South Florida Classical Review: Spotlighting Corigliano, the SoBe Arts string festival closes in grand style

December 11, 2011

The music of John Corigliano was featured at the final concert of the American Masterworks String Festival on Saturday night. With the composer present to provide engaging commentary, five of Corigliano’s scores amply demonstrated his wide-ranging stylistic palette and creative mastery. Moving from the quiet isolation of the SoBe Institute of the Arts campus to the Colony Theater amidst the bustle of Lincoln Road, the concert united all of the festival artists in a chamber music scores by Osvaldo Golijov and festival director Carson Kievman.

Two of the Corigliano pieces were arrangements of excerpts from larger works. Phantasmagoria is based on themes from the opera The Ghosts of Versailles. In this version for cello and piano, the work intimately traverses the shifting moods of the opera buffa-French Revolution fantasy. The ghost music of the cello’s high-lying harmonics over piano arpeggios acts as a unifying thread in this virtuoso showpiece. Matt Haimovitz showed himself as a patrician master of the cello, whether playing broad romantic melodies or unleashing ferocious attacks in the vigorous display passages. Pianist Martin Kennedy was a consummate partner, dispatching Corigliano’s knuckle-busting keyboard writing with aplomb.

The Red Violin Caprices are an unaccompanied transcription of highlights from Corigliano’s Oscar-winning film score. A darkly romantic principal theme is treated to a series of Paganini-style variations. Russian-born violinist Anastasia Khitruk was sensational in this virtuoso tour de force, winning the largest ovation of the evening. Her large, rich tone and temperament were ideal for this modernist take on old-fashioned fiddle bravura, Khitruk sailing through the double stops as if they were child’s play.

Lara St. John was no less impressive in Corigliano’s recent solo piece Stomp, written for the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition and dedicated to St. John. Employing nonstandard pitches on the violin’s two outer strings and requiring the player to stomp a foot in time to the music while playing, this bluegrass fantasy is an entertaining romp and awesome test of the violinist’s skill, adaptability and theatricality. St. John has technique to burn and the showmanship to conquer this minefield of a showpiece, throwing off the high-wire country fiddling and rhythmic foot-stamping with panache.

In place of the originally scheduled Black Angels by George Crumb, two short Corigliano vignettes for string quartet displayed the composer’s lighter side. Snapshot: Circa 1909 is an elaborate reworking of a sentimental melody in the manner of a late nineteenth-century ballad. A Black November Turkey is a novelty work, a string transcription of a choral work depicting the last days of a turkey before it becomes a Thanksgiving dinner.

Figment Review - 16-10-2009

Khitruk, St. John, Haimovitz and violist Kim Kashkashian joined forces for Osvaldo Golijov’s Tenebrae. A neo-Baroque meditation with a driving but serene pulse, the score loops around Couperin fragments  with Judaic elements bringing an aura of spirituality. This brief score is one of the Argentine-American composer’s strongest works. The players offered a remarkably cohesive performance, spotlighting the piece’s soaring, ethereal mysticism.

Joined by Boca Raton cellist David Cole and violist Matthew Davies, the players premiered the string sextet version of Kievman’s Sine Nomine. Originally conceived as a choral work, the piece is based on medieval plainchant. The richly resonant string texture shapes a moving setting of an ancient melody which gradually becomes more modern, concluding with a hint of repetitive minimalist figurations. Skillfully constructed, the score shines a fresh light on the musical riches  of the Middle Ages. Kievman conducted the six players in a beautifully articulated performance, the lustrous string sound flowing in rising and falling waves.

by Lawrence Budmen

View at South Florida Classical Review

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