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The Voice of the Hedgehog

New York
Good Shepherd Church, 152 West 66th Street
01/04/2010 -  & January 4, 2010 (7.30 pm)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Sonata in Bb Major for bassoon and cello, K. 292
Felice Giardini: Duet No. 2 for viola and bassoon
Carl Maria von Weber: Andante and Rondo Ungarese, Op. 35 (arranged by Mordecai Rechtman)
Leos Janácek: Concertino
Antonín Dvorák: String Quartet No. 12 in F Major, op. 96 “American”

Sergey Ostrovsky, Robyn Bollinger (Violins), Cynthia Phelps (Viola), Frank Morelli (Bassoon), Einav Yarden (Piano), Vadim Lando (Clarinet), Alana Vegter (Horn)

C. Phelps (© Christian Steiner)

Why concert agents should worry during the recession is beyond me. The recipe for success is simple.

First, bring together First Chair players from the NY Philharmonic, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, and the Seattle Symphony, along with international prize-winners. Second, place them in a resonant church concert hall. Third, entice an appreciate audience which needs to hear rare music played by these rarest artists……

And there you go. Guaranteed success!! Anyhow, success Jupiter Symphony Chamber Players style, which does it every two weeks, with concerts in the afternoon and evening.

This afternoon programmed Mozart and Weber. But who knew that Mozart wrote a Sonata for bassoon and cello?? Who ever heard Weber’s delightful Hungarian variations for bassoon and viola?? And while Leos Janácek has been given a renaissance these past few years, his Concertino–actually a piece for flaura and fauna–is hardly ever performed.

The most unusual artist was the Orpheus bassoonist Frank Morelli, who I suppose, having little technical knowledge of his instrument, is one of the prime players of our day. The personable artist gave lie to Thomas Mann’s contention that the instrument is “weak in sound….burlesque.” No, this does not have French horn resonance, but Mr. Morelli turned it into a virtuoso solo instrument in three works.

The Mozart Sonata (perhaps the beginning of a concerto) began almost Bach-like, since the cello played a kind of basso continuo role. But the third movement was a rollicking rondo, with all the trills and octave jumps imaginable. Weber’s work was melodically and instrumentally more interesting (the solo viola was changed into a string trio), with a bumptious Hungarian theme.

Fascinating were the colors of Felice Giardini’s Duet for bassoon and viola, since the timbres complemented each other. In this case, Cynthia Phelps–the NY Phil’s violist who recently performed Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante with the orchestra–provided the bounce to Mr. Morelli’s lyric playing.

Finishing the program was a vivacious Dvorák “American” String Quartet, with lovely playing by Ms. Phelps and first violin Sergey Ostrovsky in the second movement. I always regret that few quartets play the second subject in strict tempo (as the composer indicates in my score), and this group went along with the crowd. But the sounds, especially in this church auditorium, resonated with good-natured Dvorák cheer, and the last measures were spine-tingling.

The best is last. Leos Janácek’s paean to pests and rodents. We don’t have to know that the first movement depicts a hedgehog trying to go down a blocked hole (though, without a theme, that makes sense). It isn’t essential to hear the second movement as a squirrel jumping from tree to tree (though the E flat clarinet obviously jumps with the piano). The third movement, with its wonderful bird-calls speaks literally for itself.

But in the finale, all our animals get together, and here the swirl of strings turned New York’s freezing exterior into a bucolic (and sometimes hectic) spring day inside the aptly-named Good Shepherd church.

I have personally loved the Concertino for many years, not least for its mammalian references. The wind, string and piano parts were played with such free-spirited feeling that I eschewed the coffee intermission to venture outside, to savor New York’s Mother Nature: inquisitive squirrels, ubiquitous pigeons, blustering winds, and the remaining rays of the nurturing winter sun.

Harry Rolnick



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