Conductor: Michel Galante
Matthew Ricketts: After Nine: Fantasia on Mahler - Argento Chamber Ensemble
Taylor Brook: Arrhythmia - JACK Quartet
Gustav Mahler: Symphony No. 9 (arr. Klaus Simon) - Argento Chamber Ensemble
Now that summer has gone for good and real life has unquestionably resumed, cultural organizations are busily kicking off their 2014-2015 season. Few of them, however, are doing it with such bold ambition as Music Mondays, which had invited two of the most innovative groups of musicians around - the Argento Chamber Ensemble and the JACK Quartet - to perform a program focusing on no less than a rarely performed chamber version of Mahler’s Symphony No 9 as well as two short modern compositions inspired by its first movement for good measure.
The intimate space of the pretty Advent Lutheran Church on the Upper West Side providing the perfect setting for such an exciting occasion, I found myself liking Mondays after all as I was taking my seat among an overflowing crowd, which included people piling up on the balcony while others were resigning themselves to standing room on the main level.
The evening started on a subdued note with the Matthew Ricketts’ discreetly atmospheric "After Nine", a kind of orchestral version of the original work which featured two pianos and two percussions. On Monday night, a small group of musicians from the Argento joined forces with a solo pianist and a solo timpanist to create an occasionally discombobulated mood that would eventually get a healthy dose of reality when the earthy strings resolutely fused into a fierce crescendo smack in the middle of the work for an uneven but still rewarding journey.
Speaking of strings, some could be heard at their most gritty and assertive in Taylor Brook’s "Arrhythmia", whose wild, highly textured ways were a fitting tribute to Mahler’s constantly searching mindset. The formidable musicians of the JACK Quartet, for whom the piece was created, readily threw themselves right into the thick of the turbulent action to deliver an urgent and virtuosic performance.
After a short intermission finally came the star of the evening with Klaus Simon's arrangement of Mahler's Ninth, which, if nothing else, must be commended for keeping the overall structure and the general spirit of the sprawling original pretty much intact despite its obvious limitations (On the other hand, did it really need an accordion? Probably not). And equally commended must be the Argento musicians for playing the still fiendishly complex score with so much brilliance and eloquence, all the way to an achingly beautiful finale and a rousing ovation. My season has started well.