BWW Review: ORPHEUS AND ISSERLIS; PERFECT TOGETHER at 92nd Street Y
Pure, unadulterated joy is not something audiences regularly see on a concert stage. Making music can be serious business and besides, most instrumentalists play with intense concentration. However unintentional, their faces often convey a rather somber mood. To be fair, it's difficult to show emotion when there's a wind or brass instrument sitting on one's lips.
On Sunday, December 9, cellist Steven Isserlis brought his ebullient style to the 92nd Street Y in a concert with members of the string section of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. He performed the Cello Concerto in A major, H439, of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), one of J.S. Bach's musical sons.C.P.E. Bach, or Emanuel as he was known to friends, was a leader of the Empfindamer Stil , (sensitive style). He and other Rococo period composers wrote music that would, in C.P.E.'s words, touch the heart and stir the emotions. To say Mr. Isserlis stirred his audience's emotions is the understatement of the year. Rapture, elation, bliss, ecstasy, momentary sorrow (in the Largo movement) and back to delight all passed through him to his cello and to the audience. His colleagues couldn't help being affected by the sheer happiness of his playing and responded in kind. With smiles all around, it was clear that the small, conductorless ensemble was having a terrific time working with him. Mr.Isserlis' precise articulation and intonation combined with his deeply emotional, joyous playing made this performance of a relatively obscure cello concerto one to remember.
Two other pieces filled out the program. The Symphony for String Orchestra in A flat Major, N.37, by the young composer Hans Rott (1858-1884) received its US premiere in this concert. Rott was a sixteen year old prodigy attending the Vienna Conservatory when he began writing this work. Although it was performed with panache by the ensemble, it had the ring of a composition class practice piece with momentary flashes of brilliance. Sadly, Rott died in a psychiatric hospital of tuberculosis at the age of 26, so the world would never see the promise of this potentially great composer.
After the intermission, the ensemble, consisting of thirteen string players and harpsichordist, took on Gustav Mahler's 1894 string orchestra arrangement of Franz Schubert's string quartet known as "Death and the Maiden" ( String Quartet No.14 in D minor, D.810). Schubert (1797-1828) first wrote the song to a text of Matthias Claudius in 1817, then the string quartet in 1824. It is an emotionally complex, dramatic, and physically demanding work, telling a specific story without benefit of words. These musicians were more than up to the musical challenge. Their meticulous attention to details of phrasing and dynamic nuance made for a compelling performance of this justifiably famous and tremendously exhilarating piece.
The encore, Edward Elgar's Elegy, was touchingly dedicated to the memory of a long time Orpheus supporter and trustee, George Braun. It was a lovely way to end the concert.