New World closes year in style with Baroque and contemporary rarities

By Lawrence Budmen

Violinist Aisslinn Nosky was a guest artist in the New World Symphony’s chamber program Sunday afternoon in Miami Beach.

Music from the fringes of the Baroque repertoire, a major work by an underrated 20th-century composer and a witty 21st-century take on neo-classicism highlighted the New World Symphony’s final chamber music program of the year Sunday afternoon at the New World Center. 

In a first half devoted to Baroque composers whose names are confined to music history books and scores to dusty library shelves, somehow music by the prolific Georg Philipp Telemann also managed to make an appearance.

The concert commenced with Concerto in F Major by Johann David Heinichen. In the rousing vein of Handel’s Water Music, stirring horn calls dominate the outer movements. Two flutes evoke a pastoral melody in the central Largo (flutists Minha Kim and Emily Bieker’s clarity and spot-on intonation were consistently impressive in this charming work). After some initial wobbles, Henry Bond and Xin He’s horns rebounded in the difficult high-range acrobatics. An ensemble of 12 strings, 2 oboes, bassoon, and harpsichord played with invigorating spirit.

Telemann wrote over three thousand works. Inevitably, the quality of his output is variable. Some of his scores are formulaic and dull but the Concerto in D Major for three trumpets is one of Telemann’s best creations. Grandly ceremonial and vivacious opening and closing movements frame a graceful Largo in which an oboe takes over the solo spotlight. Morgen Low, Kenneth Chauby and Alan Tolbert’s trumpets resounded with clarion majesty, and they were equal to the rapid flourishes of the finale. Oboist Katherine Bruns’ tonal firmness and lovely tone matched the swaying pulse of the slow movement.

The Concerto in G Major by Jan Dismas Zelenka was an example of the more conventional, less inspired side of Baroque era art. The piece’s solo contingent of violin, oboe and bassoon suggests similar combinations in Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. The players made the best case for Zelenka’s concerto. Violinist Diego Diaz brought stylish affinity to his extensive part. The large tonal range of Maggie O’Leary’s bassoon carried the melodic writing of the slow movement. Playing the oboe’s intricate lines, Tanavi Prabhu was the performance’s star.  Shih Man-Weng provided lively continuo underpinning at the harpsichord.

Dario Castello played violin at St. Mark’s in Venice under Claudio Monteverdi. His Sonata concertante in Stil Modern, Book 1, no. 4 is a wildly imaginative juxtaposition of fast and slow sections that give the solo instruments a virtuosic challenge. Guest violinist Aisslinn Nosky, concertmaster of Boston’s venerable Handel and Haydn Society, embellished the slow segments with aristocratic grace and a distinctive vibrato-less sound. Substituting a modern trombone for the sackbut of the composer’s era, Addison Maye-Saxon matched Nosky in speed and dexterity. Cellist David Olson filled in the important underlining.

Elizabeth Jacquet de la Guerre performed at the age of five for Louis XIV, the Sun King. She was a distinguished harpsichordist, leader of a salon and the first woman to have an opera produced at the Paris Opera. That prodigious talent is clearly evident in her Trio Sonata No. 3 in D Major.

In its formality, the work is definitely a product of the French, rather than Italian or German Baroque. Bright and delightful streams of melody run through the three movements of this nine-minute opus. Sooyoung Kim had a field day with the sparkling oboe writing. Her phrasing impeccably matched Nosky’s felicitous lightness of bow strokes. The depth of sonority from Kamila Dotta’s cello was fully present.

Turning to the modern era, the concert’s second half opened with Kammerkonzert for piano, violin and 13 winds by German-Canadian composer Michael Oesterle. The 2017 score abounds in brief, fragmentary motifs and incidents following each other in procession. Like a middle period Stravinsky work retooled for this century, the work is full of cogent ideas and instrumental details that perk up the ear.  Contemplative moments suggest a more eerie aura. At the conclusion, the wind ensemble stops playing, leaving the soloists to finish alone.

Pianist Noah Sonderling and Nosky exhibited speed and dexterity in a work that demands nothing less. In the contest between instruments, the pair were equals and it was great to hear Nosky extend her skills to music of a different time and genre. Conducting fellow Molly Turner was attuned to the numerous changes of meter and phrase and the winds brought brightness and polish to the tricky ensemble declamations.

Polish composer Karol Szymanowski was influenced by folk music and the whirlwind cultural panorama of 1920’s Paris but his was a distinctive compositional voice. His String Quartet No. 2, written in 1927, concluded the generous program on an ecstatic note. 

While echoes of Bartók and Shostakovich in their dark moments are present, the quartet is a soaring, eloquent, sometimes angry statement. The initial Allegro molto e tranquillo begins with a lyrical, haunting theme that gradually becomes brooding. Initially lilting, the Vivace scherzando leads to dissonant harshness and rapid bursts of pizzicato from the four players. A final Largo speaks in elegiac terms before turning to climactic tumult. This quartet is an important work by a major 20th-century composer whose output deserves revival.

The four New World players were clearly well prepared, and their coordination wasc outstanding in Szymanowski’s difficult passages. Ye Jin Min was a strong leader, her violin’s multi-colored palette perfectly attuned to Szymanowski’s mood swings. Owen Ruff equaled her in singing tone and ability to turn on a dime from meditative stasis to agitation. Toby Winarto’s rich viola sonority and Olson’s solid cello blended winningly. This outstanding performance of an important, neglected score was an appropriate conclusion to an exciting fall for the New World Symphony.

Members of the New World Symphony play George Walker’s Music for Brass (Sacred and profane), Hummel’s Sextet, Bach’s Concerto in C minor for two pianos, and Frank Bridge’s Sextet in E-flat minor with pianist Elizabeth Joy Roe  2 p.m. February 28 at the New World Center in Miami Beach.

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Mon Dec 18, 2023
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