James M. Keller re­views end-of-year con­certs by the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Orchestra and the Per­for­mance Santa Fe Orchestra

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Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Orchestra The Bran­den­burg Con­cer­tos lan­guished all but un­known for 129 years af­ter Bach as­sem­bled them to sub­mit as part of an un­suc­cess­ful job ap­pli­ca­tion to the Ger­man mar­grave whose name would even­tu­ally be­come at­tached to them. They weren’t pub­lished un­til 1850, when a mu­si­col­o­gist named Siegfried Wil­helm Dehn pre­pared an edi­tion to co­in­cide with the cen­ten­nial of the com­poser’s death. He re­counted in a let­ter: “At present, I am con­cerned only with the J.S. Bach con­cer­tos; I have dis­cov­ered sev­eral of them which — mirabile dictu! — are en­tirely un­known; among oth­ers are 6 (I re­peat, six) Con­certi grossi, and the rar­i­ties in­clude the au­to­graphs of … a con­certo for 2 vi­o­las and 2 vi­ole da gamba with vi­o­lone and cem­balo, a con­certo for vi­o­lino pic­colo (I have the proofs in front of me now), a con­certo for 3 vi­o­lins, 3 vi­o­las and 3 vi­o­lon­celli etc. etc.” Even when this and other edi­tions be­came avail­able, the six con­cer­tos found few cham­pi­ons in the con­cert hall, their curious in­stru­men­tal com­bi­na­tions pre­sent­ing a chal­lenge to prac­ti­cal­ity. They didn’t be­gin to gain much of a fol­low­ing un­til well into the gramo­phone era; the first record­ing of the com­plete group of six ap­peared only in 1929, on the Brunswick la­bel, with Wal­ter Giesek­ing serv­ing as the solo pi­anist in the Fifth Con­certo.

Even then, one could scarcely have imag­ined that the Bran­den­burgs would be­come as ul­tra-pop­u­lar as they have. Dur­ing the past decade or two, they have even staked a place as a “hol­i­day tra­di­tion,” be­ing per­formed as a mat­ter of course dur­ing the De­cem­ber crush of con­cert cheer — and that seems to have hardly can­ni­bal­ized the fre­quency with which they are pro­grammed at other points in the cal­en­dar.

Here­abouts, the “Hol­i­day Bran­den­burgs” slot is as­sumed an­nu­ally by the Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica Orchestra (con­ducted by Thomas O’Con­nor), which aug­ments its nor­mal ros­ter by bring­ing in col­leagues to fill some of the solo roles. This year’s ren­di­tion, which I heard on Dec. 29 at St. Fran­cis Au­di­to­rium, of­fered abun­dant plea­sures with­out re­veal­ing any­thing un­ex­pected in the works’ pages. The con­cer­tos were pre­sented out of the usual or­der: Con­cer­tos Nos. 3, 4, and 1 be­fore in­ter­mis­sion, Con­cer­tos Nos. 6, 5, and 2 af­ter. It was a laud­able idea to spot­light dif­fer­ent vi­o­lin­ists of di­verse mu­si­cal char­ac­ter in the four con­cer­tos that placed that in­stru­ment to the fore. In the first move­ment of the Fourth Con­certo, David Fel­berg dis­patched his tor­rents of 32nd-notes cleanly, but the con­text that sur­rounded that fa­mous pas­sage didn’t pro­vide much of a dra­matic setup; I pre­fer it when that mo­ment sug­gests a race­horse burst­ing out of an al­ready strain­ing start­ing-gate. Con­certo No. 1 was ap­proached with a good deal of blus­ter. Here the fea­tured vi­o­lin­ist was El­iz­a­beth Baker, who brought lusty vigor to her solo pas­sages, though play­ing on a nor­mal vi­o­lin rather than the vi­o­lino pic­colo, the ob­scure in­stru­ment that made Dehn so ex­cited.

