A NEW WORLD CELLIST IN REMARKABLE ELGAR CONCERTO PERFORMANCE
By Lawrence Budmen
Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) is best known for his "Pomp and Circumstance" marches. Yet Elgar was a composer of poetic and musically complex large scale works. His symphonies, concertos, and chamber music are major contributions to the concert literature. The "Concerto in E Minor for Cello and Orchestra," Opus 85 (1919) - Elgar's final masterpiece - is particularly distinguished for its surging lyricism and beauty and variety of musical invention. This score has long been a showpiece for virtuoso cellists - from Felix Salmond (who played at the work's premiere) and Pablo Casals to Yo-Yo Ma and Lynn Harrell. On February 21, 2004 at the Lincoln Theater in Miami Beach, this Elgar masterwork received a spectacular performance by Bjorn Ranheim, a 26 year old cellist from Minneapolis and graduate of the Cleveland Institute of Music - the climax of the New World Symphony's "Concerto Showcase."
When a young musician steps from the ranks of the orchestra to give a performance of such volcanic intensity and technical assurance, there is reason for celebration. The sheer fervor with which Ranheim attacked the concerto's opening cadenza was astounding. Ranheim's large, dipped in velvet tone was simply beautiful. The dark, brooding eloquence of the Lento found Ranheim playing with tremendous passion. The Adagio sang forth with warmth and poetry under Ranheim's masterful bow. He brought daunting lightness and charm to the concluding Allegro. Ranheim played with virtuoso flair and traced Elgar's delicate filigree with refined elegance and glowing tone. Here was a spectacular performance of one of the most difficult works in the cello literature by a remarkable young musician! With his superb command of the instrument and brilliant interpretive skills, Ranheim is headed for a major musical career!
The New World Symphony's Principal Guest Conductor Alasdair Neale responds deeply to the bittersweet lyricism of Elgar's music. (He has led the NWS in eloquent performances of the composer's First Symphony and "Enigma Variations.") Neale gave Ranheim stalwart support and brought tremendous orchestral power to Elgar's sweeping musical paragraphs. The strength and intensity of the string playing and the crackling brass interjections contributed to a stellar performance. Both the Brahmsian lyricism and spirited English folk tinged elements of the score found full expression in Ranheim and Neale's inspired collaboration.
Pascal Archer - an impressive 27 year old clarinetist from Quebec, Canada - found the lyrical ariosos and the jazzy thrust in Aaron Copland's "Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra." This haunting 1948 score recalls Copland's lyrical music for the film version of Thornton Wilder's play "Our Town." Copland originally composed the concerto for the legendary Benny Goodman. Archer's lovely tone and expressive command of the instrument produced a beguiling performance. The beautifully shaded hues of the first movement were given full measure in Archer's glowing performance. He overcame a brief memory lapse in the virtuosic cadenza to deliver a dashing performance of the finale. Archer brought terrific rhythmic thrust to this jazz inspired movement (which Copland deemed "Rather fast.") His duo with the double bass had wonderful rhythmic bounce and give and take in the best jazz improvisatory manner. With his gorgeous tone and spontaneous musical personality, Archer is a wonderfully gifted musician. Neale revealed great idiomatic flair for Copland's uniquely American idiom. The lush string textures were beautifully delineated and Copland's sinewy string writing emerged with real clarity. (A hallmark of this conductor's work is his singular ability to make the inner voices emerge clearly from the larger orchestral texture.) Neale brought real rhythmic urgency to the concluding section. Both the folk inflected Americana elements and the jazzy exhortations of the score were delivered with style and brio. A wonderful interpretation of an important score that deserves more frequent performance!
Myroslava Ivanchenko, a 25 year old member of the NWS violin section, ventured Saint-Saens's "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor," Opus 28. The Ukrainian born Ivanchenko understood Saint-Saens's signature combination of French charm and musical rigor. She phrased the lyrical sections with considerable elegance but failed to bring the powerhouse virtuosity that this violinistic chestnut demands.
Violist Kathryn Sievers gave a fiery account of the posthumous "Concerto for Viola and Orchestra" by Bela Bartok (1881-1945). This fascinating work was commissioned by the violist William Primrose - the first great solo exponent of the instrument. The score was left in disarray when the composer passed away. Bartok's student and colleague Tibor Serly correlated the existing manuscript and completed the score. (Serly, a superbly gifted composer and conductor, also wrote a viola concerto - a brilliant and powerful work that deserves revival.) The resulting pastiche is quintessential Bartok - gypsy rhythms merged with yearning nostalgia and fiercely dissonant harmonics. Sievers, a 27 year old graduate of Yale and New York's illustrious Julliard School, gave a remarkably assured and dedicated performance of this complex score. She shaped the bittersweet opening theme with just the right combination of cool austerity and reserved passion. Her glowing tone and beautifully sculptured phrasing in the central Adagio religioso movement were particularly impressive. Sievers and Neale brought just the right Magyar pizzazz to the Allegro vivace finale. A worthy revival!
The New World Symphony's ranks are filled with musicians of tremendous talent. The impressive solo turns of this "Concerto Showcase" demonstrated the splendid technical facility and artistic flexibility of these young artists. The Elgar "Cello Concerto" presented something more - a star in the making - Bjorn Ranheim!