Review: Ensemble LPR Plays, With Central Park as an Inspiration
The New York Times | By Anthony Tommasini
Music of all kinds is performed by ensembles of all sizes every summer in Central Park. But not many programs are so tailored to the setting as the one Ensemble LPR presented on Tuesday evening at the Naumburg Bandshell, the second of this season’s free Naumburg Orchestral Concerts.
Despite the threat of rain, which fell briefly, a large audience turned out for this substantive, almost site-specific program, devised by the violinist, violist and composer David Handler, the artistic director of Ensemble LPR, the group in residence at the Greenwich Village music club (Le) Poisson Rouge.
The concert ended with the premiere of Mr. Handler’s “Solstice,” a playful yet elusive 10-minute work inspired to some degree by Central Park itself. Scored for a divided string orchestra, the piece explores polarities of light and dark, the sacred and the profane, even during moments of seeming stasis.
And, as the composer told the evening’s host, Elliott Forrest of WQXR radio, which broadcast the concert live, some personal experiences in Central Park made their ways into “Solstice.” A jaunty theme Mr. Handler uses came to him when he chanced upon a dancing class on the mall near the bandstand and heard some beguiling, waltzlike music. He even proposed to his “lovely wife,” Mr. Handler said, in the park.
“Solstice” begins teasingly, with a skipping theme in strangely sputtered phrases played by one-half of the orchestra. The other half responds with moaning chords and grating slides. These two incongruous camps dig in. Slowly, though, the chirpy, fragmented phrases evolve into obsessive cyclic figures, while fanciful bits slip into the creaking music. Eventually, the two sides achieve a kind of synthesis, and the piece suddenly stops. The audience gave Mr. Handler and the players a rousing ovation.
The work Mr. Handler chose to precede his own was also ideal for the setting: Schoenberg’s early sextet “Transfigured Night,” played here in its version for string orchestra. This 30-minute work, inspired by a Richard Dehmel poem, tells of a man and a woman walking on a moonlit night through a forest. The nervous woman confesses that she is pregnant by another man.
After some uncertainty, her new lover says that her inner glow has moved him and transfigured the child, whom they will raise as their own. Mr. Handler told Mr. Forrest that he could imagine these two characters walking through Central Park at night.
Hearing this plush string orchestra piece amplified was not ideal, even with the fairly unobtrusive sound system employed here. Still, despite some scrappy moments, the ensemble conveyed the weighty depths of this moody music, suffused with late-Romantic richness and chromatic ambiguities.
The players sounded their best in an exhilarating performance of John Adams’s “Shaker Loops” for string orchestra, music alive with rippling riffs and oscillating figures. The popular pianist Simone Dinnerstein and the ensemble excelled in a refined and lyrically expressive account of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A.
A version of this article appears in print on July 1, 2015, on Page C3 of the New York edition with the headline: An Ensemble’s Set Includes Central Park as a Player and is available online here.