Fauré Quartet, French and Russian songs shine in New World concert

By Lawrence Budmen

Mezzo-soprano Ronnita MIller performed songs of Fauré and Stravinsky Sunday at New World Center.

Gabriel Fauré’s Quartet in G minor for Piano and Strings is one of those chamber scores that rarely appear on concert programs. Partly because it calls for only three string players rather than a quartet, the work is more often heard on recordings. 

Fauré’s opus was the featured offering on the New World Symphony’s chamber music matinee Sunday at the New World Center in Miami Beach. Both the music and the performance were nothing short of a revelation.

Written in 1886 at the twilight of the romantic era, the score is moody and brooding, pre-channeling Tchaikovsky but with a heavy Gallic accent. Surging melodies and high-voltage climaxes abound throughout the four movements. 

Fauré’s Piano Quartet was given a spectacular reading by four of the orchestral academy’s top fellows. Pianist Thomas Steigerwald drew a rounded sonority from the house Yamaha and he captured the brisk and airy verve of the second movement adroitly. The pianist displayed a fine palette of dynamics, especially in the fiery pages of the concluding Allegro molto. 

Violist Stephanie Block has been a standout player in both orchestral and chamber works over recent seasons. She consistently brought out her instrument’s tonal luxuriance with flexibility while astutely blending with her colleagues. Violinist Michael Rau’s light touch and the mahogany glow of James Churchill’s cello brought depth of expression to the Allegro molto.

The Adagio non troppo is the quartet’s fulcrum. A serene, almost classical subject was imbued with soulful feeling by the players and the music really took flight. The finale went with fizzing energy with the musicians fully engaged at white heat.

The program’s first half consisted of a series of lightweight miniatures. 

The Sonata in E-flat Major for harp with flute obbligato by eighteenth century composer Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de St. George, was the most engaging of these curios. Filled with graceful, courtly themes, the three-movement work is unusual in that the harp is the leading instrument, and the flute part mostly relegated to the instrument’s lower register. Liberated from the arpeggiated writing for her instrument in many orchestral scores, harpist Phoebe Powell assayed the melodic lines with élan and technical mastery. Emily Bieker’s flute matched Powell in direct expression and pristine clarity.

Germaine Tailleferre’s Image offered echoes of the composers’ collective Les Six. Written for eight instruments, this fusion of populist elements within classical forms also offers a tip of the hat to Ravel and Satie (via quotes from their scores).  Alexandria Hoffman’s flute and Jesse McCandless’ clarinet led the ensemble with agility and brightness of tone. 

Darius Milhaud’s Dances of the Little Crocodile pictured the composer’s love of Brazilian dance and folk music. His decidedly French take on the tango is particularly amusing. Luis Salazar played with the breezy flair of a café violinist and pianist Wesley Ducote encapsulated the Latin keyboard rhythms.

Mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller soloed in two brief vocal works by Igor Stravinsky from his post Le Sacre du Printemps period. 

Cat Lullabies is scored for the unusual combination of voice and three clarinets. Ironically the piece’s 1919 premiere was presented by Stravinsky’s rival Arnold Schoenberg at his concert series in Vienna. Miller captured the whimsy of “Indoors” and the nocturnal aura of “Sleepytime” which presents Stravinsky in the role of melodist and charmer. McCandless, Julianne Darby and Angelo Quail ably brought off the weighted clarinet backdrop.

Pribaoutki is a four-song cycle in the primitive Russian vein of Stravinsky’s Les Noces. The eight-member ensemble reveled in the spiky instrumental writing. “The Old Man and the Hare” pits a traditional folkish vocal line against modernist dissonance. Miller’s rapid articulation turned “Little Natasha” into a vocal tour de force.

The range and beauty of Miller’s instrument took center stage in four excerpts from Fauré’s Le Bonne Chanson in new arrangements by Michael Linville. These songs mix art song with traditional French chanson to delightful effect. Miller projected the joy of the coming of spring in “Winter is over” and spun the ecstatic lines of “Before you fade” with anguished emotion.

Conducted with spirit and definition by Chad Goodman, Linville’s orchestration for twelve players was consistently imaginative. Scampering winds and searing string paths dovetail the sweep of Paul Verlaine’s texts. As New World’s director of chamber music, percussion ensemble director, pianist and arranger, the multi-talented Linville is a musical polymath. His instrumentation enhanced the layered hues of Faurê’s poetic music.

The New World Symphony presents “Then and Now” 2 p.m. March 20 at the New World Center in Miami Beach. The chamber program features Grazyna Bacewicz’s Quartet, Fernanda Navarro’s Parthenogenes, Ruth Crawford Seeger’s Suite for wind quintet, Hannah Kendall’s Verdola and Brahms’ Piano Quintet. nws.edu

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Mon Jan 31, 2022
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