Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cologne New Philharmonic Orchestra - Junge Philharmonie

The evening of August 9th was wet and blustery in Cornwall but inclement weather did not prevent local people and summer visitors from attending a concert played by a few members of the Cologne New Philharmonic Orchestra at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Penzance. The present church was built in 1833-5, becoming a parish church with its own vicar in 1871.TheCologne New Philharmonic Orchestra, directed by Volker Hartung, is the only independent orchestra in Germany and its members come from many countries: the eight performers that evening were from Germany, Poland, Spain and Belgium. Hartung himself was not present.

The evening’s concert began with W.A.Mozart’s (1756-1791) Violin Concerto in G Major, KV 216.Composed in Salzburg in 1775, the work is in three movements. Soloist was Marek Dumicz, the orchestra’s concertmaster, with a string sextet playing the orchestral parts. The opening Allegro movement was fresh-sounding, with much interaction between the players. The cadenza was expressive and personal without being showy. The Adagio movement was given a personal, rich reading. Here, the cadenza was well paced and thought-provoking. The Rondeau:Allegro was joyful but measured, Dumicz’ phrases were finely shaped and melodic subjects nicely contrasted. The work ended with a touch of Mozartean humility.

Also by Mozart, we heard the aria “Nel Sen mi Palpita”, with the young Belgian soprano Astrid Defauw as soloist. The aria is from Act one of “Mitridate, re di Ponto”, an opera written by Mozart in 1770 (the composer was 14 years of age!), when he was touring Italy. In this aria, Aspasia, who is engaged to Mitridate, awaits her fiance’s return, grieving the fact that he is parted from her. Defauw’s performance was exciting and dynamic; her understanding of the role was supported by her vocal ease and musicality. Her diction was not always distinct.

The ensemble performed a selection of pieces from Henry Purcell’s (1658-1695) opera “Dido and Aeneas”. To a libretto by Nahum Tate, it was Purcell’s first opera, composed in 1689. In the Overture, the septet sets the gloomy scene. The aria “I am prest with torment” is sung to a ground (recurring) bass, a musical form frequently used by Purcell. Here, Dido tells her servant Belinda of her doubts about Aeneas’ intentions. Defauw’s performance of it was emotional and enriched by excellent instrumental support. The selection ended with Dido’s heart-rending “When I am laid in earth”. Defauw ornamented the piece tastefully as she let the aria unfold and breathe, her high notes rich and effortless. Her own involvement in the tragedy of the piece was convincing and moving.

Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) composed his six string sonatas in Ravenna Italy in the summer of 1804. He was only twelve years of age. They are often performed by larger ensembles; the CNPO players, however, performed his Sonata III in C major for strings in its original scoring, as a quartet. Based on the classical model of the generation preceding Rossini, the work conjures up the immediacy and sparkling cantabile melodic fluency present in Rossini operas! The opening Allegro was both cleanly played and delightfully entertaining, with its humorous moments and joy. The Andante painted a more serious scene, with the final Moderato movement presenting a dazzling set of variations, offering brilliant solos to players, double-bass player included.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847) composed the incidental music to “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opus 61 in 1843. Actually, he had written the Overture 17 years earlier! The CNPO chose to play the Scherzo from it; the ensemble’s lightness and agility, variety of color and textures were a keen reminder to us that the setting for the Shakespeare play was an enchanted wood.

The concert ended with Joseph Haydn’s (1732-1809) Concerto in C major for Violoncello and Orchestra, Hob. VII:1, with the ‘cello solo played by Dmitri Gornovski. Haydn composed the work around 1761-1765 to be performed by his friend Joseph Weigl, the principal ‘cellist of Prince Nicolaus’ Esterhazy Orchestra. The score calls for strings, two oboes and two horns. There is also a basso continuo line that might have been played by another ‘cellist or a bass string player or, possibly, by Haydn himself at the harpsichord. The Cologne ensemble made do with no wind instruments. The original ‘cello line, however, divides its time between playing solo and joining tutti sections, this dual role making great demands on that player. All the concerto’s movements are in sonata form. The first movement – Moderato – expounds Haydnesque joy. Gornovski’s richness of tone and expression made for interesting listening, his cadenza measured, communicating a sense of well-being. After a dramatic entry of two bars, the Adagio movement is tranquil, articulate and meditative, with Gornovski’s bow caressing and singing. The final movement - Allegro molto – is witty and joyful. The soloist’s energy and virtuosity had his audience involved and bright-eyed.

Johann Pachelbel’s much-loved, mellow Canon in D major was played as an encore, providing another chance to hear beautiful solo work.

The program was varied, with an appealing selection of works. The Cologne New Philharmonic Orchestra has high standards of performance, its reading into works profound. Tempi are taken for what they are and never as a vehicle for showmanship. Performing these works with so few players creates playing that is more individual and expressive than often heard in larger ensembles. The audience was enthusiastic and appreciative.

Junge Philharmonie Koeln,
Violins: Marek Dumicz (concertmaster, Poland), Sabine Baron (Germany), Mateosz Zuzanski (Poland), Michal Rozek (Spain)
Viola: Alexandra Kiszka (Poland)
Violoncello: Dmitri Gornovski (Germany)
Double bass: Alexander Maar (Germany)
Soprano: Astrid Defauw (Belgium)
The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Penzance, Cornwall UK.
August 9, 2008

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