An out-of-towner may be led to believe, given press coverage and recording activity, that the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and Orpheus Chamber Orchestra are the only professional small orchestra action in New York City. This is of course far from the case, and one of the most interesting of the lesser-knowns is the Riverside Symphony, now in its 31st season.
I wasn’t so impressed by the lethargic Schumann Genoveva Overture or, despite some distinguished wind playing, a seriously undernourished Sibelius Symphony No. 7 (three basses, four cellos and five violas were not, I believe, what Sibelius had in mind). I did enjoy the New York premiere of George Tsontakis’s Laconika — five short works that at once reference minimalism and the orchestral sound of Luciano Berio, but in an overall more tonal harmonic grammar and accessible style. And I was thoroughly impressed by cellist Amit Peled’s simultaneously lyrical and assertive approach to Hindemith’s Cello Concerto. Peled is a player to watch. His publicist (naturally) plays up press comparisons to Rostropovich, but another master came to mind: the brilliant, short-lived Emanuel Feuermann. Peled plays a very small Guraneri del Jesu that has an unusually mellow tone — i couldn’t help but remark to a colleague that he was playing the biggest viola I’d ever seen. The orchestra did hit a few very thickly orchestrated fortissimos that nearly drowned out Peled, and didn’t get quieter than a mezzo piano (in fact, didn’t hit a truly quiet piano throughout the entire concert), but conductor George Rothman brought plenty of character and flavor to the music.
Quibbles and all, a worthwhile concert. i’ll be checking them out again later this season.