Berkshire Symphony, Eskin interpret works by Bach, Dvorak, Penderecki

Friday in Chapin Hall, the Berkshire Symphony delivered its second concert of the season. In the first half of the performance, the Symphony, conducted by Ronald Feldman, juxtaposed Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto against Penderecki’s Sinfonietta per Archi; during the second half, Jules Eskin, the principal cellist from the Boston Symphony Orchestra, joined the Berkshire Symphony to perform Dvorak’s Cello Concerto.

Like many of the Baroque period, Bach’s Third Concerto is a concerto grosso in which several instruments are foregrounded against the orchestra. The piece is divided into three movements: the first and last are fast and rollicking, and the middle is slow and peaceful. Written solely for strings and a harpsichord, the Third Concerto does not employ the flashes of timbre that more varied instrumentation usually incorporates into concerti.

The Symphony played the first movement with a stately tempo, which was reminiscent in style to a courtly dance. Subtle fluctuations in volume and excellent use of space between the different voices combined to offer a coherent and sharply etched piece. Gaining energy throughout the performance, the first movement finished with an enthusiastic assurance that contrasted nicely to the brief second movement. Then, after the quiet interlude, the Symphony was off again into the midst of the third movement.

While maintaining a clear and slightly playful atmosphere, the Symphony kept a sense of urgency. Near the end of the piece, this urgency was relaxed some. However, after a temporary release of tension, the Symphony reinstated the rousing pace and sped to a wonderful conclusion.

Kryzstof Penderecki’s Sinfonietta, the second piece that was performed, is one much less familiar to listeners than the Bach and Dvorak.

Since the 1950s, Penderecki has ignored musical convention by developing a personal style that redefines the traditional uses of melody and harmony. In the Sinfonietta per Archi, one clearly hears this unique styling. The piece is divided into two contrasting yet unified sections. The piece begins with a stream of chord eruptions that sets it into a constant rhythm. Then, the melody rises to hysteria before an unaccompanied violin cuts in and slows the piece down. The strings draw together intricately fragmented themes, shuttling through savagery, lyricism, hysteria and back again.

Lyrical solos, savage chords and the complex marriage of rhythm and melody appear throughout the first movement. Similarly, the backbone of the second movement is a simple rhythmic pattern that has a slight melodic leap followed by a series of harmonic variations. As the violas repeat the initial chords, the violins begin to play the basic theme of the piece.

The rhythmic pattern flashes in and out of the foreground as the piece develops. The orchestra drops out as a cello begins an artful and thematically connected solo. The orchestra joins in to complete the melody. The piece requires precision in its rhythm and voicing. With great artistry, the Berkshire Symphony delivered. The audience was swept up in an exhilarating performance of a truly thrilling piece.

During the second half of the concert, the Symphony, joined by featured soloist Jules Eskin, performed Antonin Dvorak’s Concerto in B Minor for Cello and Orchestra. Dvorak composed the piece, along with his fairly well-known Symphony in E Minor, From the New World, during a tour of the U.S. The Concerto follows the traditional three-movement structure of classical concertos. The fluidity of the transitions between the movements is remarkable, but it is not as remarkable as the beautiful musicality of the passages themselves. The tension, drama, and foreboding that mark much of the concerto subside into sublime serenity by the piece’s end. In all three movements, a struggle between lyrical contemplative/melancholic and active brooding/joyful elements exists.

These elements are not only powerful in and of themselves, but they are even more powerful as they meld or perhaps more aptly smash into one another. The piece employs some notoriously difficult passages for the cellist, through which Eskin glided effortlessly. No matter the emotion Dvorak’s melodies resonated, Eskin expressed them with skill and grace. It was a pleasure to watch him perform with the Symphony. Eskin added a flair to the performance that made the evening an extremely pleasurable sonic experience.

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