Pianist Lucy Faridany & Conductor John Anderson
Ensemble Monterey started off its new season with a bang last night at St. Philip’s Lutheran Church in Carmel Valley. It was a winning combination of some of the Monterey Peninsula’s finest musicians, an extraordinarily well chosen program, a premiere by composer John Wineglass, and an elegant concerto performance by pianist Lucy Faridany.
We always have to admire the accomplishments of Artistic Director and Conductor, Dr. John Anderson. He has consistently presented programs of the highest artistic order, often with limited budgets and resources, but always with uncompromising devotion to the music his ensemble performs.
Leading off the evening we heard the premiere of a new work by composer John Wineglass, “Changing of Seasons, for String Orchestra.” This nine-minute work, consisting of four movements — Fugue, Rondo, Romance & Scherzo — at various times paid homage to the Italian Baroque, romantic melodies, an Irish jig, and in general entertained us with charm, skillful writing for strings and a masterful capacity for manipulating and combining diverse styles to produce a beautifully effective piece of music. Wineglass, incidentally, was wearing another hat on this occasion, for he was playing viola in the orchestra. He very graciously received generous accolades and a bouquet of flowers at the conclusion of his work. It was well deserved.
Another contemporary work was heard on the evening’s program — Suite for Strings by John Rutter. This was a charming and effective arrangement of a group of English folk songs (although the original songs were totally unfamiliar to me), and once again we heard beautiful writing for strings that showed off the high artistic level of Ensemble Monterey’s fine musicians. It was a lovely performance.
One of the highlights of the evening’s program was an opportunity to hear pianist Lucy Faridany performing Haydn’s Piano Concerto in D Major, Hob. XVIII/11. My first thought on seeing an old baby grand Hardman piano being rolled out for the performance was that this was going to be difficult for Ms. Faridany — sort of like playing a round of golf at Cypress Point with your great grandfather’s aged and warped wooden clubs. Throughout the introductory orchestra tutti I waited with apprehension for the first entry of the piano, expecting to hear tinkly, unpleasant sounds coming from the belly of the beast. I was astonished to discover that whatever shortcomings the instrument might have had, Faridany found a way to make such beautiful music that I instantly thought I was hearing a first class piano.
Faridany gave us a stylistic and sparkling performance that was full of elegance, charm and total mastery. Beautifully articulated passages, elegantly shaped phrases, lovely cantabile melodies, excellent control of dynamics, and a natural sincerity (with never an extraneous gesture or gratuitous technical display) were the hallmarks of her performance. This was an artistic and very satisfying performance.
The most ambitious work on the program was Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony Op. 100a. Although I was familiar with the original form of this work, his String Quartet No. 8 in C Minor, this arrangement for strings was new to me. It was a blockbuster and a tour de force in an astonishingly fine performance by the musicians of Ensemble Monterey. Shostakovich’s son Maxim has related that he only saw his father weep uncontrollably on two occasions — on the death of his wife and when in 1960 he was forced to join the Communist Party. This work comes from that period of shame and humiliation while Shostakovich was in Dresden working on the soundtrack for a film commemorating the catastrophic firebombing of the city at the end of World War II.
This is an all-encompassing work that embodies a deep sense of tragedy with somber melodies and violent displays of Shostakovich’s indomitable will determined to overcome anguish and despair. We heard a powerful and moving performance, one we would like to hear over and over again.
The next performance by Ensemble Monterey will be in November at St. Philip’s on November 7 and the following day at Peace United Church in Santa Cruz