June 5, 2011
WASHINGTON —Strings are the heart of an orchestra, and David Commanday and the Heartland Festival Orchestra’s fascinating and fun Saturday concert at Five Points Washington explored some possible sound worlds conjured by violins, violas, basses and – most of all – cellos.
The result was a winning mix of moods and styles: the flamboyant, ornamented, ever evolving sounds of the baroque period, represented by Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Cellos; the singing, expansive late 19th century Romanticism represented by David Popper’s Requiem for Three Cellos; the tuneful, folk-inspired Bohemian music represented by Antonin Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings; and the classical merger of passion and order represented by Franz Josef Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1.
And let’s not forget the interlude of down-home, old-fashioned, foot-stomping fiddling of “Orange Blossom Special.”
Yet the center of the evening remained the cello. Cellist Matt Haimovitz – one of those artists who explores new musical territory even as he remains grounded in the classical tradition – managed a remarkably intense reading of the Haydn. He could make the low notes rumble, then rocket to the high registers of the instrument, pausing dramatically. The instrument – an especially rich and resonant 301-year-old Matteo Gofriller cello – sighed and sang. Clearly, Haimovitz captured something elemental and primitive.
Yet Haimovitz was as much a colleague as star soloist: Earlier in the evening, he and Commanday performed the Vivaldi double cello, lines of music echoing and interweaving. If two cellos are good, six must be better: Cellists Barbara Hedlund, Moises Molina, Adriana La Rosa Ransom and Commanday’s son, Beau, joined Commanday and Haimovitz in the Popper’s chamber music piece, tuneful music with a great deal of soul.
A great deal of soul characterized the evening as a whole. It was, of course, a collaborative effort, but it was hard, for me at least, not to feel something of Commanday’s own passion for string instruments and the cello in particular. As always, his conducting ranged from the meat-and-potatoes basics (those French horns nicely blended with the strings in the Haydn) to the artful and poetic (the gorgeous phrasing of all those melodious passages in the Dvorak).
Commanday and his orchestra, in short, managed truly first-class music-making. And there are signs that the orchestra is beginning to catch knowledgeable ears beyond Central Illinois. On Saturday, a representative from the Illinois Council of Orchestras recognized Commanday as Professional Conductor of the Year and Heartland as Professional Orchestra of the Year.
by GARY PANETTA
View article at PJStar