John Axelrod

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22 Dec 2002
Concert at the Philharmonic - The Sinfonietta Cracovia and John Neal Axelrod

An ensemble comprised of young and enthusiastic musicians - the Sinfonietta Cracovia orchestra - along with guests of the Krakow Philharmonic, soprano Karol Bennett and violinist Jonathan Godfrey, performed compositions by Mahler and Schönberg. John Neal Axelrod conducted the orchestra.

Program music, or pieces based on literary works (such are Gustav Mahler's IV Symphony and Schönberg's "Verklarte Nacht", which were performed yesterday) present those who perform them with no small challenge. It's not enough just to play the notes written in the score, and the dynamic nuances, coupled with individual interpretation. The musicians must spin a distinctive tale that adheres precisely to the literary texts, which are an integral part of these pieces of music. Monday's evening with the Sinfonietta Cracovia proved that it is possible to fulfill such expectations.

"Verklarte Nacht" is one of Schönberg's first great works. Drawing its inspiration from a poem written by Richard Dehmel, it tells of a pair of lovers in crisis. Thanks to the Sinfonietta artists' superb playing, we observed pictures that were full of emotion and color.

The piece began with the very quiet sound of violins - a forest coming into view in the twilight, through which the lovers will pass. Later, subtly enunciated phrases portrayed an evening walk, as well as a tempestuous argument; at the end, a peaceful tone emerged, carrying hope.

The poetic program of Gustav Mahler's IV Symphony is, in turn, a humorous portrayal of naïve folk imaginings concerning the temporal and supernatural worlds. A singing melody, with humorous notes added by the winds, created the portrait of a blissful idyll. The penetrating solo voice of the violin, emerging through the orchestral tutti, by contrast, became the Grim Reaper's accompaniment to a dance of death.

These picturesque tales, approached with a certain irony by the composer, were impeccably interpreted by the Sinfonietta. This is attributable in large measure to conductor John Neal Axelrod, who directed the orchestra. Unfortunately, the final movement of the Symphony was a bit of a disappointment. Based on a song from the cycle "Das Knaben Wunderhorn", it was written for soprano, discretely accompanied by an orchestra. In the Sinfonietta's performance excellent soprano Karol Bennett was able to contend with the somewhat transparent volume level at which the orchestra played. However, Monday evening provided immensely positive impressions. Sinfonietta Cracovia is an orchestra comprised of young, thoroughly dedicated musicians, who treat their art very seriously.


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