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Fox Symphony Opens with Flourish!

Oct. 8, 2007

By James Chaudoir
For The Post-Crescent

The Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra kicked off its 41st season Saturday at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center with an eclectic evening of concert gems guaranteed to please anyone's musical taste.

Music Director Brian Groner proved his finesse as a conductor as he skillfully guided the orchestra through works by Manuel de Falla, Dvorak, Mozart and Ottorino Respighi. In each work the orchestra stood up to the task and performed with both musical and technical accomplishment.

The program opened with a rousing performance of the perennial concert favorite, "Ritual Fire Dance" from Manuel de Falla's El Amor Brujo. Then the winds and percussion were excused from the stage to give way to the string section for the feature work of the first half, Dvorak's Serenade for Strings.

Whoever coined the phrase "simple is best" must have had this work in mind. By using the most basic of compositional crafts, Dvorak weaves seemingly simple melodies into a musical tapestry of rich and moving beauty. Melody after melody was stunningly woven to create a dialogue between the instruments of the section as part of the majestic composition in its entirety. The serenade was filled with lyricism, dance movement, and cantabile melodies from the opening to the final Allegro vivace.

As a longtime fan of this particular Dvorak composition, I was not let down in the least by Maestro Groner's interpretation. The strings played elegantly, with both good balance and intonation. The final movement brought back themes from earlier movements, giving the audience an insightful reminder of the music that came before.

After intermission, a stunning display of virtuosity was offered with Rachael Barton-Pine's performance of Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 4. From the opening measures the audience was aware of what was in store for them. Barton-Pine's sound was crystalline as she played effortlessly through the solo passages. She displayed impeccable bow technique and flowed flawlessly from the solo passages to the tutti passages which she played with the orchestra.

High praise has to be given to her cadenzas where she showed absolute control of the range of sound, expression, artistry and compositional skill. At the completion of the final movement, the audience burst into applause with a much-deserved standing ovation. In appreciation, Barton-Pine offered one of her compositions as an encore, Introduction, Theme and Variations on the National Anthem of New Zealand, a showering display of her accomplished skills.

The program ended with a powerful performance of Ottorino Respighi's "Pines of Rome." Completed in 1924, it is the second of Respighi's "Roman Trilogy." Pines is filled with both moments of grandeur and contemplation.

Written in four sections and performed without pause, the work builds, subsides and builds again, eventually ending with the entire orchestra at full volume. Again, Groner's knowledge of the score and skill with the orchestra were most evident. One interesting feature of this work was the inclusion of a recording of birdsongs, that of a nightingale to be exact, which occurs at the end of the third section. Respighi had a specific reason to include it — to serve as a brief 'cadenza' before the onset of the final section.

It is most unfortunate that the birdsong was quite a bit too loud in Saturday's performance. That aside, it was a wonderful performance that fully demonstrated the skill and musicality of the orchestra. Upon its conclusion, the audience rewarded the musicians with a well-deserved standing ovation. Once again, it looks like another great season is awaiting the concert goers for the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra.

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