Ensemble ACJW/Heras-Casado at Zankel Hall – Bach & Schoenberg – Isabel Leonard sings Handel, Vivaldi & Ravel

Orchestral Suite in C, BWV1066
Alcina – Sta nell’Ircana
Griselda – Sinfonia; Agitata da due venti; Ombre vane
Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé
Chamber Symphony No.2, Op.38

Isabel Leonard (mezzo-soprano)

Ensemble ACJW
Pablo Heras-Casado

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 16 December, 2011
Venue: Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York City

Isabel Leonard. Photograph: Columbia Artist ManagementOne of the brightest developments in New York was the creation in 2007 of The Academy, a fellowship program for graduates of music conservatories run jointly by Carnegie Hall, The Juilliard School and the Weill Music Institute in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. Over two years, Academy fellows work as educators with students in New York City public schools and with university students, and perform with Ensemble ACJW. The talents of these outstanding young musicians were showcased in this Zankel Hall program. Pablo Heras-Casado has just been designated as the principal conductor of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, a post previously held by Roger Norrington, Charles Mackerras and Donald Runnicles.

The concert began with Bach’s C major Suite, played with the string- and wind-players standing, Heras-Casado’s sweeping gestures and generally brisk tempos evoking the movements’ varied dance forms. The performance fell somewhere between the camps of ‘early’ and ‘modern’ performance practice, but was within the music’s spirit. Each of Bach’s four orchestral suites is scored for a different complement of wind instruments, with this one deriving its distinctive timbres from the juxtaposition of a pair of oboes and a bassoon against strings and continuo. ToniMarie Marchioni and Carl Oswald and bassoonist Shelly Monroe Huang played with gusto and virtuosity.

Isabel Leonard joined the Ensemble for three baroque-opera arias, the instrumentalists providing stirring accompaniments and also offering a stylish performance of the three-movement Sinfonia from the Vivaldi. Leonard returned after intermission, accompanied by a smaller instrumental ensemble, for Ravel’s Trois poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, in which string harmonics in the opening setting, gentle piano arpeggios in the second, and contributions on piccolo and bass clarinet in the concluding one added distinctive textures to the vocal line. Leonard was in superb voice, singing accurately and expressively, as much at home in florid baroque style as in impressionistic Ravel.

The concert concluded with an engaging performance of the seldom-heard Chamber Symphony No.2 by Arnold Schoenberg. The second movement was not composed until some 33 years after the opening Adagio, which had been almost entirely written prior to the composer’s adoption of serialism. Although Schoenberg later made some modifications to the first movement, its connection to the tradition of German-Austrian romanticism remains tangible, and it is nicely complemented by the stylistically contrasting Con fuoco finale, seldom losing its propulsive force. Under Heras-Casado, the Ensemble musicians played with cohesiveness and sensitivity, with many excellent solo contributions.

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