The New World Symphony’s first chamber concert of the season was titled “Viennese Decadence,” tracing the city’s musical path from the classicism of Schubert to the limits of tonality and beyond, with a final burst of romantic excess.
Guest pianist Orion Weiss was originally scheduled to play only a single score on Sunday afternoon. But the audience at New World Center got an extra dose of his accomplished artistry when he joined violinist Sarah Peters in Schubert’s Sonatina in D Major, replacing one of her New World colleagues.
Peters took some time to warm up, the graceful melodies of the opening Allegro molto assayed in a slightly too careful manner. With Weiss’ thoroughly idiomatic playing, Peters evidenced greater warmth in the lovely Andante with adept tonal contrasts in the central section. She captured the wit of the quirky melodic figure that runs through the Allegro vivace finale with Weiss in command of every nuance of Schubert’s piano writing.
A more radical shift from the classicism of Schubert to the sound world of Anton Webern’s Five Movements for String Quartet could hardly be imagined. The 1909 score is quintessential Webern — concise, tersely atonal, at times high strung. The second movement is cast in elegiac tones, the sonorities strikingly original. Violinists Michael McCarthy and Yuping Zhou, violist Catherine Gilbert and cellist Ashton Lim offered a well-articulated reading. The agitated final movement was played with particular brilliance.
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Although Webern’s mentor Arnold Schoenberg was not the first to write atonal music, his 12 Tone scores and theories influenced generations of composers. Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1 in F Major is the final work he created before taking the plunge into a new musical ethos. Even here, the music adheres to a tonal center precariously. The symphony is almost neo-Classical, bursting with energy and brief thematic threads.
This score is extremely difficult to perform successfully. Credit 15 New World players under the direction of Kazem Abdullah for an outstanding reading that brought forth the work’s high-spirited vigor and pointed blending of timbres.
Abdullah, a former New World clarinet fellow, studied conducting with James Levine and was an assistant conductor at the Metropolitan Opera. Presently general music director of the city of Aachen, Germany, Abdullah emphasized the score’s bustling figures and brought clarity to the boisterous instrumentation. Among the outstanding players, the rich tonal sonority of violist Hannah Nicolas and the finely etched solos of violinist Dima Dimitrova deserve special mention. Priscilla Rinehart and Anthony Delivanis brought clarion heft to the difficult horn parts.
Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Suite for two violins, cello and piano left hand was commissioned by Paul Wittgenstein, the pianist who lost his right arm during World War I and who was responsible for Ravel’s famous Piano Concerto for Left Hand.
Korngold’s 1930 score is unabashedly romantic and filled with inspired melodies. The sheer bravura of Weiss’ opening solo recitative was striking with the strings giving full force to a creepy, off-kilter fugue. Julia Noone’s violin tone was dipped in Viennese schmaltz for the faux wistful nostalgia of the second movement waltz.
Weiss’ cascading chords and the strings’ brusque articulation in the aptly named Grotesque section suggested a world about to implode. In the Lied movement, the glowing tone and astute blend of violinists Noone and Nathaniel Wolkstein and cellist Kevin Kunkel was almost vocal in communicative intimacy. In the theme and variations, the final pile up of sonorities at top speed formed a breathless conclusion to a stimulating program.
The New World Symphony chamber music series continues at 2 p.m. Nov. 15 at the New World Center in Miami Beach. The program features the Johann Strauss-Schoenberg Roses from the South, and Brahms’ Horn Trio and Clarinet Quintet with Alexander Fiterstein. nws.edu; 305-673-3331.