Tuesday, February 7, 2012

New York Classical Players - Massenet, Vanchestein, Debussy, Miluaud, Saint-Saëns & Ravel - 02/05/12

Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Massenet: Le dernier sommeil de la Vierge
Uriel Vanchestein: Double Concerto for Flute and Clarinet - Jasmine Choi & Uriel Vanchestein
Debussy: Andantino from String Ensemble
Milhaud: Chamber Symphony No 4, Op. 74
Saint-Saëns: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso – Transcribed for the flute – Jasmine Choi
Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte

After my big night at the opera on Wednesday, it was very refreshing to move on to an intimate, intriguing concert entitled “French Enchantment” in the lovely setting of the Church of the Heavenly Rest on the Upper East Side on Sunday afternoon. Only in their second season, The New York Classical Players have already generated plenty of positive buzz and for a good reason: combining various cultural backgrounds with tremendous artistic skills under the solid leadership of Dongmin Kim, The NYCP's goal is to bring classical music of the highest caliber to all, and they seem well on their way to accomplishing this laudable mission.

Starting the performance on a decidedly sacred note, Massenet’s “Le dernier sommeil de la Vierge” (The Last Sleep of the Virgin) delicately rose and ethereally lingered in the beautiful church. Just enough daylight was streaming through the magnificent stained-glass windows to keep us all in a dreamy state while the fabulous string players onstage were hard at work proving that they were wide awake and totally in control.
Commissioned by the NYCP, Uriel Vanchestein’s Double Concerto for Flute and Clarinet kept his clarinetist composer and flutist Jasmin Choi engaged in a spirited dialog during the span of three movements. Although the piece presented numerous technical challenges, the duo and the orchestra handled them all with plenty of aplomb.
Debussy’s Andantino bristled with exoticism, sensuality and spontaneous touches of colorful lyricism. In the young but expert hands of the musicians that were bringing it to life, this truly exquisite rêverie reminded me of Borodin at his very best.
After the intermission, it was time for some Brazilian-inspired rhythms that quickly warmed up the atmosphere with Milhaud's Chamber Symphony No 4. As comfortable with bubbly sounds as with mysterious moods, The NYCP did full justice to this joyous interlude.
I was skeptical about the merit of a flute version of Saint-Saëns’ delightfully melodic Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, a popular work for violin. I was wrong. Flute soloist Jasmin Choi showed plenty of virtuosic skills while negotiating the tricky score and turned the experience into an unquestionable, exhilarating success.
As if this hadn’t been enough, we briefly left France for Russia for a fun little goodie of an encore in the form of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee”.
Ravel’s “Pavane pour une infante défunte” concluded this wonderfully eclectic French program with gentle soulfulness before we all stepped back out into the fading sunshine of a February afternoon.

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