in: Reviews

September 23, 2013

Freisinger Stands Tall at Old South

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Peter Freisinger’s art is evident in every aspect of the Freisinger Chamber Orchestra’s performances: In his presence at the podium—energetic, the conducting is expansive and graceful, stopping just short of balletic—and in his programming, which includes discussions with the featured living composers and copious program notes. His dedication to music students is even more admirable. Freisinger concerts are free for them, and on Saturday afternoon in the sanctuary of Old South Church one could meet conducting students and recent performance graduates involved in the administrative side of the orchestra. Indeed, the ensemble itself is composed largely of students, and it’s unfortunate that the season’s finances have limited Freisinger to this single concert.

A crowded and appreciative sanctuary welcomed the ensemble for a concert of mostly staid programming: Mozart, Beethoven, and arias by Thomas, Donizetti, and Leoncavallo. But, it also featured the world premiere of an FCO commission, Aaron Rosenberg’s To Finish the Moment.

Staid is not the right word for the execution of Mozart’s Symphony No. 29. Vividly articulated, the performance fully exploited the ensemble’s range and color, particularly in the first movement. The second movement can be difficult to keep motivated, but the symphony recovered momentum in the third movement, an elegant menuetto that, whatever it lacks in muscle and verve, it more than rewards with wit and humor. The symphony ends with a powerful Allegro con spirito which drove home the racing conclusion.

Mozart’s work stood in stark contrast to the commission from Aaron Rosenberg. In comments after the first performance (To Finish the Moment  was performed twice) Rosenberg noted that his initial intention—to write a work based on a passage from Emerson’s essay Experience—was somewhat waylaid by the direction the music seemed to take as he was writing it. Any early-American influence in the work is countered by the warm, subtle pentatonic clusters in the string sections that lay the palette for a shimmering initial soundscape. This doesn’t last: the listener is soon thrown into almost Stravinsky-like rhythmic discordance and tonal disarray as the work moves on to its second motive, ”[…] a group of friends who talk among each other,” in the words of Rosenberg. This section is jarring yet deeply interesting: fractured soundscapes appear to coalesce only momentarily before they wander to very different purpose. The ideas ultimately culminate in a cluster of dissonances, reminiscent of the initial pentatonic clusters that slowly fade away. Conceptually challenging as it may have been for the audience, the orchestra presented both performances of the work with a technical finesse demonstrating deep understanding.

Lighter fare followed intermission, as baritone Philip Lima took the stage with Freisinger accompanying on piano. Lima’s voice has an immediate appeal—rich in tone, it is a confident presence that maintains resonance in every register it touches. Although it is easy to be impressed by his dramatic top, I found Lima particularly superb in his opulent lower reaches, which maintained precision under easy control. Saturday afternoon featured three arias: Thomas’s “O vin, dissipe la tristesse” from Hamlet, Donizetti’s “Bella siccome un angelo” from Don Pasquale, and Leoncavallo’s “Si puo?” from I Pagliacci, all three engaged and dramatically committed. Gershwin’s “Oh, Lawd, I’m on my way,” from Porgy and Bess, came as a welcome encore to the set.

The program concluded with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 2, with Artem Belogurov at the keyboard. He is no stranger to Boston audiences (his performance of Carter’s 2006 Caténaires earlier this year is reviewed here), and certainly he should not be hidden from the wider public much longer. It was easy to be impressed by Belogurov’s performance in the first movement—Beethoven pyrotechnics combined with an expertly improvised cadenza by the pianist that imbued this early composition with an Appassionata flare). But I was particularly moved by Belogurov’s interpretation of the Adagio second movement: it is one thing to show technical proficiency, but this thoughtful read of the intimate movement demonstrated both intense depth and intellectual underpinning. The concluding Rondo with playful theme provided much-needed release.

The concert was dedicated to the memory of recently deceased local musical personages and performers Edwin Hymovitz, Patrick Maxfield, Werner Gans, and Stephen LaRoche.

Despite this being its only performance of the season (same situation as last year), the FCO will nevertheless continue its informal sight-reading gatherings.

Peter Freisinger conducts his namesake ensemble. Simon Yue photo)

Peter Freisinger conducts his namesake ensemble. (Simon Yue photo)

Sudeep Agarwala performs with various singing groups in Boston and Cambridge.

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