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MCP+ Fung = Delight


Maverick Concerts has outdone itself. If that’s even possible. For the third Sunday in a row, the Woodstock forest rang with glorious music, this time from members of the Manhattan Chamber Players: Brendan Speltz, Siwoo Kim, violins; Luke Fleming, viola and artistic director; Brook Speltz, cello; and David Fung, piano.

Stravinsky’s Three Pieces: Danse, Eccentrique, and Cantique, have been described as a set of studies in popular, fantastic, and liturgical modes. And when we might reasonably expect a spirited finale, iconoclast extraordinaire Stravinsky gives us a canticle, almost a dirge, of deep feeling. Four MCP players [or spell out “MCP”]leaned into the affect of these miniatures with adroit and perfectly suited conviction, by turns biting, strong, and sweet. Second violinist Siwoo Kim turned in his chair to face the audience at times, an unmistakable and irresistible invitation for us to be sure not to miss out on this ride.

Tchaikovsky’s Second String Quartet, his Op. 22, is a showy and very Russian piece of work―sad and exuberant, intimate and symphonic. Full of sound and fury, but told by a genius and signifying plenty, the grandeur of its big chords melded with dolor, copious and honeyed. The slow movement is a cri de coeur, and we love its tempo marking: Andante, by definition a temperate speed, followed by the qualifier ma non tanto, “but not too much.” That is to say, “moderately, but not too moderately.” The quartet was completely at home with all of this, bringing us adroitly along through the changes of mood, the showiness and sweetness, the warmth and the sorrow without for a moment losing the urgency of direction.

Pianist David Fung took Maverick’s center stage after the intermission, with a riveting performance of Maurice Ravel’s immense solo transcription of his “Choreographic Poem for Orchestra” La Valse, which conjures great 19th century ballrooms. The composer described “fantastic, fatal whirling” as the century ended. A reflection back to a previous age and composed in the years immediately after World War One, La Valse is a great lamentation over the devastation wrought in that senseless conflict, over so much that was irretrievably lost. Mr. Fung performed with both lightness and dark, delicacy and power. He was clearly in command of this enormously complex and demanding score, and of the ambiguities contained within the world it was stirring up.

The Ravel somehow, beautifully and unexpectedly, set the stage for Schumann’s Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44, composed three-quarters of a century earlier. As with La Valse, we find in the Quintet the side-by-side bravura, frenzy, and pathos.  From cellist Brook Speltz, we received a frantic pedal point, not an easy thing to invoke: How can a pedal point, anchoring all the other voices, be frantic? There was determined insistence from the entire ensemble in the feverish unison scales throughout the scherzo, sweet sadness in a duet between the cello and artistic director Luke Fleming’s viola, reassuring confidence from first violinist Brendan Speltz as he explored the resonance in the lowest strings of his instrument. It all felt like a homecoming, the string quartet and the solo pianist uniting for a grand gesture that seemed to predict a later time and graciously left us to ponder the ways in which one piece reflected the other.

Mary Fairchild lives in Rosendale, New York, after a long career as a host at WQXR, WNYC, WMHT (Schenectady), and WPLN (Nashville). She has for some 20 years been writing program notes for Vladimir Feltsman’s PianoSummer at New Paltz. Before being called by Kalliope, the Muse of Eloquence and of Writing About Music, she worked as a financial editor and manager of investor relations in Wall Street.

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