THE ORCHESTRA OF ST. LUKE'S
April 27, 2015
For a 40th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s begins in modest tableau, filling the center of the Perlman stage with few players. Visually distancing, their sound reaches and holds as Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments flutters forth. The softer homophony following draws us duly forward into multiple ambushes of gruff harmonies in disjunct spacings. Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado keeps calm command over disparate, though gradually converging, sections like a counselor quelling a playground feud. The chorale proves dominant, smoothing out the work as though it were a wrinkled garment.
Shostakovich crumples everything back up again in his second cello concerto. Alisa Weilerstein is completely out of place in her sparkling pink gown after its opening lament. Her shoulders hunch, and her hair frizzes over her impassioned visage as she saws out her part. The orchestra slithers in, each section offering single lines that steer clear of Weilerstein’s shifting registers. Cordiality soon breaks as sections trample over themselves. There are no formal thematic presentations, but antagonistic layerings of interruptions that find aggregate coherence.
The third movement interlocks these interjections more systematically, cycled through a percussion-heavy groove and a non-sequiturial romantic cadence melted down by clunkers from the harps. To a tambourine’s hi-hat funk, Weilerstein bounces from her bench, horsehairs dangling from her bow. Hardly shtick, she allows herself to perform Shostakovich's emotional gymnastics with full-bodied connection to her fingers’ unfailing accuracy.
Heras-Casado follows suit in his conducting, shedding the centered restraint exercised on the twentieth-century works for a frenzied gesturing of Beethoven’s Fifth. His interpretation is devilishly fast, unceremoniously overpassing the iconic opening, integrating it more into the exposition. Solo horns no longer call out, but proclaim. Already brisk figures become textural blurs, revealing more global rhythmic schematics. Beyond a somewhat flimsy transition between third and fourth movements that perhaps tried too hard to surprise, the speed is inhabited with a fullness that avoids feeling fast-forward.
The ways Stravinsky and Shostakovich construct blocks of texture parallel the “German frugality” epitomized by the Fifth Symphony, in which complete themes jump between instrument families and develop in rapid modal shifts. On the surface, Beethoven’s fervor against these stark Russians seems arbitrary; compositionally it is a perfect pair.
EYE ON THEARTS, NY -- Jonathan Matthews