Geneva-born Frank Martin (1890-1974) with Julian Bream, left

Friday, April 14, 2023

Neidorff-Karpati Hall, Manhattan School of Music, New York City

Turning on a sixpence from conducting the Missa solemnis in Warsaw,, and, courtesy of Naxos, marking Rachmaninov 150 with a splendid set of the Symphonies,, Leonard Slatkin’s latest visit to the Manhattan School of Music included a work that has fallen off the radar somewhat, a pity. The Concerto pour sept instruments à vent, timbales, batterie et orchestre à cordes (1949) by Frank Martin, which might be likened to a twentieth-century Brandenburg Concerto, is an inventive piece showcasing seven wind instruments, from flute to trombone, and timpani, using concise and rigorous musical language that enshrines direct melodic appeal and intriguing incident, in the mould of neoclassicism with some passages reminding of Kurt Weill’s Second Symphony (1934). It was given a fine outing by the MSM wind soloists and timpanist, and their strings/percussion classmates, pugnacious in the outer movements, the Finale including a march, and shapely/emotionally intense in the aria-like central one, music of melancholy, maybe a post-war tinge.

Opening the concert, Cindy McTee’s Timepiece, composed for the centenary of the Dallas Symphony (2000, Andrew Litton led the premiere) made for a brilliant opener, music with a whimsical call-sign and of initial exploration before virtuoso ticktock rhythms and tempus fugit drive take over, Roadrunner-style (to my mind there’s a cartoon element present). Timepiece is also playable in a wind-band transcription (see below). For this performance Slatkin returned Timepiece to the orchestra, the students responding with precision and enthusiasm for eight exhilarating and colourful minutes. If Timepiece isn’t recorded in its original guise, it should be.

Slatkin’s St Louis recording of The Rite is among the best (coupled with Ginastera’s final music, Popol Vuh – intended for Philadelphia and Ormandy if premiering in St Louis – and some creative/chaotic Haydn). Meanwhile, back at the MSM, opening with a notably secure bassoon solo from a young lady (who wasn’t involved in the Martin) this was a Rite that was more about Pagan Russia and spectacular seasonal change than glib let’s-play-it-fast showmanship. Unfazed by difficulties, a few wobbles aside, the kids responded totally to Slatkin’s measured but never careful approach, one that registered the momentous thaw into Spring, the folksong aspects, the mysterious quietude that opens Part Two, and from there built towards a ‘Sacrificial Dance’ that became increasingly delirious, ending with an unanimous final chord as the maiden drops to the ground, D-E-A-D.

First movement (from complete recording); Suisse Romande Orchestra.

First movement (from complete recording).

Complete performance, conducted by Neeme Järvi on October 18, 2019.
Sarah Rumer, flûte; Jérôme Capeille, oboe; Dmitry Rasul-Kareyev, clarinette; Afonso Venturieri, bassoon; Jean-Pierre Berry, horn; Olivier Bombrun, trumpet; Matteo De Luca, trombone; Olivier Perrenoud, timpani.