“Simple Gifts” Provides an Instant Getaway

New CD from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is an exquisite experience

Even if we manage to “get away from it all” once or twice a year on vacation, most of us would say that we wish we could catch our breath a little more often. Here’s a prescription that should work for most people: take a track (or two) of the new CD from the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center, and you are all but guaranteed to feel refreshed.

It would probably have been enough if the CMS had presented this program in their usual Lincoln Center digs, but Adriaan Fuchs had the superb notion to take this show on the road, specifically to the Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill in Kentucky. Fuchs, who is the Director of Artistic Planning and Touring for CMS surely gets significant credit, along with Artistic Directors David Finckel and Wu Han, for buildingn a fabulous program around the idea of Copland’s original version of Appalachian Spring being performed in the type of setting evoked by the work’s use of its most famous theme, the Shaker song “Simple Gifts.”

Surrounding this crown jewel is Gottschalk’s “The Union,” a virtuosic paraphrase of patriotic tunes, reeled off with panache by Gilles Vonsattel, and works by Dvorak, Barber, Mark O’Connor and Stephen Foster.

Dvorak? Sure, his Sonatina, Op. 100 was one of the works written during the composer’s time in America, and violinist Arnold Sussman and Han on piano give a lovingly detailed reading.  Speaking of details, the CMS Live disc is so carefully engineered that I’m sure I heard a bird or two quietly chirping at the hushed close of the first movement. And given that it’s a live performance, the audience is blessedly rapt in silence for virtually the entire program.

Han is joined by Vonsattel for Barber’s Souvenirs for Piano, Four Hands, an engaging six-pack of dance-informed movements such as “Schottische” and “Hesitation Tango.” Mark O’Connor’s “F.C.’s Jig for Violin and Viola, dazzlingly whipped off by Sussman and Paul Neubauer, makes one want to go back to the original source, O’Connor’s Fiddle Concerto.

The Copland does not disappoint as the emotional high point of the concert. I remember after hearing only the full orchestral version for many years as I grew up, that I was afraid my first encounter with Copland’s original setting for thirteen instruments (nine strings, flute, clarinet, bassoon and piano) would sound thin. No, it sounds transparent, and this CMS all-star lineup successfully evokes all we hold dear in this seminal American masterpiece.

The disc closes with some delightful Foster rarities, three selections from The Social Orchestra for Ensemble, arranged by Tara Helen O’Connor. Two quardrilles bookend a schottische, and we have an advantage over the live audience who clearly wanted more—we can just start the disc over.

Of course, the live audience had the special circumstance of being in this “largest private collection of 19th-century structures” (34 buildings in all). Fortunately, buyers of the CD also get a sumptuous booklet (such a rarity these days), with detailed and insightful notes by Fuchs. The numerous photos are terrific, and this is a disc that should reward many repeated hearings.

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