By Ed Klisus
The American Classical Orchestra ascended to the stage before a packed house in Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. Under the baton of conductor Thomas Crawford, the concert began with Gioachino Rossini’s William Tell Overture (1829). Marvelously performed by the ACO, this work resides in the canon of intensely popular music. It was received by the audience akin to the intense adulation witnessed at its performance at the Paris Opéra in 1929.
Tonight’s Romantic Fantasy theme was a departure from the ACO’s usual focus on music that only inches into the 19th century. The ACO is well-crafted for its mission, using period instruments and gut strings to achieve authentic, historically accurate sounds of baroque, classical, and early 19th-century works.
Crawford’s attention to detail in fashioning an authentic pre-Romantic orchestra was evident. Gut strings provided the complaisant, distinctive chiaroscuro of sound—warm, mellow intones with intimate depth and resonance—the complexity of overtones blended and interacted as they fashioned vibrant, dynamic timbres. The ensemble conveyed subtle nuances in phrasing and dynamics, expressive articulation, and tonal effects.
The violas of the orchestra were positioned to the conductor’s right, in front of the double basses, and next to the cellos. This placement provided spatial separation, aural immersion, and a captivating, enveloping sound for the audience. This creative arrangement was a product akin to the practices of Leopold Stokowski, the famed conductor known for his Stokowski Shift arrangement of strings split into two groups across the stage. With the ACO’s placement of instruments, Crawford presented the apposite positioning of instruments for precise balance, expansive stereo images and synesthesia, and interplay.
When selecting works from an extensive repertoire that might best portray a Romantic Fantasy, Crawford crafted an excellent program. In his usual well-informed, humorous, ebullient manner, Crawford explained tonight’s moniker and, for each successive work, delivered marvelous, entertaining, and informative insights.
Bass-baritone Enrico Lagasca joined the orchestra on stage for a performance of Edvard Grieg’s Den Bergtekne – The Mountain Thrall, Opus 32 (1870). While Claude Debussy described Grieg’s music as “bonbons in the snow,” this evocative, haunting piece conveyed the charm and grace audiences crave from Grieg’s nationalistic oeuvre.
Lagasca expressively conveyed the essence of Den Bergtekne, utilizing his rich, resonant qualities with warmth and flexibility. With clarity, vocal control, and a commanding stage presence, Lagasca evoked the majestic, awe-inspiring images of Grieg’s Norwegian mountainscape. We experienced conflict, tragedy, and Romantic idealism. Lagasca evoked the music’s sense of yearning for freedom, the pursuit of dreams, aspirations, and the desire for adventure.
Before performing Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 1. (1846), Crawford described many elements of the music as the orchestra demonstrated them.
Why a work by Schumann? It can be argued that with Schumann, Romanticism blossomed to full flower. Schumann was a critic, contemplative, ardent, and closely linked with the literature of his times. He brought to the forefront allusion, mood, color, and inference. He consumed the writings of German Romantic writer Jean Paul who said, “Sound shines like the dawn, and the sun rises in the form of sounds; sound seeks to rise in music, and color is light.” The orchestra brought these aspects and more to the forefront resulting in well-deserved accolades.
After intermission, virtuoso violinist Rachell Ellen Wong came to the stage to perform Pablo De Sarasate’s Carmen Fantasy, Opus 25 (1882). This late 19th-century work depicted all the fire and passion from George Bizet’s opera Carmen. Through this work that exploits the capacity of a world-class violinist, Wong expressed lyricism and compassion, love and desire, fate and destiny, freedom and rebellion, passion and jealousy. She deftly commanded intricate scale runs, arpeggios, glissandi, flageolet, left-hand pizzicato, and rapid string crossings. Wong’s use of spiccato, harmonics, and sautillé techniques was flawless. Wong’s poise and presence were superb, her stamina and endurance unquestionable, and a marvelous, exciting performance that strikes fear in solo violinists.
Thanks to Maestro Crawford, the ACO, and tonight’s soloists for a memorable, uplifting program at a beautiful venue.
The American Classical Orchestra presents a Romantic Fantasy
Thomas Crawford, Artistic Director, and Founder Enrico Lagasca, Bass Baritone Rachell Ellen Wong, Violin
Go to aconyc.org or call ACO at 212.362.2727, ext. 4, for tickets and information. Readers may also enjoy our reviews of MasterVoices presents Iolanthe at Carnegie Hall, The Oratorio Society of New York presents Bach’s Mass in B minor, ON Site Opera presents Puccini’s Il Tabarro, and Venice: City of Light at St. John the Divine.