Far and away the most superbly championed among the works Freisinger Chamber Orchestra offered Sunday, Marin Goleminov’s Five Sketches for String Orchestra deeply impressed both by its resolute craftsmanship and expressiveness. In my first hearing, the Bulgarian composer’s set from 1952 sounded just right in Old South Church, which was mostly unkind to the orchestra and its soloists in the remainder of the program.
An early Sunday afternoon start probably occasioned the strong turnout. Peter Freisinger, himself, would certainly be another attraction. His musicality cannot be missed. With a great sensitivity he finely shaped the folk speech of the Goleminov orchestral pieces. His operatic flair displayed as piano accompanist for Bizet, Puccinni, and Mozart, was everywhere in evidence.
Throughout the program that also featured soprano Samina Aslam, pianist Constantine Finehouse and new work by Benjamin Park, a youthful orchestra followed Freisinger moves to a T. This could be seen most especially in very nifty time shifts indigenous to Eastern European music. According to Fresinger, this performance of the Five Sketches “may be the East Coast premiere of the string orchestra version? In fact, ASCAP has no record of the performance of this piece in the United States.”
It is endearing music, a finely wrought work that speaks Bulgarian. The pieces’ unpretentious surfaces pretty much hide from view their often subtle and complex interiors. And all these qualities could be felt through the absolutely electrifying interpretation under Freisinger, who is, himself, refreshingly unassuming.
Then he journeyed from the unfamiliar to operatic favorites, Freisinger from conductor to accompanist and from better to worse hearing in Old South’s cavernous nave. There seems to have been sufficient space between performers and the 13th pew where I was seated to cause the piano’s notes to bounce about. The nave also diminished the vocal presence of soprano Samina Aslam who seemed otherwise to have enough power.
She began with Bizet’s “Je dis” from Carmen taking its emotional curvatures a bit too edgily. Hers was a finely tuned and warmly registered “Mi chiamano Mimi” from La Bohème. Her bright voicings and marked agility in Mozart’s “Come Scoglio” from Cosi fan tutte along with the zany piano flourishes delivered by Freisinger entertained despite those acoustical drawbacks.
Benjamin Park composed It Only Goes Forward over the summer to a commission from the FCO. The 13-minute work is a palindrome in which, the composer explained, the second half of the music formed a retrograde version of the first. Again, the orchestra was alert and on its toes, only the horns having their usual struggles. After four or five ear-catching harmonies, also heard at the end, It Only Goes Forward hardly moved. Its drones and repetitive devices were largely the reason. Overall, the piece suggested its being a sound track with one bucolic scene following another. Extensive use of the major chord and the lowered seventh scale degree vaguely alluded to a distant time or place. Freisinger would, as he said, “surprise” us at the conclusion of the concert by giving Park’s work a second iteration, which, by the way, I did not hear.
Well-known to local audiences, Constantine Finehouse appeared as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 18 in B-flat Major, K456. What kind of performance it was, I very much regret not being able to report. Even though the orchestra was somewhat overweight and less than transparent as it was so compellingly so in the Goleminov, it was the piano that was at odds with Old South. The heavier the attack from Finehouse the more pronounced the percussive response from the instrument. I must be honest and say that it was a near nightmare having to endure an outcome that was obviously no fault of the performers. Mozart’s triplets in the Finale Allegro vivace almost came across as sextuplets and only in the infrequent soft passages did the piano not sound like a tinny harpsichord.
Importantly and urgently, on the one hand I would ask why this venue? On the other, if this was not the way it sounded to those closest to the performers, then why weren’t the pews half way back cordoned off? There certainly would have been enough seating available.