Music review: iPalpiti concert in Disney Concert Hall
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For a short time each summer, the Russian violinist, conductor and pedagogue Eduard Schmieder brings together some two dozen young string players from around the world to form a small training ensemble, iPalpiti, performing chamber music in and around Beverly Hills. The grandly named Festival of International Laureates, with the help of a noted youngish soloist or two, culminates in a concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall.
This year that was Saturday night. The program was intriguingly quirky. The playing was good enough that anyone walking in clueless as to the makeup of the ensemble and not bothering to pick up a program could have easily been fooled into thinking this was one of the world’s better string orchestras.
Schmieder began and ended with pieces by young composers who later rejected the works. The opener was Benjamin Britten’s “Young Apollo,” an odd but cheerful eight-minute fanfare for piano, string quartet and string orchestra written in 1939. The closer was the two movements of a student string quartet that Rachmaninoff never finished but later in life revived by orchestrating for strings as Romance and Scherzo.
The Britten is worth the bother. The 26-year-old composer, a pacifist who had fled England, was newly arrived in the U.S. He wrote the fanfare on commission from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. His inspiration was Keats’ “Hyperion,” with its “new dazzling Sun-god, quivering with radiant vitality.”
Britten played the brilliant piano part at the premiere in Toronto. But without explanation, he withdrew the piece and it was only revived in 1979, three years after his death. On Saturday, it quivered with radiant vitality anew. Svetlana Smolina, an outstanding Russian pianist with a luxuriant tone, was the evening’s underused soloist. Her piano was placed behind the orchestra, and she didn’t stand out quite as much as she might have. Still she caught both the flicker of the young Sun-god and also found urgency in the flashy solo part.
Smolina was then the harpsichordist in the next piece, a Concerto Grosso for string quartet and string orchestra by Avner Dorman. Written in 2003 when the Israeli composer was 28, this is a piece that Dorman, who has become hot lately, may, himself, think about withdrawing. It is an update of Handel and Vivaldi, something that was already tired a decade or two ago. But the players sawed away with verve and the score went down easily. Different members of the ensemble formed the solo string quartets in the Britten and the Dorman. There wasn’t a weak player to be heard all evening.
A controversial arrangement of the slow first movement of Mahler’s unfinished 10th Symphony by a German composer and conductor, Hans Stadlmair, was the most significant piece on the program. Here, a great dying composer enters new ethereal realms while simultaneously struggling with his deepest despair. The Adagio is one of music’s most profound depictions of the ineffable thin thread that separates life and death.
Stadlmair reduced Mahler’s large orchestra to 15 strings, in a version that Gidon Kremer recorded with his Kremerata Baltica a decade ago. Schmieder has raised the ante slightly to 23 strings, which still means that without the weight of a full orchestra, Mahlerian ecstasy and anguish are both moderated. On the other hand, there is something very moving about intimately confronting Mahler’s beatific and tortured last thoughts with only a few strings.
Schmieder’s approach was very much in the direction of chamber music. With sweeping and expressive arm gestures, he led an even-handed and slightly otherworldly account of the Adagio, more on the side of Mahler’s angels than his devils. The intonation and balances were beautiful.
The program’s second half was lighter. For Dvorák’s tuneful Serenade in E Major, Schmieder reseated the orchestra with the cellos on the left (the violins were divided for the Mahler), and achieved near orchestral bulk while still maintaining the flowing lyricism that was a hallmark of everything on the program.
The Romance and Scherzo proved an unnecessary curiosity, though. The teenager who wrote these two movements was not yet Rachmaninoff, although the intimations of his harmonic fingerprints could be detected.
A week earlier in Beverly Hills, Schmieder gave the U.S. premiere of Kareem Roustom’s Three Klezmer Dances for violin, tambourine and strings, and he repeated it in a shortened version as an encore Saturday. No one knows where the Middle East is headed. But here was hope.
A composer from Syria has made lovingly fanciful arrangements of Jewish music. The violin soloist, Daniel Turcina -- stepping out from an orchestra made up of Jews, Christians and Muslims from 19 countries -- is Slovakian. He played with improvisatory sounding fire and soul.
-- Mark Swed