Monday, July 31, 2017

iPalpiti at Rolling Hills and LACMA


REVIEW

iPalpiti orchestra, Rolling Hills United Methodist Church
iPalpiti soloists, Los Angeles County Museum of Art
DAVID J BROWN

iPalpiti and Eduard Schmieder at a 2016 concert.

Rather like London’s summer Proms season, albeit on a considerably smaller scale, the July series of concerts from iPalpiti soloists and orchestra at venues in and around Los Angeles helps to fill the city’s summer music void between the end of one concert season and the beginning of the next. More importantly, and crucially, the iPalpiti organization, now in its 20th year, is “dedicated to the artistic career advancement of exceptionally gifted young professional musicians and to the promotion of peace and understanding through music.”

It’s difficult to imagine more laudable aims in these beleaguered times, and the concert at Rolling Hills United Methodist Church last Tuesday by the orchestra (22 superb young string players from more than a dozen nations) under founder-conductor Eduard Schmieder spoke to iPalpiti’s continued success. Unlike other programs in the series, the works to be played were not published in advance but announced from the podium. As thus revealed, the opening and closing items – Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue in C minor K.546, and Beethoven’s String Quartet No.11 in F minor Op.95 ‘Quartetto Serioso’, in the 1899 arrangement for string orchestra by Gustav Mahler – also filled the same slots in the orchestra’s concert at Walt Disney Hall on Saturday July 29, but the substantial central item there, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante K364, was replaced at Rolling Hills by the rather more slender Rondo in A for violin and strings D.438 of Schubert.

Mr. Schmieder had his four ‘cellos dig deep indeed into their unison low C that opens Mozart’s Adagio: more ff than the forte marking, and indeed so trenchant that it brought an involuntary gasp from at least one audience member sitting near me, for whom perhaps the name Mozart implied aural balm rather than the arresting juxtapositions of this concise and austere masterpiece. Throughout, dynamic contrast was emphasized: the loud unison statements delivered with superb bite and generous vibrato; the answers, nominally piano, hovering at the edge of audibility; and the quarter-note rests between stretched to near endangerment of overall structural integrity. The ensuing Fugue was steady but energetic and relentless, with the constant staccato bowing scrupulously observed and projected.

Schubert’s Rondo — pretty much the nearest he came (but not that near) to writing a concerto – also comprises an adagio followed by a faster section, but here the effect is far more of a continuous whole. The Korean Gyehee Kim took the solo role and her relative seriousness plus a propulsive, dancing treatment from everyone of the almost Rossinian rondo themes kept at bay the tendency of this relatively lengthy piece to lapse, for me, into longueurs.

I wish I could be more enthusiastic about Mahler’s version of Beethoven’s shortest and grittiest string quartet, but – again for me – the replacement of the original’s knotted, obsessive compulsion by richer sonorities and a more generalized impetus, plus some smoothing-out of the many turn-on-a-dime dynamic contrasts, was more loss than gain. Nonetheless, the performers gave it their all, and then proceeded to an encore as contrasted as could be imagined: a witty string orchestra arrangement of Mozart's Rondo alla turca from his Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major K.331/300i that went down a storm with the capacity audience.

Not content with this, Mr. Schmieder and his orchestra gave a second encore, again in complete contrast, and appropriate in its rapt beauty for the venue. This was J. S. Bach’s well-known Arioso, the Sinfonia from the 1729 Cantata in F major BWV 156 for the 3rd Sunday after Epiphany, later reworked as the slow movement of his Harpsichord Concerto No. 5 BWV 1056.

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Johan Halvorsen.
Five days later came iPalpiti’s contribution to LACMA’s long-running Sundays Live concert series at the Bing Theater, which opened with the second concert outing, relatively soon after the previous one, of a worthy rarity some way off the chamber-musical beaten track. A few weeks ago violinist Ben Powell and ‘cellist Cécilia Tsan concluded their recital at the unlikely but acoustically superb venue of the dome of the 100-inch telescope at Mount Wilson with an arrangement for violin and ‘cello of Halvorsen’s Passacaglia: Duo for Violin and Viola after Handel's Suite No. 7 in G minor for Harpsichord. This time iPalpiti soloists Kazuhiro Takagi and Juan-Miguel Hernandez played Halvorsen’s original, fully meeting its virtuoso challenges. For me, however, the ‘cello version had carried a lot more visceral punch: doubtless the venue also had something to do with it. (Despite the work being credited to “Handel, arr. Halvorsen”, for my money the Norwegian does most of the compositional heavy lifting and deserves top billing!)

Ernest Chausson.
There was no lack of impact in the main work, Chausson’s Concert in D for violin, piano and string quartet, Op. 21, a still too-little-known masterpiece of the French Romantic chamber music repertoire (and a signal answer to any who claim that French composers aren’t really comfortable with large-scale sonata-based structures). The first of its four substantial movements carries the unusual marking Décidé. This, coupled with the ff dynamic over the three piano chords with which it opens, clearly demands much weight and emphasis, but the actual tempo is unspecified, leaving a lot of latitude for individual performers – from expansive spread to urgent forward movement. Jacopo Giacopuzzi, iPalpiti’s terrific pianist, produced to my ears a just about ideal combination of heft and momentum, launching a performance that reveled in the Concert’s emotional and technical challenges.

After an introduction with the quartet intoning solemn spacious chords over rippling piano arpeggios, the soloist enters Animé and ff with the movement’s broad main theme. Sometimes in recordings, the solo violin is given a forward concerto-style balance, but here Mr. Takagi was very much “first amongst equals”. As well as soaring solo flights, Chausson has the violin often blending with the quartet, occasionally dueting with individuals, but most frequently engaged in passionate competition or collaboration with the piano; indeed much of the work proceeds like a huge sonata for violin and piano, with the quartet in the background functioning a little like a Greek chorus, commenting or reflecting upon the foreground action.

Most impressive perhaps, in a performance full of memorable moments, was the tragic climax of the great slow movement, underpinned by a quite remarkably savage tremolando from the ‘cellist, Jaani Helander. To single him out without mentioning his colleagues, violinists Conrad Chow and Noco Kawamura, as well as, of course, Messrs. Takagi, Giacopuzzi and Hernandez, would however be invidious. The whole performance was utterly cogent and inspiring, and once again demonstrated iPalpiti’s triumphant achievement of its aims. 

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Rolling Hills United Methodist Church, Tuesday, July 25 2017, 7.30 p.m.
Bing Theater, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, July 30, 2017, 6 p.m.
Photos. iPalpiti and Eduard Schmieder: Dana Ross, courtesy LA Times; Ernest Chausson and Johan Halvorsen: Wikimedia Commons.
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