in: Reviews

May 4, 2014

Cicely Parnas and Longwood Connect

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Cicely Parnas (file photo)

Cicely Parnas (file photo)

Youthful, accomplished, and dedicated cellist Cicely Parnas joined the Longwood Symphony in the Schumann Cello Concerto at Jordan Hall Saturday evening with Ronald Feldman conducting. A Michael Torke piece and the Fourth Symphony of Brahms did not appear to be all that well prepared. Could it be that selecting these works for the same program became too much a challenge?

Cicely Parnas is the granddaughter of cellist Leslie Parnas, who, for a good amount of time, was Principal Cellist of the St. Louis Symphony. My mother often took me to hear that orchestra, and she would always point Parnas out; he was, after all, the talk of the town. A different connection, Cicely Parnas lists Longwood’s conductor Ronald Feldman among her teachers. Perhaps it was because of this, at least in part, that the concerto went as well as it did.

The inverted rainbow shaped central theme opening the concerto would sing with Parnas. As if there were words to the instrumental line, Parnas fluently enunciated that theme and its many developed recurrences. Making sense of Schumann was as much in play as was nurturing a reverence for Schumann’s only cello concerto. Her yielding to Schumann, as it were, revealed an imagination that departed from the effusive, heading rather to a mental state somewhere between outer psychological reaches and an innermost lovingness.

Longwood’s orchestra played well, at times supporting and at times leading. Brief flourishes of cello virtuosity in Nicht zu schnell were hidden by the orchestra. A degree of holding back could be sensed in this movement as well as the Langsam, but less so in the Sehr lebhaft. All in all, Parnas’ and Feldman’s embodiment of Cello Concerto in A Minor, Op. 129 caught hold of an inner vibrancy leaving behind much of the physical realm.

The other big work on Longwood’s final concert of the season, Brahms Symphony No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 98, arrived with somewhat overpowering dosages of horns and low brass, becoming so predicablethroughout nearly all of the four movements that, in the main, those sections dominated.

The wind section, on the other hand, knew its place, and when the right moment came usually did well. First flutist Daniela Krause stood out, raising the bar with a range of technique and expressiveness from bubbling passages to lyrical lines. The other winds were not all that far behind her in lending their woodwind colors and really getting into the feel of the Brahms.

Entrance flaws, instrumental imbalances, and the like, grew to be less of a concern by the end of the evening. There were brief moments in the Brahms, as we have come to know him through a myriad of performances both live and recorded, in the Phrygian-tilted Andante moderato. From Steven Ledbetter’s comprehensive program notes we are reminded that “Though most of the symphony was regarded as exceptionally difficult to understand in the Brahms’s day, this movement earned from its first audience a request for an encore.”

Longwood’s understanding of Javelin of Michel Torke was mostly surface as it was with the Brahms. Composed in connection with Olympics celebrations and often mentioned in the same breath with John Williams, Torke’s Javelin led off the concert. Its nine minutes of “concerto for orchestra” on display there. A well-tuned and technically proficient Longwood Symphony (how can so many doctors have time to practice such demanding scores?) revealed their own prowess. Fireworks it was not. The applause was subdued.

Is it a matter of programming or rehearsing, or possibly both, for both this and the previous Longwood concert? Playing the notes is not what I remember. The Longwood Symphony has built a reputation well beyond that. What is happening with the volunteer orchestra of physicians prompts concern.

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

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