Review by Danny Gaisin
Ligeti was Romanian; Bartók -Hungarian and Dvořák was born in Bohemia. So, an evening of classical music with a Central and Eastern European flavor. For someone who grew up with the atmosphere of klezmer permeating my Ashkenazi household, last evening’s Hamilton Philharmonic concert brought on a strong sense of déja vu, or should that be ‘déja entendu’.
György Ligeti grew up in Transylvania and his interpretations of folk idiom music was politically disdained. The Concert Românesc sat unperformed for two decades until 1971. The HPO, under visiting conductor James Sommerville presented the piece with an almost Oriental flavoured scaling throughout the work’s myriad riffs.
The vivace finale movement afforded concertmaster Stephen Sitarski some solo opportunities and some moments that were expressed backed by the double basses in a most exquisite and faultless manner.
The next offering was the piano concerto No. 3 by Béla Bartók and performed by the already super-successful young soloist Conrad Tao. To this scribe, the composer’s output, like that of Kodaly; Vincent D’Indy; and Paul Hindemith are more mathematical than lyrical. None of his works are in my personal CD collection…’nuff said.
Tao has a sensual touch. He is physically animated even on the bench and utilizes phrasing for accentuation. His intensity was palatable throughout the work’s three movements and his emphasis and expressions even during the piece’s discordant themes ranged from grave concentration to an almost ecstatic joy in performing many of the more intricate idioms. The audience brought him back on stage for a casually-attired encore! Only humble observation; histrionics can be a distraction.
Like the two previous composers, Antonin Dvořák spent time in America and he was so taken with the factual as well as musical history of the new nation that he wrote his paean to it that is his 9th symphony or more popularly known as “From the New World”. Neil Armstrong took this recording along when he visited our naturally orbiting satellite in 1969. Given the composer’s extensive curiosity and interest in the African-American experience & spirituals; the HPO invited local jazz vocalist Queen Cee to intersperse the symphony’s movements with unaccompanied solos. Her first offering was ‘Let my People Go’…an obviously meaningful selection given the historical period of slavery. The opening movement was rather stiff and rigidly performed by the conductor & musicians. There is a special dimension to appreciating orchestral music that is difficult to define, this writer experiences it by the sensation of hackle-raising or ‘goosebumps’. During the adagio 1st – nothing.
The piece’s 2nd movement, largo, was prefaced by Miss Cee singing the ‘Going Home’ theme with a muted string background. My reaction:- diametrically opposite. Two days preceding, we attended the service for Betty Webster. Naturally music was an intrinsic part of the ceremony but I was unaffected by the funereal tone of the selections. Hearing this rendition of the largo, my eyes started to tear.
The molto vivace 3rd was tightly reined and thus performed – not interpreted. However, Sommerville and the HPO gave the finale a reading that seemed to extrapolate the early U.S. optimism and spirit of pioneer determination that is still a main-stay of the American psyche.
The final H.P.O. Concert of this season is on May 12th. and will honour the centennial of Leonard Bernstein. The evening with feature the HPO’s Dynamic Drum Duo of Iadeluca & Porthouse. Mayhaps we’ll have a chance to sing along about ‘♫Liking to be in America ♪”