Showing posts with label Shostakovich. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Shostakovich. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Copeland String Quartet Closes Their Season with Brahms

Copeland String Quartet with guest clarinetist Charles Salinger. 
Photo courtesy of Copeland String Quartet.
By Christine Facciolo
Chamber music aficionados packed the pews at the Church of the Holy City on Sunday afternoon for the season-closing concert of the Copeland String Quartet. It was certainly an event worth venturing out for on a rainy spring afternoon, and the musicians appeared quite delighted at the capacity audience.

The main offering on the program was Brahms’ autumnal masterpiece, the Clarinet Quintet, featuring the talents of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s principal clarinetist Charles Salinger.

The work was premiered by none other than the Joachim Quartet led by violinist Joseph Joachim with clarinetist Richard Muhlfeld whose playing impressed Brahms so much he came out of compositional retirement to write this enduring masterpiece for him.

This is a difficult work to pull off. Brahms was a master of counterpoint, skilled in the subtleties of rhythm and melody. There’s a lot going in a Brahms composition and unless the players have a broad sense of the work, the result can be turgid and endlessly dull.

Happily, that did not happen here. Copeland turned in an achingly beautiful performance with a lush string sound overlaid by Salinger’s lithe and liquid clarinet. The poignancy of alternating major and minor tonalities was interspersed with decisive declamatory passages. Salinger’s rhapsodic playing over wavering strings in the second movement entered into a shadowy dialogue with Eliezer Gutman’s first violin, colluding in final rising arpeggios. Salinger’s virtuosic command of his instrument revealed itself in the mercurial leaps of the third movement. Gutman navigated his colleagues through some intricate tempi in the fourth movement which also afforded a solo opportunity to cellist Jie Jin.

Music of a very different sort opened the program: Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3, Op. 73 in F major. The Third was the only work composed by Shostakovich in 1946, an indication of the trouble that lay ahead. The Zhdanov Decree was two years away but already the attacks had begun against artists and writers.

The writing in this quartet makes incredible demands on the players. Much of it is set in the instruments’ higher registers and there are instances of soloistic virtuosity that seem at odds with the ensemble playing expected in a quartet. Furthermore, the harmonic language is gritty. Each movement is in a home key but the continuously chromatic writing obscures the tonality.

Copeland offered a most impressive rendering of this emotional work. The players applied a light touch to the almost Haydnesque first movement, took a cautiously restrained approach to the ominous second and unleashed the demonic power of the Scherzo. The last two movements took the audience to an even darker place before settling into an uneasy peace with the three closing F major chords.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

DSO Closes Season on a High Note

By Christine Facciolo
Emotions ran high last week as the Delaware Symphony Orchestra closed its 2015-2016 season — The Season of the Bells — at The Grand Opera House in Wilmington.

Maestro David Amado conducted a program that offered just two works. But when one of those works features the gut wrenching emotionality of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 11, anything more would have felt like overload.

The concert opened with David Ludwig’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, with Bella Hristova as soloist. The semi-programmatic piece which was commissioned by an eight-orchestra consortium — including the DSO — celebrates Ludwig’s marriage to Hristova. Its three movements recount the wedding ritual (preparation, ceremony, celebration) within the broader themes of partnership, empathy and communion.

Ludwig invested the work with captivating moments and effects: asymmetrical rhythms, loping harmonies, ascending glissandi as well as unusual timbral combinations.

The work opens with a violin exclamation and everything a symphony orchestra can throw at it to signify transformative power of love and commitment before progressing to various Eastern-European style dances. The music builds to a brilliant raucousness, blending virtuosic cadenzas with warm lyricism.

The second movement opens with a tender melody in the solo violin that blossoms and grows joyful. This section serves as a touching tribute to the father Hristova never knew, Soviet-era composer Yuri Chichkov. Ludwig tracked down a rare copy of the violin concerto Chchkov wrote decades ago and incorporated an excerpt into this movement as a tribute to family.

Finally, the third movement “Festival” is as about as bacchanalian as a wedding reception can get. Bulgarian dances with their fluctuating rhythms run rampant, including Ludwig’s own version of the “Crooked Dance,” which mimics how the less-than-sure-footed revelers attempt to make their way home.

Hristova is one of today’s most celebrated artists with a superb technique and a sumptuous sound. Not surprisingly, she invested this performance with a sense of the whole, while balancing fiery virtuoso and deep passion with a sensitivity and softness.

Political passion consumed the second half of the program which featured Shostakovich’s massive Symphony No. 11, which premiered in 1957. The symphony is subtitled The Year 1905, a reference to the failed Russian revolution of that year. Critics initially dismissed the work as little more than glorified film music. Many now consider it to be more reflective in attitude, one that looks back on Russian history from the standpoint of 1957. Another interpretation views the symphony as a response to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and the composer’s widow has stated that he did in fact “have it in mind” during its composition.

Lasting more than an hour, the symphony consists of four movements played without pause. Each movement bears a descriptive title relating to the revolution. The brooding first movement “The Palace Square” readily conveys the tension of the gathering workers, whose massacre is the subject of the feverish second movement “The 9th of January.” The third movement “In Memoriam” is deeply meditative while the finale, “The Tocsin,” sizzles with excitement.

Amado and the DSO performed this difficult piece with heart-wrenching emotion and cinematic sweep. The strings invested just the right amount of melancholy in the slow movements while the brass, winds and percussion brought drama and tension to the fast movements, especially the finale with its floor-shaking bass drum, crashing cymbals and tam-tam and cataclysmic tolling of the Bells of Remembrance.

It was a masterful rendition that kept the audience on the edges of their seats during the performance and brought them to their feet at its conclusion.