New York Music Daily

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Category: classical music

Defiance, Relevance and Transcendence With the New York Philharmonic in Prospect Park

So many inspiring conclusions to take away from the New York Philharmonic’s phantasmagorically majestic performance this past evening in Prospect Park. In the year of the Metoo movement, that the orchestra would choose a centerpiece celebrating a mythic heroine who disarms a psychotic dictator using only her wits spoke volumes. 

As does the organization’s long-running Very Young Composers mentorship and advocacy program. Two of those individuals were represented on the bill, each a young African-American woman and a native Brooklynite. And in what’s been a challengingly transitional interregnum between music directors, the choice of James Gaffigan to lead the ensemble through some stunningly fresh, meticulously articulated, relevatory interpretations of material they’ve probably played dozens of times before paid mighty dividends.

At a concert pitched to pull a family audience, local city council representative Brad Lander’s commentary on the ongoing anguish of families being broken up by the ongoing extremist clampdown on immigrants was the night’s most overtly political moment. A polyglot crowd echoed their fervent, familial solidarity, then the orchestra spoke to how triumphantly this scenario could actually play out.

They foreshadowed the suspense and splendor of their romp through Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade with an arguably even more carnivalesque stampede through the Bacchanale from Saint-Saens’ opera Samson and Delilah. Even if its creepy chromatics aren’t much more than Hollywood hijaz, those Arabic inflections were another crushingly relevant reference point.

If the program’s two brief, kinetic works by young composers Jordan Millar and Camryn Cowan are any indication, the blues are as much alive in Brooklyn as they were during the Harlem Renaissance, a most welcome meme throughout the New York City public schools this year and a vivid theme for these two gradeschoolers. Each compose’s piece put simple, emphatic blues hooks front and center in lieu of expansive harmony or flourishes, the former with a neat, cold stop midway through and some unexpected, Mozartean lustre afterward.

The orchestra made it to the concert’s midway point with three jaunty, frequently coy excerpts from Leonard Bernstein’s score to On the Town. The Philharmonic’s pretty-much-annual tour of the New York City parks system, from the Bronx to Staten Island, always feature a little bit of everything, including what in another century would have been called “pops” material from outside the classical canon. But as with the rest of the program, Gaffigan didn’t deviate from the game plan or phone these in, airing out the composer’s exchanges of voicings with a painterly charm.

And as much as the park programming is standard repertoire, the Philharmonic never picks tired or cheesy material. Over the last few years, we’ve been treated to plenty of Stravinsky – notably a conflagration of The Firebird in Central Park a couple years back – as well as a similarly colorful tour of Respighi’s Pines of Rome a little before then. Considering both the political subtext and the stunning attention to detail from both Gaffigan and the orchestra, this could have been the best of all of them since the turn of the decade.

Getting to witness it from the best seat in the house – about the equivalent of row L at their Lincoln Center home – no doubt colored this perception. Looking out into the wide swath of greenery in front of them, it must be tempting for everyone onstage to want to play loud, but Gaffigan mined the entirety of the sonic spectrum in keeping with the composer’s top-to-bottom orchestration. When there was suspense, it was relentless; when there was menace, it was a carnival of potentially dead souls; when there were dreamy interludes, they had a celestial vastness.

And the solos, tantalizingly brief as they were, were mesmerizing. Concertmaster Frank Huang spun joyously expert filigrees and flickers, up to an almost shocking cadenza in the final movement where he dug in so hard it seemed that he might break a violin string. Similar effects – especially bassoonist Judith LeClair’s silken, mutedly bittersweet solo – further underscored a triumphant narrative mirroring both the angst and transgressive victories in so many of the world’s ongoing struggles and rebellions.

The Philharmonic’s 2018 tour of the boroughs concludes on Sunday, June 17 indoors at 3 PM at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center in Staten Island.

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Lush, Lively, Inventive Cuban String Sounds From the Toomai String Quintet

Last night at Symphony Space, the Toomai String Quintet played an irrepressibly dancing album release show for their new one, Cuerdas Cubanas, which would have made Ernesto Lecuona proud. The “Cuban Gershwin,” as bandleader and bassist Andrew Roitstein aptly characterized him, is well represented on the record and likewise in the concert program, a mix of elegantly serpentine themes with the Cuban composer’s signature blend of European classical, flamenco, Romany and indigenous sounds.

