CHAMBER ORCHESTRA REVIVES
By Lawrence Budmen
Ernest Bloch (1880-1959) was a composer strongly drawn to disparate influences. His Judaic works ("Schelomo," "Israel Symphony," "A Voice in the Wilderness") are his most frequently performed scores. His opera "Macbeth" (1909) reflects modernist principles. This powerful work demands a contemporary revival. Bloch also embraced neo-classicism. In 1925 (as he completed a five year tenure as Founding Director of the Cleveland Institute of Music) the composer created his "Concerto Grosso No.1' for Strings and Piano Obbligato. Recreating the early concertante works of the 18th century, Bloch penned a masterpiece that fused classical forms with music of a distinctively 20th century character. One of the early recordings of this score was led by the young Rafael Kubelik with George Schick (who would become an authoritative conductor in his own right) at the keyboard. Once a standard repertoire piece, performances of the Bloch Concerto Grosso have become exceedingly rare. The Renaissance Chamber Orchestra presented a welcome revival of this superb score as the climax of its concert on February 19, 2005 at Second Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA.
From the opening chords of the Allegro energico e pesante to the rigorous Fugue that concludes the work, Bloch exhibits a rarefied level of compositional invention. The engaging charm of the Pastorale and Rustic Dances and the emotional power of the Dirge provide contrast to the severe outer movements. Conductor Richard Fleischman led the Renaissance musicians in a brilliant realized, elegant performance of Bloch's music - rhythmically urgent yet laced with aristocratic lyricism. Anne Louise-Turgeon gave a superb, musically alert rendition of the glistening piano part. Her natural musicality and artistic precision were striking! A wonderfully virile performance of a great work!
Fleischman preceded the Bloch with an admirably subtle, delicately nuanced performance of Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik," K.525. There were constant surprises that made this thrice familiar music sound fresh and exciting - lithe phrasing, strong attention to dynamics, and clarity of instrumental texture. The excellent Renaissance ensemble played with a communicative enthusiasm that made the music come alive. It was as if all the anachronistic performance practices had been put aside and the glory of the music was allowed to be heard with renewed vigor.
This new ensemble (now midway through its first season) seems to continually go from strength to strength. Recently the four excellent players of the Amernet String Quartet have joined the orchestra - adding virtuosic polish and Úlan. (Future plans call for tours of Florida and the Southeastern United States and summer residencies in California and Europe.) An invigorating performance of Handel's "Concerto Grosso in G Major," Opus 6, No.1 (HWV 319) opened the concert. Fleischman's relaxed tempos and attention to musical detail made the familiar outer movements sound freshly minted. The soaring virtuosity of violinists Joan Faigen and Misha Vitenson (first violin of the Amernet Quartet) in the crucial solos was a constant joy throughout the performance. The distinguished cellist and educator Claudio Jaffee played his continuo line with artistic authority. The superb instrumental soloists added zest to the musical proceedings. A joyous performance!
The Renaissance Chamber Orchestra is a wonderful addition to South Florida's musical community. Richard Fleischman's programming is consistently interesting and innovative. The revival of Bloch's masterful Concerto Grosso was the perfect meeting of music and performing artists. An outstanding concert!