From the Mountains of Vermont to the East River of Brooklyn
Barge Music, Fulton Ferry Landing, Brooklyn
Johann Sebastian Bach: Keyboard Concerto No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052
Adam Neiman: Fantasy for piano and string orchestra (World Premiere)
Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95 (Arranged by Gustav Mahler)
Vittorio Giannini : Concerto grosso
Adam Neiman (Piano)
Manchester Chamber Orchestra, Ariel Rudiakov (Musical Director and Conductor)
J. Genova and ensemble in BargeMusic (© Coco T. Dog)
Be forewarned. Manchester is not your quaint little Vermont town with quaint lanes and a quaint little orchestra. No, Manchester, Vermont may be surrounded by picturesque mountains. But it is spread-out over several miles, its inhabitants are frequently wealthy businessfolk, up from their Florida mansions living in gated communities, and the town thus has more golf courses than cute little antique shops.
Nonetheless, they do support a thriving summer festival in their lovely auditorium. More than that, they have an rather extraordinary year-round music education program, and the Manchester Chamber Orchestra, which (to quote from the Press notes), “exists to employ gifted students who have come through the Manchester Music Festival’ summer chamber music study program.” Both Manchester coffers and private donation help this to come about. And more power to them.
That orchestra goes touring each year, not only through Vermont but down to the Kennedy Center and yesterday afternoon in New York. Specifically Brooklyn’s prestigious BargeMusic. And yes, the 17-artist group did have to roll with the East River waves at times, but this didn’t disturb them a bit.
Nor did the unusual program, which featured a world premiere, a piece by Gustav Mahler which I never heard in New York, and a 20th Century Italian-American composer who seems to be the mascot of the Manchester Chamber Orchestra.
Vittorio Giannini may never have visited Manchester during his life (an all-too-short 63 years, dying in 1966), but Manchester soloists, had made an outstanding recording of his Quintet and Trio. Yesterday, though, the Giannini Concerto Grosso was given a rousing performance by the full 17-member group. The work may be typical of Juilliard-inspired string music of the 1950’s, but the Manchester group performed with great zest, the transparent fugues and canons given an 18th Century panache.
Yet the second-movement Moderato was quite a few cuts above the rest in inspiration. The main thrust was on the first chair players, who accompanied Concertmaster Joana Genova, a fine soloist in her own right. The melody was a dark one, the duet with second chair Regi Papa gave echoes to 19th Century opera.
Since three of the works were new to the sold-out audience, the only way to judge the orchestra was in the Bach F Minor Keyboard Concerto, with deft solo playing by Adam Neiman. The orchestra itself in this opening work was underwhelming. Conductor Ariel Rudiakov conducted the group with such caution that the lively spontaneous Bach was buried under a moribund tempo and a dull-sounding patina. It was irrelevant whether the Manchester Chamber Orchestra would have made technical errors (they didn’t seem to), for the entire work was shrouded in the fear of errors and, until the finale, a gloom of over-rehearsal.
A. Rudiakov, A. Neiman (© Coco T. Dog)
That could never be said for Adam Neiman’s performance in his own Concerto for Piano and String Orchestra, receiving its premiere yesterday. The music romantic, conservative, never shmaltzy, always interesting in a comfortable old-fashioned way.
Over four connected movements, the strings started with the most mysterious theme–a theme which offered up the ambiance of Bernard Hermann’s greatest film score, for Vertigo. Those same harmonies pervaded the second movement, a vaguely macabre waltz, the near-solo third movement and a finale which gave reprise to much of the first.
Mr. Neiman’s playing and the very sympathetic conducting of Maestro Rudiakov was so engaging that one forgot that this could have been written many many decades ago.
The full orchestra played Mahler’s arrangement of Beethoven’s “Sombre” Opus 95 String Quartet. It was fairly lush (unlike Mahler’s plush over-lush Bach transcription), it didn’t have the stress or spikiness of the original, it less a race car than a railways train. But this was easy listening with some splendid string playing.
One coda. In doing some research on why Mahler “orchestrated” the piece, I discovered remarks which would have gotten him immediately fired in 2013.
“Beethoven did not envisage, for his last quartets, all of the limited, small instruments. He conveyed an immense idea in four voices,” said Mahler. “All Beethoven’s works need a certain amount of editing. What I intended is only an ideal representation of the quartet. I wish to offer the listener the strength that the composer wanted to give them. I give them this strength by reinforcing the voices. I unravel the expansion, which sleeps in the voices, and I give the tones wings. ” (Italics mine)
Mahler makes Stokowski sound like a purist! Then again, the “arranger” did write some pretty nice music himself. Chuzpah coming from Mahler’s mouth must, I suppose, be forgiven.