New World musicians seize the solo spotlight in Concerto Showcase

By Lawrence Budmen

Beatrice Hsieh was the soloist in Korngold’s Violin Concerto with the New World Symphony Saturday night.

The welcome return of the New World Symphony’s Concerto Showcase concert on Saturday night at the New World Center spotlighted exceptional harp, trumpet and violin soloists from the orchestral academy’s ranks. Guest conductor Lina González-Granados provided a sure hand at the podium and astute support in a program of worthy works from the fringes of solo orchestral repertoire.

A former assistant to Riccardo Muti at the Chicago Symphony and presently resident conductor of Los Angeles Opera, González-Granados opened the evening with Jeder Baum spricht (All trees speak) by Iranian-Canadian composer Iman Habibi. Commissioned by the Philadelphia Orchestra in 2019 in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth, the score’s title refers to a comment in Beethoven’s sketch books. Although the composer has indicated the work attempts to give aural vision to the problems of climate change, the music stands on its own as an orchestral showpiece.

An initial brass fanfare and busy timpani rolls lead to a more introspective episode. Sweeping cinematic motifs with a nod to Holst’s Planets and John Williams’ film scores segue into bold climactic volleys. González-Granados’ clear technique made a worthy case for Habibi’s appealing opener. She achieved silken sonority and the softest pianissimo from the strings and maintained firm control of the ensemble flourishes.

Abigail Kent did the solo honors in Alberto Ginastera’s Harp Concerto. Written in the mid 1950’s, the score contrasts the lyricism of the instrument’s melodic side with extended techniques like hitting the wood or playing glissandos with nails rather than fingers. The pounding indigenous Argentine pampas rhythms of the outer movements could easily have come from Ginastera’s ballet scores Panambi and Estancia. A central Molto moderato is a night music in the manner of Bartók but with a Latin accent. 

Abigail Kent

Kent was equal to all the concerto’s challenges, offering a pitch- perfect reading. In the cadenza between the second and third movements, she displayed fleet dexterity and made her instrument sing. González-Granados was in full command of Ginastera’s complex instrumental writing. Her coordination of the many passages for solo harp and percussion was especially skillful. Kent received a standing ovation for this worthy revival of an important work.

Kenneth Chauby opened the concert’s post-intermission half with Henri Tomasi’s Trumpet Concerto. An entertaining 1948 composition, the 15-minute, work mixes celebratory proclamations, bugle-like marches and eerie melodic threads with allusions to jazz and blues. Chauby, a born showman as well as master of his instrument, displayed agility and precision in the double tonguing and forays into the instrument’s highest range. In the Andante, he floated the melodic line employing multiple mutes and coloration.

Kenneth Chauby

Violinist Beatrice Hsieh has previously offered impressive turns in the extended solos of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben under Stéphane Denève last season and, more recently, as the protagonist of Wynton Marsalis’ A Fiddler’s Tale. 

Those fine performances were exceeded by her superb iteration of Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Originally conceived for Bronislaw Hubermann who kept delaying the premiere, the 1945 score was eventually taken up by Jascha Heifetz who encouraged the composer to make it more virtuosic and difficult. For a long time, Heifetz was its only champion but, in the past three decades, many violinists have added this work to their repertoire and for good reason. Korngold’s rhapsodic concoction mixes old fashioned Viennese romanticism via Hollywood with flashy bravura that tests the soloist’s accuracy and skill.

From the onset of the opening Moderato mobile, Hsieh’s rich dark tone, embellished by shades of chiaroscuro, carried the melodic lines adapted from Korngold’s film scores. She phrased in a long fluent arc, and dashed off the rapid sections with devilish zeal. 

Hsieh’s honeyed sound carried easily over the full ensemble in the central Romance and the strings matched her in sheer beauty of execution. Hsieh’s vigorous, gutsy version of barn-dance like fiddling set the final Allegro assai vivace in motion. She bounced the bow on the strings with vigor and élan before broadly stating the principal theme. Hsieh maintained that propulsion and control right through coda, rendered with fire, fury and perfect intonation. 

González-Granados highlighted Korngold’s multifaceted instrumental writing while providing ideal pacing and accompaniment. In an evening of enthusiastic ovations, Hsieh received the longest and the loudest.

The New World Symphony repeats the program  2 p.m. Sunday at the New World Center in Miami Beach.

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Sun Apr 14, 2024
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