BWW Review: THE PARK AVENUE CHAMBER SYMPHONY PERFORMS ROSENHAUS, WEBER AND DVORAK
The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony opened its season at the CMT Auditorium of the Salvation Army with a program entitled: "Heroes and Legends," which featured the New York Premiere of Steven Rosenhaus' "JFK: A Profile." The piece is an interesting blend of music and spoken word. Written in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's birth (1917), the work is generally performed with a narrator handling the quotations from JFK's best known speeches, but for this performance that narration featured actual video clips of Kennedy himself delivering the famous quotes. The Narrator for the piece was WQXR radio personality, and Peabody-award winner, Elliott Forrest - who incidentally designed the multimedia elements of the show as well.
The piece was both stirring and evocative, delivering wistful moments as well as more heroic underscoring for the narration. narrator is an important feature in the performance because his performance defines the audience's perspective and subsequently their experience with the work. Mr. Forrestt did a superb job, providing just the right balance of melancholic nostalgia and regal, stentorian, depth. Initially, the difference in level and timbre of the audio between Mr. Forrestt's narration and the natural sound of the video was a bit jarring, but after the first few interchanges it became unnoticeable. The work is a lovely piece, however the music itself suffers a bit because of the narration (and the videos). It cannot help but find itself playing a background, almost subordinate role, as the audience's focus is on the text of the narration. It's said that the best film soundtracks are the ones that you don't even notice are there, invisibly supporting and elevating the drama. Mr. Rosenhaus's score tries to do both, and to a certain extent succeeds. It would be interesting, and revealing, to hear a suite of just the music on its own.
The next work on the program was the magnificent Weber Clarinet Concerto #1 in Fm. Both of Weber's clarinet concertos owe their existence to the skills of clarinetist Heinrich Baermann. Weber wrote the Concertino Op. 26 for him and the piece brought Baermann's career to a new high - so much so that after hearing the first performance of it, King Maximilian of Bavaria commissioned two more concertos from the then unknown composer. Weber knocked off both concertos in a matter of just a few months! And the Clarinet Concerto #1 was a watershed moment in the composer's career, long before he would become world famous for his operas.
Remember the name Eli Goldberger, because his is a name readers are sure to hear more from. The 16 year-old soloist for the evening exhibited talent far beyond his years. His handling of the two brilliant solo passages in the first movement was clean and nuanced, but also light and playful. Since the movement is in a minor key, at least one secondary theme should be in the relative major - but that scamp Weber provided two! The second solo features a long expansion, delaying resolution to heighten the drama, before slowly combining the elements of the first ritornello and the first solo into a fluid final section that Goldenberg delivered masterfully.
The exquisite clarinet and horn dialogue in the super emotive adagio movement saw Maestro Bernard neatly and skillfully pacing his orchestra hand in glove with his soloist.
In the concluding "Rondo," Weber gives the soloist a broad stage to showcase his virtuosity and Goldberger delivered the goods. It's a spirited journey with off-beat modulations and elaborate pyrotechnics that put considerable demands on even the finest soloist. Mr. Goldberger didn't break a sweat, displaying both rock-solid technique and a marvelous sense of dynamics and lithe phrasing.
The second half of the evening was devoted to the lesser performed (but not lesser work) Dvorák 6th Symphony. 6th is easily one of Dvorák's more classically structured symphonies. His tendency to develop more than one theme in his sonata movements is once again on display - and brilliantly so. grace with which one melody moves into the next is so subtle that it can almost go by unnoticed - without a conductor who recognizes that possibility and illuminates each individual theme and its unique rhythmic structure. David Bernard was up to the challenge.
Allegro non tanto is the marking and Maestro Bernard nailed it, moving confidently and energetically forward, but without rushing. Right from the start, it was clear that this performance of the 6th was going to be an interpretation of enormous sensitivity.
While the majority of the recorded versions of the sixth are overly mannered and staid, featuring somewhat slower tempos, played rather straight, Maestro Bernard brought a hard-edged brilliance and dynamic rhythmic pulse to the performance.
Brahm's influence on Dvorák, particularly in the first movement, was apparent. But Dvorák's genius was far more than simply parroting his sources, he possessed the unique ability to let Czech and Slavic folk melodies inform his creations without overwhelming them. The conclusion of the 1st movement features sweeping changes in dynamics and minor-key drama, but throughout the changes in timbre and dynamics, Maestro Bernard kept a sure hand on the tempo, never letting the momentum fade.
The slow adagio movement was pleasant if somewhat bland. Intended as a tender nocturne, this rondo movement lacks movement (pun intended). Despite a few bars which the composer marked poco più animato and which the conductor brought abundant life to, this adagio is not one of the composer's more inspired creations.
The scherzo, however, is one of his best. This furiant was full of passion and almost reckless abandon. The abrupt drum crescendo which leads to the restatement of the main theme was thunderous. The extensive trio which followed is one of the composers more brilliant moments, as the passage leading into it changes rhythm so that when the main theme returns the tempo change is blended in perfectly almost unnoticeably. Once again, Maestro and orchestra were up to the task.
The finale is a compellingly urgent sonata whose primary theme closely mirrors the primary theme of the first movement. Echos of Brahms can once again be heard as the movement features similar scoring, tempo, meter, and key to the final movement of Brahms 2nd. Mr. Bernard brought all the forces of his orchestra together for the explosive coda, ending the evening on a profoundly tutti fortissimo note.
The Park Avenue Chamber Symphony's performance provided a very strong case for the 6th symphony gaining a more prominent place in the standard repertoire - it's a work that really needs to be heard live to be appreciated. I hope they add the piece to their growing library of recordings!
- Peter Danish, Classical Editor