Eurydice – There was a roar; Orpheus never liked words … This is what it is to love an artist
The Deserted Garden
Piano Quartet in G minor, K478
Liv Redpath (soprano)
The MET Orchestra Chamber Ensemble [Nancy Wu, Jeremías Sergiani-Velazquez & Benjamin Bowman (violins), Milan Milizavljević (viola), Jerry Grossman (cello), Leigh Mesh (bass), Chelsea Knox, Maron Khoury & Stephanie C. Mortimore (flutes), Anton Rist (clarinet), Dean LeBlanc (bass clarinet), Javier Gándara (horn), David Kraus (trumpet), Weston Sprott (trombone), Gregory Zuber & Steven White (percussion), Mariko Anraku (harp) & Jonathan C. Kelly (piano)]
Yannick Nézet-Séguin (piano)
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 21 November, 2021
Venue: Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, New York City
For many years The MET Orchestra has regularly made two or three annual appearances at Carnegie Hall. This season concertgoers have even more opportunities to hear it outside The MET’s home at the opera house. As part of the recently ratified collective bargaining agreement between The Metropolitan Opera and its orchestra, an annual series of six concerts at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall by The MET Orchestra Chamber Ensemble (MOCE), has been created. In this case the term ‘ensemble’ does not refer to just one group. The series brings together MET Orchestra musicians to perform more intimate repertoire, largely of their own choosing, in stylistically flexible configurations. For this sold-out event, the second concert in MOCE’s inaugural season, eighteen players delivered a generous, wide-ranging, and superbly executed program.
Flutist Chelsea Knox, violist Milan Milisavljevíc, and bassist Leigh Mesh performed the concert opener: Concertino by Erwin Schulhoff, a Czech who was one of the composers of ‘degenerate music’ whose successful careers were prematurely terminated by the Nazis. Written in 1925, the angular and acerbic three-movement piece begins with a sweetly sentimental melody that quickly evolves into an edgy exchange between the flute and the bass. Other refrains, constantly fluctuating in tempo and intensity, weave in and out of the movement. In contrast, the Furiant and Rondino which make up the second and fourth movements are full of vibrant, foot-tapping Bohemian dance rhythms. Sandwiched between these two is an atmospheric Andante in the post-Romantic vein. As interpreted by the MOCE, Schulhoff’s amiable blending of jazz and folk traditions, with its unconventional instrumentation, rhythmic vibrancy and range, was totally enervating and delightful.
Next came two selections from Matthew Aucoin’s 2019 opera Eurydice, a retelling of the Orpheus myth through the eyes of the title character. After the relatively small stage filled up with thirteen players and an Imperial Bösendorfer, soprano Liv Redpath and Yannick Nézet-Séguin appeared. Before launching into the music, the maestro addressed a few remarks to the audience – introducing the composer, who was seated in the audience; revealing that Redpath will cover the role of Eurydice when the opera premieres at The Met this month; and playfully remarking that although he himself has made prior appearances at Carnegie Hall, this was his Weill Hall debut.
Eurydice’s arias ‘There was a roar’ and ‘Orpheus never liked words’ appear in different acts of Aucoin’s opera, but in his deft chamber arrangement they are sung consecutively with only a brief break between them. The first is a vivid depiction of the experience of dying, the second an emotional – but not entirely somber – lament about what it’s like being married to an artist. Redpath’s powerful and expressive soprano combined with Aucoin’s richly colored, highly refined orchestration made for a totally involving experience.
Then came two brief selections for violin and piano by Florence Price, the first African-American woman to be recognized as a symphonic composer: the blues inspired Deserted Garden (1931) and Adoration (1951), one of her better known pieces, both in its original version for organ and other arrangements. Before sitting down at the keyboard, Nézet-Séguin introduced Jeremías Sergiani-Velázquez, The MET’s principal second violinist, as the orchestra’s newest member. Then the duo launched into an eloquent and songlike performance of the music, the violin sounding especially fluid and graceful alongside Nézet-Séguin’s graceful playing at the keyboard.
Pierre Gabaye pursued a career as a pianist and a composer of both classical music and jazz, producing the major body of his work between 1955 and 1970, the year he stopped composing and took up a career as director of light music for Radio France. His 1958 Récréation, a melodious piece for the unusual combination of three brass instruments and piano, was the most light-hearted work on the program. It received a wonderfully high-spirited performance from trumpeter David Krauss, horn player Javier Gándara, trombonist Weston Sprott, and pianist Jonathan C. Kelly. The jazzy opening Allegretto was full of bluster and pizzazz, the contrasting central Largo attractively gentle and lyrical, and the Presto finale a boisterous romp complete with jazzy trombone glissandos.
For the final offering, the music moved from the twentieth century back to the eighteenth, with Nézet-Séguin returning to the piano to join violinist Benjamin Bowman, violist Milan Milisavljevíc, and cellist Jerry Grossman in an exuberant and engaging performance of Mozart’s Piano Quartet in G minor, in which the beautiful tone and phrasing of the strings coupled with the sparkling clarity of the piano was a constant delight. Together the four musicians brought out all brought all the drama and intensity of the score without sacrificing any of the Mozartean precision and balance, and ending the evening on an appropriately light and joyful note.