Pasa Reviews A Far Cry and Santa Fe Symphony
Johann Sebastian Bach and Philip Glass: Now there’s an odd couple. On Sept. 16, the Bostonbased group A Far Cry and pianist Simone Dinnerstein offered a program that comprised a string-ensemble piece and piano concerto by each before a sparse audience at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, courtesy of Performance Santa Fe. Their Bachplaying was mostly unremarkable. Ten string players joined for a profoundly unopinionated run-through of Bach’s Concerto No. 3, a work that is always enjoyable, at least for what you might call its “musical choreography” — which is to say that it is fun to watch the musical lines take on a visual element as they are tossed among the players. In the second half, Dinnerstein was the soloist in Bach’s G-minor Keyboard Concerto. Her piano (with lid removed) pointed into the ensemble such that her back was to the audience and her sound projected indistinctly through the surrounding 16 strings. Again, the performance was proficient but not singular, the pianism tending the slightest bit toward swooning and some of the string players failing to blend consistently into their sections.
Many attendees were clearly enamored of Glass’s Symphony No. 3 (from 1995) and Piano Concerto No. 3 (premiered a year ago), and I am happy for them without sharing their enthusiasm. Glass was an exciting composer in the 1970s, and I have admired some of his ensuing scores for film and dance — which is to say, music that is accompaniment rather than the main focus. After he underwent his romanticizing transformation in the ’80s, his repeating pulsations, scales, and arpeggios assumed an overwhelming blandness. De-emphasizing the building-blocks of melody, harmony, and counterpoint, he principally relies on rhythm, repetition, and duration as his distinctive materials of composition. The irregular metric patterns of the symphony’s second and fourth movements conveyed Balkan punchiness, but incessant reiterations diminished the impact. Two violins traded off a treacly descant above gentle throbbing in the third movement, their line earning low marks in the melody department. The piano concerto was still more lackluster, its three movements veiled in gauzy prettiness. The strength of these two compositions lies in their cumulative effect, their sense of stretching time. Over the course of roughly a half-hour each, that may lead some listeners to transcendence and others to annoyance. A Far Cry and Dinnerstein performed well enough in this concert, although I would be surprised if a commensurate performance could not be put together by musicians from the orbit of Santa Fe and Albuquerque, without importing 17 players from 2,000 miles distant. Santa Fe Symphony, conducted by Guillermo Figueroa, opened its 35th season on Sept. 16, to a much fuller crowd at the Lensic. The principal featured soloist was the twentyfour-year-old American violinist Sirena Huang, who won the top prize in a triennial violin competition instated in 2017 by the illustrious Elmar Oliveira, who remains the only American violinist to have won the gold medal in the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow, sharing the first prize with another competitor. (Huang took the top honor in the junior division of that competition in 2009.) In a gesture that went above and beyond the call of duty, Oliveira traveled in to join his prizewinner in the Bach Double Concerto (BWV 1043). It is not meant to diminish Huang’s accomplishments to observe that the maturity of Oliveira’s artistry set him apart, evident in his burnished tone and finesse of articulation. Huang had her own strengths, though, and the two were worthy partners in this beloved concerto. Over the past couple of decades there has been a tendency to speed up the tempo of the second movement in deference to the tenets of historically informed performance. It was a pleasure to encounter it here infused with a more relaxed attitude, in all its glorious serenity.
Left to her own devices, Huang displayed accomplished facility in the Barber Violin Concerto, most impressively in its bustling finale, where her bright tone was put to very effective use. The orchestra’s cello section showed particular “depth of bench” in both the Barber Concerto and in Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony, which followed after intermission. In the Tchaikovsky, Figueroa built up considerable tension in the first movement. Here, particularly laudable solo work came from principals at the top and the bottom of the winds — flutist Jesse Tatum and tubist Richard White. The second movement, the famous near-waltz in 5/4 time, had a pleasant lilt in its rhythmic interpretation, a breeziness that was not entirely supported by the thickness of texture in the accompanying parts. The scurrying of the third movement pressed the violins to their limits, and the finale ended in mournfulness appropriate to Tchaikovsky’s swan-song. — James M. Keller