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Danish String Quartet, Yo-Yo Ma delight audiences

Danish String Quartet, Yo-Yo Ma delight audiences

Well-attended shows at Spa Little Theatre, SPAC
Danish String Quartet, Yo-Yo Ma delight audiences
The Danish String Quartet.
Photographer: Provided

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center presented its second concert of the summer Tuesday night at the Spa Little Theatre before a near-capacity crowd. It was also the second concert with the Danish String Quartet, which was making its SPAC debut.

Most of the works were from the early stages of the composers’ careers. Pianists Wu Han and Finnish pianist Juho Pohjonen performed  two of Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dances, Op. 46” (1878) that were from his first works published and two that he wrote from his Op. 72 of 1886. The early ones had pretty melodies and a nice sway but the later ones showed how skilled Dvorak had become with more complex harmonies and more interactive lines. Op. 72, No. 2 in E minor is quite famous for its gorgeous bittersweet melody. The pianists worked well together feeling each other out for dynamic levels and phrasing.

Jean Sibelius’ “Suite in A Major” with violinist Rune Tonsgaard Sorensen, violist Asbjorn Norgaard – both of the Danish Quartet -- and Swedish cellist Jakob Koranyi was a late student work but still quite a good piece. After a busy first movement, the second had a pretty, piquant melody and the third was a sweet dance. The players gave strong statements.

Danish cellist Fredrik Schoyen Sjolin and violinist Frederik Oland with their colleagues performed Bartok’s angular, hard-edged Quartet No. 1 with plenty of grit, intensity, seamless phrases, and precision. Pohjonen then joined them to perform Brahms’ meaty Quintet in F minor, Op.34. Tempos were traditional, balances and ensemble were excellent. Pohjonen was forthright and everyone was exuberant.

The next concert is at 3 p.m. Sunday, “In the Spirit of Beethoven.”

On Wednesday, a huge crowd came to hear famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma play Dvorak’s masterful Concerto in B minor (1894). But first guest conductor Marin Alsop led a fabulous sounding Philadelphia Orchestra through John Adams’ “Short Ride in a Fast Machine” (1986) and Samuel Barber’s Symphony No. 1 (1935). 

The Adams was a jaunty, colorful, pulsing, wild adventure up and down hill with repeated rhythmic motifs, multi-meters and lots of brass and percussion. The Barber, which he wrote when he was 25, had at least three sections separated only by about a bar of silence. Harmonies were dark and the thick orchestration had a lot happening. The first segment was expansive with big sounds, soaring strings and lots of color; the second was faster with tricky woodwind passages and a lot of drive; the third had gorgeous melodies that reached to the horizon with woodwind solos over dreamy strings. Alsop conducted with great intensity, precision. The applause was long.

Ma came out to great cheers and waved to the crowd. While the orchestra played the long introduction, he looked around and watched the players, often smiling, but when it came time to play, he was focused and intense and gave his all.

Every performance for Ma is a portal to a world of discovery, which made his playing sound fresh despite that he’s played the work many, many times. Every note was in place, every melody was given strong phrases. Alsop kept an eye to balances and allowed him freedom to roam. His tone was mellow and warm.

The crowd leaped to its feet but despite numerous curtain calls, hugs to everyone and kisses to the crowd, there was no encore.

The concert Friday features Chris Deviney’s Concerto for vibes and marimba with Bramwell Tovey conducting. Saturday is “Raiders of the Lost Ark” film.

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