in: Reviews

September 23, 2014

A Chamber of Thwarted Pleasures

by

Freisinger Chamber Orchestra’s Sunday concert at Old South Church’s handsomely cavernousness sanctuary had problems to overcome. Right from the start there was a rival disco extravaganza in Copley Square serving as a sonic goal for Jimmy Fund Walk participants and a major irritant to the audience within. The amplified thrumming bass was often louder than the well-tempered playing of the young 22-piece pickup orchestra. Indeed, the small numbers created a real bass deficiency: two celli and one doublebass were hardly sumptuous for a 1200-seat space. Also, tuning and perception thereof suffer when there are only two strings to a part, as in the viola section. The upper strings, 5, 4, had sheen until fatigue set it late in the program. Finally, there seemed not enough rehearsal time for the repertoire. When I asked conductor/producer Peter Freisinger why he had inserted three arias into the program and accompanied them on piano instead of with the orchestra, he said, “With only three rehearsals of three hours, each with a 20-minute pizza break, there just wasn’t enough time to work out everything, and I really wanted to present mezzo Grace Allendorf—plus I love to play the piano.”

The program was a pleasant, old-fashioned miscellany that began with Tchaikovsky’s beloved Variations on a Rococo Theme. Cello soloist Edevaldo Mulla, Albanian with Boston connections, was a Byronesque (more on Byron later) extrovert who conquered the virtuosic demands yet never lost touch with songfulness and romance. He gave us brilliant scales, sweeping arpeggios, well-tuned harmonics, scampering passagework, and never failed to produce a honeyed and emotive tone. He and the orchestra also managed to maintain concentration and shape—something of a miracle when they could hardly have heard each other over the disco thrumming, especially below forte. The most soulful effusions, though, were severely mauled by the distractions without. The orchestra was alert to all of the coloristic effects and the larger changes in mood and tempo, but shifts did not always engage smoothly. The winds had a fine outing, and hornists Joe Walker and Derek Lewis along with flutist Elzbieta Brandys made much of their solos. The strings did not make a strong impact.

The audience demanded an encore and received a repeat of variation 7.

The most successful piece on the program followed. Composed last spring to a commission from the orchestra, Jacov Jakoulov’s The Horizon, a 12-minute tone poem inspired by lines from Byron’s Don Juan, received its world premiere. Its success was probably in large part due to its unfamiliarity and our lowered expectations. Not melodic, the work depends on subtle and difficult coloristic effects to reflect the moods of the poem. And those effects included paired bassoons executing closely spaced microtone scales, along with strings playing on their frogs with the wood of the bow. The opening sounded like anxious tuning until mournful fragments arrived from the woodwinds, giving way to expletive comments from other sections before slithering slides yielded to some amorphous monotony. Messiaenic birdcall evolved as the bubbles and foam of Byron’s fateful waves became fierce and horrific squalls. An extended unison morphed into howls and shrieks before subsiding into silence. Upon reflection, this short composition transcended its science fiction movie qualities, becoming something metaphysical and haunting. The text:

Between two worlds life hovers like a star,
‘Twixt night and morn, upon the horizon’s verge.
How little do we know that which we are!
How less what we may be! The eternal surge
Of time and tide rolls on, and bears afar
Our bubbles; as the old burst, new emerge,
Lash’d from the foam of ages; while the graves
Of empires heave but like some passing waves.

The Orchestra joined the audience in the pews as Peter Freisinger accompanied mezzo Grace Allendorf in three French arias from the piano. Her creamy timbre, evenness of color and coloratura agility were well-matched to “Nobles Seigneurs” from Meyerbeer’s Les Heuguenots and Chabrier’sRomance de l’étoile” from L’étoile, but she lacked the drama and voluptuousness to convey Delila’s romance and menace in “Mon Coeur s’ouvre” from Saint-Saëns’s Samson et Dalila. Freisinger’s accompaniments were both attentive and improvisatory. Most imaginative was how he conjured Saint-Saëns’s rippling string scales, which are not in the standard piano vocal scores.

The strains of competing with disco were getting the better of players and audience alike by the time the closer, Mozart’s Symphony no. 40, began. It takes hubris in any case to present this piece with a small, under-rehearsed orchestra. If only loyalty and enthusiasm compensated for maturity and subtlety and skill. Despite pleasant moments, it was mainly rushed, little-inflected, and at times, especially in the finale Allegro assai, the tuning in the strings was substandard. The Andante particularly lacked warmth, repose, and courtliness.

We joined the applause nevertheless, and all appreciate the generosity and humility of Peter Freisinger, who year after year gives so generously to his players and to the public. May he be better-favored in his venue next year, and may he be able to add considerable rehearsal time.

 Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer.

6 Comments

  1. We were pleasantly surprised by the ability of the chamber orchestra to make us forget about the sound of the rock music event covering all the space around Copley Square area. It was a live and absorbing interaction with the performers, something that connects you with the stage regardless of the surrounding events. The first piece by Tchaikovsky was such a wonderful beginning of this program!

    Even though we couldn’t find seats close to the stage, the vibrating sound of the soprano voice was flying freely under the huge dome of the church and generously sharing the joy of French arias even with the very far seated listeners, like us. With Peter’s piano accompaniment it was great.

    I like the tradition of this orchestra to have a world premier of the pieces, composed by contemporary musicians. It was interesting and enjoyable to have some modern flavor added to the program by the piece, written by the Russian-born composer Jakov Jakoulov.