The Sixth Con­certo was not marked by com­plete una­nim­ity, and its sec­ond move­ment — ar­guably the most beau­teous ex­panse in the whole set — fell short of magic. The hero of the Fifth Con­certo was harp­si­chordist David Solem, who pulled the rab­bit out of the hat through his se­cure per­for­mance of the very chal­leng­ing key­board part, opt­ing for the longer of Bach’s two ca­den­zas in the first move­ment, no less. He also played con­tinuo in all the other con­cer­tos, which meant his fea­tured role in the Fifth Con­certo was equiv­a­lent to a 20-minute sprint at the 5/6 point of a marathon. He was nicely matched by his co-soloists, vi­o­lin­ist Stephen Red­field, who played with the poised re­serve that is his hall­mark, and flutist Carol Red­man, who brought rhyth­mic point and a rich tone to the task. The con­certo’s sec­ond move­ment seemed a notch fast and not quite as heart­felt as one might wish, given the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the solo group; that ex­panse, af­ter all, shows Bach in­clin­ing in the di­rec­tion of the empfind­samer Stil, the overtly ex­pres­sive “sen­si­tive style” that would later be cham­pi­oned by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel. The con­cert con­cluded with the Sec­ond Bran­den­burg, the most glit­ter­ing of the set thanks to its strato­spheric trum­pet so­los, which Brian Shaw ne­go­ti­ated with aplomb. His fel­low soloists were Red­man, oboist Kevin Vigneau, and vi­o­lin­ist Kerri Lay, who de­liv­ered her part with dig­ni­fied sweet­ness.

Per­for­mance Santa Fe Orchestra On New Year’s Eve, Joseph Il­lick led his Per­for­mance Santa Fe Orchestra in two mas­ter­works at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter: Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony and Schu­mann’s Pi­ano Con­certo, with Joyce Yang ap­pear­ing as the soloist. The brief pro­gram note about the Schu­mann ref­er­enced Liszt’s de­scrip­tion of the piece as “a con­certo with­out pi­ano.” I have never suc­ceeded in di­vin­ing the au­then­tic­ity of this re­mark and am there­fore un­able to in­ter­pret it against the con­text in which it was ex­pressed — if it ever was ex­pressed — but I imag­ine it was sup­posed to re­fer to the orchestra’s un­usu­ally rich con­tri­bu­tion to the piece, which might make the pi­ano seem less con­se­quen­tial than it would in more daz­zling con­cer­tos. In the event, Yang’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion sup­ported this ob­ser­va­tion. At heart, the work is not os­ten­ta­tious in its tech­ni­cal de­mands or its ex­tro­verted ef­fect, and for the most part Yang seemed tem­per­a­men­tally suited to play as part of the team. The pi­ano part emerged with less crisp­ness than it might in other hands, and her read­ing was far from note-per­fect, even in­clud­ing a ma­jor de­rail­ing in the home stretch of the fi­nale. This was in some senses an al­ter­na­tive take on the Schu­mann Con­certo. The sec­ond move­ment ad­hered to a very re­strained tempo; Yang played her open­ing mu­sic as if she was making her way on ex­ag­ger­ated tip­toe — which was an ef­fec­tive prepa­ra­tion for the spa­cious cello melody that en­sued. Through­out the con­certo she in­fused her rather in­tro­spec­tive read­ing with warm tone and el­e­gantly con­sid­ered ru­bato.

It may not have been a typ­i­cal ren­di­tion of Schu­mann’s Pi­ano Con­certo, but its mu­si­cal points were in­ter­est­ing to con­sider. For much of the time it was go­ing on, I couldn’t think of an­other com­poser I would rather be hear­ing on New Year’s Eve. At its best, Schu­mann’s mu­sic is filled with warmth and wit, with face­tious­ness and sin­cer­ity, with re­gret and hope. It sums up the hu­man con­di­tion. One’s re­la­tion­ship to the mu­si­cal mas­ters shifts over time, and I find that Schu­mann grows more es­sen­tial with each pass­ing year.

Joyce Yang

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