United States Vaughan Williams, Schumann, Warlock, Purcell, Max Richter: New Century Chamber Orchestra / Daniel Hope (concertmaster), Wilsey Center for the Arts, San Francisco. 9.2.2019. (HS)
Vaughan Williams — Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis
Schumann — 2nd movement from the Violin Concerto (arr. Britten)
Warlock — Capriol Suite
Purcell — Chacony in G minor (arr. Britten)
Max Richter — Recomposed: Vivaldi-The Four Seasons
Daniel Hope made quite the first impression in his first performances as concertmaster of the New Century Chamber Orchestra, the conductorless ensemble most recently led by Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. The delicious program, heard Saturday in the third of four performances scattered around the Bay Area, featured the British violinist in a collection of pieces ‘recomposed’ centuries after the originals.
The poster child for this idea is Max Richter, the minimalist composer whose highly personal, contemporary take on Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, capped the evening. The ensemble also included a couple of lightly tweaked Britten arrangements of Baroque and Romantic works, and a rejiggered Renaissance-era dance suite by the all-but-forgotten Peter Warlock.
Although Richter’s Recomposed: Vivaldi-The Four Seasons follows Vivaldi’s form and uses many of the original’s themes, Richter uses them as springboards for his own ideas, including such minimalist tropes as extended ostinatos and shifts in meter that freshen his mentor’s rhythms. Richter’s love for Vivaldi’s familiar work shines through; he just wants to goose some extra fun out of it.
And fun it is, as when the Presto finale of ‘Summer’ skids off into the occasional seven-beat measure, or the original repeated rhythm of the opening Allegro of ‘Autumn’ sprouts modernist overtones. On Hope’s part, the violinist not only gave a dynamic and rhythmically lively reading, but he encouraged satisfying coherence from the ensemble. The piece was written for Hope (who recorded it in 2012), and made a great calling card for the violinist, introducing him as the group’s leader.
The opener introduced the ‘recomposed’ idea perfectly. Ralph Vaughn Williams, who has written and edited an enormous portion of hymns and other music for the Anglican church, reimagined the sonic and harmonic possibilities in the sacred works of a Renaissance-era forebear with Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis. Combining glow and a gentle thrust, the 18-piece ensemble lifted the now-familiar score close to the sublime.
Hope likes to chat amiably with audiences, charming them with stories about the composers and their inspirations. In introducing Britten’s arrangement of the Langsam, the second movement from Schumann’s Violin Concerto, Hope noted that in the concerto (considered lost for decades after it was composed) the movement flowed into the finale without pause, so it needed a conclusion. (Britten’s revision also includes several additional measures for Yehudi Menuhin, who played the work at a memorial service.) Hope’s supple tone, coupled with the ensemble’s quietude, conveyed the score’s sheer beauty.
Peter Warlock, the composer pseudonym of an early 20th-century figure better known as a music critic and academic, wrote his Capriol Suite in 1926. Although not without charm, this was the lightweight in the lineup. Like Stravinsky, who adapted music he thought was written by Pergolesi for Pulcinella, Warlock injected modern gestures into a book of Renaissance dances. In the final ‘sword dance,’ conventional harmonies finally yielded to 20th-century dissonance.
The Chacony in G minor by Henry Purcell gave Britten a chance to flex his flair for building rich string resonance, and served as a tasty intermezzo before the Vivaldi main event.