Classical Guitar in the Spotlight:

Orlando Roman puts the spotlight on the Classical Guitar

Patrick McCoy

DC Performing Arts Examiner

November 6, 2011

Orlando Roman unearthed a program of gems for classical guitar in last night's concert with the National Chamber Ensemble.

When you think of a season opener, you generally think of hearing the same 'tried and true' solo repertoire for piano, violin or a diva of sorts hitting the high notes clad in a huge gown.

For the National Chamber Ensemble, the choice to “shine the spotlight” on for the most part, unfamiliar repertoire composed for the classical guitar was nothing short of brilliant. Classical guitarist Orlando Roman opened the 5th season of the National Chamber Ensemble last night at the Rosslyn Specturm Theatre, in concert works featuring the sometimes ‘prejudged’ instrument. It is safe to say that most people only associate the guitar with folk or popular music. Roman, accompanied by the musicians of the NCE-artistic director/violinist Leo Sushansky, violinist Julia Grueninger Cox violist Uri Wassertzug, and cellist Lukasz Szyrner

The program began with the Guitar Concerto No. 1, Op. 30 by Mauro Giuliani. In three movements, the beginning of the allegro maestoso served almost as a prelude to the work, with a beautiful played violin solo by Sushansky, wafting above the ensemble. Adding zest to the movement was the pizzicato strings, particularly in the cello played energetically by Szyrner and the repeated notes in the ensemble playing of violinist Cox and violist Wassertzug. Orlando Roman then introduced the delicate, but very present timbre of the guitar. With Roman playing with such superb technique, watching and listening to him was almost like listening to a concert keyboard work-with each note, precise and articulated effectively. In the andantino, Sushansky set the mournful tone of the movement with a beautiful ‘sighing’ effect in the lines of the violin. One most comment of how Roman embodied the mood of the music. Even when he was not playing, his posture ‘sang’ with the ensemble. In this movement, the guitar was reminiscent of a narrator in a story, gently making commentary, but  not necessarily the center of attention.  Stylistically, the music was sprightly, joyous and reminiscent of the music perhaps of Haydn and Beethoven…with a flair. Rounding out the concerto was the Rondo Alla Polacca, with the strings of the ensemble ending in a stately unison.

Two works by Paganini were featured. The Cantabile for Violin and Guitar was like watching a refined singer being accompanied by a great pianist. In this instance, Sushansky’s violin was sterling, showcasing not only the upper register of the instrument, but also its lower warmth. Roman accompanied the solo line with such sensitivity and there was a satisfying musical tension, created by the sense of rubato in the phrasing. Ending the first half of the program was the fiery Sonata for Violin and Guitar, No. 3 in A minor.  It was a musical delight. Guastavino was perhaps more known for his songs for solo voice, but his Presencia No 6. an enchanting introduction to his music for guitar. Using themes of Argentine folklore, this music was full of zest and syncopation. Ending the program was Die Vogel (The Birds) by contemporary Mexican composer Eduardo Angulo. When you encounter a piece which causes you to actually envision what you hear, the work of all the artists involved has been done. Angulo’s work did just that, from the pizzicati in the strings-like birds being plucked from the sky to the shimmering notes from the upper strings of the ensemble mirroring their singing. It was a vision of majesty.

In movement two, violist Uri Wassertzug shined in a sublime solo and the rhythmic playing by cellist Lukasz Szyrner’s was the heartbeat of the ensemble. Guitar soloist Orlando Roman played with stunning beauty and in the midst of the ensemble, commanded the attention of the audience by the exquisite nature of his art.

