Together again for the first time, horn player Chris Komer and cellist Johannes Moser, each playing in dazzling works by classical composers, took their show on the road to Princeton, Newark, and Morristown, during the weekend beginning March 22, to dazzle audiences across the state with masterworks by Robert Schumann, Franz Schubert, and Antonín Dvorák. This series was a perfect way to kick off Spring and Music Director Xian Zhang and NJSO, with special guests, hit this one out of the park!
My Sunday in Mo’town began with Patrick Chamberlain’s feature Classical Conversation. This is an up-close and personal opportunity to hear about how the featured artists approach their work. Johannes Moser gave us insight and background into what to listen for in the Dvorák and, when Chris Komer joined the discussion, we also learned what to listen for and what a treat it is for a horn section as brilliant as NJSO’s to be featured in the rarely performed Schumann, which had its NJSO premiere in this series.
The first act began with Schumann’s Konzertstück for Four Horns in F Major, Opus 86, whose Lebhaft movement begins with majestic splendor, where the four horns gambol in playful spirals. We had learned that this was the first concerto written for the valved version of the French horn that we know and love today, and many consider this work to be a mini-symphony in its form with the richness of the composition. The Romanze: Ziemlich langsam is smooth and soulful, with close-order playing among different duets, trios, and quartets, delicate aural lace animated with orchestral color. Finally, Sehr lebhaft is a return to the thematic material of the opening with truly heart-rending harmonic beauty. Kudos to Chris Komer, Principal, with NJSO horns Andrea Menousek and Lawrence Dibello, with Eric Reed.
Next up was Schubert’s Symphony Number Eight, “Unfinished,” D. 759. Ordinarily, “unfinished” is applied to works that were in process when the composer died. This is not what happened with this work–Schubert had been recommended as an honorary member of the Styrian Music Society in Graz–a prestigious honor. He worked almost exclusively on this work in 1822 and it is magnificent. It is unclear why he left only sketches for his scherzo, as the beauty of what is here is magnificent. The Allegro moderato begins with mystery and brooding and then segues into the familiar melody of the movement. We then plunge into a minor variation and vigorous energy runs like electric current through even the slower portions of the movement. The dynamic range of loud and soft is a contributor to the color of the work as much as the melodic range, and we have a full and beautifully rounded experience. The Andante con moto had Xian Zhang sculpting the sound in air, seeming sorcerer-like to draw the heart of the music from the orchestra, exhorting it to release its riches. Gentle horns played a graceful serenade with a soupçon of strings, until a firefly of woodwind steals across the moonlit expanse. This made a thoroughly satisfying first act, but what of the second?
We already had an idea of what to expect from Johannes Moser from his Classical Conversation contributions. When he took the stage, his long, lean ascetic appearance belied the passion that took his form in rapture, as he bent to the will of Dvorák’s Cello Concerto in B Minor, Opus 104. From the get-go, in the Allegro movement, we hear Dvorák’s experience in America through a Czech filter–folk music speaking to folk music, heart to heart. The Allegro makes a dramatic opening with a country dance type feature, immediately prior to Moser’s first appearance. Sweet, contemplative, and sentimental, Moser gave a softness to his Jedi virtuosity, as the he brought forth the notes in a flash of brilliance. He would then compose himself, the orchestra’s music washing over his repose, until he summoned the Muse again. The cello’s voice bends to his will like a reed or a willow, the head of a dandelion scattered in the breath of the wind. The Adagio contains beautifully arpeggiated portions, punctuated by lyric flow as in the duet with the oboe–becoming pure magic. Then the flute flirts with the cello in an avian pas de deux. The Finale: Allegro moderato sparks in dramatic mastery, the lyricism in the cello dazzles with brio and verve, Zhang towers in power in the orchestra, while Moser gives us fire and fluid beauty, as they have a conversation that becomes a harbinger of jazz to come. The glorious whole whirls like a Dervish and a moment of brilliant exchange between Moser and Concertmaster Eric Wyrick is a meeting of genius. The work was a brilliant send-off into the nascent Spring, and we were transported by the energy, perhaps to chase the dandelions through the winds of March.
Want more? I know I do! The NJSO Gala, “Sarod and ‘Scheherazade,’” and more, just this side of Easter, so visit now at www.njsymphony.org