Stunning violin concert, modern & baroque, at Woodmere

Local Life May 9, 2013 0 Comments

Emlyn Ngai’s playing at Woodmere “was technically beyond reproach, but even more impressive was his ability to leave the intimacy of the baroque behind in favor of the virtuosity of the romantic.”

by Michael Caruso

Chestnut Hill’s Woodmere Art Museum presented Emlyn Ngai, the concertmaster of the baroque instruments ensemble Tempesta di Mare, in a solo violin recital Sunday, April 28, in its acoustically resplendent rotunda. Playing on both a baroque, gut-strung violin and a metal-strung modern instrument, Ngai proved himself equally at home on both instruments and in both older and newer music.

Ever since I heard pianist Andras Schiff perform a recital using his own Hamburg Steinway for Bach and Beethoven and his own Bosendorfer for Mozart and Schubert, I’ve often wondered why violinists can’t manage the far easier task of bringing along two violins for a recital, using a baroque instrument for baroque music and a modern violin for late romantic and modern pieces. I can’t speculate why others don’t, but I admire Emlyn Ngai for doing so in Chestnut Hill.

Ngai opened the recital with Thomas Baltzar’s Prealudium & Allemande on his baroque violin. The Swedish-born Baltzar score includes two Preludes rather than the one its title lists. It’s a gem of baroque elegance and exquisitely expressed emotion. Ngai caught its lyrical eloquence in playing that eschewed a wide, romantic vibrato but poignantly projected its melodies with an aristocratic tremolo on the long-held notes.

Switching to a modern violin, Ngai projected the pyrotechnics of Eugene Ysaye’s “Obsession” Sonata No. 2. Once again, his playing was technically beyond reproach, but even more impressive was his ability to leave the intimacy of the baroque behind in favor of the virtuosity of the romantic. Ngai was equally at home in the nostalgia of Fritz Kreisler’s “Recitativo & Scherzo.” And, returning to his baroque violin, he offered one beautifully played encore – the Sarabande from Bach’s “Partita in D minor.”

The full Tempesta di Mare will present its “Great Books” concert 4 p.m. Sunday, May 12, in the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. Music by Purcell, Telemann, Rameau and Charpentier will be performed. Visit tempestadimare.org.

CHORAL EVENSONG

The Choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Chestnut Hill, welcomed choirs from Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, and Church of the Redeemer, Bethesda, Maryland, for a festive Choral Evensong

Sunday, April 21. The combined chorus, numbering nearly 100, sang music by Parry, Neary, Davies, Brewer, Ives and Moore.

The afternoon’s two major works were Herbert Brewer’s settings of the “Magnificat” (My soul doth magnify the Lord) and the “Nunc Dimittis” (Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace). The music of the “Magnificat” is powerful while that of the “Nunc Dimittis” is sweet and gentle, although both works conclude with a stentorian setting of the final words of the “Glory be to the Father.” Zachary Hemenway, St. Paul’s music director and organist, led the choir with precision and passion, establishing exquisitely chiseled balances between the voices and smoothly blended tones from all parts. The final Choral Evensong of the liturgical season at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday, May 12.

YANNICK RETURNS

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s music director, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, returned to its podium May 3, 4 and 5 to conduct a program featuring “Love Scene” from Strauss’ opera, “Feuersnot,” Korngold’s “Violin Concerto in D major,” with Curtis Institute of Music alumna Hilary Hahn as soloist, and Mahler’s First Symphony. Although the three scores and the performances they received were not completely beyond reproach, Saturday night’s concert underscored the young maestro’s gift for energizing both the orchestra’s playing and the audiences.

The Violin Concerto calls upon some of the music Korngold composed for the movies, but he fashioned the material into a convincing, if not profound, classical concerto for violin and orchestra.

The Strauss struck me as a complete waste of effort and time, displaying the composer’s penchant for serial modulations for no apparent reason. On the other hand, Mahler’s First Symphony is a masterpiece, and Nezet-Seguin led a thrilling rendition for an audience that responded ecstatically.

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