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Groner shows command of works with symphony

Oct. 6, 2008

By James Chaudoir
For The Post-Crescent

The Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra opened its 42nd season Saturday at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center with a wonder evening of music that, simply put, went from good to better to best.

Music director Brian Groner programmed a captivating evening of works by Sierra, Ravel and Beethoven. The orchestra performed beyond expectations, rendering admirable readings of each work.

Opening the program was "Fandangos" by Puerto Rican born composer, Roberto Sierra. The piece is based on the famous Fandango of the 18th-century composer Antonio Soler, but interjected with interrupting moments of contemporary gusto.

Interweaving lines in the woodwinds coupled with punctuating brass passages kept the listener's interest while the fandango dance beat continued on throughout the piece building to a frenetic climax. Sierra proved himself to be an accomplished composer, sensitive to the colors of the orchestra from beginning to end.

The second work of the evening was Maurice Ravel's masterful Piano Concerto in G Major, featuring the 2005 Van Cliburn Gold Medalist, Alexander Kobrin. Written in three movements, the concerto offers a variety of compositional styles including jazz and those of a Spanish flavor. Throughout, Kobrin was sensitive to the subtleties of the quiet passages and truly up to the task of building up to the climatic moments.

His skillful technique was particularly noted by the ease at which he mastered the numerous solo passages and how he maintained the fine balance between soloist and orchestra, so unique to this concerto. His playing of the hauntingly beautiful "cantilena" which opens the second movement was absolutely breath taking.

In the final presto, again, he triumphed by expertly negotiating the numerous technical passages in a seemingly effortless manner, displaying precise articulation and accuracy. Unquestionably, this concerto is well suited for this up-and-coming young artist. He clearly has a brilliant future. The audience awarded him with a well-deserved standing ovation.

The concert ended with an impressive performance of the Symphony No. 6 in F Major of Ludwig von Beethoven, better known as the "Pastorale."

Groner seems to excel at the large symphonic forms and his command of this Beethoven score again proved this to be true. In an effort to bring out the dialog between the first and second violins, the orchestral seating was altered with the second violins seated to the right of the conductor where, in this country, we've grown accustomed to seeing the cellos. It was a successful move as the interplay between the parts was most noticeable and the overall sound of the string seemed richer with the lower voices imbedded within the section.

From the onset of the symphony, Groner's knowledge of the score was most apparent. One can't help but appreciate his control and expressiveness with the orchestra. I found his tempos ideal and effective in bringing out the character this most programmatic of Beethoven's symphonies.

In addition to the smooth sound of the strings, I must add that the winds played with great clarity and balance. This can be a difficult symphony to pull off, but not so on Saturday night with the FVSO under the skilled direction of Groner, a truly marvelous sixth indeed.

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