Unlike more heavily attended classical concerts in Central Park, such as those by the Metropolitan Opera or the New York Philharmonic, the Naumburg Orchestral Concerts, now in their 101st year, are presented in a facility actually designed for music: the Naumburg Bandshell, which opened in 1923. The classically inspired limestone structure on the west side of the park near 72nd Street was the venue for the opening concert of this summer's series on Tuesday evening.
Taking the stage was the Imani Winds, a self-described "African-American/Latino woodwind quintet." This lively, ethnically diverse group - Mariam Adam, clarinet; Valerie Coleman, flute; Monica Ellis, bassoon; Jeff Scott, horn; and Toyin Spellman, oboe - has won attention for wide-ranging programming that embraces both classical and world music.
In the former camp was Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin" in an arrangement by Mason Jones. Ravel's homage to the French suite of the Baroque era, originally written for the non-Baroque medium of the piano and subsequently orchestrated, sounded perfectly fine in this arrangement for winds. The instruments delivered the intertwining lines of the Fugue with an easy flow, and the engaging Minuet also unfolded fluently. The arrangement nicely delineated phrase structure with shifts in instrumental color both in the Minuet and in the concluding Rigadoun, in which the ensemble's perky sound neatly matched the jaunty music.
With the addition of pianist Andre Michel Schub (but minus Ms. Coleman, the flutist), the ensemble played Mozart's sublime Quintet for Piano and Winds in E flat, K. 452. Perhaps because of the amplification, the piano, a Yamaha standard-size grand, sounded rather tinny, even a little like a period piano. But this shortcoming scarcely detracted from this absorbing performance.
No composer ever treated woodwind players better than Mozart, as one is reminded here again and again. Take the descending scales played by horn and bassoon early in the first movement's slow introduction, or the transcendent closing theme of the slow movement, both handsomely and expressively articulated. Mr. Schub led strongly from the piano and played the passagework of the first movement's closing theme with crisp precision. The third movement, taken not too fast, was a delight.
With pieces like this, one is tempted to ask "Who needs world music?" Astor Piazzolla's "Oblivion," heard in an arrangement by Jeff Scott, reinforced that thought. These days, it seems that no one can resist this master of the tango, who died in 1992 - except a few churlish music critics. I find his music amiable but also innocuous: It always seems to be on the verge of saying something interesting, but never quite manages to do so. The Imani did their best, delivering a strongly accented performance.
The Cuban-American composer Paquito d'Rivera takes a broadly eclectic musical view, which makes his music choice material for the Imani. And his "Aires Tropicales" brought out their best.
In preliminary remarks, one of the players compared the six-movement "Aires Tropicales" to a Latin American cruise, with stops at various countries along the way. I couldn't link the music with specific countries, but I could readily appreciate the work's rhythmic drive, lyricism and humor, as well as its wellwrought craftsmanship.
Ms. Coleman's dance-like "Umoja," which unfolded like a continuous set of variations in strongly marked rhythm, brought the evening to an enjoyable conclusion. Ms. Coleman also arranged Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue," which opened the concert.
Before the concert and at intermission, Jeff Spurgeon of WQXR asked audience members to support a proposal before the City Council to allocate $800,000 for needed renovations of the Bandshell, which was threatened with demolition in the late 1980s but received landmark status in 1993. Three more Naumburg concerts will be presented this summer, on July 11 and 25, and August 8.
Mozart Meets World Music In the Park
June 29, 2006
— George Loomis, New York Sun