Where Sheep Safely Graze, The Sebastians Follow

06/11/2012

 Haydn, Mozart, C.P.E. Bach: Paul Wonjin Cho (clarinet), The Sebastians, The Liederkranz Club, New York City. 20.10.2012 (AS)

C.P.E. Bach: Symphony in E minor, Wq 178
Mozart: Clarinet Concerto in A major, K. 622
Haydn: Symphony No. 79 in F
Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, KV. 550

Rumors of classical music’s death have been greatly exaggerated, as Mark Twain might have commented, had he attended Classical Portraits, a concert featuring the young period instrument orchestra The Sebastians at New York’s Liederkranz Club. The sold-out performance was the second offering in the fourth season of the Salon/Sanctuary concert series, productions that have rapidly become a favorite destination of New York’s early music crowd.

In the intimate second-floor space at Liederkranz—a club dedicated to German musical culture where chandeliers hang, drapes of Prussian blue festoon the stately windows, and a few individual portraits and landscapes of sheep safely grazing line the walls—the 21 musicians treated their audience to a feast of C.P.E. Bach, Haydn, and Mozart. The two fine violinists Daniel Lee and Alexander Woods took turns leading the pack, both with a reassuring sense of relaxed command.

What is considered a contemporary sound can change in every era, and works that were revolutionary a couple of centuries ago can be perceived as staid and unimaginative when mishandled by leviathan orchestras. At the same time, familiar masterpieces of the Classical canon performed in informed style on historical instruments can seem positively revolutionary to modern listeners, as textures previously obscured by heavy vibrato suddenly attain crystalline clarity in the hands of skilled period instrument players.

The Sebastians took us on a delightful journey, one in which lucid, subtle playing left space for the emotion and wit that Haydn expressed in his Symphony No. 79 in F. The strings and woodwinds engaged in a lively discussion throughout, at times chatty and light-hearted, but veering toward stately thoughts and eloquent silences, notably in the beginning of the second movement (Adagio cantabile).

Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A featured the superb clarinetist Paul Wonjin Cho, who played with fleet virtuosity and soulful, communicative phrasing. Hearing him play, it was easy to imagine the excitement Mozart must have felt in writing this piece for his good friend, the virtuoso Anton Stadler, a member of the Viennese imperial court orchestra. Authentic and reproduction instruments can be notoriously testy, subject to vagaries of humidity and climate that can wreak havoc with tuning and clarity. That the Indian-summer evening seemed to challenge Cho for mere nanoseconds here and there is testament not only to his individual talent, but to the promise held by the new crop of younger practitioners of early music in New York.

The Classical Portraits concert would not have been complete, of course, without an image of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, a far more famous Bach in his day than his father. CPE Bach influenced Mozart and Haydn and generations of composers after, by advocating for—and writing—music to reflect human emotions and passions. The Sebastians played his subversive Symphony in E minor with humor, warmth and drama—it was subversive music in 1756, and apparently convention can still be stood on its head in 2012.

By the end of the program—Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor—the audience had been thoroughly seduced by the ensemble’s deft balance of firebrand playing and classical elegance. These are no staid, hidebound formalists—they’re the mediums through which the new music of the past is brought into the present. They, as well as the upcoming concerts of the Salon/Sanctuary season, are not to be missed.

Alexandra Simon

Alexandra Simon is a freelance writer living in New York.

Comments

Comments are closed.

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! 2019 BBC Proms 19 July – 14 September __________________________________
  • NEW! Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Zurich Opera House in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! English National Opera in 2019-2020 __________________________________
  • NEW! Leeds Lieder Announces 2019 Art-Song Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! Adrian Partington Introduces the 2019 Three Choirs Festival in Conversation with John Quinn __________________________________
  • NEW! ENB in 2019-2020 and Updates on their New London City Island Home __________________________________
  • NEW! Let’s Dance International Frontiers 29 April – 11 May 2019 in Leicester __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music and Other Events at the Southbank Centre in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Longborough Festival Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Cleveland Orchestra in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Classical Music at the Barbican in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2019-20 __________________________________
  • NEW! Carnegie Hall 2019-2020 Season Highlights __________________________________
  • NEW! Bampton Classical Opera’s 2019 Performances of Stephen Storace’s Gli sposi malcontenti __________________________________
  • NEW! Nevill Holt Opera’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! 2019 Aldeburgh Festival and Snape Proms in June and August __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! Chelsea Opera Group Perform Anton Rubinstein’s The Demon on 30 June __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR PIETARI INKINEN IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! When Music is Indistinguishable from Drama by Jack Buckley __________________________________
  • NEW! CONDUCTOR MAXIM EMELYANYCHEV IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! In August Fulham Opera’s Most Ambitious Project to Date – Die Meistersinger Von Nürnberg __________________________________
  • R.I.P. IN MEMORIAM ANDRÉ PREVIN (1929-2019) __________________________________
  • NEW! CHRISTOPHE ROUSSET IN CONVERSATION WITH COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! PIANIST MARC-ANDRÉ HAMELIN IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • CONDUCTOR ÁDÁM FISCHER IN CONVERSATION WITH MICHAEL COOKSON __________________________________
  • SOPRANO ELENA MOȘUC IN CONVERSATION WITH CASEY CREEL __________________________________
  • MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month