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Pass Over
Montclair Orchestra performs on Friday, Jan. 31. COURTESY DAVID DEBENEDICTIS

By WILLIAM AMORY
For Montclair Local

The Montclair Orchestra’s sold-out concert of concerti on Friday, Jan.31, at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church was at turns both joyous and raucous. But the audience was also treated to a saunter through the cool of a Stravinsky ballet, allowing the attentive audience to appreciate the heat in the concertos of the composers Bach and Schnittke all the more.

The concert opened with J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg “Concerto Number 2.” The string and wind ensemble stood, which gave the players more opportunities for communication among themselves. The playing itself was extra-vibrant, and the interplay of the various instruments was alive and evolving throughout the three movements of the piece. One theme that passed from first violin, to second violin, to viola, etc., from left to right across

the stage was particularly entrancing to hear — and to see its travel from one musician to the next. Played in the reverberant space in the church, the trumpet overwhelmed the string sound from time to time.  The oboe part fared better; it was beautifully played by John Upton and enhanced the texture of the strings. Yevgeny Faniuk’s flute part was beautiful as well.

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The second piece on Maestro David Chan’s travels through different ideas of concertos was Alfred Schnittke’s “Concerto Grosso Number 1.” Chan graced us with a little preparatory talk: in the Schnittke work, he said, there would be quotes of famous musical works. The piano was required to be “prepared” beforehand with nickels placed between some of the strings, and also would be amplified. “Hang on to your hats!” 

These were words to the wise, as the audience was treated to an extremely high-energy recreation of a full Schnittke musical world, in which nursery-like tunes came next to music of Vivaldi; and extremely dissonant, very loud call-and-response alternated between the two solo violinists and the rest of the ensemble. Just when one might have thought, “well, that’s enough,” along came a tango, surprisingly unsurprising in this complete, fascinating sonic world. Dnaiel Khalikov and Quan Yuan, bravura solo violinists in this work, performed with extraordinary sensitivity both in the pyrotechnical moments, as well as in the quieter ones.

After the intermission came Stravinsky’s “Apollon Musagète,” his ballet about Apollo, the Greek god of music. Its palette included cool, detached expressions of form, structure. Chan told the audience that this was one of his favorite scores, and he drew beautiful playing from his ensemble. Placed on a program with Bach and Schnittke, the piece was surely experienced by some in the audience as a sweet respite, particularly after the extremely high-energy Schnittke; however, to this reviewer, the Stravinsky as a work is too pallid to be fully involving, with the sonorities of Bach and Schnittke having left their dynamic imprint on the ear.

The arching lines were supported by more jagged sonorities, and the lilting dance rhythm in the second movement was quietly joyful. Also impressive was the organic way the players leaned into dissonances. In a nice recall of Schnittke’s use of a tango, the Stravinsky includes some Stravinsky-Esque jazz. 

For the final piece on the program, Chan and his ensemble played Bach’s Brandenburg “Concerto Number 3. Chan told the audience that there are only two chords for the middle movement, so he was interpolating the middle movement of Bach’s “Trio Sonata in G Major in between the two complete movements that exist. The first movement was striking in how much the musicians were palpably listening and reacting to each others’ playing: eyes were on each others’ bows, and the players’ body language of phrasing and attack were clearly taken in by their colleagues. The texture of the interpolated movement was quite a bit less dense than the rest of the concerto, so there was a bit of a lull in the overall energy in the middle movement.  Violist Dov Scheindlin played with a beautiful tone.

In his remarks to the audience, Chan made reference to composers who came along after the Romantic period as reacting against “romantic excess,” which can be a true-enough statement.  But for this reviewer, we might use the word “excess” as in, Bach’s “baroque excess,” and Schnittke’s “modern excess:” each could express a positive attribute of each composer: that these composers’ world-size realms of imagination run to extremes, and are expressed through their extremely involving music.   

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