Monday, February 24, 2014

New York Classical Players - Nielsen, Delius, Sarasate, Saint-Saens & Tchaikovsky - 02/23/14

Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Nielsen: Little Suite for Strings, Op. 1
Delius: Two Aquarelles
Sarasate: Navarra for Two Violins (arranged for strings by Yoomi Paick) - Chee-Yun and Alexi Kenney
Saint-Saens: Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso (arranged for strings by Yoomi Paick) - Chee-Yun
Tchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings

After the outstanding French Quatuor Ebène on Friday night at Carnegie Hall, my concert calendar had the equally outstanding, considerably larger and definitely more multi-national New York Classical Players yesterday afternoon in the Church of the Heavenly Rest, their regular home on the Upper East Side. But then again, one can never hear too many terrific string players.
Moreover, the weather was so pleasant that walking in Central Park would have been on my mind even if I had not had to cross it to get to the venue. To top things off, my friend Ruth had decided to join me to find out what the raves about this particular string ensemble were really all about. Taking our seats a few minutes before the concert started, I could not help but marvel at how big the NYCP's audience had become, especially on a day where being inside could rightfully be considered counter-intuitive. On the other hand, it was truly heart-warming to see that more and more people can recognize a good thing when they hear one.

Danish composer Carl Nielsen was still very young when he wrote his "Little Suite for Strings", as the engaging freshness and unfussy charm of the work can attest. But he also proved to have a genuinely extended knowledge of strings and how to use them, resulting in a piece that sounded deceptively simple, but contained quite a few promising developments. The New York Classical Players' famously glowing strings made this Little Suite a big success as well as an ideal opening number for the string feast that was to follow.
"Two Aquarelles" by Frederick Theodore Albert Delius was as short as it was delightful. The silky sensuality of the first part was soon replaced by the infectious high-spiritedness of the second part, and the whole thing was wrapped up nicely and quickly.
As a big fan of Sarasate's irresistible "Zigeunerweisen" I was curious to hear his "Navarra for Two Violins", especially since one of the soloists would be highly regarded Chee-Yun. As a matter of fact, it quickly turned out that her partner in music, Alexi Kenney, was just as remarkably talented as she was, as they were both impeccably complementing each other, which was no easy feat since they were playing together most of the time. As for the composition itself, it was devilishly intricate and deliciously hot, a welcome healthy dose of brilliant fun, all the way to the high-speed finale.
Back after intermission and still in a sunny Spanish mood, Chee-Yun's wide-ranging skills were on full display for Saint-Saens' ever popular "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso", which, incidentally, was premièred in Paris by no other than... Sarasate, back in 1867. Masterfully arranged for strings by Yoomi Paick, the exciting show piece for violin exploded with gentle lyricism, infectious melodies, and virtuosic fireworks. From the very first notes of the deceptively sweet opening to the dramatically high-flying finale, Chee-Yun impeccably handled all the tricky complexities endlessly coming at her and gave a performance that felt both tightly controlled and wonderfully liberating.
After our long and loud ovation, the festive atmosphere understandably went down quite a bit for our encore, Kreisler's "Recitavo and scherzo", which started with a brooding overtone and concluded in another dazzling last stretch.
Then came was Ruth so eloquently called "the schmaltz", but not just any kind of schmaltz since this particular one had been written by The King of Schmaltz himself, AKA Piotr Tchaikovsky. Shamelessly shooting straight for the heart in an opening movement that grandly sweeps everything on its way, his "Serenade for Strings" has all the right ingredients to become a guilty pleasure of pretty melodies and lush lyricism. Perfectly suited for the task at hand, the orchestra did not hesitate to dwell right into the emotional depths of the stirring composition while still retaining a touch of subtle elegance, notably in the lovely waltz. Vive le schmaltz!

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