Engaging evening included world first
Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra St. Andrew’s Church Friday, March 2 at 8 p.m.
A Handel concerto grosso is a fine way of beginning a string orchestra concert, even one in which the rest of the repertoire is drawn from the modern and late romantic periods.
Friday evening’s Thirteen Strings concert at St. Andrew’s began with conductor Kevin Mallon leading a straightforward account of the Concerto Grosso in G minor, op. 6, no. 6. The playing was solid and musical, but it lacked the extra measure of spirit that distinguished the best performances of this work.
Peter Warlock’s Serenade for Strings, an entirely unremarkable work, followed the Handel on Friday evening. Some songs by Warlock and some of his instrumental works are trundled out now and then. I’ve never understood why. Warlock’s real name was Philip Heseltine and under this name he practised the noble profession of music criticism. When Heseltine had occasion to write about Warlock’s music, he savaged it mercilessly. Funny guy. At the age of 36 he died in his gas-filled kitchen, after putting his cat in another room.
The performance was marked by some equivocal ensemble and intonation.
The meat of the program was a pair of pieces by the Chinese-canadian composer Alice Ping Yee Ho. Capriccio Ballo for violin, piano and strings is a longish work built upon the repetition and evolution of a few basic figures. It is a strong piece and would probably seem stronger still on a second hearing. It takes a few minutes to acquire the score’s vocabulary.
The soloists were violinist Lynn Kuo and pianist Marianna Humetska. Humetska’s playing was especially important since the piano part is responsible for much of the music’s pulse and motion. But everyone pulled together and rendered a persuasive account of the score.
The other Ho piece was the world premiere of a Thirteen Strings commission, The Four Arts for violin, piano, Yangqin and strings. In four movements, it is a more immediately engaging piece than the Capriccio, and was undoubtedly the highlight of the evening.
Its also a difficult piece and, while the performance was generally good, conductor Mallon had to stop it at one point and go back to the beginning of the movement. There was no harm done, really.
The Yangqin, by the way, is a dulcimer-like Chinese instrument and was played by Anna Guo.
The evening concluded with a lovely account of Janacek’s Suite for Strings. Its a long piece and the concert ended fairly late. Still, it was well worth hearing, especially compared to the Warlock.