    It is probably not easy to take the risk of performing something as well-known as Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G Minor. This melody sounded in my ears even before the first bar was played. And it was a real pleasure to revisit this piece with Freisinger Chamber Orchestra.

    Thanks to the Freisinger Chamber Orchestra for the wonderful Sunday!

    Comment by vk — September 24, 2014 at 2:34 am

  2. This performance was really enjoyable. I was surprised to read some of the comments by the reviewer. Even though it was probably very difficult to play and conduct together with the sounds of the rock music coming from Copley Square, the performance was so good that I wasn’t bothered with the street noise. I was also surprised to read that the program was under-rehearsed. Yes, indeed it was mentioned that they had only 3 rehearsals. However, this only tells that it was a great job, which resulted in high quality concert. Peter Freisinger’ accompaniment of mezzo was absolutely natural, and I really enjoyed the arias. I am not sure I would like to hear orchestral accompaniment. Also, performing well-known pieces is very risky, but again, it was a great pleasure for me to hear this music. I want to thank the orchestra for their wonderful concert. I wish their concerts were more frequent.

    Comment by Victoria — September 24, 2014 at 10:24 am

  3. Thoroughly enjoyed Peter Freisinger’s Chamber Orchestra concert at Old South Church this past Sunday afternoon.

    Despite having to contend with loud amplified rock music pumped outdoors accompanying the annual Jimmy Fund March benefit to help fund Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (and this was occasionally annoying even for me in a second row seat), the orchestra played very well and included some truly luminous moments.

    Highlights for this reviewer certainly include Jacov Jakoulov’s wonderful piece, “The Horizon”, written specifically for the Freisinger Chamber Orchestra. Moody, very modern and percussive, this piece was thoroughly engaging. This composer needs wider public recognition. Very unfortunate he was ill and could not attend this concert to address the audience’s responses following the piece.

    Additionally, Albanian cello soloist and academic, Edevaldo Mulla, added virtuosic luster to the concert, performing Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme”. I am not generally a Tchaikovsky fan, finding a lot of his work too romantic and schmaltzy. This performance altered my bias. Mr. Mulla was a fantastic performer, finely tuned in to all the dynamic nuances and lyricism and the orchestra accompanied him beautifully.

    Very glad I was able to attend and review the concert. I will be publishing a longer review soon in the Florida-based website location, STYLUS.
    –Carolyn Gregory

    Comment by Carolyn Gregory — September 24, 2014 at 10:40 am

  4. What a wonderful opportunity for young, developing musicians to show off and even be featured in this professional setting. Peter Freisinger, the ultimate teacher, encourages these musicians to blossom under his caring tutelage. Peter’s international background brings a wonderful feel in both selection and performance of his chosen works. Were it not for small, independent orchestras such as the Freisinger Chamber Orchestra, budding, young talent would not have an opportunity to perform and charm audiences with their gifts.

    Comment by Wendy — September 24, 2014 at 4:24 pm

  5. I completely enjoyed the Freisinger Chamber Orchestra this past Sunday. For me it was fantastic. Every bit of it, despite the noise competition from Copley Suare. Grace Allendorf really made me love French opera with her beautiful tone poise, and acting. The world premier of Jakov Jakoulov’s The Horizon created a world of haunting power and strange beauty. Edevaldo Mulla’s cello soared with enchanting energy and focus, even in a delicate cadenza. The final work, the Mozart Symphony in G Minor, was familiar and refreshing and a total delight. Thank you to Peter Freisinger and his soloists and players for this wonderful afternoon of music. I look forward to more and more.

    Comment by maria termini — September 24, 2014 at 5:20 pm

  6. I had a very enjoyable musical experience at the Old South church on Sept 21, where (unfortunately, for us) the Freisinger Chamber Orchestra played their only concert of the season. The predominantly young musicians gave excellent performances of works from the 18th, 19th and 21st centuries. Even a raucous band playing outside the church, whose playing infiltrated the venue, could not diminish the delightful afternoon of music.
    Solo cellist Edevaldo Mulla began the program by playing Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme.” He had a firm handle on the piece, playing elegantly and enthusiastically, bringing out both its mournful and whimsical character. The orchestra accompanied him with panache; most notable were the flutes, which sounded absolutely gorgeous. The audience was treated to an encore of the lively last variation.
    We are privileged that the FCO has done a noteworthy job at giving exposure to contemporary composers by presenting many premiere performances. Such was the case with the world premiere performance of Jakov Jakoulov’s “The Horizon.” Inspired by a poem by Lord Byron it is a “serious,” well crafted piece where the orchestra brought out its somber, autumnal quality and also captured the power of the work.
    Mezzo soprano Grace Allendorf sang three opera arias from works by Meyerbeer, Chabrier and Saint Saens. Although not the lushest of mezzos the arias were beautifully done. Maestro Freisinger accompanied her on the piano conveying the essence of the music with refined delicacy.
    The program concluded with Mozart’s “Symphony No. 40.” Not having listened to this great work recently, the opening’s magnificent splendor sounded even more hauntingly beautiful than ever. The orchestral playing was scintillating and it was apparent that the musicians were playing with great gusto. The more contemplative sections were pulled off very well and the more passionate sections were played with verve. I was so impressed by the performance that I left the church with themes from different movements resonating throughout my brain which lasted until the next day. It is incredible what a small group of talented musicians can accomplish by bringing to life great music. Every melomane should be appreciative of how a non big name orchestra is able to impart such musical joy.

    Comment by Armand Lavagnal — September 24, 2014 at 7:16 pm

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