Sunday, May 15, 2011

Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra - Stravinsky, Schneider, Bartok & Haydn - 05/13/2011

Stravinsky: Concerto in D for String Orchestra
Schneider: Carlos Drummond de Andrade Stories for Soprano and Chamber Orchestra – Dawn Upshawn
Bartok: Five Hungarian Folk Songs (arranged for soprano and string orchestra by Richard Tognetti) – Dawn Upshawn
“Anynyi bánat az szüvemen”
“Régi keserves”
“Párositó I”
“Eddig való dolgom”
“Hatforintos nóta”
Haydn: Symphony No 104 (London)

The only full-time professional chamber orchestra in the US, and one of the most highly regarded in the world, the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra was gracing the stage of Carnegie Hall on Friday night for an eclectic program that did not seem to have much coherence except, maybe, for some slight folksy, earthy tone to it. Nothing too ambitious, but still an undeniable breath of fresh air perfectly suited for the “Spring for Music” festival. The presence of American soprano Dawn Upshaw, renowned for being equally at ease with pesky Mozart’s heroines as with challenging contemporary experiments, was an added guarantee of quality, so all seemed to align fortuitously to celebrate the safe fading of Friday the 13th and a pleasant start of the weekend.

And it all started very pleasantly indeed with the lively sounds of Stravinsky’s “Basel” concerto. Expertly combining agility and sophistication, the string players, who were all standing up for the occasion, let the music rise with much polish and energy. Although not as dazzlingly adventurous as the infamous Rite of Spring, this totally engaging piece still kept the happy audience, and the hard-at-work musicians, on their toes.
Maria Schneider’s compositions inspired by Carlos Drummond de Andrade came out the perfect accompaniment for Dawn Upshaw’s pretty voice, even if the physical instrument at times overwhelmed the human one. As Maria Schneider herself took the baton for this New York première of her work, the music harmoniously supported the simple worlds and straightforward emotions evoked in the popular poems. Once in a while, a light touch of exoticism sprung up through some languorous Latin guitar-like notes.
This sweet escapade in Brazil behind her, Dawn Upshaw was up to a totally different task after intermission with Bartok’s native Hungarian songs. Because most of the pieces told sad stories or described sorrowful moods, Dawn Upshaw’s voice finally got a chance to fully express itself over the understated orchestra, and it assuredly did. The series concluded with an energy-filled, fun-loving folk dance that instantaneously uplifted everybody’s spirits up.
One of Haydn’s most beloved creations, the “London” symphony sounded as good as ever in the impeccably skillful hands of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. From the solemn opening to the exuberant finale, by way of the exquisite-with-outbursts-of-passion Andante, this rousing performance would have no doubt made the father of the symphony happy and proud.

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