Brandenburg 5 with the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra in review

published in the Standard-Times (New Bedford)

NBSO Offers Sparkling Concertos
by Keith Powers, contributing writer

In a cleverly programmed concert with historical underpinnings, the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra offered a series of concertos Saturday evening in Wickenden Chapel at Tabor Academy in Marion.

Maestro David MacKenzie included music of J.S. Bach, Boccherini, Corelli and Stravinsky, each with a unique relationship to the concerto form. The works alternately pitted individual soloists, duos and small sections against the larger ensemble, culminating in Stravinsky's "Pulcinella Suite," a more modern work drawn out of the composer's love for Baroque forms.

Bach's "Brandenburg Concerto No. 5" is a hybrid, at once using the harpsichord as a continuo instrument — holding down the basic rhythm for the rest of the group — but then letting it emerge spectacularly as a soloist. Paul Cienniwa sat at the double manual harpsichord, elaborating the extensive solo cadenza in the first movement with graceful phrasing.

He was not the only soloist: the Fifth also features individual excursions for violin (concertmaster Jesse Holstein) and flute (Tim Macri). That duo played with insight as well, especially in an unaccompanied section that opens the second movement. Their playing was precise, alert to each other's phrases, all carefully articulated; it was troubled somewhat by dead air between those phrases, and a tempo that might have been charged more vigorously.

The most traditional concerto on the program showcased the talents of cellist Jonah Ellsworth. A first year student at the prestigious Curtis School of Music, the 18-year-old already has garnered several competition awards. He played Boccherini's "Concerto No. 9 in B-flat," a work of considerable difficulty both in its original version and in the composite created by German cellist Friedrich Grutzmacher in the late 19th century, which Ellsworth performed. The work makes technical demands in its scope of attack — it covers nearly the entire range and all the fingering positions of the instrument — as well as in its two extensive cadenzas, in the first movement "Allegro moderato" and in the concluding "Rondo."

Ellsworth has the gift: his playing was decisive and attentive to his stage-mates, and, especially in the second cadenza, with its insistent triplet figure and multiple double stops, he showed sophisticated technique. He may wish for a few pitches back, but the overall reading was alert and well conceived.

Maestro MacKenzie was sharp to mold the attack, unifying soloist and ensemble, especially in alternating phrases. After intermission, Corelli's "Concerto grosso in D, Op. 6, No. 4," taken from the well known set of twelve in that opus, showed off the earliest version of the form. The concerto grosso pits a small ensemble of soloists (in this case, duo violins, cello and harpsichord) against the ensemble. Corelli was an early innovator for the violin, and even though the fingerings in this concerto are simple, the melodies are infectious.

The final movement, with a tremolo figure reminiscent of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," had a particularly driving energy. There were two Stravinskys, both geniuses. The first: the young composer steeped in Russian folklore, who created new trends with works like "Firebird" and "Rite of Spring."

The second, on display here, explored his love for Baroque forms, creating equally wonderful works like the ballet "Pulcinella." From the score of that ballet Stravinsky derived several orchestral works, including his "Pulcinella Suite," eight movements of great orchestral complexity. Stravinsky did not deconstruct the early forms that he used: his movements are all affectionately genuine, the early forms intact, but with invigorated orchestration and harmonies freshened for the modern ear.

Everyone onstage gets thoroughly involved, and as such the work presented the most difficulties and the most rewards. Solo sections abound: Holstein figured boldly in many, as did Macri, trombonist Zachary Guiles, and most distinctly oboist Laura Shamu, whose "Serenata" duet with Holstein was exquisite. Instead of building in intensity, it mellows to a muted, breathtaking climax. There were multiple soft entrances and muddied passages, but the overall reading was energized.

The sound in the Chapel, which was generally unforgiving for soloists playing against the orchestra, seemed more generous to the constant variety that the suite offered.

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