Cindy McTee & Leonard Slatkin

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Sosnoff Theater @ Bard College’s Fisher Center, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Leonard Slatkin has orchestrated seven of Brahms’s pieces, of piano, chamber or vocal provenance, as he outlines here:

  1. Capriccio in D Minor, Op. 116, No. 1 for Orchestra
  2. Intermezzo in E-flat Major, Op. 117, No. 1 for Wind Ensemble
  3. Vineta, Op. 42, No. 2 for String Orchestra
  4. Theme and Variations, Op. 18b for Wind Ensemble and Harp
  5. Andante from Piano Quartet No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 60 for Orchestra
  6. Rhapsody in E-flat Major, Op. 119, No. 4 for Orchestra
  7. Wiegenlied (Lullaby), Op. 49, No. 4 for Orchestra

The first two and No.6 are from three of Brahms’s late collections for piano; Opus 42/2 is an a cappella number; the ‘Theme and Variations’ is the second movement of the B-flat String Sextet, although Opus 18b is Brahms’s transcription of it for piano; No.5 speaks for itself as to its origin; and Wiegenlied is voice and piano.

Scored with imagination and respect, Brahmsiana works a treat over its forty minutes, not least the woodwind colours of the heartfelt E-flat Intermezzo, Opus 117/1, while Vineta is persuasively removed from chorus in exchange for strings. Dark-timbred winds (including ear-catching use of trombones) prove a good switch for the Theme and Variations, whether the model was sextet or piano, or both, and the Piano Quartet movement retains its intimacy through solo lines, not least a cello, if not exclusively strings. Rather than sign-off with the E-flat Rhapsody, Opus 119/4, it would make a big finish and is symphonically scored, the sequence ends with a lullaby, chimed-in by harp: gentle music, a sentimental bedtime story told with a flickering coal-fire as backdrop.  

The concert opened with Cindy McTee’s scintillating Circuits (1990, revised), five minutes of fast-paced electricity, and closed with Mussorgsky’s pianistic Pictures at an Exhibition as orchestrated by Ravel and edited by Slatkin, as he explains here: In both, some rough edges aside, the talented students of The Orchestra Now rose to the occasion (and were sensitive to the needs of Slatkin’s various takes on Brahms) vividly displaying Viktor Hartmann’s objets d’art as memorialised in music by Mussorgsky, ending with a sonorous ‘Great Gate of Kiev’.

For an encore, Carmen’s Hoedown, in which Georges Bizet’s famous operatic melodies meet the square dance brilliance of Felix Slatkin (Leonard’s father), a humdinger of a piece ensues.

Concert played again here (not livestreamed):