KREMERATA BALTICA by Stanley Fefferman

Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Presented by Show One Productions
George Weston Recital Hall, Toronto

Beethoven’s “Grosse Fugue Op. 133”, composed for 4 players, is grandly upscaled when this 27 piece Chamber Orchestra assembled by Gidon Kremer performs it. The big sound coming from a stage full of musicians surprises with its broad and deeply spaced orchestral dimensions—a kind of super audio effect. The vigorous, rising staccato of the ‘overtura’ in B flat drives with kinetic force; the slow, lyrical section in G that rides on the contemplative drone of cellos and bass is transfixing; the section before the recapitulation suggests a stately brass-like staccato procession that morphs into a river-run of organ tones.

While meeting and mastering the daunting technical difficulty of this piece, Kremer’s ensemble transforms Beethoven’s most intimate, introspective reflection on his total deafness into a cinematic widescreen THX short feature. Not a bad thing.

Gidon Kremer makes his first appearance of the evening as soloist in a transcription for violin of Schumann’s “Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129”. This piece, like the Beethoven, is the externalized expression of great suffering. Schumann composed it in 1850, at the onset of the period that lead to his madness, suicide, and final incarceration.

“Op. 129” opens with a dark, turbulent melody through which runs a strain of melancholy sweetness like dark spalting, the product of decay. Kremer follows the virtuosic course of the concerto, but he clearly has a firm grip on the reins, controlling the advance and retreat, the revelation and concealment of tension and elation. Kremer keeps the orchestra with him, letting them shine in the orchestral passage before his final cadenza and the shift to a quicker dance like tempo that closes the concerto on a fresh and vivacious note.

The second half of the concert is devoted to having fun with beautiful music played for the audience’s pleasure. It begins with a suite of pieces celebrating spring and ends with encores that include Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”.

Victoria Poleva’s “Warm Wind” buzzes, flits and burbles on vibraphone and windy strings, streaked and scratched with bow strokes that resemble the expressionist brushstrokes of Oscar Kokoschka. Kremer and the Kremerata merge “Warm Wind” with a theme from Beethoven’s “Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, Opus 24”, the ‘Spring Sonata’. This trips along sweetly, transforming into the locomotive percussive drive of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring”, featuring Andrii Pushkarov floating poetically above his vibraphone like one of Chagall’s musicians.

Follow here seasonal tunes from Mother Russian including Tchaikovsky’s ‘April’ from his “Seasons, Op. 37b”, which gives the concert it’s first blush of Disney, redeemed by a very sexy composition by Astor Piazzolla “Primavera Portena” that tapers off into Kremer’s little joking musical reference to Vivaldi’s “The Seasons”. Piazzolla’s smooth, sentimental and funny “Three Pieces for Violin and Vibraphone” brought the programme to a close with a triple fugue involving violin, viola, and vibraphone.

As if the audience were not happy and high enough, Kremer sent us up with a carefully orchestrated medley, variations on “Happy Birthday” that moved to the rhythms of a Strauss waltz and a Russian Cossack dance.

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