Tuesday, February 24, 2015

New York Classical Players - Vaughan Williams, Bark & Schubert - 02/22/15

Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Vaughan Williams: Charterhouse Suite for Strings
Bark: Let all the earth rejoice! for flute and string orchestra - Carol Wincenc
Schubert: Quartet in D Minor Death and the Maiden (Mahler transcription)

After a memorable Saturday night in more ways than one, a more subdued concert was unquestionably in order, and fortunately the New York Classical Players came to the rescue on Sunday afternoon on the Upper East Side. The main attraction of the program was of course the version of Schubert's dazzling "Death and the Maiden" that Mahler had written for a small orchestra, the kind of exciting adventure that the consistently excellent ensemble likes and can flawlessly handle. Add to that a curiosity by Ralph Vaughan Williams and a NYCP-commissioned world premiere by Elliot Bark, who made the trip to introduce it, and you could say that a decidedly satisfying musical afternoon seemed to be just waiting to happen.
Moreover, the weather had cleared, the temperature had risen and the sun was shining, so it was high time to take a somewhat mushy but nevertheless extremely enjoyable walk across the Park and take a seat among an increasingly large and eclectic crowd in the grand Church of the Heavenly Rest, where I would eventually be joined by my friend Angie, an Upper East Side local, after she had eventually managed to get out of her obligations just in the nick of time for not-to-be-missed Schubert.

British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams was as versatile as they come, and it is always a pleasure to discover more works of his. And sure enough, while his Charterhouse Suite for Strings, which had been skillfully arranged from his original Suite for Six Short pieces for Piano by musicologist James Brown, may not be a ground-breaking masterpiece, it is an attractive set of six nuggets that offer a wide range of moods. In the expert hands of the NYCP, this little trifle turned into a lovely stroll in the bucolic English countryside.
From early 20th century Albion we then jumped right ahead to the present time with Elliott Bark's brightly optimistic "Let all the earth rejoice! for flute and string orchestra", a work that cleverly combines all kinds of musical influences, some of them involving singing or dancing traditions, from around the world and throughout the ages. Although this evidently is an ambitious concept, the end result is immediately accessible and downright appealing, especially when performed by the NYCP's vibrant strings and special guest Carol Wincenc's high-flying flute.
Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" needs no introduction and has remained one of my favorite strings quartets ever. So I was particularly curious to hear a larger scale version of it, all the more so as this one was coming courtesy of Gustav Mahler, who knew a thing or two about orchestral arrangements, and the NYCP ensemble, who know a thing or two about string playing. Inspired by Matthias Claudius' poem by the same name, the original "Death and the Maiden" quartet is famous for its dark overtones and infectious melodies. Mahler's transcription remains essentially faithful to the original, but shifted a few things around and added more texture and colors. Under the precise baton of their insightful conductor Dongmin Kim, the musicians jumped right in it and delivered a beautifully polished and powerfully alive performance of it, just as Schubert and Mahler would have liked it.

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