New York String Orchestra/Laredo at Carnegie Hall [Capricorn Concerto … Brahms’s Double Concerto … Eroica Symphony]

Capricorn Concerto, Op.21
Concerto in A minor for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, Op.102
Symphony No.3 in E flat, Op.55 (Eroica)

Tara Helen O’Connor (flute), Ariana Ghez (oboe) & David Washburn (trumpet)

Daniel Hope (violin) & Paul Watkins (cello)

New York String Orchestra
Jaime Laredo

Reviewed by: Violet Bergen

Reviewed: 28 December, 2010
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Jaime Laredo. Photograph: www.vso.orgThe New York String Orchestra’s annual winter seminar brings talented young players together from all over the world for an off-season ‘summer’-camp training experience, culminating in two concerts at Carnegie Hall.

Many world-class musicians are alumni of the seminar, including oboist Ariana Ghez, one of the soloists in Samuel Barber’s Capricorn Concerto – named after the “Capricorn” house that the composer lived in for many years, when he was supported by his benefactor Mary Curtis Bok, founder of the Curtis Institute of Music – the work inspired by concerto grosso forms of the Baroque period, in which thematic material is shared between a group of soloists and the orchestra. Scored for solo flute, oboe, and trumpet with string orchestra, the latter of which functions as a soloist in its own right, the solid playing of the young orchestra perfectly suited this busy, energetic piece. Among the soloists, Ghez’s plaintive oboe lines were particularly impressive. The balance was consistently fine in the delicate sections, and the inquisitive nature of the work made one wish it lasted longer than 15 minutes.

Brahms’s Concerto for Violin and Cello brought about a complete change of mood. The orchestra, now swelled by wind-players, was rich and lovely in the tutti sections. Jaime Laredo did an excellent job in matching orchestral responses to the soloists’ phrasing, but the performance was marred by the latter’s inconsistency. Paul Watkins opened passionately with the cello’s cadenza, and although the intention was clear, his tone sounded quite weak. His habit of beginning notes with no vibrato, then suddenly using lots of it, only added to the strained nature of his tone. However, his phrasing was natural, something that could not be said of Daniel Hope. In the finale, Watkins had a pleasing lightness to his bowing of the dotted melody, but when Hope played the same theme in response, it had no relation to what had come before, and was awkward and stilted. Generally speaking, it seemed as if Hope had not taken much time to learn his part, considering his frequent fluffed phrases and poor intonation, particularly noticeable in the unison phrases with the cello when Hope tended to be sharp. His nose was buried in the score, and he barely seemed aware of Watkins or the orchestra, which he rushed ahead of during the filigree sections in the last movement. The orchestra deserved better than Hope offered.

Considering the orchestra’s impressive first half, the ‘Eroica’ Symphony was a bit of a disappointment. The orchestra’s name was apt, as the strings were truly the star, with wind solos frequently sounding rough-edged or overpowered. Laredo preferred brisk tempos and exaggerated dynamic changes, but lost the subtleties of this great work. It was a literal performance without a thoughtful interpretative arc. The violin section was superb, but there was no reason for them to drown out the trumpets in their accompanying triplets in the Adagio’s major-key section. This movement was the weakest of the performance, and the players’ youthful enthusiasm was sometimes lost in its heaviness. The energy level was back to par in the movement’s fugue, but the strings felt somewhat robotic in their un-nuanced precision in the scherzo. Yet one could not minimize the superb exactitude of the strings, evident in the finale’s precise pizzicatos, which sounded like one instrument, and the fast final runs were impassioned. Most likely a few of these players will be the stars of the next decade.

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