Music

 

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When I'm 64 a former councilman and a conductor

One unusual thing about the recent National Philharmonic evening performance happened before the concert proper – a string quartet in the Strathmore lobby performing (among other selections) “When I’m 64” by the Beatles.

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From the bleeding to the cutting edge

There is cutting edge music, but there is also bleeding edge music.

While celebrating their 40th anniversary this year, the Kronos Quartet resolutely refused to look backward at their recent performance at the University of Maryland.  Most of the pieces they performed were written within the last decade, with two works receiving their East Coast Premier during this concert at the Clarice Smith Center.

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Nothing but strings

After listening to Baroque brass music last weekend at the Bach Sinfonia, what a total change of pace it was to go to George Mason University and hear the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin.  Instead of ringing brass fanfares, there was nothing but strings, and a program that covered 200 years of music.

Music director Misha Rachlevsky did an ingenious bit of programming, getting the most variety one could from a small orchestra of about a dozen string players.  Each half began with a short piece followed by a longer work.  In the end, the program took two uncomplicated and relatively light works, and used those simple pieces to enclose a very dark and somber center.

The program started with a little gem. Elgar’s Serenade for Strings in e minor is wistful and nostalgic, with just a touch of restrained sadness.  All in all it is a simple and tuneful work in three short movements, with the stuttering strings that open the piece slyly creeping back in at the end.  Conductor Rachlevsky showed proper restraint in the emotions and tempo and the orchestra tossed off this little work with aplomb. 

It was followed by a totally different piece.  The Chamber Symphony is an arrangement of one of Shostakovich’s String Quartet #8.  Written during the Second World War, the work is five movements played without pause.  Here a four note motto rises from the depths and erupts into a rough and brutal scherzo.  This transforms into a sarcastic waltz –the composer was a big admirer of Mahler – before sinking back into the depths again.

Shostakovich was always able to get away with more in his chamber music than his orchestral works, and this stark and somber work expresses war time fears all too clearly.

What the real surprise was that Conductor Rachlevsky followed this piece without a real pause with another arrangement – the Contrapunctus #1 from Bach’s Art of the Fugue.  This late work of Bach is as close to pure absolute music as you can get, totally concerned with counterpoint.  And yet despite the 200 years separating the two pieces, the Bach sounded as if it was cut from the same cloth as the Chamber Symphony. 

The Shostakovich was the most virtuoso work on the program, and the dozen members of the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin tore into this piece: the scherzo used all sorts of difficult string techniques at break neck speed and the Allegretto was full of sarcasm.  Conductor Rachlevsky led his ensemble in precise and clear performances that gave the slow outer movements had their decent weight and allowed one to easily follow the Bach fugue despite its dense counterpoint.   

After intermission, things turned much lighter.  The Serenade Melancolique by Tchaikovsky was a short work that recalled the opening Elgar in its wistfulness and restrained sadness, but with a distinctly Russian flavor.   While not a concerto, it did give violin soloist Eugene Pravilov a chance to show off his lyricism. 

But the final work was as different from the Shostakovich as one could get.  The Dvorak Serenade for Strings is full of lovely melodies in lush harmonies and uncomplicated structures.  An occasional cloud may pass by in the Waltz, but generally this piece is sunny and not at all profound – if the Shostakovich was the main course, the Dvorak was a giant serving of desert. 

But Rachlevsky’s careful conducting and the small string forces revealed inner melodies and counterpoint, often lost with larger ensembles.  The temptation is to overplay the melodies and emotions, but here it was restrained and carefully thought out.  When the opening melody comes sailing in at the very end of the work, it sounded as fresh as ever.

This is part of George Mason’s very busy fall season.  In the coming weeks they play host to such varied acts as international pop star Mariza on October 18, the Parsons Dance Company of November 9, and World Blues, featuring Taj Mahal among others.   

For more information on George Mason’s upcoming season, call 888-945-2468or go online to http://cfa.gmu.edu/.

3 stars.

By David Cannon

Mocovox Entertainment Critic

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If ain't baroque don't fix it

After listening to Baroque brass music last weekend at the Bach Sinfonia, what a total change of pace it was to go to George Mason University and hear the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin.  Instead of ringing brass fanfares, there was nothing but strings, and a program that covered 200 years of music.

Music director Misha Rachlevsky did an ingenious bit of programming, getting the most variety one could from a small orchestra of about a dozen string players.  Each half began with a short piece followed by a longer work.  In the end, the program took two uncomplicated and relatively light works, and used those simple pieces to enclose a very dark and somber center.

Read more...

Get Bach Loretta

We know what to expect from a Baroque concert: plenty of lively strings, some woodwinds to add color, and occasionally brass and tympani for added effects – and the ever present continuo.

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