Cellist Hamilton Berry grinningly told the crowd that Roitstein’s new arrangements, many of them based on material originally written for piano or orchestra, were pretty awesome, and he wasn’t kidding. Roitstein has an obvious affinity for Lecuona’s work, and his bandmates  – who also include violinists Emilie-Anne Gendron and Alex Fortes and violist Erin Wight – reveled in his nifty exchanges of phrases and contrapuntal voicings.

You might not think that a singer who’s made a career in opera, as Roitstein’s sister Alina has, would necessarily be suited to singing salsa, but she also obviously gravitates toward this music. A magnetic presence in front of the band, swinging her hips and negotiating the lyrics in impressively fluent Spanish, she delivered cheery and frequently coy versions of hits made famous by Celia Cruz, Tito Puente and others.

A slinky, loopy bass and cello interweave set up Gendron’s plaintive vibrato in the night’s lilting, opening instrumental, La Comparsa. True to its title, Zamba Gitana had emphatic Romany riffage and some neat handoffs between the two violinists. The exchanges between band members were even more incisive in the phantasmagorical Gitanerias, which the group began as a real danse macabre.

There were also plenty of lighthearted moments in the set, including but hardly limited to a jaunty santeria dance, an animated thicket of pizzicato in Lecuona’s En Tres Por Cuatro, and the balmy nocturnal ambience of Manuel Ponce’s Plenilunio. There was also an interlude where a small battalion of young string players who’d been workshopping Cuban music with the quintet joined them and added extra ballast to the Israel “Cachao” Lopez hit A Gozar Con Mi Combo. Solos are still a work in progress for these kids, but when they played along with the rest of the band, the music was absolutely seamless.

The quintet encored with Lecuona’s Andalucia, shifting from uneasily acerbic Arabic-flavored chromatics to an indomitable, triumphant sway. It’s hard to think of a more perfect way to close such an eclectically enjoyable show. The Toomai String Quintet have a weekly Saturday 6 PM residency at Barbes coming up this September, where you will undoubtedly get many opportunities to hear a lot of this material.

Thrills and Rare Insight From Tosca Opdam and Victor Stanislavsky at Carnegie Hall Last Night

Last night at Carnegie Hall, violinist Tosca Opdam was one step removed from the hardest kind of performance a musician can deliver: a solo show. She settled for second hardest, a duo set with pianist Victor Stanislavsky that was both a guided tour of the innermost secrets of music stretching across four centuries…not to mention a lusciously tuneful ride.

There’s a point during the first movement of Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Harpsihcord, BWV 1016 where the rhythm takes a subtle shift behind a vastly more dramatic turn, as the melody leaves a calmly lively fugal motion for a sudden descent into the shadows. Over a hundred years later, Debussy did exactly the same thing – in a completely different idiom – in his only Violin Sonata. Did the godfather of Modernism know of his predecessor’s work? From how Opdam and Stanislavsky approached both of those moments, moving in unison with a judiciously wary, balletesque grace, the answer seemed obvious.

On one hand, that’s why Juilliard exists, to steep the next generation of serious concert artists in the tradition so they can make connections like these. On the other hand, programs like this too seldom do. For whatever reason, Stanislavsky played the Bach with a lilt, just a hair behind the beat, an unusual approach. Then again, Bach didn’t write for the piano, so there’s bound to be something unusual about anything by Bach played on it. The effect was well-suited to Opdam’s spun-silk filigrees, jaunty leaps and bounds and contrastingly plaintive washes.

Another parallelism later in the program was just as stunning. The second of two Korngold miniatures from his Much Ado About Nothing Suite built a rather twisted, carnivalesque, marionettish pulse. A similarly sardonic danse macabre recurred in the second movement of Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in D, Op. 94.5, and once again the duo brought out every bit of grimness and greasepaint.

And that’s where Opdam built what had already been a thrilling program to exit velocity. Violin sonatas exist first and foremost for showcasing dazzling technique, and up to this point she’d parsed the stately baroque, the wistful late Romantic and some playful phantasmagoria. As the concert built momentum, she allowed herself a smile after each piece was up – if you could have played these pieces like she did, you would have been smiling too. It wasn’t until a particularly slithery hairpin turn in the third movement of the Prokofiev that she allowed herself an unselfconscious bit of a grin midway through, a whispery of a “yesssss!”

