NEW WORLD SYMPHONY
ORION STRING QUARTET
NIELSEN/ GRIEG/ MENDELSSOHN (10-7-07)


By Lawrence Budmen 

There are few artistic experiences more rewarding than a fine chamber music performance. The delicate interplay of instrumental timbres, intimacy of small instrumental combinations, and sterling musicianship of the genre’s best proponents can cast the most entrancing of spells. That is exactly what occurred on October 7 when the New World Symphony presented the first of its Sunday afternoon musicales. Presided over by violist, educator, and consultant Scott Nickrenz, these performances often bring together the elite of the chamber music world with the gifted young musicians of the Miami based orchestral academy. With the wonderful Orion String Quartet on hand to provide musical wisdom and inspiration, the music making proved heady indeed. 

The afternoon commenced with Carl Nielsen’s Wind Quintet, Op.43. One of the most distinctive creative voices of the early 20th century, Nielsen constantly surprises the listener with plangent harmonies and unusual instrumental combinations. The Quintet alternates folksy elements with the other worldly heights of Johann Sebastian Bach. A charming, aristocratic and quirky Menuet is succeeded by a moving and wildly imaginative chorale and variations. Five members of the New World Symphony’s wind section gave the best performance of this unique score that this listener has ever experienced. Flutist Ebonee Thomas’ tonal purity was awesome. Oboist Rick Basehore essayed Nielsen’s fiendish writing in his instrument’s high register with breezy aplomb. Louis De Martino’s mellow clarinet wove a spellbinding line in the second movement. Bassoonist Rebekah Heller’s agility and tonal heft brought unusual depth to the instrument. Roslyn Black offered glorious hues and remarkable flexibility in the French horn part.

A large string contingent gave a rousing, life affirming performance of Grieg’s delightful Holberg Suite, Op.40 with the Orion String Quartet’s Todd Phillips in the concertmaster’s chair. The first bars of the Prelude signaled a crisp, transparent reading that blew the accumulated musical cobwebs off this frequently played score. In the Gavotte-Musette, the buoyant elegance of the playing beguiled the ear. The stately Air soared to incandescent heights, the gorgeous sonority and exquisite control of the playing taking wing. Phillips’ solo in the concluding Rigaudon had the verve and lively repartee of a country fiddler. Grieg’s ode to the Baroque era has rarely been played with such loving musicality and exquisite artistry. 

It is difficult to believe that Mendelssohn’s Octet for Strings in E-flat Major, Op.20 is the work of a 16 year old composer. One of the monuments of the chamber music literature, this score abounds in melodic wonders and intricate counterpoint. Like Mozart, Mendelssohn was more than a child prodigy. As conductor, educator, and composer extraordinaire, Mendelssohn left an indelible mark on music history. The patrician musicianship of the members of the Orion Quartet (Darnel and Todd Phillips, violins; Steven Tenenbom, viola; and Timothy Eddy, cello) combined with New World players Eri Hattori, In Sun Jang, (violins), Andrew Wickesberg (viola) and Louis-Philippe Robillard (cello) to produce a performance imbued with romantic intensity of the most passionate variety. The songful Andante was given weight as well as singing line. In the darting Scherzo and exhilarating finale, the musicians’ verve and brilliant execution proved infectious. A well deserved standing ovation greeted this sterling demonstration of chamber music at its best.


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