The juxtaposition of one of Shostakovich's dourest works with one of Tchaikovsky's sunniest scores produced a National Philharmonic concert of emotional extremes at the Music Center at Strathmore on Saturday.
Shostakovich's Symphony No. 14, for soprano, bass and chamber orchestra, is actually a cycle of 11 death-obsessed songs. Written in 1969, it abounds with unusual instrumental effects: five-string double basses, a duet for soprano and cello, a military march played on xylophone, and more. And it is a dark, dark piece, with moods ranging from the melancholy to the depressive.
Music Director Piotr Gajewski was bold to program this rarely heard work, and he understandably felt a need to explain it to the audience. Unfortunately, Gajewski's decision to talk after the first, fourth, seventh and ninth songs robbed the work of its considerable cumulative power. Surtitles or texts with translations would have been much more useful.
Bass Nikolai Didenko projected his strong, round tones well and was especially agonized in the setting of Apollinaire's "At the Sante Jail." Soprano Tatiana Pavlovskaya's dusky voice showed to good effect in two other Apollinaire poems: "Lorelei" and "The Suicide." Every one of the orchestra's 21 players excelled in his or her role in a work that is difficult to play and to hear.
Tchaikovsky's lovely Serenade for Strings functioned mostly as an encore and was to some extent an afterthought. There was more warmth than precision here, and tempos wandered. Perhaps the Shostakovich had left the musicians as emotionally drained as the audience.
-- Mark J. Estren
There were ample chances to explore the tango and other Latin American musical styles at the Embassy of Argentina Saturday night. From Daniel Binelli's remarkable command of the bandoneon, it is hard to imagine any sonic possibilities beyond those he squeezed out of the small accordion (which has buttons on both sides and no keyboard). Polly Ferman, Binelli's partner, likewise plumbed every rapturous region of piano sound as the two alternated in duos and solos.
Some of the most stunning and elegant playing came with several works of Astor Piazzolla, who virtually transformed the Argentine tango into an art form. With Binelli and Ferman's teamwork, one missed none of the nostalgia, lyrical passion and throbbing dance rhythms that mark Piazzolla's works. The duo also performed tangos and milongas (which mix Afro-Cuban and other elements) by Horacio S. Salgan, Cobian Cadicamo, Cluzezu Mortet, Juan Jose Ramos, Angel Villoldo and Binelli himself. In different ways all this music seems to toy with dissonant tone clusters and fluctuating tempos, forging continual tension that is now tightened, now dissolved.
Binelli stretched and compressed the long bellows-like midsection of the bandoneon to create plaintive, melodic solos, sweeping orchestral timbres and crashing percussion effects. One of Ferman's most ravishing solos was her delicate, pondering approach to Piazzolla's "Oblivion." In their duos, the two musicians engaged in ravishing improvisatory flights of fancy that spelled pure jazz.
The concert was an Embassy Series event.