NEW WORLD EXCELS IN CHAMBER MUSIC FROM ACROSS THE POND
NEW WORLD SYMPHONY
PHILIPPE CASTAGNER
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS/ BRITTEN/ ELGAR (12-2-07)


By Lawrence Budmen

An enticing matinee musicale on December 2 by members of the New World Symphony at the Lincoln Theater brought a program of rarely heard works with a decidedly British accent that explored indigenous and modernist influences on three of Englandís most prominent composers during the first half of the 20th century.

Like Bela Bartok in Hungary, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) was an inveterate collector of his countryís folk songs and dances. The song cycle On Wenlock Edge reflects that genre as well as the broader world of the European avant garde that the composer absorbed during his studies with Ravel in Paris. Presented in Vaughan Williamsí original 1909 scoring for tenor, string quartet and piano, On Wenlock Edge is a setting of six poems by A.E. Housman. 

The composer mirrors the poetís pastoral strophes and cynical undertones in music both sweepingly melodic and darkly ruminative. Vaughan Williams paints an astonishing vocal panorama of emotional lyricism. Two brief folk based songs offset the tragic drama of Is my team ploughing - a tragic poetic conversation between a dead man and his former partner in which the tenor plays both roles. Bredon Hill is the longest of the songs, a mini-drama that swings from playful romance to the sadness of death as told through the metaphor of tolling church bells. Haunting string figurations capture the flow a river in the final song Clun with dark undertones suggesting the painful side of youth.

Tenor Philippe Castagner enunciated the text with poetic expressivity. A graduate of the Metropolitan Operaís Lindemann Young Artist Program, Castagner unfurled a lovely Mozartean lyric tenor. In depicting the two voices of Is my team ploughing, he tended to be over emphatic, sacrificing beauty of sound for sheer volume. His elegant, informal manner in Far from the eve and morning was sweetly beguiling. 

Pianist Yukiko Sekino waxed rhapsodic, clear and true in sweeping coloration. Violinists Jamecyn Morey and Joseph Hintz, violist Matthew Carrington, and cellist Naomi Gray offered beautifully sculpted tonal hues, bright in pastel sunbursts and dark in forebodings of tragedy. 

The String Quartet No.1 in D Major by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976) finds that seminal British composer in transition between his lighter early scores and the moody Mahlerian eloquence of his major works. Written in Southern California in 1941, the work begins with a strikingly atonal opening movement. Britten was clearly experimenting amid the tempest tossed musical currents that became such a divisive force among creative artists of the time. The third movement Andante calmo is the quartetís heart and soul. Very similar in mood to Brittenís Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, the strings bask in a lyrical line that spirals ever upward, achieving serene stasis in a softly ecstatic coda. By contrast, the score concludes with a sprightly, vigorous Molto vivace. 

The richly textured tonal compass of violinists Katherine Bormann and Ann Okagaito and violist Erik Rynearson was unusually striking in the misty opening chords high in the instrumentsí upper reaches. Cellist Soo Jee Yang was particularly incisive in the repeated pizzicatos, mysterious incantations of the quartetís inner movements. While this score is not major Britten, the New World playersí outstanding performance made a worthy case for the pieceís occasional revival. 

The Quintet in A minor for Piano and Strings by Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) belongs to that British masterís Indian summer of inspired chamber music scores. Marked by Brahmsian warmth of expression and instrumental virtuosity, Elgarís Piano Quintet pours forth like an ocean in kaleidoscopic bursts of melodic invention. A songful Adagio precedes the rousing finale in which themes from the previous movements return in cyclical fashion a la Cesar Franck. Like the composerís Enigma Variations, this work captures Elgar at his profoundly masterful peak.

The superb artistry of pianist Lora Tchekoratova captured the romantic crest of this surging, wondrous score. Her limpid, fleet fingered keyboard agility brought invigorating energy to every bar of Elgarís enchanting work. Violinists Karen Franklin and Yuna Lee seemed uninvolved in the musicís emotional churnings, offering competent playing that tended toward the superficial. Violist Dustin Budish and cellist Sebastien Gingras played with darkly burnished sonority and romantic ardor, bringing vivid life to every bar of this Elgar treasure. These abundantly talented young musicians revived important scores from the byways of the repertoire, offering a joyous afternoon of intimately scaled music making.



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