Thursday, July 5, 2012

Heights Arts: Close Encounters: Amaricana, a house concert

Barber: String Quartet Op. 11 (Composed 1938)
Riley: Half Wolf Dances Mad In Moonlight from Salome Dances for Peace for String Quartet
Gershwin: Summertime from Porgy and Bess  (Jung Oh, Soprano)
Dvorak: "American" Quartet in F major, Op. 96
Katherine Bormann, Isabel Trautwein, violins; Tanya Ell, cello; Eleisha Nelson, viola.
At the Dunham Tavern Museum Barn, Cleveland.

There are concerts where I struggle to find a piece I liked; then there are concerts where I like just about everything but I have a clear favorite. Rarely -- very rarely -- there is a concert where I love everything and to attempt to name a favorite is as pointless as trying to name a favorite finger. This was one of those concerts.

All of the instrumentalists on tonight's program are members of The Cleveland Orchestra: Familiar faces in Isabel Trautwein and Tanya Ell, and new to the Heights Arts stage, Katherine Bormann and Eleisha Nelson, viola.

The concert opened with Samuel Barber's String Quartet, opus 11 -- with its second movement being perhaps best known as the basis for the orchestral Adagio for Strings. Though the second movement, with the feeling of a tender caress of a loved one, upstages the neighboring movements, all four of the movements in this piece were gripping. After the deeply touching second movement, the third had a bit of an emotional struggle between Ms. Trautwein's violin and Ms. Nelson's beautiful viola. The fourth and final moment, seemed a bit animated and flighty by contrast.

Ms. Nelson introduced the second piece on the program, as eight minutes from Terry Riley's two and a half hour quartet, Salome Dances for Peace for String Quartet in five movements. Tonight we were treated to the last part of the first movement Haalf Wolf Dances Mad in Moonlight which Ms. Nelson promised would have some "crazy rhythms" but, she added, would be all together. And together they were. And crazy they were. Though the piece was full of repeating patterns the evolution of the sounds in the piece gave an air of suspense and mystery that became more and less imperative as if a passing shadow. It's worth noting that I think this may be the first piece from a living composer has appeared on a Heights Arts program.

Following intermission, Soprano and Heights Arts Board Member Jung Oh joined the Cleveland Orchestra members to voice Gershwin's Summertime from Porgy and Bess. From "Summertime and the living is easy..." the Ms. Oh's songbird-like rendition had me spellbound.

The program wrapped to a close with Dvorak's "American" Quartet which was positively delightful. Dvorak's Symphony 9 ("From the New World") is unquestionably one of my favorite works for full orchestra, so I had high expectations. Those expectations were met with the American Quartet, composed at roughly the same time and in Spillville, Iowa. Like From the New World there's something about the quartet that gives a distinctly American feel to the piece, but I can't quite put my finger on what gives it that sound, unlike, perhaps what may be expected from "big city" America, the American Quartet seems more introspective and thoughtful than its sibling symphony.

There was absolutely nothing not to love about this concert; it was clear that the chemistry between musicians was at full strength.


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