New York Classical Players - Bach, Arensky & Tchaikovsky - 11/18/12
Conductor: Dongmin Kim
Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No 3 in G Major, BWV 1048
Arensky: Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky, Op. 35a
Bach: Piano Concerto No 5 in F Minor, BWV 1056 - Eunshik Park
Tchaikovsky: Souvenir de Florence (Première, NYCP edition transcribed by Yoomi Paick)
As my concert season finally seems to be picking up a nice pace, on Sunday I was more than ready to trek to the other side of the Park to hear the New York Classical Players in one of their regular homes, the austerely beautiful Church of the Heavenly Rest. The fact that the program included Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence" got me especially excited not only because the Russian composer was my first musical love, but also because some string-enhanced, free-flowing emotions sounded like just what I needed after Pierre-Laurent Aimard's superb but borderline rigid piano recital on Thursday night at Carnegie Hall. More of Tchaikovsky's œuvre would be present thanks to his conservatory colleague Arensky, and then Bach, who is always a welcome name on any musical listing, would be there as well. Although my friend Dawn could not make it, having injured herself by taking the concept of bar-hopping a little bit too literally, Lisa, another music-loving buddy, eventually showed up on this sunny and cold afternoon.
Bach's Brandenburg concertos are probably one of the most popular works of the classical music realm, but for some reason I do not get to hear them live often. So I was very happy for the opportunity to revel into the No 3 performed by such a stellar ensemble. I was even happier to find out that they would play it without the harpsichord, which is an instrument I've always found singularly grating. Performed with strings only - But what strings! - by the New York Classical Players, the concerto overflowed with boundless vitality and elegant refinement, brilliantly proving one more time why this six-piece set is considered by general consensus one of the most remarkable achievements of the Baroque era.
Drawing inspiration from the slow movement of Tchaikovsky's String Quartet No 2, Arensky did not err far from the Russian master's trademark lyricism, but then again, why should he have? In the respectful hands of the Players, those Variations on a Theme of Tchaikovsky were both imaginative and thoughtful, a totally fitting tribute to the quintessential Romantic composer that Tchaikovsky was.
I do not tend to associate Bach with the piano, but his piano concerto No 5 turned out to be the nice surprise of the afternoon. Guest soloist Eunshik Park made it easy for all of us to simply sit back and enjoy the ride as he was effortlessly treating us to a bright, lively and just sentimental enough performance of yet another perfectly structured jewel by the prodigious German composer.
As if that was not sufficient, he came back for a joyful, highly virtuosic Waltz in A-flat Major, Op. 42 by Chopin. A completely unexpected but deeply appreciated gift.
Then we went back to Tchaikovsky, with his beloved "Souvenir de Florence" this time, in a brand new version by Yoomi Paick, who has adapted the piece originally written for a sextet to the different requirements inherent to a larger ensemble like the New York String Players. This had the advantage of adding more layers to the texture, more colors to the melodies, more depth to the expressiveness. As a result, the work had retained all of its emotional power without falling into soapy maudlinness, and this was accomplished in no small part thanks to the perfectly balanced playing from the musicians. Ever the ultimate perfectionist, Tchaikovsky would have been very pleased indeed, and so were we.
Before we parted ways, the ensemble had one last memorable piece in store for us with a divinely inspired version of Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus, which made us notice even more the atmospheric light of the sunset in Central Park as we were reluctantly going back to the real world.
Written by Isabelle Dejean (November 21, 2012)