There was also a new commission on the bill, introducing the Prokofiev with what was supposed to be a shifting seaside tableau, matched by Opdam’s lavish costume change, but which came across as more of a portrait of peevish obsessiveness. Stanislavsky, who excels particularly with the Romantics, seemed absolutely baffled as to how to approach it and he wasn’t alone. The duo seemed to be trying as hard as they could through some awkwardness and got some polite applause for their efforts. They’d be rewarded with three standing ovations after treating the audience to a warmly welcoming, neoromantic miniature of an encore by Dutch composer Henriette Bosmans.

Opdam’s next  concert is on her home turf at the Stedelijk Museum, Museumplein 10 in Amsterdam, on July 7. 

A Grand Finale From One of This Century’s Most Fearless String Quartets at the Met

How does a string quartet go out in style?  By grabbing Beethoven’s String Quartet, Op. 132 by the tail and speeding it up at the end, a practice considered treyf in traditional classical circles, but a fearlessly stunning way to cap off an eighteen-year career.

Or by joining a bill spiced with the stern, stygian, somber sonics of a sextet of men in monks’ outfits singing variations on Gregorian chant. ‘

Or with the New York premiere of a major work by the timelessly vital Philip Glass.

In their final major performance, the Chiara String Quartet did all this and more, bowing out at the absolute peak of their powers on familiar turf at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Since the early zeroes, they’ve championed obscure composers, brought standard repertoire to crowds in bars and jails, and played and recorded one of the most strikingly intuitive Bartok cycles ever released. Violist Jonah Sirota told the crowd soberly that everyone in the group found this concert moving beyond words – the three standing ovations at the end underscored this group’s potency and relevance. What a run they had.

They opened with Nico Muhly‘s Diacritical Marks, an impressively artful, distantly Balkan-tinged theme and variations that eventually circled back on itself – things coming full circle was a major theme throughout this show. Sirota, cellist Gregory Beaver, violinists Rebecca Fischer and Hyeyung Julie Yoon juggled between flickering and starkly resonating motives as tectonically rhythmic variations rose and fell.

Making a dramatic march from the back of the auditorium, the Axion Estin Chanters delivered an alternately severe and triumphant triptych, working permutations on the same Gregorian melody on which Glass based his Annunciation piano quintet. At first, that piece came across as a magically direct, lushly glittering, Lynchian piano concerto – until Glass’ steady arpeggios shifted to the quartet, and then back and forth. The quartet really dug in for the triumph of the outro against pianist Paul Barnes’ incisively liquid cadences.

Sirota introduced Beethoven’s famous late quartet a the kind of crazy piece that “makes a person want to become a musician.” That made sense, considering how cohesive yet individually focused the performance was. Sirota’s insight into how the lachrymose, prayerfully changing melody of the third movement echoed plainchant and foreshadowed Glass’ work was spot-on. He also alluded to how utterly bizarre the shifts were between those variations and what in this context seemed to be the sheer snark of a courtly dance that leaps further and further toward satire. They took it out with sheer abandon at the end and contrasted with the encore, a mutedly elegaic take of the third movement of the Debussy string quartet. How much fun these four must have had onstage…and how sad that the ride together is over.

All four have plans that dovetail with their pioneering work together. Sirota’s Strong Sad album, examining themes of everyday loss, is due out early this summer. Fischer is moving on with The Afield, a new multidisciplinary duo project with visual artist Anthony Hawley. Beaver and Yoon’s careers continue as educator and impresario, respectively.

Saluting One of New York’s Great Music Advocacy Organizations at Lincoln Center Last Night

Every generation tends to view successive ones as being more and more effete. That preconception becomes all the harder to argue with in an age where daily life for so much of the population is becoming more and more virtual and less and less real. Why drag yourself to Manhattan at rush hour to immerse yourself in a sublime and intimate performance when you could get a virtual equivalent on Facebook Live? 

So to see a packed house for the annual Young Concert Artists gala at  Alice Tully Hall last night was a shot of serious optimism. Does the continued success of an organization whose raison d’etre is to champion and springboard the careers of young classical musicians portend a sea change, maybe? A slow tidal shift? Or does that simply reaffirm the eternal appeal of great art? All of the above, maybe?

