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S & H International Concert Review

Dallapiccola & Nono: Concert Chorale of New York, James Bagwell, Director, American Symphony Orchestra, Leon Botstein, conductor,Avery Fisher Hall, September 28, 2003 (BH)


 

Dallapiccola: Canti di prigionia, Canti di liberazione
Nono: Epitaffio No. 1 -- España en el corazón, Epitaffio No. 2 -- Y su sangre ya viene cantando, Epitaffio No. 3 -- Memento
Rachel Rosales, Soprano
Rodrigo Gomez, Baritone
Laura Conwesser, Flute
Désirée Halac-Martinoli, Spoken voice

 

For those frightened of the names Dallapiccola and Nono, the intrepid wilderness guide Leon Botstein showed that some of their work, although seldom-performed here in the U.S., is not only gorgeous to listen to, but has all-too-timely content. In a concert titled "The Artist’s Conscience," Botstein presented works that (from his excellent notes), "affirm the possibility of each of us to stand up against uniformity, passivity, the absence of liberty, and intolerance imposed not only from above, but from our fellow citizens."

Scored lightly, for chorus, two pianos, percussion and two harps, the Dallapiccola Canti di prigionero (Songs of imprisonment) sounds surprisingly almost like Strauss or Mahler, despite the work’s twelve-tone origins. With texts by Maria Stuarda, Boezio and Savonarola, its three sections are linked with the mournful dies irae chant, in this case passed around from instrument to instrument. The livelier "Songs of liberation" use texts by Sebastian Castellio, Augustine, and the Bible’s book of Exodus. The latter text was especially effective, requiring the chorus and orchestra to produce a series of towering, crashing fortissimo chords for "the Lord is a man of war."

Following the relative luxuriousness of the Dallapiccola works, the three Nono Epitaffi (again, rarely performed) combined a Webern-like spareness with some heady snare drum outbursts. In the first, "España en el corazón", singers Rachel Rosales and Rodrigo Gomez seemed to relish the vivid Garcia Lorca texts. In the second, "Y su sangre ya viene cantando," the composer deployed a flute soloist (in this case, the excellent Laura Conwesser). In the final "Memento" Désirée Halac-Martinoli’s piercing stare was perfect for Garcia Lorca’s description of the Spanish civil guard, "hunchbacked and nocturnal wherever they move, they command silences of dark rubber and fears of fine sand."

Sensitively prepared by James Bagwell and sounding marvelously alert, the chorus did an especially outstanding job with Nono’s half-spoken sprechtstimme passages (including some lovely whispered portions). But the entire afternoon was marked by complete commitment, with the group responding with fervor to this unusual program. Every measure sprang to life. The orchestra, too, sounded completely immersed in these unusual scores, with particular praise for the percussion players.

The afternoon was shepherded by the tireless Botstein, who in his spare moments also serves as the President of Bard College.

Although he conducts reasonably well, his overwhelming strength is his instinct for intelligent programming. One look at the ASO’s current season (http://www.americansymphony.org/) shows a raft of unknown, underplayed and imaginatively paired repertoire. Does anyone program Hindemith’s operas any more? As I said to a friend afterward, the slightly sober reality is that we may never hear anything on this program again -- in a concert hall, that is. It is not too early in the musical season, and no exaggeration, to ponder that this inspiringly unconventional concert will be later recalled as one of the year’s highlights.

 

Bruce Hodges

 

 


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