Caroline Whiddon photo
Ronald Braunstein rehearses the ME2/strings at the University of Vermont Recital Hall in Burlington.
BURLINGTON — The ME2/strings and their music director, Ronald Braunstein, proved artists of skill and depth Saturday at the University of Vermont Recital Hall, in a brilliant performance of a complex and masterful Stravinsky ballet.
This was the third program in the first season of the ME2/strings, a chamber orchestra made up of 25 professional string players from around the region, created by Braunstein. In Saturday’s concert, they went further, technically and musically, than in their previous two programs.
Igor Stravinsky’s 1927-1928 “Apollon Musagete” was commissioned by Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge for a contemporary music festival at the Library of Congress. The 10-movement ballet, based on Greek mythology, is a masterpiece of intimate and subtle classicism, the antithesis of the composer’s brilliant, raucous and bawdy “Rite of Spring” — though no less moving.
Braunstein led his fine players deftly with precision as well as an innate sense of the work’s drama and sensual beauty. Although the work is full of striking, sometimes haunting dissonances, there is an overall sheen of purity and beauty. Braunstein successfully maintained this ethereal quality, at the same time accentuating the inner machinations that drove the drama.
The orchestra’s instrumentalists delivered the necessary precision and clarity as well as the work’s subtleties and drama. Concertmaster Jane Bearden played the many violin solos effectively and beautifully, often matched by the other principals. This was a magnificent performance of a great masterpiece.
Most familiar, though, was Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, Opus 22. Braunstein and his strings thoroughly enjoyed the overt lyricism of this crowd-pleaser, as well as the Bohemian harmonies that give it its rich beauty. The performance wasn’t as refined in its sound quality or precision as the Stravinsky, and there were overwrought moments (such as at the end of the Larghetto), but it was a joyful and rewarding performance.
The concert opened with a charming performance of another popular gem, Respighi’s “Ancient Airs and Dances,” Suite III (“Italiana”). The playing was spirited, precise and lyrical.
Vermont is fortunate to have a new ensemble of such a high caliber.
The ME2/strings, conducted by Ronald Braunstein, will perform Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence” and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis at 8 p.m. Saturday, May 11, at the University of Vermont Recital Hall in Burlington. For information, call 238-8369 or go online to www.ME2orchestra.org.
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