Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Elgar: Serenade for Strings, Op. 20
Penderecki: Sinfonietta for Strings
Chopin: Piano Concerto No 1 in E Minor, Op. 11 (Chamber Version) – Edward Auer
What better way to brighten up a miserable cold and rainy Sunday than with a little Chopin? Since I found it difficult to come up with a better alternative, I left behind my dry apartment and the pile of New Yorkers I was finally getting around to perusing and begrudgingly trudged across a deserted Central Park for The New York Classical Players’ last, but by no means least, concert of the season. After discovering this young ensemble earlier this year, I have quickly become accustomed to the refined command of their playing and the adventurous eclecticism of their programming. So there I was, back in the beautiful Church of the Heavenly Rest and ready to delight in English, Polish and French treats from Elgar, Penderecki and, an all-time personal favorite of mine, Chopin.
Regardless of circumstances, there are few opening pieces as smooth as Elgar’s ever-popular Serenade for Strings. Performed by the superior strings of the New York Classical Players under the detailed conducting of their music director Dongmin Kim, this melodic feast sounded as crisp and silky as the composer must have dreamed it. The much heralded Larghetto, in particular, delicately came through with just the right combination of poetry and mystery.
After Elgar’s uplifting introduction, we were in for a forceful, attention-grabbing second number with Penderecki’s Sinfonietta for Strings. The rude awakening triggered by the hard-hitting first chords was rapidly softened by the luminous lyricism of a long viola solo before the insistent chords returned and continued to assertively manifest themselves between individual turns by various soloists. Until the very end, the composition remained resolutely innovative, yet easily accessible. Accordingly, the orchestra did not even try to dig up any pretty sounds out of it, but successfully brought out its gritty edginess and unusual appeal.
There is of course nothing unusual about Chopin’s appeal, and it was a priceless pleasure to hear his hyper-Romantic Piano Concerto No 1, never mind that it is actually the second one he wrote. The first American to ever win a prize at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, among other prestigious awards, Edward Auer has had a long and distinguished career. Yesterday afternoon, as he was making his entrance after the expansive orchestral introduction, it immediately became obvious that he had not forgotten his first inspiration. Gentle yet passionate, he delicately emphasized the natural beauty of the music without sacrificing any of its fervent intensity. Having a chamber ensemble instead of a full orchestra accompany the soloist was a welcome novelty too, insofar as it made the whole experience more intimate, therefore more affecting. Unsurprisingly, the captive audience rewarded the musicians with a vigorous standing ovation.
Before we parted ways, Edward Auer came back for an exquisite rendition of Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 15 No 2. Another proof, if need be, that one can never hear too much Chopin.