The concert itself was great fun, a display of ferocious chops, and intuition, and joie de vivre, played to an audience reflecting the relative youth of most of the performers. The prospect of being able to see pianists Lise de la Salle amd Anne-Marie McDermott. violinists Ani Kafavian and Juliette Kang, bassist Xavier Foley. harpist Emmanuel Ceysson and the Zora String Quartet alongside veteran flutist Paula Robison and cello icon Fred Sherry – just to name a handful of the 23 former and current YCA roster members – together onstage is less likely than it might seem. Each has a busy solo, orchestral and chamber music career.

If pageantry could be genunely profound, it would be the version of Tschaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings played by YCA’s conductorless fifteen-piece all-star ensemble. With unbridled, fluttery joy balanced by more direct intonation and clear, uncluttered dynamic shifts, the group reveled in its balletesque riffs, drawing a straight line back to Mozart.

Mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke, backed by McDermott and the Zora String Quartet, followed a similarly straightforward trajectory from plaintiveness to a blaze of five-alarm drama in Ernest Chausson’s Chanson Perpetuelle. That vigorous sensibility took a turn in a more upbeat, triumphantly lilting direction with Ravel’s Introduction and  Allegro, played by a septet including Sherry, Kang, Robinson and  Ceysson along with violinist Paul Huang, violist Toby Appel and clarinetist Narek Arutyunian.

The program closed with a mashup of Scott Joplin, Liszt and John Philip Sousa arranged for piano eight hands, performed by de la Salle and McDermott with Gleb Ivanov and Yun-Chin Zhou. As completely over-the-top as the concept was, careening from one idiom to another with zero regard for segues, there’s no denying how much fun the four musicians were having while simply trying to maintain a semblance of tightness. Which testifies to the kind of outside-the-box thinking that might or might not be putting more and more young people in the seats. That question continues to bedevil everyone in the concert business these days – and it’s inspiring to see YCA coming up with some answers that are obviously working.

Vast, Turbulent, Troubled Oceans of Sound From the Chelsea Symphony

The Chelsea Symphony’s performance in the vast downstairs oceanically-themed space at the American Museum of Natural History on the 22nd of this month might well turn out to have been this year’s most epic, intense, mightily enveloping concert. It’s hard to think of a program more toweringly and often fearsomely majestic – and relevant – than the world premiere of Michael Boyman’s The Howling Wilderness, Alan Hovhaness’ And God Created Great Whales and John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean. To witness all that under deep-sea light beneath the museum’s famous fullsize facsimile of a blue whale really drove the show’s theme home. Much as the world’s oceans can take our breath away – literally and figuratively – they’re imperiled like never before in history.

Conductor Matthew Aubin didn’t bother trying to conceal how much fun he was having – or how closely he related to the music – during the program’s first half. The Chelsea Symphony are New York’s orchestral home to rising star composer-performers, and typically introduce at least one premiere at every concert. Boyman’s composition turned out to be a masterwork, Rimsky-Korsakovian in its use of every inch of the sonic register, from stygian lows to cirrus-cloud highs, something akin to a Bernard Herrmann Hitchcock film score underwater. Boyman is a violist, so the menacing, rustling strings and macabre tritone cadenzas from the high strings came as no surprise. Mighty deep brass, basses and cellos, and harrowing hailstorms from the timpani anchored this dynamically rich depiction of a world in peril, an apt choice for Earth Day 2018.

The ensemble followed with an impressively seamless performance of Hovhaness’ electroacoustic work, featuring samples of actual whale song timed to the split-second to coincide with the music. From its brassy depiction of undersea mountain ranges to its mighty swoops and dives, It’s hardly an easy piece to play. But the orchestra had really pulled out all the stops, with a grand total of four rehearsals. The whole crew seemed to relish its proportions, yet with close attention to the elegance of the Asian-tinged, pentatonic melodies that Hovhaness became so obsessed with during his later years.

Led by conductor Mark Seto, the orchestra’s take of Adams’ gargantuan work – which the composer introduced with a brooding, ecologically-themed poem – was a revelation. Given the size of the space and its rich natural reverb, were the orchestra going to take it into Titanic territory? Hardly. It’s impossible to imagine a group interpreting the most epic tone poem ever written with more clarity and vividness. Every clever echo effect, subtle metric shift and handoff of one looping phrase from one section of the orchestra to another – spread out in three separate configurations – had a focus so striking that that the overall lush, enveloping ambience seemed almost an afterthought: it just lingered while the soloists dug in and concentrated. Which they had to. Imagine playing the same pedal note or riff over and over again, with the exact same timbre and volume, for minutes on end – your fingers cramp, your carpal tunnel sounds the alarm! Yet there was no flinching.

