The East Coast Chamber Orchestra (ECCO, appearing on their latest CD as ECƆO), was new to me. Last night at Rockport Music’s Shalin Liu Center was my first discovery. Their program of Holst, Purcell, Stravinsky, Mozart and Bartók was the lure. Artistic Director David Deveau introduced ECCO as a new group echoing another chamber string orchestra, A Far Cry. A “cross pollination,” he said, in fact, some of the musicians play in both A Far Cry and ECCO.
This five-composer program, you would think, would have had Shalin Liu Performance Center hopping in variegated echoes, however, that was not completely the case. ECCO’s stoutness coupled with youthful high spirits took hold and really never let go. The orchestra’s personality was what was projected throughout the evening.
This pretty much sums it up. ECCO “is the vision of a group of musicians—colleagues and friends from festivals and conservatories nationwide—to create a democratically-run, self-conducted chamber orchestra that thrives on the pure joy and camaraderie of classical music-making.”
ECCO’s seven violins, three violas, four cellos, and two basses opened with a bestseller interpretation of Gustav Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite, successfully setting off the bold “Jig” and famous “Dargason-Greensleeves” Finale (first used in his Second Suite in F for Military Band). The interior two movements, Ostinato and Intermezzo, did not miss either. Their Holst, chockfull of bow-bending exuberance, flooded one of New England’s best spots for chamber music with a thriving resonance purely of strings. And that was from start to finish! It had us sitting up; mouths wide open, smiling, with a look of astonishment written all over our faces.
Selected Fantasias for Strings of Henry Purcell composed some 230 years earlier (1680) headed in chromatic directions opposite the Dorian modalities and major key diatonicism of the Englishman’s 1912 suite. Where we were going in the Purcell was far less clear for today’s ear than it had been in the Holst. One obvious example: caught by surprise, the audience appeared stumped at the final cadence. Surprises always welcome particularly in times of so much music making of a digitalized type where perfection is ideal, ECCO’s tentativeness could be sensed both aurally and visually. The string players, seeming to expect audience response that was not forthcoming, moved in a signaling kind of way that the music had ended.
The Concerto in D of Stravinsky did not change noticeably enough in timbre and personality. The Vivace’s rhythms needed spikiness, the Arioso’s two punctuated perfect cadences in unrelated keys needed profiling, and the Rondo’s classical impersonation, Stravinsky written all over it, needed to shine.
As in the Purcell, the Mozart Divertimento for Strings in F Major, K. 138, suffered somewhat from heaviness in the cellos and basses some have suggested, that the room favors the lower strings. Relieved from competing with their lower siblings, the violins and violas then could also have let up more to contribute breathing room to this light classical piece. Camouflaged were Mozart’s changing faces, ECCO’s, though, were not. Likewise with both the Purcell and Mozart, the performers’ expressions showed little of that pure joy that otherwise shown during the concert.
ECCO’s tempo of the first movement of Bartók’s Divertimento for String Orchestra, Allegro non troppo, was too fast to allow for breathing and other naturalness. But ECCO wonderfully caught on to the Andante, its iridescent, dazzling string writing, darkness, spookiness. The long terrifying crescendo past mid-movement found a united, but not entirely egalitarian orchestra. Not all parts are equal here and ECCO understood that. Though again on the high velocity track, the Allegro assai demanded attention, mostly all in the right ways. Absorbing Eastern European folk tunefulness and choreography the 16-member orchestra clearly planned to have this movement, the final one of their Rockport outing, bring the audience to their feet. That did not happen, instead, appreciative, even enthusiastic applause rang out.
These highly polished and promising young performers might consider pursuing more the personalities of the composers. Wouldn’t that be interesting.
David Patterson, Professor of Music and former chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. www.notescape.net