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Review: ‘The Four Seasons of Vivaldi and Piazzolla’ at The National Chamber Ensemble

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Before a sold-out house Saturday, March 25, 2017, at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre, the National Chamber Ensemble wowed the audience with its creative revival of Antonio Vivaldi’s famous Four Seasons, brought back by popular demand as a highlight of the Ensemble’s 10th anniversary season.

Equally enjoyable and well-received was the opening number La Muerte del Angel by Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla. It was followed by his remarkable and exciting tango inspired The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.

Performing for the NCE Saturday March 25th were: Leonid Sushansky, violin and artistic director; Natasha Dukan, piano and keybord; Najin Kim, violin; Julie Ahn, violin; Uri Wassertzug, viola; Sean Neidlinger, cello, and Alan Stewart, bass.

Death of An Angel. Photo credit by Robert Jansen.

Opening the evening were guest host Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette and special guest Renato Miracco, Cultural Attache of the Embassy of Italy.

It was a night for the strings. Indeed, Artistic Director Leonid Sushansky, who both directed and carried the concert with his exquisite violin playing, never sat down the entire evening. While the superb keyboard skills of Natasha Dukan, on the piano in the Piazzolla and the keyboard in the Vivaldi, provided the strength and variety of sound that allows a chamber group to perform works generally reserved today for string orchestras, it was the violin and cello played with great passion by cellist Sean Neidlinger in the Piazzolla and the three violins, cello, viola, and bass in the Vivaldi that thrilled with their complementary harmonies, fluid movement among the strings of melodies, and dazzling virtuoso performances of all the musicians.

 The  Four Seasons, Vivaldi’s best-known work, was composed in the early 1720s, nearly 240 years before tango composer Piazzolla tackled combining classical music with the popular Spanish genre. Encouraged by his composition teacher in Paris, the famous Nadia Boulanger, Piazzolla originally wrote the work as four  separate pieces and later would perform them as a set. Piazzolla’s cellist Jose Bragato beautifully arranged the pieces for violin, cello and piano into one whole and the musicians made clear the link between Vivaldi and Piazzolla by including several sections from Vivaldi’s original piece in the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. The brilliance of the National Chamber Ensemble was playing them together in the same concert.

In addition, the NCE educated the audience about both works with the guest host, Jay Fisette, reading the poems Vivaldi wrote to accompany each season, followed by Sushansky explaining and demonstrating particular measures with the whole group prior to starting each piece, and flashing appropriate pictorial scenes on a large screen behind the musicians.

The ensemble was splendid throughout, and the mutual communication and enjoyment of making music together was evident and infectious, carrying the listeners along for the magical experience. At the last chord of the Vivaldi the entire audience was up on its feet with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

As a final cap to the stellar evening, the musicians mingled with the fans at a wine and cheese smorgasboard in the concert hall lobby following the performance.

The National Chamber Ensemble concludes its 2017 season Saturday, May 13 with an evening of Music of Our Time a program that will feature classical and contemporary works and the return to the NCE of renown clarinetist Julian Milkis and Bowen McCauley.

Running Time: 90 minutes, including an intermission.

Photo by Robert Jansen.

The Four Seasons of Vivaldi and Piazzolla was performed on March 25, 2017,  at The National Chamber Ensemble performing at the Rosslyn Spectrum – 1611 North Kent Street, in Arlington, VA. For more information on their Saturday, May 13, 2017 at 7:30 PM concert, entitled Music Of Our Time, and to purchase tickets, go to their website.

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