It may be time for the conductors of the world to pack their batons. The stick was not missed at A Far Cry’s Season Six finale Friday at Jordan Hall. The conductorless and mostly chairless Criers were in their glory, displaying their spotless intonation, commanding range of dynamics, subtle and heart-rending control of tempo, and inevitably logical musical choices to a very appreciative audience. They had added a number of guest artists, both additional strings and seven wind players in order to perform two works by Mozart and Schubert, impressively proving that this collective can expand while still creating performances of distinction.
Violist Jason Fisher opened “Viennese Postcards” with descriptions of a few of the highlights of the past season (extensive tours of North America and a European debut tour) and hints of delights to come in next season—an expanded number of concerts and intriguing collaborations with two of the world’s outstanding viola soloists, Helen Callus and Kim Kashkashian, as well a program of choreography with Dance Urbanity among other really interesting musical selections. And, as Fisher noted, this group is only 6 years old: imagine how far it can go in the years to come!
Comprising Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K.V. 550; the Adagio from Anton Bruckner’s String Quintet in F major, WAB.112, arranged by Fritz Oeser; and the Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major, D.485 by Franz Schubert, the evening was a tribute to the Criers’ concerts in Vienna.
Mozart’s “Great g minor” Symphony, written barely three years before his death, is masterful throughout its four movements—all but the 3rd in sonata form. The symphony begins with subtle accompaniment figures setting the rhythm in the viola section, with the violins slipping in on the fourth beat with a pleading melody. It can be difficult for this Molto Allegro movement to achieve both drama and lightness while maintaining a forward leaning tempo without rushing, but not for this ensemble. The Andante second movement was lilting and brisk, with phrases unfolding like a flower in time-lapse bloom. The Menuetto: Allegretto third movement, while in ¾ rhythm, is accented in a hemiola pattern (every two beats), making a jagged sounding rhythm, which the Criers played with drama and excitement. A particularly gorgeous trio showed off the winds, and earned a special shout-out to the “hunting horns”, impeccably in tune, and gloriously golden in tone. The Allegro assai fourth movement was excitingly fast, and the transition to the development section was just amazing. At the end of the 30 minutes it was astonishing to consider that a performance that seemed near perfection must have required enormous concentration and conductorless interaction, yet the energy never flagged, never sagged, and carried through to the very end.
Bruckner’s Adagio came next, here expanded for all the strings. This might very well be what one hears while progressing through the promised tunnel of light towards the infinite. It seems to capture the hope, longing, and reminiscences of love won and lost and dreams remembered that one might expect to experience at such a moment. It uses Bruckner’s lush, chromatic language to great emotional effect, capturing in its fin-de-siecle (dare we say Jugendstil?) harmonies the infinite sadness of worlds passing away. The Criers were at their finest here. Eight violins sounded like forty, and the chorus of four violas in the center of the stage shone in all their alto glory. Nobody does noble melancholy better than a viola section. There were breath-catching moments of crescendo to a stop, resuming with pianissimo, and at the end, slow throbs of heartbeat basses, which faded…this piece could hardly have been more alive and fluid.
After intermission, the full band was back on stage for the Schubert. The pairing of these two symphonies was a brilliant choice. The Schubert seemed a clear tribute to the earlier Mozart in form and style, yet with Schubert’s own melodic voice. Ben Smolen’s flute playing was particularly lovely in the first movement. The 3rd, while nominally a minuet, was played with a lilt that gave a hint of a Strauss waltz. The lightness of the final movement was almost Mendelssohnian. With genius, A Far Cry gave a fine tribute to Vienna, and to the composers whose works received such loving treatment.