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Symphony opens year on impressive note

Jan. 27, 2006

By Lucia Matos
Post-Crescent staff writer

The Fox Valley Symphony performed its first concert of the year Friday evening, featuring pieces by Hailstork, Mozart and Beethoven.

The concert began with Celebration by Hailstork, a very brief but vibrant piece written in 1975 as a commission for the American Bicentennial. A very effective concert opening, the work offers many rhythmic challenges, but the Fox Valley Symphony performed it with cohesiveness and balance.

The program also included Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat major, known as the Emperor, with pianist Michael Kim. Kim, a member of the Lawrence University Conservatory faculty since 1996, is a remarkably accomplished pianist.

His sound is very robust and the clarity of the musical line is always present, even in the fast, technically demanding passages. The slow movement was particularly beautiful. He played it with a delicate touch and introspective interpretation.

Also in this piece, maestro Brian Groner demonstrated his exceptional gift as accompanist. Conductor and soloist were in perfect synchrony and the orchestra played with a certain chamber-music quality, always listened to the soloist and never overpowered him, while still offering vigorous playing.

Friday marked the date of Mozart's 250th birthday. To celebrate this date, the Fox Valley Symphony included in the program his Symphony No. 40 in G minor. Mozart wrote his last three symphonies during an exceptionally productive period of seven weeks in the summer of 1788, each of them with its own very individual character. Symphony No. 40, sometimes referred to as the great G minor symphony, to distinguish it from the Little G minor one, No. 25, is the darkest of all three and became one of the most well-known works of the entire symphonic repertoire.

In fact, this symphony was one of the few of Mozart's that stayed in the symphonic repertoire during the Romantic period. Among the qualities of Fox Valley Symphony's performance of this work on Friday evening were the well-chosen tempi, framed by a strong sense of proportion, careful articulations and sensitive phrasing.

Most important of all, the orchestra and conductor brought alive so much of the inner drama in the piece, with its subtle changes of character and colors, that one could feel as if listening to this most celebrated work for the first time. It was a concert not to be missed.

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