By Philippa Kiraly, Special to The Sybaritic Singer
Town Hall celebrates its 20th anniversary year with an extensive renovation recently completed, including much better ventilation, much better acoustics and hooray, adequate toilets! And new carpet too.
Its fall season opened with the very popular Town Music led by cellist Joshua Roman, performing Sunday evening. For this concert, Roman brought in three cellists from the Seattle Symphony: principal and associate principal Efe Baltacigil and Meeka Quan DiLorenzo, second stand player Eric Han, and Charles Jacot, a frequent SSO cello substitute. With Roman, this created a five cello consort which played works for two, four or five instruments, many of which were in arrangements by Jacot.
Roman’s interests vary widely with often contemporary music on his programs, but for this one, his choices ranged from the 15th to the early 20th century with just one recent work and two encores from the 1960s.
Opening the performance were the only works for just two cellos, both canonic, Telemann’s Sonata No. 3 in G Major, and a piece by Gabrielli just titled Canon. Given that Baltacigil and DiLorenzo are stand partners, it was perhaps a given that they worked so smoothly together that unless you were watching it was impossible to tell who was playing. These are works we rarely hear, and we might not know the next three short works by Josquin des Prez, originally for voices, if Jacot had not provided the arrangements for four cellos played here: In te Domine speravi, Mille regretz and El Grillo, the last a lively evocation of crickets.
The notably exact synchronization between the four players gave the feeling that these works were so completely in their minds and fingers that they played as one, a sense that continued throughout the concert.
Two of the players had links to Paul Wiancko, the contemporary composer, DiLorenzo having known him as a child, Han in college, and the inspiration for his enjoyable When the Night came from an R&B song, Stand By Me. Wiancko uses a variety of ideas in this laidback piece—drones, spiccato runs, cross rhythms, atonal and tonal harmonies, slurps up and down, bow slapping, agitated pizzicato and more, as well as total changes of pace and mood from energetic and cheerful to panicky to peaceful.
Familiar works included two with Roman, Tchaikovsky’s Valse sentimentale, and Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni. It seems impossible that these could be reduced to five cellos and still sound rich but Jacot achieved this. Roman took the lead role in both. Having heard him on and off ever since his arrival as a very young principal cellist for the Seattle Symphony in 2006, it is possible to follow how his playing has evolved. In this performance the sound of his cello, an 1899 instrument by Giulio Degani on loan to him, had a burnished depth and resonance that without any pushing soared above the other instruments (who may have been playing down to allow the melody in the Valse to come out more). Combined with his smooth as silk playing and thoughtful phrasing, it was an absorbing performance without fireworks.
Perhaps the only work where the arrangement felt too thin, was Debussy’s Footsteps in the Snow, though his The Girl with the Flaxen Hair sounded amazingly rich. I’d never heard of Wilhelm Fitzhagen, whose late 19th century Ave Maria was on the program, and the performance ended with Gounod’s Funeral March for a Marionette and Bach’s great Chaconne arranged from his Violin Partita No. 2.
Two encores left the audience happy, the first Our Prayer by the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, the second If I Fell, by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
Philippa Kiraly has been writing classical music criticism since 1980, for several newspapers in northern Ohio and Seattle, magazines, both local and national, and blogs. She is passionate about the importance of independent criticism for the fine arts, an art in itself which is dying with little interest by many publications and no longer a viable career for most. But writing for tickets is always worthwhile!
Pippa is a keen gardener, a keen grandparent, and can get lost in a good book.