Maurice Ravel: Pavane pour une infante défunte
Edward Grieg: Holdberg Suite, Opus 40/1
Piotr Tchaikovsky: Chanson triste, Opus 40, No. 2
Bela Bartok: Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 68, BB 76
When I originally bought our tickets for Verdi’s Don Carlo at the Teatro di San Carlo, I figured that we might as well stick around for a cool-sounding all-cello concert that was scheduled the following Sunday. On paper it looked like a decidedly low-key affair compared to the grand production with the starry cast that was Don Carlo, and this early assessment was kind of confirmed when one noticed that all the tickets for it were sold at the same unbelievably low price, but let’s not forget that more often than not, less is more.
And we would be in good company too as the ten cellists who would be performing on Sunday were all musicians of the San Carlo orchestra, whose reputation is as stellar as well-deserved. The program featured a little bit of everything, and my friend Vittorio and I just felt lucky for the opportunity to be part of what sounded almost like a private session. We were just sorry that bad timing at the cafeteria did not give us enough time to treat ourselves to a slice of a yummy-looking pastiera napoletana, but on the other hand, that gave us another reason to plan on coming back sooner than later.
Once we got situated in our premium seats in the pretty much packed parterre, and the ten musicians got situated in their own seats onstage, one of them got up to explain in a barely discernible voice that the order in the printed program had been changed. We also found out that the performance would only last an hour, which no doubt explained the bargain price tickets. But hey, we still could not think of a better way to ease into a relaxed Sunday evening.
The concert started with Irish composer Charles Villiers Stanford’s The Blue Bird, a beautifully crafted gem from his Eight part-songs, Opus 119, whose original composition for mixed choir had been arranged from cellos. And who were we to argue? It turned out to be a soaring introduction to what can happen when you get ten virtuosic cello players and a vividly colorful work in a room and let the magic of music-making happen.
The rest of the performance went on with the same level of expertise and commitment, and while I was not able to keep track of all the newly reordered numbers, I found the cello version of French composer Maurice Ravel’s delicate elegy Pavane pour une infante défunte, which already has a version for solo piano and a version for small orchestra, as touching as ever. Ditto for Russian composer Piotr Tchaikovsky’s melancholic Chanson triste, which did not lose any of its inconspicuous force, but acquired a new, more nuanced life by switching from one piano to ten cellos.
And to wrap up this ferritic intermission-free cello festival on a rousingly upbeat note, there could hardly have been a better choice than Hungarian composer Bela Bartok and its infectious Romanian Folk Dances, which can now boast of a delightfully high-spirited version for cellos on top of the original composition for a small orchestra. The variety of sounds was by default more reduced, but the seemingly unlimited range of gorgeous dark hues, and the irrepressible zest with which they were produced, more than made up for it.
Once the official program was over, the only woman in the ensemble got up to give closing remarks and greet a member of the group who was about to retire, before another musician took over to introduce a wonderful capriccio by Alfredo Piatti, which they had all apparently worked on at various times during their respective studies. It was followed by another piece that will remain a mystery, but was nevertheless much appreciated. One could only hope that this type of short but so enjoyable concert become a new way to end the weekend and prep up for the week ahead.
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