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Digital Subscriptions > The Strad > September 2019 > Reviews

Reviews

Your monthly critical round-up of performances, recordings and publications

CONCERTS

New York

Beautiful Bach from the Orchestra of St Luke’s
ADAM STOLTMAN

MIRANDA CUCKSON (VIOLIN) ORCHESTRA OF THE NEXT FESTIVAL OF EMERGING ARTISTS/PETER ASKIM NATIONAL SAWDUST 2 JUNE 2019

Violinist Miranda Cuckson has devised a compelling career, almost exclusively dedicated to works from the 20th and 21st centuries. Appearing with the string players of the Next Festival of Emerging Artists, she was magnetic in the US premiere of Toshio Hosokawa’s Hika (2015), with rhapsodic lines over shimmering tremolos. Cuckson returned for Takemitsu’s Nostalghia (1987), a homage to director Andrei Tarkovsky’s late film. She and conductor Peter Askim adroitly caught the score’s mystery and introspection, her tone floating over the group’s delicate, gauzy chords.

On their own, the ensemble of 20 began with Askim’s Over Shifting Skies (2019), an attractive tonal essay in a fast–slow–fast structure, which demonstrated the group’s cohesion. More delight came from Reena Esmail, whose Teen Murti (2018) is based on Indian ragas. A quiet drone is interrupted by a series of modal, rhythmically vigorous gallops, merging Indian and Western aesthetics to dramatic effect.

Composer Aaron Jay Kernis was on hand to introduce Sarabanda in Memoriam (2004). Its exploration of grief closed the night on a subdued note, with its closing chorale-like figure particularly moving. BRUCE HODGES

ENSEMBLE CONNECT

THE JUILLIARD SCHOOL, PAUL HALL 5 JUNE 2019

For its 2018–19 season finale, Ensemble Connect began with Franz Hasenöhrl’s 1954 arrangement of Strauss’s Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche – startlingly, for just five players. After opening commentary on the idea of pranks from violinist Suliman Tekalli, he and his colleagues plunged into the score with gusto. At half the length, this ‘mini-Till’ is surprisingly evocative of the massively-scored original.

Prokofiev’s Quintet in G minor op.39 was originally conceived as a chamber ballet called Trapèze, for Boris Romanov. In her charming introduction, double bassist Ha Young Jung asked the audience to identify which movement best described the circus strongman lifting a weight. In the sizzling reading that followed, technical expertise combined with the right balance of wit, to delightful effect.

To browse through more than a decade of The Strad ’s recording reviews, visit www.thestrad.com/reviews

After the interval, eight players gave a madly symphonic reading of Enescu’s String Octet. This time, violinist Jennifer Liu did the introductory honours, recalling the first time she heard the work, while on the New York City subway. Somehow, these savvy musicians created the illusion of a larger ensemble, with hearty tone, sumptuous tuttis and, in the fugato sections of the finale, close attention to rhythm and attack. At the close, amid a whooping audience – most on their feet – the musicians seemed slightly abashed at the attention. BRUCE HODGES

ORCHESTRA OF ST LUKE’S/BERNARD LABADIE

ZANKEL HALL 13 JUNE 2019

The Orchestra of St Luke’s all-Bach programme started with the composer’s delightfully familiar but rarely heard Sinfonia in G major BWV174. Taken from the first movement of Bach’s third Brandenburg Concerto, the piece set the stage for an entire programme of ‘transformations’ – pieces that Bach himself rethought in some way during his lifetime. It was meaningful to hear principal conductor Bernard Labadie share this programmatic philosophy with the audience during the performance, and his enthusiasm for the idea was contagious. The Concerto for Three Violins in D major BWV1064 boasted beautifully shaped phrases from the three soloists in the Allegro and poignant performances in the Adagio. The very tricky final Allegro was performed with spirit and courage and I particularly appreciated concertmaster Alexander Fortes’ clarity of line and phrase direction.

Labadie brought out a wonderful structure and architecture of phrases in the larger ensemble for Bach’s Orchestral Suite no.2 in B minor BWV1067. I especially enjoyed the surprising, energetic playing in the bourées, and flautist Elizabeth Mann did an exceptional job of bringing colour and beauty to the solo flute part. Bach’s Orchestral Suite no.1 BWV1066 followed the interval, and the full but light sound, great energy, dynamic playing, and beautifully tiered structure made it a joy. The programme came full circle, ending with the Sinfonia in F major BWV1046a, also taken from one of the Brandenburg Concertos. This thoughtfully performed and programmed concert was filled with the joy of Bach and the joy of music, and it was a pleasure to hear this orchestra – a long-time mainstay of New York City but with many recent changes – still thriving. LEAH HOLLINGSWORTH

ELISSA CASSINI (VIOLIN) ASHLEY BATHGATE (CELLO)

NATIONAL SAWDUST 29 JUNE 2019

Arriving at the end of this imaginatively conceived recital, Ravel’s 1922 Sonata for Violin and Cello assumed a grittier, more modernist cast than usual – as if responding to the 21st-century selections that preceded it. Presented under the auspices of the ‘Duplexity Project’ – created by violinist Elissa Cassini – the programme by herself and cellist Ashley Bathgate offered both heart and playfulness, coupled with chemistry and synchronisation, especially in the pizzicato-laced ‘Tres viv’.

Ensemble Connect combined wit with technical expertise
FADI KHEIR

For many listeners, two works by Swiss composer and violinist Helena Winkelman (b. 1974) were the discoveries of the evening. In Rondo with a Janushead (2000) the two musicians channelled jazz. And in Ciaconna (2002) for violin solo, Cassini made the meaty phrases – packed with double-stops, harmonics and folk elements – seem a contemporary complement to Bach’s classic.

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About The Strad

We talk to the members of the Belcea Quartet and ask why more young people are turning to period performance. Students of Kató Havas pay tribute to the late violin teacher, and there’s a look at asymmetric instruments. Plus a Mendelssohn Masterclass and Renaud Capuçon’s Life Lessons.