By Lawrence Budmen

Dimitri Shostakovich (1906-1975) is best known for his monumental symphonies and dramatic string quartets - some of the most emotionally painful, dramatic, and boldly original music of the 20th century. His post 1960 Indian summer of creativity produced some of his most vivid, musically sophisticated scores. While primarily known as a composer of orchestral and instrumental works, Shostakovich wrote numerous vocal scores - operas, even a Broadway style musical, and several song cycles. His 1966 cycle "Seven Romances on Poems by Alexander Blok," Opus 127 is one of his most searing musical testaments. Russian soprano Maria Shaguch joined members of the New World Symphony in a memorable performance of this all too rarely heard work on April 9 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach - part of the New World's month long exploration of "The Russian Musical Soul."

Although scored for violin, cello, and piano, Shostakovich uses all three instruments together only in the final song. The timbres of each instrument (in solo and duo) are matched to the individual poems of the Russian Symbolist poet Blok. The dark, ruminative "Ophelia's Song" is accompanied by solo cello. "We Were Together" is a graceful neo-classical song with solo violin. The lyrical "The City Sleeps" features cello and piano. The soprano's bold declamation in "Gamauyn the Soothsaying Birf" is joined by harsh, percussive piano chords. "The Tempest" is an agitated recitative. The concluding "Secret Signs" and "Music" are studies in modernist tonal modalities but with a decidedly Russian accent. This score requires a soprano of enormous range and power. Maria Shaguch is a leading artist at St. Petersburg's Kirov Opera (under Valery Gergiev). Her luminous, lyrical voice and rapturous beauty of utterance made every note of Shostakovich's alternately beautiful and agonizing settings ring true. Violinist Veronica Pellegrini, cellist Milena Mateeva, and pianist Ciro Fodere were her deeply musical, stylistically apt collaborators.

In 1894 Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) dedicated his "Trio Elegiaque in D Minor," Opus 9 to the memory of the recently deceased Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). The Quasi Variazione second movement uses the same theme that Tchaikovsky created in the final set of variations in his famous Trio for Violin, Cello, and Piano. Rachmaninoff also employs a theme from his own symphonic poem "The Rock" (which Tchaikovsky had planned to conduct).This early Rachmaninoff work is all quintessentially Russian - brooding melancholy but distilled through the lens of a master. This great score deserves more frequent revival. The florid piano part was splendidly played by Anna Stoytcheva - a remarkable young artist from Sofia, Bulgaria (via Julliard). Ms. Stoytcheva's tonal palette was a whirlwind of fabulous colors. Her agility was stunning at lightening speed. Violinist Yuko Uchiyama matched Ms. Stoytcheva in passion and luxuriant tonal beauty. Despite considerable musicality cellist Lars Kirvan lacked tonal allure.

The program opened with Prokofiev's "Quintet in G Minor for Oboe, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, and Double Bass," Opus 39 - also known as the score for choreographer Boris Romanov's ballet "Trapeze." This quirky score is a wonderful bouillabaisse of folksy Klezmer influence, Stravinsky style dissonance, sardonic humor, jazzy riffs, and relentless, insistent rhythms. Oboist Dwight Parry (who gave a brightly elegant performance of Mozart's Oboe Concerto on the recent NWS Concerto Night) played with incisive clarity. Clarinetist Robert Woolfrey's wild leaps were brilliantly articulated. Violist Hilary Herndon brought dark, suave tone to Prokofiev's grim musical humor. Dacy Gillespie gave a stunning account of the virtuosic double bass part. Violinist Nancy Chang brought protean musicianship to Prokofiev's often angular string writing. 

On April 10 at the Lincoln Theater the New World Percussion Consort displayed its considerable versatility. Australian pianist-composer-musicologist Percy Grainger (1882-1961) was one of music's true originals. His lush orchestration of Ravel's "Le Vallee des Cloches" ("The Valley of the Bells") from the piano suite "Miroirs" is wonderfully ethereal with luminous strings and harp and other worldly mallet percussion. Michael Linville conducted the ensemble with stylish verve and elegance. The "Percussion Sonata No.2" ("Woodstock") by Peter Schickele (1935- ) - sometimes known as P.D.Q. Bach - is music with a rock sensibility. The Pastorale section is a modish New Age rumination with coolly sonorous wind chimes (which were manufactured in Woodstock, New York - hence the subtitle). Linville and his percussion crew gave this likeable score a beguiling performance. "Three Rivers" for Percussion Quartet and Live Electronics by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho (1952- ) fuses French impressionism, insistent rhythmic patterns, and poetic chimes and bells with a live recitation (in French) of the Chinese poem "Moonlight On the River." Saariaho has a wonderful sound world of percussive colors and textures - at once thoroughly contemporary and traditional. Only Miami's unique training ensemble could program this cutting edge repertoire. A musical New World indeed!

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