The Quartet in G minor for piano and strings by Gabriel Fauré is one of those chamber scores that rarely appear on the concert program. Partly because it requires only three string players rather than a quartet, the work is heard more often on recordings.
Fauré’s opus was the star offering of the New World Symphony’s chamber music matinee on Sunday at the New World Center in Miami Beach. The music and performance was nothing short of an eye opener.
Written in 1886 at the twilight of the Romantic era, the score is brooding and brooding, pre-channeling Tchaikovsky but with a heavy Gaulish accent. Surging melodies and high-tension climaxes abound throughout the four movements.
Fauré’s Piano Quartet was the subject of a spectacular reading by four of the best scholarship holders of the orchestra academy. Pianist Thomas Steigerwald has drawn a rounded sonority from Yamaha and he has skilfully captured the lively and airy verve of the second movement. The pianist deploys a fine palette of dynamics, notably in the fiery pages of the concluding Allegro molto.
Violist Stephanie Block has made a name for herself in both orchestral and chamber works in recent seasons. She has always brought out the tonal luxuriance of her instrument with flexibility while artfully blending in with her colleagues. The light touch of violinist Michael Rau and the mahogany glow of James Churchill’s cello brought a depth of expression to the Allegro molto.
The Adagio non troppo is the fulcrum of the quartet. A serene, almost classical subject matter was imbued with soulful sentiment by the musicians and the music really took off. The finale unfolded with sparkling energy with the musicians fully engaged in the white heat.
The first half of the program consisted of a series of lightweight miniatures.
The Sonata in E flat major for harp with obbligato flute by the 18th century composer Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges, was the most interesting of these curiosities. Filled with graceful and courtly themes, the three-movement work is unusual in that the harp is the main instrument and the flute part is mostly relegated to the lower register of the instrument. Freed from arpeggiated writing for her instrument in many orchestral scores, harpist Phoebe Powell dosed the melodic lines with momentum and technical mastery. Emily Bieker’s flute matched Powell in direct expression and pristine clarity.
At Germaine Tailleferre’s Picture echoed the collective of composers Les Six. Written for eight instruments, this fusion of populist elements in classical forms also offers a nod to Ravel and Satie (via quotations from their scores). Alexandria Hoffman’s flute and Jesse McCandless’ clarinet led the ensemble with agility and brilliance of tone.
by Darius Milhaud Dances of the little crocodile describes the composer’s love of Brazilian dance and folk music. His resolutely French interpretation of the tango is particularly amusing. Luis Salazar played with the airy flair of a café violinist and pianist Wesley Ducote encapsulated the rhythms of the Latin keyboard.
Mezzo-soprano Ronnita Miller in solo in two short vocal works by Igor Stravinsky from her post The Rite of Spring period.
cat lullabies is scored for the unusual combination of voice and three clarinets. Ironically, the 1919 premiere of the piece was given by Stravinsky’s rival, Arnold Schoenberg, during his series of concerts in Vienna. Miller captured the whimsy of ‘Indoors’ and the nocturnal aura of ‘Sleepytime’ which features Stravinsky as melodist and charmer. McCandless, Julianne Darby and Angelo Quail skillfully nailed the weighted clarinet bottom.
Pribaoutki is a cycle of four songs in the early Russian vein of Stravinsky The wedding. The eight-member ensemble reveled in sharp instrumental writing. “The Old Man and the Hare” pits a traditional folk vocal line against modernist dissonance. Miller’s quick articulation turned “Little Natasha” into a vocal tour de force.
The range and beauty of Miller’s instrument took center stage in four excerpts from Fauré The Good Song in new arrangements by Michael Linville. These songs blend art song with traditional French chanson to delightful effect. Miller projected the joy of spring’s arrival in “Winter is over” and shot the ecstatic lines of “Before you fade” with anguished emotion.
Conducted with spirit and definition by Chad Goodman, Linville’s orchestration for twelve musicians was always imaginative. Galloping winds and burning rope paths harmonize with the sweeping texts of Paul Verlaine. As New World’s chamber music director, percussion ensemble director, pianist and arranger, the talented Linville is a musical polymath. His instrumentation enhanced the layered hues of Faurê’s poetic music.
The New World Symphony presents “Then and Now” at 2 p.m. on March 20 at the New World Center in Miami Beach. The chamber music program includes the Quartet of Grazyna Bacewicz, Fernanda Navarro Parthenogen, Suite for wind quintet by Ruth Crawford Seeger, Hannah Kendall Verdole and Brahms Piano Quintet. nws.edu
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