By Patrick McCoy        DC Performing Arts Examiner


Divas Night Out:

Carmen Balthrop and the National Chamber Ensemble in 'Diva's Night Out'

  • March 28th, 2011 1:38 pm ET
Soprano Carmen Balthrop and her accompanist José Cáceres bow before the appreciative audience.
Photo: Patrick D. McCoy

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Patrick McCoy

  • DC Performing Arts Examiner

One of the immediate joys of the Washington, D. C. area is the ability to have up, close and personal encounters with artists who in other places may otherwise not be as accessible. Legendary Metropolitan Opera soprano Carmen Balthrop’s appearance in concert at the Rosslyn Spectrum Theatre at Artisphere with the National Chamber Ensemble not only gave the public the opportunity to share intimate space with a world-class artist, but also in many ways served as a platform for greater exposure for the exciting new ensemble led by Leonid Sushansky.The program itself was a tastefully tailored musical palette, with something for everyone to enjoy.  In a recent interview with The African-American Voice in Classical Music, the soprano shared about her fascination with “blurring the lines” and how the program would be a trading of places between the voice and instrumentalists. 

One must make mention of Ms. Balthrop’s regal stage presence, entering with her wondrous accompanist José Cáceres.  Wearing a shimmering silver gown, Balthrop was greeted warmly by the audience.  Opening the program was the lovely “No, no non si speri” by Carissimi.  Balthrop was in fine form, singing with beautiful tone, selecting the perfect piece not only to show off the quality of the voice, but also the agile estate of her instrument. “Se tu m’ami followed, providing yet another opportunity for Ms. Balthrop to enthrall the audience the listeners with the remarkably youthfulness of her tone.   In “Dolce amor bendato Dio” by Cavalli, a few unavoidable vocal imperfections crept in that caused a bit of separation in the legato of the line.  Admirably, Balthrop used this as an opportunity to serve as the perfect model of professionalism by continuing on with the piece, unfettered by the possible determent.  Pergolesi’s “Confusa smarrita” from Catone in Utica added the first spark of operatic flair to the program.  Supported by Cáceres  brilliant accompaniment, Balthrop’s voice now commanding in power, was marked by richer depth, especially in the decadence of her lower register.

Cellist Lukasz Szyrner joined Balthrop and Cáceres in  Montsalvatge’s “El cant dels ocells”  The exquisite warmth of Szyrner’s cello intertwined with the soprano’s voice likened the branches of the finest of vineyard grapes.  Violinist and artistic director of the National Chamber Ensemble Leonid Sushansky made his first appearance of the evening in Massanet’s  “Médiation” from Thäis.  After speaking briefly about his introduction to the piece, Sushansky played with great passion, executing the work with exceptional phrasing and impeccable intonation. The final heart piercing note was one of gem-like beauty.  Ending the first half was the entire ensemble, in two movements from Vivaldi’s Concerto in A minor for Two Violins and Orchestra, F. 1, no. 177.  What was truly unique about this performance was that Balthrop sang the second violin part of the piece.  The duets between Sushansky’s first violin and Balthrop were moments of musical ecstasy.  Cáceres and Szyrner likewise were integral to the work, playing with great sensitivity and accuracy.

Following the intermission, Sushansky was accompanied by Cáceres in the “Carmen Fantasie” by Bizet.  Midway through, Balthrop entered on stage, now in a beautiful off shoulder gown, seductively as Carmen.  Balthrop and Sushansky traded back and forth on the familiar melody of the aria with a hint of intrigue and seductiveness.  Cáceres was thrilling throughout in the manner in which he gave the piano a totally different sound in all of the represented musical styles.  Balthrop’s voice took on a sultry character that was ideal for the piece.  This was certainly among the crowd pleasers of the evening.  Violinist Leonid Sushansky, pianist José Cáceres and cellist Lukasz Szyrner then offered the delightful Yates work “First Waltz”from Café Music.  Two opera arias rounded out the program.  Catalani’s “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana” and Puccini’s "Quando m’en vo soletta."  In particular, the Catalani was a jewel, showcasing Balthrop’s voice in top form, soaring, confident high notes, well delivered with a dramatic grandeur that hearkened to the spectacle of the grand opera stage.

Following several encores, Ms. Balthrop was showered with several bouquets of flowers and greeted the audience members at a wine cheese reception that followed in the foyer.