Beyond mere attention to detail, Seto’s choice to begin the work at barely more than a whisper paid magnificent dividends when the percussion finally rose from the depths to launch a tsunami of a wave about four-fifths of the way through. Likewise, the long descent from shoreline-crushing turbulence to panoramic calm was just as spellbinding.

The Chelsea Symphony’s next concerts are on June 1 and 2 at 8:30 and then 7:30 PM, respectively, featuring works by Samuel Beebe, Jonathan Bruce Brown, and Respighi’s Pines of Rome, at St. Paul’s Church, 315 W 22nd St. The Friday concert features soloist Susanne Chen on the Victor Bruns Contrabassoon Concerto. the Saturday bill switches that out for Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto featuring soloist Emanouil Manolov.

Trio Vitruvi Make a Rapturously Vivid North American Debut at Carnegie Hall

It’s hardly realistic to expect a Carnegie Hall concert, let alone one that’s sold out, to be intimate. Yet the Trio Vitruvi’s American debut there this past week was exactly that. It was also intuitive and full of vivid narratives, tracing a rewarding historical path. And the virtuosic aspects of the performance were often downright breathtaking.

Was pianist Alexander McKenzie going to be able to maintain the blend of almost superhuman clarify and vigor that he brought to the opening movement of Schubert’s Trio in E Flat, D.929? When push came to shove, yes. And he seemed completely at home with setting the bar that impossibly high, right from the beginning. The first part is basically a little piano concerto, so he took centerstage, often with an insistent pedalpoint that would become a recurrent motif throughout the rest of the concert. The ensemble programmed it as well as they played it.

That particular trope ironically, came into clearer focus with the second movement, a cello concerto of sorts, Jacob la Cour’s alternately stark and soaring phrases complemented by Niklas Walentin’s gossamer violin textures.

As the piece went on and the interplay grew more lively, it was like being telepoted back to a particularly animated moment among the cognoscenti at a post-Napoleonic Viennese salon. Ostensibly, the central theme that recurs at sobering moments throughtout the rest of the work is an old Norwegian folk melody, but its brooding changes could just as easily have klezmer origins. It’s not out of the question that Schubert encountered it somewhere in Vienna and couldn’t resist appropriating it..

Following that with Shostakovich’s Trio No. 1 in  Minor, Op. 8 might seem like an odd pairing, but it worked seamlessly. Was this going to turn into a similarly vampy, subtly expanding exchange of personalities, or, as it seemed in the early going, rehashed Ravel? Hardly. McKenzie seemed to relish staking out the occasional, jarring dissonance that the composer sprinkles so artfully throughout the second half of the piece; Walentin’s calm shift away from silk toward sandpaper was every bit as deliciously uneasy.

The contrast between ebullient nocturnal cheer and poignancy rose to epic levels throughout the panoramic rises and lulls of an especially picturesque version of Dvorak’s Dumky Trio No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 90. A storyline quickly and forcefully materialized: the protagonist of the heroic opening movement suddenly grew wistful for his missing love. But then she came back, and all was bliss again! From there the dichotomies grew even clearer, particularly in the insistent/resonant tradeoffs among the instruments in the third movement as well as the sweetly nocturnal path that emerged in the fourth. As with the Schubert, the group seized every opportunity to tickle the audience with the occasional tongue-in-cheek flourish or vaudevillian cadenza. It’s the centerpiece of the group’s new album, just out from Bridge Records.

Trio Vitruvi reprise much of this bill and play additional works by Beethoven and Mozart this April 26 at 7:30 PM at Scandinavia House, 58 Park Ave. north of 37th St; cover is $20.

A Shattering Performance of Iconic Classical and Film Music Uptown

In terms of pure thrills and chills, there hasn’t been a concert in New York this year more exhilarating than string ensemble Shattered Glass’ performance last night at the popular Washington Heights classical spot Our Savior’s Atonement. And that includes all of Golden Fest, trumpeter/santoorist Amir ElSaffar’s oceanically intense Middle Eastern mass improvisation in February at NYU, and cinematic noir trio Big Lazy’s shattering performance of mostly new material at Barbes later that month. This crew are like another popular conductorless string orchestra, ECCO…on steroids.

