Rarely does an audience jump to its feet in spontaneous applause in the middle of a program, but on March 18, Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" moved the crowd at the Village Chapel to do this, following a performance by the Youth Orchestra of Kiev under the direction of conductor Matthew McMurrin.
Amazing biographical note: George Gershwin's parents were from Ukraine, so they claim this most American of composers as their own. The orchestra certainly made Gershwin's music its own. A brash orchestral quality suited the jazzy rhapsody. A raucous secondary theme set feet to tapping and hearts racing. Piano soloist Anastasiya Titovych lent her feminine style to a work that is identified with the masculine touch of the late Oscar Levant and his imitators. Titovych was always engaged emotionally in making the music speak to the audience. At one time, the piano syncopation became downright sexy. Her playing was passionate if not strong and assertive, and hers was indeed a fine alternative interpretation.
The audience members jumped to their feet again, spontaneously, following the finale, for the "Stars and Stripes Forever" was cut from the same cloth as Arthur Fiedler's readings! When groups other than the Boston Pops Orchestra play Pops, it is the program that is Pops, not the sound . This guy, Matthew McMurrin, has the sound! Move over, Keith Lockhart!
Violinist Volodymyr Pavlov was featured in the "Spring" selection from The Four Seasons , by Antonio Vivaldi. Had I closed my eyes, I could have been listening to the CD I bought in New Hampshire last summer when I missed having "the" classical music station. Having listened to "Spring" repeatedly, theKiev Youth Orchestra's rendition was very pleasantly familiar. It was extremely well played.
All of this was amazing to me because, in spite of its charming exuberance, the first movement of Symphony No. 40, by Mozart, programmed by itself earlier in the evening, caused me to jot down that the orchestra is a real diamond in the rough. It was always exciting, so spirited are the players and McMurrin and his assistant conductor.
The outstanding discovery of the evening was Pavel Barensky, a baritone of exceptional quality. The three works he sang were outstanding. The program had opened with a setting of the hymn "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," arranged for chorus by John Rutter. The peasant-costumed chorus assembled during the fanfare that led into it, and Barensky set it off with a rich operatic tone. Although I would not have imagined the work could be so appealing, sung in full operatic voice, Barensky surpassed himself as he next sang Albert Hay Malotte's "The Lord's Prayer." Later, he sang an aria from Donizetti's L'Elisir d'Amore .
The Kyrie from the "Lord Nelson" Mass by Franz Joseph Haydn was highlighted by another outstanding voice, soprano Hanna Malytska. Twenty-four voices sang with choral passion just short of shouting. The rich soprano solo voice was radiant, and I was surprised to see her, later, taking her place in the front row of the choir. I thought she might have traveled with the chorus as a soloist.
Two other choral presentations before intermission were marked with delightful exuberance: the hymn "For the Beauty of the Earth," arranged by John Rutter, and Mozart's Gloria in Excelsis. Unexpectedly brilliant, the chorus seemed to use too much voice a lot of the time. They did enough controlled mezzo-forte work to confirm that they are well trained, but vocal strain, a risk for young singers, especially, seemed often near at hand.