Monday, April 15, 2013

Ensemble ACJW - Harbison, Ravel & Dvorak - 04/14/13

Harbison: Wind Quintet
Martha Cargo: Flute (Guest Musician)
Stuart Breczinski: Oboe
Liam Burke: Clarinet
Nanci Belmont: Bassoon
Laura Weiner: Horn
Ravel: Sonata for Violin and Cello
Michelle Ross: Violin
Alice Yoo: Cello
Dvorak: Piano Quintet No 2 in A Major, Op. 81
Michelle Ross: Violin
Clara Lyon: Violin
John Stulz: Viola
Alice Yoo: Cello
Alexandria Le: Piano

For our first real spring weekend - still a bit chilly but we happily took it - I kind of felt bad tearing myself from the bright sunshine yesterday to spend the magical hour of late afternoon inside, but this regret was certainly mitigated by the presence of the always exciting Ensemble ACJW, a group of particularly talented and forward-minded musicians on a two-year fellowship with Carnegie Hall and The Juilliard School. The occasion was yet another one of Carnegie Hall's popular Neighborhoods Concerts, taking place this time in the understated but welcoming Our Saviour's Atonement Lutheran Church in Washington Heights.

Written specifically for the five strange bedfellows that are the bassoon, the clarinet, the flute, the horn and the oboe, Harbison's Wind Quintet had the musicians brazenly create some rather unusual sounds, which was interesting enough, but it was not always clear to me where the whole endeavor was heading to. Although I have never been as taken by the possibilities of woodwinds instruments as the composer obviously is, I still enjoyed the experience, if nothing more than because I got to hear accomplished musicians boldly enter and explore unchartered territories.
After my out-of-the-ordinary foray into the woodwind world, I found the violin and cello starring in Ravel's sonata even more reassuringly familiar, never mind that I had never heard that piece before. Dedicated to the memory of Debussy, it is a rather minimalist work, but still contains a healthy cocktail of attractive melodies, spunky pizzicato exchanges and slightly jazzy overtones. In short, this was virtuosic business as usual for the popular French composer, and the string duo onstage handled it all with grace and gusto.
Last, but not least, Dvorak's Piano Quintet made wonderful use of the traditional quartet form plus the piano and enchanted the audience with an irresistible bouquet of luscious and zesty melodies. Whether in full-out lyrical mood or churning out Bohemian folk dance exuberance, the musicians never missed a beat and delivered a fun, high-flying and totally engaging performance, the perfect antidote for the unavoidable Sunday evening blues.

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