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Chamber Music Review Print

A Rich Treat for the Gourmet Palate

July 9, 2009 - Raleigh, NC:

The closing program of the maiden voyage for the Cross Currents Chamber Music Arts Festival at the Fletcher Opera Theater featured the Brussels Chamber Orchestra in a program that was a rich treat for musical connoisseurs. It would be safe to say that none of the pieces offered are well-known, and I imagine that several will have been North Carolina premieres.

The evening opened with a real rarity, Hindemith’s Five Pieces for String Orchestra in the first position for advanced players, Op. 44, No. 4, to give its complete title. This was the closing work in a set of pedagogical pieces titled Schulwerk, composed in 1927 when the author became professor at the Berlin Musikhochschule. Anyone who has followed a family member through a string program knows that “first position” and “advanced” are oxymoronic when used together to refer to the violin, and simplified arrangements for school orchestra using only the first position (to avoid shifting) produce a characteristically low, dark sound. Hindemith’s Five Pieces indeed are low and dark, but his musical materials never conflict with this sonority, and the fact that three of five movements are marked “Slow” (one of them “Very Slow”) lends the piece a somber air. The closing allegro (with a solo violin) draws heavily on a neo-Bachian idiom.

The sunlight returned with the Mozart Adagio, K. 261, with violin soloist Michael Guttman, who combined a sweet, rather smallish tone, with elegant phrasing. After this lagniappe, Guttman and ensemble moved to the Concerto in D minor by Mendelssohn (think of it as: No, Not That Mendelssohn Concerto), a youthful work dating from 1822, when the composer would have been thirteen. The opening allegro is reminiscent of nothing so much as the symphonies and concertos of CPE Bach, or even of Sebastian, and the idiom of the slow movement is almost as old-fashioned. Only the final allegro has more of a gypsy/Hungarian character and a more contemporary feel. Guttman played with flash and fire in the concerto, though there was a notable tendency for the solos to move more quickly than the tuttis.

The work offered after intermission, the Partita for Strings by Bohuslav Martinu, was wonderfully well-played by BCO, bringing sparkle and vigor to a delightful work, from almost the same period as the Hindemith (1931), but with a Gallic lightness and charm (the Czech composer had been living and working in Paris since 1923). Simply delightful, and played with an ease that made it sound like it had been in the BCO repertoire for years.

The concert came to a dashing conclusion with the “Summer” movement from the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires by Astor Piazzolla. Here Guttman played with a beautiful cantabile, and both soloist and orchestra captured the flair of the tango rhythms.

A highly successful program and one which I hope will augur the return of the festival for next summer. Bravo!