superstars: Duo Parnas.
Symphony Orchestra with Duo Parnas
Savings Bank Music Hall, Feb. 26
Although the violin-cello duo of Madalyn and Cicely Parnas
have local roots, theyíre destined for an international career
that could make this area but a memory. Neither is 20; both
have impressive virtuoso chops that theyíve already wielded
to great acclaim as soloists and in chamber music performances.
While theyíre probably destined to travel an endless road
of Brahmsí double concertos, last weekendís Albany Symphony
concerts gave them a reprieve in the form of two shorter,
Saint-SaŽnsís The Muse and the Poet was a late-in-life
piece that began as a piano trio. Unlike his more showy works
like the Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, this goes
in less for virtuosic display. As the composer himself put
it, itís supposed to be ďa conversation between the two instruments
instead of a debate between two virtuosos.Ē
Like much of the composerís work, itís a charming, instantly
forgettable piece that wanders from romantic effulgence into
more sparkling up-tempo turns. Saint-SaŽns knew his way around
the orchestral palette, effectively summoning the solo violinís
first entrance with a harp passage and then wrapping a nice
curtain of winds around the soloistsí serenades. If thereís
any suspense in the music, itís wondering if the cello and
violin will ever get togetheróand of course they do, in time,
working into a feisty finale for the 15-minute piece. With
technique to spare, the effectiveness of the performance was
enhanced by the sistersí keen sense of communication with
Conversation of a different sort informed the performance
of Vivaldiís Concerto in B-flat Major for Violin,
Cello and Orchestra. One of hundreds of that composerís
concertos for single soloists and various combos, it got a
big boost from a 1963 Heifetz-Piatigorsky recording and is
as melodic and cheerful as anything Vivaldi wrote.
Here the soloists are in almost constant dialogue, with one
often echoing the other in a manner requiring rhythmic precision
from all players. Although the two-part writing is somewhat
formulaic, or at least over-familiar, thanks to the unfortunate
easy-listening status of most Baroque music, it was propelled
by an easy flow of little moments of tension.
David Alan Miller conducted the Albany Symphony with a sure
sense of the needs of this piece, keeping the momentum going
while remaining in perfect sync with the soloists. Their only
problem sounded at the beginning of the third movement, when
the brisk tempo got the better of the two for the briefest
of moments. True to professional form, it was instantly behind
them and forgotten.
For all of the lyricism in the Saint-SaŽns piece, Iíll take
the three-minute andante in the Vivaldi, which put the Parnas
sisters in a trio sonata setting with continuo by harpsichordist
Greg Hayes and cellist Susan Libby. Their playing was simple,
transparent, and very moving.
The concert also was a virtuoso piece of programming, preceding
the conversation of Saint-SaŽns with one of musicís more notorious
conversations: Transfigured Night by Arnold Schoenberg.
Represented as an adventurous choice, itís no more adventurous
than playing a Mahler symphony, and itís less than half the
Telling the story of a couple on a nighttime stroll during
which the woman reveals that sheís pregnant by another man,
it begins with agitated melancholy in the low strings, sounding
motifs that will return, not surprisingly, transfigured towards
Originally scored for string sextet, the orchestra performed
the composerís own arrangement for a larger ensemble of stringsóin
this case, 21 fine players who respond to Miller with precision
entrances and an arresting array of dynamic contrasts.
Effects like the muted arpeggios and pizzicato that accompanied
Jill Levyís excellent solo work were outstanding, and even
the seating of the group, with the second violins stage left,
added to the remarkable experience. And Schoenberg-haters
should know that the work has one of the most gorgeous finales
I know, with the composer unabashedly visiting Schubertland
to bring in a happy ending.
Iím not solipsistic enough to think that Miller had me in
mind when he set the dramatic arc of Beethovenís Symphony
No. 8, which concluded the concert. It was an excellent
choice to follow the Vivaldi, being one of Beethovenís most
relentlessly sunny worksóthereís not even a slow movement!
But thereís no question that when a performance of it bangs
out of the gate with the speed and intensity of Arturo Toscaniniís
version, Iím happy.
Never mind any crap about critics being loftily objective.
I grew up listening to Toscanini conducting Beethoven, and
those interpretations are burned into my brain as the standards.
If you know Beethoven, the opening theme is a transfigurative
gesture: the first six notes also begin the composerís Violin
Sonata No. 7, but in a minor key. Here itís all sunshine
and vigor and those little pranks of unexpected moments that
Beethoven pulled so wellólike the finish of the first-movement
development section, that sounds like a train chugging uphill,
slipping, and then finding its flat-track footing once again.
Horns and winds, who sat out much of the concert, got more
than their share here and acquitted themselves nicely. And
Jeremy Levine had a field day with the timpani, especially
in the explosive finale.
Despite the nightís foul weather, the Troy Music Hall held
a sizeable crowd, all of whom seemed as pleased as I was.