United States Vivaldi, Mozart: Manhattan Symphonie, Gregory Singer (conductor, violin), Mark Peskanov (violin), Gregory Durozel (violin), Kyungha Ko (violin), Alexander Mishnaevski (viola), Bargemusic, Fulton Ferry Landing, Brooklyn, New York, 1.8.2015 (SSM)
Vivaldi: Concerto for 4 Violins and Orchestra in B minor, RV. 580
Mozart: Concerto for Violin and Orchestra No. 3 in G major, K. 216
Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, K. 364
If there was ever an unusual venue for a concert, it must be the barge floating in the East River in the shadows of the Brooklyn Bridge. Moored to the dock, it seems to be a spruced-up version of the working barges that go up and down the river separating Brooklyn from Manhattan. It did have a more genteel history, carrying as it did bags of coffee to Lake Erie, which were then shipped west by rail. Getting to the barge takes you first to a subway station whose only exit is through a small tube that makes you think of Alice’s rabbit hole, but going up and out, instead of down and in. The walk to the concert hall from the station goes through an area called “Dumbo,” not named after Walt Disney’s cartoon but an acronym of “Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass.” The barge is docked by the Brooklyn Bridge Park, which on this weekend evening was filled with families seeking to cool off and lining up for pizza and ice cream.
The sign on the gangplank suggested that the concert-goer hold tightly to the railing, as it is known to sway in bad weather. Inside the barge is a perfectly respectable concert hall holding about 220. The walls are acoustically tiled and somewhat soundproof, a necessity in a public park, but they couldn’t completely block the beat from woofers outside. It was disturbing to everyone except the musicians — well inured, I’m sure, to extraneous sounds. The river was calm this night, but like on an airplane, pockets of disturbance occur unexpectedly, and river currents occasionally rocked the boat.
I was attracted to the performance by all three concerti, but especially by the Sinfonia Concertante. Not that this work is never played, but to my mind, it is never played enough. A friend and ex-pianist in his 80s, who lived in London and was an avid concert-goer, asked me if I had ever heard this piece, since he had recently heard it for the first time. I immediately bought him my favorite recording with George Szell and soloists of the Cleveland Orchestra. I couldn’t imagine him leaving this earth without having become familiar with it.
The overall sound of the smallish orchestra was thin, but this was a minor sacrifice compared to what was gained by the clarity given to the solo lines. It was key here for the soloists to provide the exuberance and richness that is usually provided by a larger orchestra. Both Mark Peskanov and Alexander Mishnaevski did just that, exuding tremendous warmth when needed, and passion in the heartfelt second movement (an amazing show of maturity for the-23 year-old composer). In those instances where there is a back and forth between the two instruments, like a handing off of the baton to the next runner in a relay race, it must be done, and was done, seamlessly. The listener should not hear any transitions at these moments, should not be aware of the point where the two instruments meet and the second takes over.
It takes a brave musician to tackle some of Vivaldi’s virtuoso violin concerti. Add three more soloists, as in the Concerto for 4 Violins, and you have four times as many chances of making a mistake. There might have been some slight slips in intonation, and the Allegro Vivace tempo may have been intentionally slowed so that all the soloists were able to play at the same speed, but it would seem that Vivaldi himself had done something similar. A count of the measures in the first movement allocated to each violin goes from 29 for the first to 22 for the second, 17 for the third and 12 for the fourth. The second movement is an odd mix of chords similar to the transition between the first and last movement of Bach’s Third Brandenburg; and a series of repeated phrases varies very slightly harmonically, as Philip Glass would do ad nauseum 250 years later.
Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 is the first of the great concerti he wrote for the violin in the autumn of 1775 at the age of 18. Peskanov played it effortlessly here, conversing with the four non-string instruments: two oboes and two horns. The cadenza that Peskanov used had elements of lightheartedness and humor, unlike the rather stodgy ones by Ysaye and Kriesler. The second movement is all sweetness and light and leads to the rambunctious presto finale. The coda ends the work on the quietest of notes, repeating an early cadence which leads the listener to expect a reentry by the violin. This surprising ending may not work as effectively as Haydn’s more demonstrative ending of his “Farewell” Symphony, but it confused so many in the audience that Peskanov had to gesture that the concert was, indeed, over.