Sunday, September 28, 2014

New York Classical Players - Rachmaninoff, Bartok & Beethoven - 09/27/14

Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Rachmaninoff: Vocalise, Op. 34, No. 14
Bartok: Divertimento for String Orchestra, Op. BB118
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61 (NYCP edition, arr. by David Schneider) - Itamar Zorman

After a peculiar Friday evening with the amplified strings of Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet, I was very much looking forward to spending a more conventional Saturday evening with the pristine strings of the New York Classical Players. "Conventional", however, never means predictable or boring when it comes to this tight group of young musicians talented way beyond their years. And if they typically create their program from a solidly classical repertoire, you can always count on the execution to be technically assured and refreshingly vibrant, often bearing their own special touch.
True to form, their first concert series of the season, which as always was free, presented time-tested values such as Rachmaninoff, Bartok and Beethoven, with the latter's violin concerto having just been arranged for them. Enticed by such an attractive proposition, my Russian friend Julia, with a small international entourage of young adults in tow, decided to join me yesterday evening, smack in the middle of a decidedly summery weekend, and we all met up in the rather minimalist but indiscriminatingly welcoming Good Shepherd-Faith Presbyterian Church on the Upper West Side, right around the corner from the Juilliard School.

The last of Rachmaninoff's "Fourteen Songs", "Vocalise" does not have any words, and evidently does not need any to make an immediate impact. Whether actually sung with one vowel or performed with instruments only, this six-minute little jewel never fails to shine its discreetly seductive colors in many different ways, depending on the combination being used. Last night we expectedly heard the string ensemble version of it, and the delicately haunting quality of the music immediately earned Julia's spontaneous and unreserved Russian seal of approval.
Then we moved to Hungary for Bartok and his mood-swinging "Divertimento for String Orchestra". There was actually a lot going on in this somewhat deceptively named composition, and all was not fun and games. Book-ended by two admittedly exuberant movements, the middle one distinguished itself by its slow pace, dark mood, dissonant sounds and sharp contrasts. Undaunted by the numerous challenges and soundly conducted by Dongmin Kim's spot on baton, the orchestra admirably handled the work's numerous twists and turns before coming out a total winner.
Although it was not popular when it first came out, Beethoven's formidable violin concerto needs no introductions these days. Although the version we heard yesterday was brand new, it respectfully kept the irrepressible spirit of the original masterpiece alive and well while being perfectly adapted to the reduced orchestra at hand. Young but already much praised and in high demand all around the world, violinist Itamar Zorman brought invigorating spontaneity and rigorous technique to the proceedings, resolutely giving this concerto the virtuosic treatment it so deserves. Although the spotlight remained on the soloist as soon as he had made his entrance, The NYCP delivered a robust performance that could not but beautifully bring the whole piece together.

As it was becoming obvious that our enthusiastic applause was going to be rewarded, I briefly wondered: "What on earth do you play after the Beethoven violin concerto?!" Well, you go back to the man with whom it all began of course, and that's just what the unstoppable Itamar Zorman did with a stunning Largo from Bach's Sonata in C Major. As it clearly could not get any better than that, we all called it a night and headed back to the still unusually warm reality.

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