The Apotheosis of Zest
Paul Hall, Juilliard School
Colin Matthews: Dowlandia (American premiere)
Johann Sebastian Bach: "Brandenburg" Concerto No. 4 in G Major, BWV 1049
Tristan Murail: Vues aériennes
John Adams: Chamber Symphony
Ensemble ACJW, Ransom Wilson (Conductor)
ACJW Ensemble (© Coco T Dawg)
The unanimous triumph of last night’s concert of this primarily Juilliard-student ensemble was neither in the works (ranging from ersatz 16th Century to today) or in the ensembles (which ranged from three to 16 players).
Rather, it was the joy, the exhilaration, and the visceral vigor shown by all the players, no matter what period or instrument they tootled or bowed or banged.
This was obvious in John Adams’ sparkling contrapuntal Chamber Symphony maze, where not a single player failed to bob, weave, almost jump with the fascinating rhythms and convoluted lines. More subtle was the Bach Fourth Brandenburg, played, as it should always be played, with a bare skeleton of a consort against the three soloists.
The Bach used a single string quartet (with double-bass) along with harpsichord against the trio of soloists, and the energy passed from one played to another. At times, they two groups crowded in on one another, at times, the opposing groups were not exactly refined. But if you want perfection, you get a recording. If you want the energy with which Bach was inspired (for this was not a commission, just a gift!), you listen to this group.
Emily Popham Gillins took the violin cadenza with élan, while Elizabeth Janzen and Yoobin Son played transverse flutes (no recorders, thank you) and they certainly needed no conductor.
Not even a conductor like Ransom Wilson, who probably wanted to play flute himself, one of his instruments. He did conduct the first work, Dowlandia by that very deft, prolific English composer Colin Matthews.
The title may be a pun, since he was orchestrating lute pieces around the time of Dowland–an Elizabethan “land” of its own. The six jigs, galliards and “fancies” were orchestrated from the lutenist’s tabulatures, and–aside from one flaccid movement–could have been orchestrated from Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances of the same period. Mr. Matthews did modernize things in a few sections, usually by adding some dissonant notes to the original sounds. I am certain that technically he probably changed other things, but this was not evident at a first hearing.
E.P. Gillins, D. Kaplan, R. Wilson, H. Berry (© Coco T. Dawg)
Little doubt which was the most daunting work here, the “spectralist” Tristan Murail’s Aerial Views. A short introduction from his one-time student, cellist Hamilton Berry, gave not only descriptive information about the four different views of light, but a telling quote.
“My teacher loved the horn, calling it the ‘salt’ of music.”
Here, hornist Eric Reed was less salt than Phaethon, driving his chariot of the sun around the earth. Murail here was both spectral-ist and spatial-ist, as Mr. Reed entered from stage right during the piece, played softly, then traveled to the center for the midday sun, out to stage left, and finally down to the audience.
His might have been the sunlight “waves”. The piano, violin and cello were the particles of light, dappling with distorted sounds for three of the sections. In the midday light, waves and particles were almost consonant, almost loud, before being transported back to particles…and dying waves.
For Murail, this was as visual as it gets. And thanks to the short introduction, it made fascinating sense.
The Adams Chamber Symphony must be hell to play. But with this group, again conducted by the meticulous Mr. Wilson, it was a happy energized, bracing stimulating heaven to hear. So meticulous was John Adams’s pinpoint orchestration that one could look at any instrument to see how clever the lines were interwoven. (I chose to look at percussionist Michael Zell, who played his batter of drums and gongs with stolid ferocity.)
I daresay the New York Phil could play this with terrific results. But watching ACJW at work, it is doubtful if any ensemble could achieve such personal responsibility and such all-out zest!