Just back from midwest tour, the fourteen-piece ensemble were clearly psyched to be back on their home turf. They played in the round, gathered in a circle under the church’s low lights. Between works on the bill, the group shifted positions so that everyone could get to see who was playing what. It was a transcendent program, kicking off with a relentlessly angst-ridden, percussive take of Shostakovich’s Two Pieces for String Octet. The sonics in the church enhanced the resonance of the pizzicato phrases to the point where they lingered almost like guitar chords. That effect would also help the delicately overtone-spiced, challenging extended technique required in Caroline Shaw’s concentrically circling Entr’acte to resound. It’s on Shattered Glass’ debut album; they’re the first group to record it.

Philip Glass’ diptych Company, its signature cell-like melody expanding deliciously outward, had distantly ominous chromatics that reminded of his Dracula soundtrack. It set the stage for what under ordinary circumstances would have been the night’s piece resistance, Bernard Herrmann’s Psycho Suite for Strings. The whole group got into the act on that lusciously chilling arrangement of the iconic horror film soundtrack. The sinuous menace of the central up-and-down staircase riff at its center, the machete attack of the shower scene, cumulo-nimbus buildups to icepick attacks and a final somber conclusion left the crowd breathless.

The group ended the night with a harrowing, dynamically epic arrangement of second Shostakovich piece, the String Quartet No. 3. The quartet of violinists Christina Bouey and Ravenna Lipchik, violist Michael Davis and cellist Max Jacob played the work as written, augmented with sinister force by the rest of the circle around them. Davis spoke passionately about how much the work means to them, and how wrenching it is to play, emotionally speaking. He didn’t say outright that there’s a psycho in the White House, or that wartime horror is that situation’s logical conclusion, but the piece spoke for itself.

And the group really nailed the narrative: the cynically lilting faux country dance that tries to come back valiantly but never does; the franticness, furtiveness but also the resilience and heroism of the second movement, Russians fending off the Nazi attackers; and the exhausted, mournful sweep of the concluding movements. It was as searing and relevant as any piece of music could have been in this country on this date.

Watch this space for Shattered Glass’ next performance. The next concert at Our Savior’s Atonement is on April 29 at 8 PM with the Jack Quartet playing a free program of “maverick American composers” TBA.

Sampling Lincoln Center’s Great Performers With the Aeolus Quartet

Lincoln Center’s Great Performers is New York’s cultural mecca’s longest-running continuous series, explained Jordana Leigh, who booked the Aeolus Quartet for a dynamic performance there this past evening. “Let’s enjoy this experience together as a community, which doesn’t happen as much as it used to,”  she encouraged. But the crowd – a surprisingly diverse, multi-generational mix – didn’t need any cajoling.

The quartet opened with Beethoven’ Quartet in F major, Op. 18, No. 1. Dating from when the composer was still in the shadow of Haydn, it’s actually Beethoven’s second quartet – publishers couldn’t keep up with him. The ensemble took it for a ride, emphasis on its sparkliest moments, rising from stately to an almost icepick precision during the opening waltz, with jaunty exchanges between violinists Nicholas Tavani and Rachel Shapiro.

They got a spontaneous round of applause before launching mutedly and plaintively into the second movement. They really took their time with it, with unusual detail, attention to moody/cheery contrasts, space and dynamics, which made the decision to really dig into its swells and whisper through its lulls stand out even more. And set up the struts and blusters of the movement to follow, anchored by cellist Alan Richardson. They ended it sharply and convivially, spiraling upward with a wink from violins, to cello, to violist Caitlin Lynch.

Richardson endorsed Charles Ives’ Quartet No. 2 as one of the 20th century’s greatest masterworks, and “tragically underperformed,” He quoted the composer’s explanations of its three movements – Discussions, Arguments and The Call of the Mountains –  as a process “That resonates in our current times, that our politicians sometimes forget.” As with the Debussy quartet, it’s Gilded Age vernacular through the bottom of a glass, darkly, including but not limited to wry quotes from Brahms, Beethoven and Tschaikovsky as well as the patriotic American themes Ives so often falls back on.

