New England String Ensemble

... a well deserved standing ovation
showed audience's appreciation

Jackie Wattenberg

New England String Ensemble presents a fine spring finale.

From its inception, the New England String Ensemble has been intent on maintaining uncompromising standards in their performing members and guest artists, and in the quality of music they perform.

In an impressive spring concert to close their fifth season, in Wakefield's magnificent First Parish (Congregational) Church on Sunday, they demonstrated why their fame has been growing and their praises sung. Under the knowing baton of Anthony Princiotti, a seldom-heard 'Concerto grosso No. 1" for strings with piano obbligato, by Ernest Bloch, was richly colorful. Bach's 'Concerto in D Major for Three Violins and String Orchestra" was vibrantly presented, and Tchaikovsky's "Serenade for String Orchestra in C Major" was a ravishing finale.

For four years, their founding conductor, Christophe Chagnard, got them off to a sound start, but then could not continue to trek between New England and his west coast commitments. So this year, each concert has been led by a different conductor, from whom the new permanent conductor will be selected.

Certainly Sunday's contender Anthony Princiotti, must be high in the running for his constant care in firm tempos, dynamics, precision in attacks and cutoffs, and in command of the sweep of sound required for shifts in mood for each composer. He realized the potential tensions and depths of emotional turbulence in the gorgeous Bloch, as well as its playful turn in the Pastorale and Rustic Dances. Much of the work, typical for Bloch, was charged with dramatic momentum, drumming stridency, as well as a dreamy unresolved interlude in the Dirge.

The Strings' sonorities were beautiful, responding to the conductor's arching demands. Violinist Gregory Vitale added poignance by his expressive playing, and pianist Xaren Harvey hovered above the strings, echoing their sheaths of sound.

In that gold-adorned-church on a golden spring-has-come afternoon, the sheer shimmering of the strings was a delight to the ears. Bach's "Concerto for Strings and Three Violins," the opening work, was given a vivacious reading, exulting in Bach's restlessly innovative, cascading melodies. The adagio was a swift change, remarkably expansive and melancholy, soloists and orchestra completing the final 'Allegro Assai" with an infectious exuberance and demanding pyrotechnics.

The three soloists were unflinching in their challenging parts, handsomely executing the fireworks of their passages: Roksana Sudol, a native of Poland who came here in 1986; Alexey Shabalin of Russia, here for several years, and English Colin Davis, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1987.

All are members of the Ensemble.

There was not a dull moment or sluggish accelerando, in Tchaikovsky's "Serenade." Princiotti's long arms formed full arcs and commanding thrusts in close communion, it seemed, with his players, no hint of aloofness. The music's brightness sparkled, the group's cellos often especially rich and resonant, and slower Elegie movement was provocatively tentative. For their notable solo work, many of the members took bows.  A well-deserved standing ovation showed the audience's appreciation of a marvelous afternoon of music.

Jackie Wattenberg is the arts columnist for the Free Press and a Melrose resident.

Originally published in
Reprinted in the Melrose Mirror with permission of the Melrose Free Press.

June 1, 1999

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