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Symphony shows versatility with challenging pieces

Nov. 10, 2008

By James Chaudior
For The Post-Crescent

An eclectic evening of music was waiting for listeners as the audience gathered in the Performing Arts Center for the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra's second subscription concert.

Music in the first half was performed with a reduced-size ensemble, common to that of the Classical period; the orchestra Mozart had in mind for the overture to his opera "Don Giovanni."

The overture opens in slow tempo with dramatic chords scored through the orchestra and then moves to a sprightly allegro. The orchestral playing was secure and articulate.

The second piece programmed was Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" for guitar, featuring Robert Belinic as soloist. Belinic's performance, though enjoyable, was far from stellar.

Arguably the most well known and easily recognized concerto of the guitar literature, one should be more than well prepared when performing this work in public. On more than one occasion, Belinic failed to master the virtuosic scalar runs scored for his instrument. He did, however, excel in the beautiful slow movement with its embellished improvisatory character and dramatic cadenza.

A special recognition must be given to Leslie Michelic for her playing of the hauntingly lovely English horn solos in this movement. The last movement had a feeling of being taken under tempo, again leading to my frustration with Belinic's interpretation of this work. The orchestra fared well with Rodrigo's transparent orchestration, exposed solos and rhythmically tricky entries.

The concert's second half was devoted entirely to one work, "The Mermaid" by Alexander Zemlinsky. This piece featured the instrumentation of a full symphonic orchestra that grew at the compositional hands of the great composers who bridged the 19th and 20th centuries. Along with the likes of Strauss, Mahler and Schoenberg, we must also consider Zemlinsky as part of this movement.

Scored in three movements, "The Mermaid" is an enchanting piece of poignant music and was handled brilliantly by music director Brian Groner and the many musicians who filled the stage.

The piece opens mysteriously with low brass chords coupled with the harps as though coming out of the depths of Hans Christians Andersen's story of the same name. Soon to follow we hear a new grandiose theme where we now hear the full orchestra in all its splendor at fortissimo.

I felt the first movement, while introducing characters, ran the full gamut of emotions. From romantic lyricism to heroic grandeur, the huge orchestra provided Zemlinsky with an immense pallet of colors to tell his story.

Whereas the first movement was full of emotion, the second was filled with character and an endless stream of personalities.

Zemlensky's scoring ranged from solo instrumental voices to the full orchestra, which was utilized at climactic moments. In contrast, more silken string writing was heard in the last movement, particularly the glistening opening of the movement with shimmering strings and winds in soft dynamics.

In all, it was a work filled with beautifully shaped melodies, intriguing harmonies and magnificent color that was played with the utmost of precision and understanding. Thank you, Maestro Groner, for introducing this work to your audience.

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