Above: Ottorino Respighi
Sunday June 7th, 2015 matinee - The last in The New York Philharmonic's 2014-2015 season of chamber music concerts at Merkin Hall. An insert in the program outlined the repertory for next season's series, whetting the appetite. Today's concert featured two rarities plus a Dvořák masterpiece.
Ottorino Respighi's Il tramonto (The Sunset), a lyric poem for mezzo-soprano and string quartet, opened the programme. In this setting of a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the story of a woman's deep affection for her beloved, of his sudden death, and of her enduring sorrow, is expressed in the form of a vocal scena. Composed in 1914, the musical style of Il tramonto relates to the verismo operas, but also put me in mind of Ernest Chausson's haunting Poème de l'amour et de la mer.
An autumnal passage for viola, beautifully styled by Katherine Green, opens the work. Later, Nathan Vickery's resonant cello amplifies the underlying sense of loss and of regret. Near the end, prominent violin passages (played by Anna Rabinova and Shanshan Yao) have a poignant, heart-rending quality. Mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy at first sounded over-vibrant and her voice seemed too large for the hall, but she quickly got the feel for the space and scaled her dynamics impressively, producing some particularly attractive piano singing. She conveyed the shifting moods of the text well, from the initial deep sense of contented happiness, through the unexpected tragedy, to a state of pained resignation and endless despair.
Above: composer/violinist Adolf Busch
Adolf Busch's Quintet for Alto Saxophone and Strings was introduced today by cellist Eric Bartlett, who remarked on his long association with guest saxophonist Harvey Pittel. The saxophone has often been regarded as a 'poor cousin' by classical composers, but Adolf Busch - who was a violinist and founding member of the renowned Busch Trio in 1911 (later becoming the Busch Quartet) - took a liking for the instrument's sound and featured it in this 1925 composition.
Influenced by Beethoven, Brahms, and Max Reger, Busch's style is quirky and unpredictable in its rhythmic and harmonic shifts. The second movement is particularly whimsical with its odd ending. A saxophone solo opens the third movement, where dancing lyricism and a sense of irony are woven together. The fourth movement is a mélange of musical moods, as if the composer is charmingly unsure what direction he wants to go in.
Surrounded by an amiable set of string players - violinists Lisa GiHae Kim and Kuan Cheng Lu, Dawn Hannay on viola, and Mr. Bartlett's cello - Harvey Pittel displayed tonal warmth, admirable dynamic control, and an obvious affection for the music.
Violinist Fiona Simon introduced the String Quartet in C-major, Op. 61, by Antonin Dvořák. Written in 1881, this piece shows the composer's classical heritage, mostly avoiding elements of folk-style and written well before his 'Americanization'. It's simply music to revel in, from first note to last. And the players offered it up in a world-class rendering that enchanted the ear whilst bolstering the spirit.
Ms. Simon's silken tone was like a balm, and no less so Sharon Yamada's when - in the second movement - she had a lovely opportunity to 'sing'. Later, the two violins entwine in an endearingly harmonized cantabile passage. Robert Rhinehart's mellow viola and cellist Eileen Moon's lush, mahogany gorgeousness lent a lustrous richness to the sonic blend.
As the Dvořák drew to its close, I was again reminded of the deep consoling effect of great music as a counter-poise against the woes and worries of the world: it restores the soul and sends us forth to face whatever may come with renewed confidence and grace.