The Knights whirl into Gypsy lands at Tanglewood concert

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LENOX — If audiences for classical music weren't audiences for classical music, there would have been dancing in the aisles in Ozawa Hall.

From the exotic country named Brooklyn came The Knights on Thursday for a Tanglewood evening of eastern European — meaning mostly Hungarian — music. There was nothing staid about it, not even the Brahms Violin Concerto with its Gypsy fling in the final movement. Call them Gypsy, call them Roma, call them just plain peasants, these peoples' rhythms and spirits infected composers who lived among them.

Even more lively than the concerto were four of Brahms' Hungarian Dances. A couple of them brought Gil Shaham, who had been the soloist in the concerto, back out of the wings for some fancy solo fiddling in them, after which he sat in the back of the orchestra, playing along and grinning.

Well, there was plenty to grin about in this live-wire chamber orchestra's sixth annual visit. (And let's not forget: These 39 Knights count among them quite a few Ladies.) The idea behind the program was the influence of folk tradition in music by Brahms, Kodaly, Kurtag and Ligeti. Or as Knights artistic director Colin Jacobsen put it, in the terse Kurtag pieces as in the expansive Brahms concerto, "the folk connection is a bubbling subterranean stream, but its presence is never far from the surface." And folk tradition often involves dancing.

With Eric Jacobsen (Colin's brother and Knights co-founder with him) conducting, the finely honed ensemble roared into a wild Gypsy dance from Ligeti's "Concert Romanesc" to set the tone of the evening.

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In the Brahms concerto, Shaham, a frequent Knights collaborator, exercised sovereign command in both the virtuosic and the lyrical passages, sort of going back and forth between being a gymnast and a gentleman, with cleanly focused, gleaming tone. Here came the only disappointment of the evening. In the showier sections, the orchestral accompaniment was strongly accented, even choppy, seemingly at odds with the more broadly played solo part.

The last half of the program was given over to Kodaly's colorful, sinuously played "Dances of Galanta," along with the four Brahms Hungarian dances interspersed among short, epigrammatic, even mysterious pieces by Kurtag and Ligeti.

Eric Jacobsen whipped the players into a fine frenzy in the more classically oriented Kodaly and Brahms dances, whose glorious fling and teasing rhythms all but invited listeners out into the aisles.

It was difficult to trace the folk element in the brief Kurtag and Ligeti pieces but they cast their own spell — especially Kurtag's wispy, ethereal "Flowers we are ... to Miyako." When Shaham joined Colin Jacobsen, who was concertmaster, up front in a duet in Brahms' fourth Hungarian dance, it was pure schmaltz. The large audience, apparently attracted by Shaham, loved it.

Only Bartok was missing from the table.     


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