Three Novelties, One of Them a Palpable Hit

United StatesUnited States Di Vittorio, Mendelssohn, Brossé, DiBeradino, and Mozart: Lana Trotovsek (violin) Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, Dirk Brossé (conductor), Perelman Theater, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia, 16.5.2016. (BJ)

Di Vittorio: Venus and Adonis (world premiere)
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto No. 2 in E minor, Op. 64
Brossé: Echoes of Silent Voices (American premiere)
DiBerardino: To the Colors (world premiere)
Mozart: Symphony No. 35 in D major, K. 385, “Haffner”

The concluding program in the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia’s 2015-2016 season included two world premieres.

Salvatore Di Vittorio, who was born in Palermo in 1967 and now divides his time between that city and New York, tells us in his program note that Venus and Adonis “was originally conceived as the second movement of Sinfonia N. 4 Metamorfosi,” which drew inspiration from Italian paintings related to specific stories in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. I am inclined to think that the piece might well be more effective if heard providing contrast between other presumably more active stretches of music; as a freestanding pavane playing for 15 minutes or so, it seemed rather repetitive and static, though the orchestral sonorities were agreeable enough.

To the Colors, by Nick DiBerardino, is shorter and decidedly busier. Here again, an isolated hearing provided little clue to what kind of composer the 27-year-old native of Westport, Connecticut, may be. But in its somewhat brash manner the piece is skillfully enough scored, and it did not overstay its welcome.

World premieres in themselves always deserve to be welcomed—but in this program it was the merely American premiere that made the most rewarding listening. Dirk Brossé, the COP’s Belgian music director, composed Echoes of Silent Voices in 2010 for the Belgian violinist Leonard Schreiber, with whom, and with the London Symphony Orchestra, he has recorded it for the Highgate Music label. The work was written, Brossé explains in his program note, after Schreiber had told him about his grandparents, who had survived the horrors of the Second World War and their concentration camps, but later perished—before Schreiber was born—in a tragic car accident. “Deeply moved by this retelling,” Brossé relates, “I felt compelled to compose something,” and having done so he dedicated the work “to the victims of the Holocaust and to all people who are sufferng from war, hatred, and racism.”

Echoes of Silent Voices proved to be fully worthy of its self-evidently large subject. The piece took its concertante character from a dream in which, Brossé tells us, “Voices, male and female, young and old, emerged. Long forgotten, ignored, silenced, and exploited, these spirit-sounds shared their colors. Putting pen to stave, I sought to capture their essence, their message, and I realized that only through the voice of a violin could these echoes be heard.”

The result clearly spoke compellingly to the Slovenian-born soloist, Lana Trotovsek, for she achieved a performance of poignant eloquence, happily effacing the rather characterless impression left by her performance of Mendelssohn’s E-minor Concerto before intermission. The Mendelssohn, its first movement taken at an easy-going tempo that hardly measured up to its “Allegro molto appassionato” marking, drew some pleasantly lyrical playing from her in its quieter moments, but suffered from a pervasive lack of sheer heft, and also from intonation that was not always precisely accurate. In the Brossé, it was as if we were hearing a completely different violinist, with a cleanly focused technique, a warmly expressive tone, and a gift for strongly shaped line and propulsive rhythm.

In contrast to the relatively undifferentiated instrumental blend of the Di Vittorio piece earlier in the evening, Brossé’s score presented vividly imagined lines that seemed to exfoliate one from another in a fresh and consistently stimulating way. Altogether Echoes of Silent Voices seemed to me—and clearly to an attentive and enthusiastic audience—a thoroughly worthwhile piece, and I think it is by some margin the most impressive of the always well-written works of his heard over the past few seasons.

After all the novelties, the orchestra ended the proceedings with Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony. The playing was as crisply alert as it has been all season, and Brossé conducted with intelligence and aplomb. This may not have been in every respect a perfect evening of music, but it was an unfailingly thought-provoking and thus satisfying one.

Bernard Jacobson


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