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For the second time this season the Brooklyn Metro Chamber Orchestra included a rarely performed Shostakovich work in its program. And for the second time, they delivered a triumphant and memorable performance. On Sunday afternoon at the Brooklyn Music School the BMCO’s offering was the towering 14th Symphony, regarded as one of the composer’s crowning achievements and one of his most idiomatically challenging ones as well. The technical and expressive demands of the piece are only multiplied by the chamber forces for which it is scored: nineteen strings, a wide assortment of percussion instruments, and a bass and soprano soloist. With its eleven settings of poems that examine different aspects of life’s end stage, it has been aptly described as the composer’s “fist shake at death and rage against the dying of the light”.

At Sunday’s concert, the BMCO more than met the challenges at hand. Contributing to the concert’s success was world-class bass soloist, Mikhail Svetlov, whose dark strapping tones and dramatic flair are perfectly suited to the part (Svetlov also performs on Virgin Classics’ acclaimed recording of the work, under the name Mikhail Krutikov). Soprano Therese Panicali’s stirringly immersive embrace of her part, even with the occasional imperfections in her Slavic enunciation, bore an awe-inspiring measure of intensity. Guest conductor Giulio Marazia kept a tight hold on the reins of the ensemble, as they negotiated the score’s sharp attacks, angular phrasing and abrupt transitions with impressive precision and momentum, never failing to impress with passages of startling poignancy.

Particularly moving was Ms Panicali’s heartbreaking rendition of “The Suicide” setting, with her touching exchanges with the solo cello and escalating moments of passion. The stark expressionistic turns between whimsy and terror in “Madame, Look!” were also brought off evocatively. Mikhail Svetlov’s masterly command of the part was evident from the outset, as he captured the existential torment of the “Santé Prison” setting, embodied the explosive rage of “Zaporozhian Cossacks”, and gave full blossom to the serenity and deep sorrow of “Delvig.” The percussion battery also performed with exemplary force in “On Watch” and elsewhere, as did the strings, who boasted fine ensemble work in moments such as the swirling accumulation of layered dissonance in the “Zaporozhian Cossacks”. Every one of the string players seemed perched at the edge of their seat throughout the performance, their full dedication to the music quite evident as they meticulously and inspiringly brought this complex tension-filled score to life.

Complaints are few. The two cracks of the whip in the opening bars of “Lorelei” lacked the piercing resonance called for, and at certain points the celesta could have been a bit more prominent. Also, Ms Panicali’s music stand could have been lowered a few inches to allow the full view of her facial expressions and full projection of her otherwise exemplary performance.

The first half of the program consisted of Haydn’s lively Symphony #49, “Passion”; and Mozart’s colorful aria, “Lungi da te”, featuring a solo French Horn and the delightful tones of soprano Luana Lombardi. Last October the BMCO performed Rudolf Barshai’s rarely heard orchestration of Shostakovich’s Third String Quartet in a vibrant performance by the ensemble’s regular conductor, Phillip Nuzzo.

by Louis Blois from our concert on February 25th, 2018

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