BARBER: Adagio for Strings; R. STRAUSS: Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings; MAHLER: Adagietto from Sym. No. 5 – New Century Chamber Orchestra/Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg – NSS Music, 49.6 min. [Distr. by Allegro] *****:
The New Century Chamber Orchestra has come quite a ways since their founding in 1992 and my attending their concerts in the San Francisco area that decade. The usually 17 members of the conductorless chamber orchestra present classical works in a unique, fresh way. Their musical decision are made collaboratively, like the Orpheus Ensemble.
Violinist Stuart Canin was the group’s Music Director for the first seven years, then Krista Bennion Feeney. The NCCO now records on Salerno-Sonnenberg’s own record label, after releasing CDs on the D’Note, Mondovibe and New Albion labels, and this is their second such release. In 2002 Sir Simon Rattle conducted the NCCO for their 10th Anniversary. Starting 2008 the orchestra moved into high gear, naming famed violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg as their new Music Director.
She selected three works from live recordings the orchestra had made at various recent Bay Area concerts. He goal was to display a continuous line of musicality and emotional content. The main and center work of the three is the dour but fascinatingly-structured Metamorphosen of Richard Strauss, which has independent parts for every one of the 23 strings involved. (Never mind that it was inspired by the Allied bombing of the Munich Theater in 1944 and the coming end of the Nazi era.) The stark mood of mourning is strong thruout, coming from this “fragmented collective of solitary voices.”
The shorter opening and closing selections are classic testaments of grief and sadness familiar to nearly everyone. Both have been used at the deaths of famous public leaders and following disasters such as 9/11. The string orchestra arrangement of the Adagio from his String Quartet, which Barber made himself, is better known than the original for only four strings. The Mahler Adagietto is a gorgeous piece – not as mournful as the others, since it is believed to be a love letter to his future wife Alma Schindler. The movement is extremely slow, yet one of the shortest movements of all his symphonies. The NCCO draw the maximum emotional content out of it, as they do with the other two works. And the audiences at the three live venues are almost as respectfully quiet as the typical European audience in live recordings.
— John Sunier