IN: Reviews

Summer Doldrums Dispelled, Brilliantly


Helping keep NEC concert stages from going dark and dorm rooms and the Rebecca-catered cafeteria from sitting empty, the Morningside Music Bridge is bringing 66 demandingly auditioned pianists and string players, aged 12-18 and from 11 countries, to NEC for a one-month residency under the guidance of an internationally renowned faculty. 

The generously funded enterprise (all students attend free) with ongoing connections to the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra having already made itself welcome here, plans to visit annually.

Executive Director Paul Dornian invited Saturday night’s pumped-up Jordan Hall crowd to enjoy the evening’s faculty recital and then attend the several concerts, which continue through August 3rd. MMB alumna Yuja Wang wrote, “Attending Morningside Music Bridge opened up a world of new contacts, new repertoire and new opportunities.” To which this listener would add that Saturday’s concerts provided encouraging auguries both for the students and for Boston audiences.

Schubert left his divine String Trio D.471 unfinished, as he did some other works in his short life, though for no theatrically tragic reason. NY Phil violinist Ge Quan, LA Phil principal violist Teng Li, and former LA Phil principal cellist Peter Stumpf gave a rapturous account of the 4/4 Allegro in sonata form before continuing attacca into the incomplete Andante. Delectable dolce sounds issued from these bold but cooperative chefs de cuisine.

Perhaps because of the advocacy of Leila Josefowicz, John Adams’s Road Movies for violin and piano (1995) has appealed to general and crossover audiences who find a “groovy ride” in its motoric, thematic “recirculating” with differences. Adams further reflects on the work’s “… whimsy, probably suggested by the ‘groove’ in the piano part, all of which is required to be played in a ‘swing’ mode (second and fourth of every group of four notes are played slightly late).” Both the furious fiddling and the piano grooviness pose virtuosic challenges, but putting the sometimes off-kilter rhythmic material together without hiccups requires even more chops. The very pregnant violinist Diana Cohen, Calgary Philharmonic concertmaster, stunned us with free fire in the outer movements while relaxing into attractive trances in the middle one. And we really dug the swing from pianist Roman Rabinovich, a Rubinstein Competition Laureate. He also kept the steam locomotion of the outer movements streamlined on greased rails, while in between suggesting a Joplin slow drag.

Perhaps if the presenter had provided notes, the kids in my row would not have been illuminated in the glow of phones and tablets. They must have been researching the Adams … or were they bored? MMB should consider engaging program annotator.

In the next bravura piece, the screens went dark. Meng-Chieh Liu, one of this writer’s keyboard gods, joined Rabinovich for a finger-snapping account of John Musto’s two-piano arrangement, Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. The frenzied crowd knew exactly when to shout “Mambo!” For some reason (don’t ask me why) I imagined Liu as a Shark and Rabinovich as a Jet. Frei und froh, their collaboration smiled and danced. With Musto’s help, they made of “There’s a Place for Love” something of a Schumann-Liszt Widmung paraphrase. These guys earned the shoutouts that followed.

Korngold’s score ripe with expression markings.

A synopsis almost enables a rehearing:

Prologue (Allegro moderato)
The growing rivalry between two teenage gangs the Jets and the Sharks.

Somewhere (Adagio)
In a dream ballet, the two gangs are united in friendship.

Scherzo (Vivace e leggiero)
In the same dream, the gangs break away from the city walls, suddenly finding themselves in a playful world of space, air, and sun.

Mambo (Meno Presto)
In the real world again, the competitive dance at the gym between the gangs.

Cha-cha (Andantino con grazia)
The star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria see each other for the first time; they dance together.

Meeting Scene (Meno mosso)
Music accompanies their first words spoken to one another.

Cool Fugue (Allegretto)
An elaborate dance sequence in which Riff leads the Jets in harnessing their impulsive hostility, figuratively cooling their jets.

Rumble (Molto allegro)
Climactic gang battle; the two gang leaders, Riff and Bernardo, are killed.

Finale (Adagio)
Maria’s “I Have a Love” develops into a procession, which recalls the vision of “Somewhere.”

I agree with critic Georg Predota that Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Suite Op. 23, for two violins, cello and piano left-hand constitutes “the musical equivalent and equal of the dazzling and psychologically probing paintings from Klimt’s golden period,” though I would cite the scary, almost gangrenous flesh of Schiele’s intense nudes as well. In 1923, still the “new Mozart,” Korngold stood astride Austrian musical life as a precocious colossus. Deeply imbibing and synthesizing Bach, Mahler, Strauss, and the music hall, he created chamber and operatic genres—all hyper-expressive, hyper-nostalgic, sometimes just deliciously hyper. Korngold makes sure that his intentions are achieved by including abundant indications of rubato, tempi and dynamics, often morphing extensively within bars. Expert players can realize those indications with sumptuous fluidity if they know what they’re doing, as Saturday night’s gang of four certainly did. Liu made large, confident, and impossibly fluent gestures without a right hand, and in front of him, Cohen, Quan, and Stumpf piled on with exuberant, yet refined rhapsodizing. They produced a tremendous sweep for this chamber apotheosis—Verklärte Nacht on amphetamines. Undertows of angst pulled us while formal reassurances of Bach moored us. Over five movements Korngold ranged from big-ticket lyric outpouring on the order of “Marietta’s Lied” to a Totentanz that would have done in a “Red Shoes” contingent. The composer could also look back to Brahms with unclouded if somewhat Scottish sweetness. At home in Korngold’s wonderfully deranged decadence, and potent through his demanding hot stuff, this fab four left behind a wistfully embraced Alpenglow of desire fulfilled.

Lee Eiseman is the publisher of the Intelligencer


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Virtuosic reporting; bravo Lee!

    Comment by Martin Cohn — July 16, 2019 at 8:37 am

  2. Thank you for the review and comments. Join us at our next Artists in Residence concert July 20 featuring work by George Benjamin, Kodaly Duo Op. 7 and Dvorak String Quartet in E flat major, op. 97

    Comment by Maimie De Silva — July 16, 2019 at 1:47 pm

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