Review by Edward Kliszus
The Orchestra of St. Luke’s presented a special musical surprise this evening.
With members of the Orchestra of St. Lukes (OSL) assembled, soloist Krista Bennion Feeney entered the stage to perform Felix Mendelssohn’s (b.1809-d.1847) three-movement Violin Concerto in D minor, MWV03 (1823).
While this lesser-known work has not risen to the stature of the E minor concerto, Op. 64, it exemplifies tonight’s theme of prodigious genius and premonitions of the composer’s artistry, informing well Goethe’s declaration that Felix Mendelssohn was “…to be the future of Germanic music”. Within the poignancy of a life spanning just 38 years, it was composed by 14-year-old Mendelssohn and dedicated to friend and violin instructor Eduard Rietz. It exhibits predominant influences of the French violin school of Viotti, Rodolphe Kreutzer, and attribution to Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s genre of Northern German symphonic writing.
Feeney captured and emoted the dramatic fluidity, bravura, even poetic 18th-century German empfindsamer Stil with her sensitivity to its contrasting sentimental expressions with mastery, richness, and warmth of sound. Accompanied by two violins, one viola, one cello, and one bass, the setting provided energy, intimacy, and interplay uniquely concomitant to chamber music. One can imagine this delightful salon setting assembled in the Mendelssohn home so long ago.
Presented next was the brilliantly innovative audience favorite Octet for Strings, Op. 20 (1825), scored for four violins, two violas, and two cellos. It represents an epiphany of maturity and circumspection written by the 15-year-old Mendelssohn. Acclaimed as the composer’s first masterpiece, the Octet was a birthday gift for Eduard Rietz. Its lyricism is attributed to Goethe’s poem Faust inspired the Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo, “Wisps of cloud and mist, are lit from above, breeze in the foliage and wind in the reeds, and all is scattered.”
The ensemble’s sonority, passion, ethos, and masterful performance evoked the work’s Romantic spirit so aptly described by the composer’s sister Fanny, “fleeting twilit when the world of humans meets that of the spirits.” Well-deserved plaudits and appreciation capped tonight’s program.
The OSL’s meticulous astute program selection acumen was evident this evening. The violin concerto in D minor is a musical gem, hidden since its inception more than a century ago and not often performed since its discovery in 1949 and premiere in 1952. The awakening of this musical work is akin perhaps to Mendelssohn’s championing of J.S. Bach, who had faded into anonymity, just as Mendelssohn himself was rediscovered after decades of crushing aesthetics, promulgated after the anonymous publication in Neue Zeitschrift für Musik of Richard Wagner’s reprehensible essay “Judaism in Music.”
This was a stellar concert. I recommend anyone enjoying or developing an appreciation of musical artistry or seeking hidden gems to attend future OSL venues.
The OSL Chamber Music Series continues with a performance of five of Antonio Vivaldi’s concertos on May 13, 2019, at 6:30 pm at the Temple Emanu-El Streicker Center, 1 East 65th St, New York, NY 10065. Tickets for May 13 are free. RSVP at https://bit.ly/2GUgx5r, click here or call 212-507-9580.
Runtime: with intermission about 80 minutes.