque continuo role. Steigerwald (on harpsichord) and Levi Jones (on bass) were clear and present in providing a continuo underpinning.

Kahane was both soloist and conductor in a performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major that would be difficult to surpass.

With divided violins on each side of the keyboard (with the top removed facing the orchestra), two double basses on the far left, cellos and violas across the center and winds and brass in the back, Kahane achieved crisp ensemble playing. His exquisite pianistic touch and elegant clarity of line and perfect runs were buttressed by spare vibrato from the chamber orchestra forces.

Kahane’s first movement cadenza brought a Beethovenesque weight. The second movement Andante is almost an operatic aria and Kahane made the Yamaha sing, his tone liquid and light. The concluding Allegretto features one of Mozart’s most catchy melodies and Kahane and the ensemble were nimble and high-stepping through to the final bars.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the New World Symphony’s opening concert this weekend, featuring selections from Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet and Scriabin’s Piano Concerto with soloist Daniil Trifonov. Conducting fellow Chad Goodman leads Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. Concert times are 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at New World Center in Miami Beach.; 305-673-3331

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Mon Oct 7, 2019
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