New World wraps chamber season with a masterful Schubert rarity

By Lawrence Budmen

Franz Schubert’s Octet was performed by New World Symphony members Sunday afternoon in Miami Beach. Painting: Wilhelm August Rieder, 1825.

The New World Symphony concluded its chamber music season Sunday afternoon with one of Franz Schubert’s most delightful creations—the Octet in F Major. This score is rarely programmed, largely because of its unusual scoring for two violins, viola, cello, double bass, clarinet, bassoon and horn.

The extended ovation by the audience at the New World Center radiated the joy this hour-long work engenders in listeners. An intriguing piece by a Miami-based composer served as a prelude to the main event at the 90-minute concert, performed without intermission.

Specific Gravity: 2.72 (for flute, clarinet, saxophone, violin, cello and percussion) by University of Miami Frost School of Music faculty member Lansing McLoskey is a study in contrasting timbral effects with hints of longer motivic curves. “Hardness,” the first of two short movements, consists of quick fragmentary motifs but the violin plays a larger thematic role beneath the terse surface. “November Graveyard” takes its title from a poem by Sylvia Plath. While there is trademark Plath darkness and depression in McLoskey’s musical impressions, a haunting saxophone melody suggests nostalgia for better days. The expertly crafted work received a dedicated performance, conducted by cello fellow Victor Huls. Benjamin Morris, on alto saxophone, evidenced a huge tonal glow, carrying the second movement. There was snappy, bright articulation from Leah Stevens (flute), Jesse McCandless (clarinet), Sophia Bernitz (violin), Isabel Kwon (cello) and New World chamber music director Michael Linville on percussion. McLoskey received  enthusiastic applause when he joined the players on stage.

Schubert’s 1824 Octet harkens back to the divertimentos and entertainment music of the eighteenth century. His most director predecessor is Beethoven’s Septet in E-flat, and, like that score, Schubert’s opus is cast in six movements. 

It was one of the few Schubert compositions to be publicly performed in the composer’s lifetime. The vivacious themes of the opening movement recall the outer sections of Schubert’s early symphonies in their melodic felicity. The New World fellows’ ensemble playing emerged crisp and spirited. Juliana Darby’ agile clarinet, Scott Leger’s robust horn and the tonal sheen of Margeaux Maloney’s violin took solo honors.

The Andante brings one of those Schubertian melodies that seem to flow in elongated, endless spans. Darby spun that thread with delicacy and elegance. In the Scherzo, the bassoon, usually given a secondary role, appears as a melodic instrument and Gabriel Beavers’ contributed rounded, well-supported tone. 

The fourth movement Andante and variations features a prominent solo violin part in the manner of Mozart’s “Haffner” Serenade. Maloney’s intonation, lovely tone and sense of classical style carried its varied permutations to fine effect. 

Following a gracious Menuetto, a string tremolo seems to herald a monumental shift. In fact, the principal subject of the finale seems to come out of the entertainments of the Viennese café. The players (including Yanki Karatas, violin, Stephanie Block, viola, Emily Yashimoto, cello and Daniel Carson, bass) gave exhilarating verve to this light-hearted concluding flourish of one of the most beguiling pieces in the repertoire for large chamber ensemble.

Michael Tilson Thomas conducts the New World Symphony in Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 and Joseph Boulogne’s Violin Concerto in G with Gil Shaham 7:30 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday at the New World Center in Miami Beach.

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Mon May 2, 2022
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