Short Ride in a Fast Machine
Gabriela Lena Frank
Apu [Carnegie Hall commission for NYO-USA: New York premiere]
Symphony No.1 in D
National Youth Orchestra of the United States of America
Reviewed by: Richard Landau
Reviewed: 21 July, 2017
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
Nattily attired in black-and-red kit, the NYO-USA members, with Marin Alsop, opened their Carnegie Hall concert with a vibrant outing of John Adams’s Short Ride in a Fast Machine that had just the right degree of momentum – vividly projected by this young group of musicians and just the thing to open this engaging programme.
Next up, Gabriela Lena Frank’s Apu, which begins with perky woodwind writing (deftly articulated), conjuring up what the composer calls the mischievous side of Apu, an elusive nature-spirit of Peru who accompanies travellers on their way through the countryside. A slow section, identified as a prayer to Apu, has a hint of nocturnal Bartók and Britten about it, the effect being simultaneously mysterious and moving. That mood returns at the close, but only after the orchestra had dazzled us with some vigorous material.
Following the interval the youngsters rose to the challenge of Mahler’s First Symphony with palpable enthusiasm and considerable technical prowess. The opening might have been a tad short on mystery, but once past it the players were right inside the music. The Ländler second movement had a wonderfully peasant-like ‘kick’, with the irony of the Trio very nicely caught. The funeral-march third movement was as parodistic as Mahler surely intended it to be – with striking contrasts between vulgar dance-band music and those passages that lilt. Cued by a terrific cymbal clash, Alsop welded together the Finale’s myriad elements very skilfully, and obtained excellent results, her charges delivering the glorious conclusion with aplomb.
There were two encores: ‘Catfish Row’ from the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess (I assume from Robert Russell Bennett’s Symphonic Picture of the opera) and Arturo Márquez’s Congo del Fuego Novo, both delivered with style and panache.