They parsed its somber opening astringencies with the same care they’d brought to the night’s first work – but this was more a resigned preparation for battle. That lept to the forefront with an aptly Bartokian, snarkily bellicose take of the second movement, the quartet reveling in slapping down the sweet melodicism from Shapiro’s violin. The third movement, both a literal and metaphorical journey, validated Richardson’s description as containing  “Some of the  most evocative painting in this repertoire…you can hear the light piercing over the peaks.” Base camp seldom looked so bleak, or the journey more arduous, but the practically aching lustre of the payoff made everything worthwhile. The crowd didn’t know what hit them.

The Aeolus Quartet’s next concert is  a free performance of Dvorak’s American String Quartet on April 15 at 5 PM with the New Orchestra of Washington, who play Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess Fantasy for chamber orchestra. and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World” at National Presbyterian Church, 4101 Nebraska Avenue Northwest in Washington, DC, There’s a very different free  performance at Lincoln Center’s atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd  St. tomorrow night, April 13 at 7:30 PM featuring irrepressible Indian classical music collective the Brooklyn Raga Massive collaborating with soul singer Martha Redbone. Get there early if you’re going, to ensure a seat. 

A Rare, Shattering All-Mieczyslaw Weinberg Program at Baruch College

Wednesday night at Baruch College , the strings of the Attacca Quartet circled in, awash in a lethal mist of overtones as pianist Jeanne Golan played a low lefthand barroom riff.  As the swirl grew more menacing, there was no doubt that violinists Amy Schroeder and Keiko Tokunaga, violist Nathan Schram and cellist Andrew Yee were going to snuff the life out of any and all possible revelry from the keys. Was that moment, from the third movement of  Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s Quintet for Piano and String Quartet, meant as sweet revenge over the lockstep conformity that had driven the composer from one frying pan into another, from the Nazis to the Soviets? Or was it a depiction of the Nazis ruining the party for everyone?

Weinberg lived across the street from Dmitri Shostakovich for a time, and the two were great friends, so it’s tempting to choose the former answer. That’s bolstered by the fact that the influence of this piece is strongly felt in Shostakovich’s immortal String Quartet No. 7 – the one where he’s hunted down by the gestapo. And beyond playing together, four hands on the piano, and championing each others’ work, each composer’s repertoire bristles with irony and satire.

Or maybe Weinberg was being entirely straightforward. When he wrote this masterpiece in 1944, did he know that his entire family would be murdered at Auschwitz? Did have any inkling that a few years later, he’d be on death row in the Soviet gulag? It  took the death of Stalin to facilitate Weinberg’s release.

If there’s ever been a composer who came face to face with evil, it was Weinberg. Golan told the crowd that she couldn’t have imagined a more apt choice to celebrate this Passover Week, “Recognizing exile and persecution, wherever it happens,” as she put it. And this was the piece de resistance on the bill. She and the quartet reveled in its epic dynamics and vast series of thematic shifts, capturing all of its raw angst, simmering anger and the muted horror that eventually closes it, subdued pizzicato and funereal piano fading as the graveyard looms ahead.

The ride there was almost as harrowing. Golan shifted as seamlessly as could be done, between woundedly glittering Rachmanonvian passages, icy nocturnal interludes, enigmatically jaunty boogie-inflected romps and circling pedalpoint that drew a straight line back to medieval Hasidic ngunim. The quartet had similarly vast terrain to cover, from icepick pizzicato, to distantly savage Bartokian acidity, to brooding, doomed conversational fragments, and clearly, they got it. It seemed as breathtaking for them to play as it was to witness.

Golan and Yee opened the night with Weinberg’s Sonata No. 2 for Cello and Piano, a 1958 piece that came across as a mashup of Ravel and Mompou, an enigmatic blend of astringent 20th century tonalities and eerie, circling belltone phrases, in addition to variations alluding to ancient Jewish liturgical melodies. The interplay and exchanges between Yee and Golan made for a grave conversation and numerous desolate/intricate contrasts.

Midway through, Golan treated the crowd to Weinberg’s 1951 Sonatine For Piano,  a similar blend of modernist melodicism and classical gestures, with Jewish mysticism as a backdrop. Golan and the quartet have recorded these pieces for a forthcoming album; it comes as no surprise that Golan has also recorded works by another great Jewish composer of Weinberg’s era, Viktor Ullmann, who was even unluckier, but whose similarly dynamic body of work survived his murder in the Holocaust.

The Attacca Quartet’s next concert is a program TBA, on April 22 at 3 PM at the Presbyterian Church of Chatham Township, 240 Southern Blvd in Chatham Township, New Jersey.