Pasa Re­views A Far Cry and Santa Fe Sym­phony

Pasatiempo - - ON THE COVER - Bran­den­burg

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

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