in: Reviews

April 1, 2011

A Far Cry’s Unleashed Verklärte Nacht

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Was Arnold Schoenberg a romantic, a hyper-romantic or a post-romantic? Which version of his Verklärte Nacht is the most echt — the original for string sextet, the 1917 version for string orchestra, the Feuermann transcription for piano trio, or the 1943 version for orchestra with added double bass? Not being an originalist, I opt for whatever works on a particular evening. And boy did A Far Cry succeed with its hyper-romantic performance of the 1943 version. The criers adopted a very juicy sound and unleashed themselves in ways they had not done in the rest of their March 31 program at Jordan Hall. The extent to which their tremeli and vibrati lined up as effectively as the larger arcs testified to the way the players listen to one another, though it is somewhat disingenuous to say that they were conductorless, since all eyes were on the concertmistress or relevant section leader when cues were wanted.

The twenty players mustered all of the gestural urgency and inflective unanimity of a great chamber ensemble, while providing the power and compelling grandeur of a string orchestra as well as some rapt and astonishing pianissimos. This was the ideal way to hear Verklärte Nacht: the give and take of a fine string quartet, but writ large.

The evening opened with a quietly rapturous and ruminative account of Dvorák’s Nocturne in B major for String Orchestra, op. 40. The Far Cry players offered a wonderfully digestible portion of almost Wagnerian expression that surged and swelled with a well observed crescendo and left one with a pleasing feeling of satiety for the premiere that followed, In Digestion by Shiori Usui.

Crier violist Jason Fisher charmingly introduced the new piece, which he was at pains to make sure the audience understood had a two-word title, not indigestion.” Usei’s rumination on digestion derived from sounds she heard in her own alimentary processes, including teeth grinding, stomach gurgling, growling and less specific noises. That she added to the expressive vocabulary of string writing is certain, though at times her motives were more redolent of Bernard Hermann’s slashing shower scene from Psycho or John Williams’s shark attack from Jaws. The players dispatched In Digestion lightly and amusingly so that none of the products of digestion other than replenishment of energy were in evidence. The composer told us afterwards that one of her next scores would develop from a spectral analysis of her own snoring.

The other large piece on the program was a recent arrangement of Schumann’s Cello Concerto for violin and string orchestra. The hot-shot English violinist, Anthony Marwood, who was reviewed here in his BSO debut last week, commissioned the arrangement from composer Orlando Jopling. Once one got past the exchange of the cello’s soulful anthropomorphisms for the violin’s speed and accuracy, one missed nothing of Schumann’s blocky orchestration. The sections were in divisi mode so often that all of the complexity of the score was well rendered by what sounded like an ensemble of sixteen soloists. It was only in this piece, though, that one felt the occasional want of a conductor to reign in the group, when ppp was called for. One felt that Marwood whose virtuosity is undoubted, would have had greater opportunity to smell the roses if more rubati and pianissimi had been dared.

It is always a treat to hear A Far Cry in Jordan Hall. Their next area concert will be in Rockport’s Shalin Liu center on June 12.

The publisher of the Boston Musical Intelligencer on rare occasions opines in this column.

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