To continue the trend in this blog of vacillating between pop and classical music, here's a review I wrote for my AJP 600 (Critical Writing) class. It's not especially timely (concert happened Sept. 2), but many elements of the performance, especially the soloist/ensemble dynamic, stuck with me. I think I have some readers who aren't in my class - Dad? Rebecca? Krystal? - and thus weren't handed a copy of this on Monday. So here it is.
Two world-class soloists turned an average chamber concert into a grand finale for the 2006 Skaneateles Festival.
On another Saturday night concert moved indoors from Brook Farm due to inclement weather, flutist Marina Piccinini and violinist Ilya Kaler rescued a slightly soggy performance by the Festival Chamber Orchestra. Despite the change in venue, the auditorium at Skaneateles High School was nearly full with audience members eagerly awaiting works by three of the most famous names in classical music.
The concert began with J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G major, BWV 1048. In both movements, the violinist and violists failed to match articulations clearly, playing more as disjointed soloists than as uniform sections.
The too-fast tempo of the second Allegro movement exaggerated the problem of mismatching rhythms and attacks. The orchestra sounded sloppy in playing triple-meter at such a rapid pace, leading to a disappointing performance of a familiar classic.
The chamber group added oboes, horns and additional string players for Mozart’s Flute Concerto in D major, K. 314. Piccinini’s energetic presence added an immediate boost to the group’s playing. She moved and swayed as she played, and punctuated several sixteenth-note runs with an upward flourish of the barrel end of her flute.
Though the writing for the concerto’s orchestral accompaniment is less colorful than the accompanying music for many of his operas, concertmaster Steven Copes ably led the string players and provided several graceful solo interjections.
Piccinini’s cadenzas highlighted all three movements; she showed great control with regard to tempo, neatly speeding up and slowing down amid the rapid scalar passages. She made octave leaps with ease and played with a crystalline tone in all registers.
The concert closed with another well-known piece: Vivaldi’s "The Four Seasons." The orchestra turned to another outstanding soloist; it’s easy to forget that in addition to the piece’s place among the "greatest hits" of chamber music, it’s also a violin concerto. Ilya Kaler, professor of violin at DePaul University and formerly of the Eastman School of Music, bowed nimbly through some very flashy solo writing, and the orchestra frequently faded into the background as Kaler asserted his control over the music.
His playing was nearly flawless throughout all four sections, but some of the concerto’s less frequently-played movements could have used more care from the orchestra. The ensemble played too heavily throughout the last movement, "Winter." Heavy, clunking pizzicato from the string players failed to capture the lightly falling rain and snow described in the lines of verse that accompany the score.
Kaler was truly the star of the evening. He dominated the stage as he drew broad strokes over open strings to play chords and worked his fingers from top to bottom of the fingerboard. His physical presence – tall and imposing, with long arms and fingers often moved rapidly – transfixed the audience throughout the 45 minute-long concerto.