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Fox Valley Symphony Scores with Favorites

Nov. 14, 2009

To the delight of those in attendance, Saturday night's performance by the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra offered its audience an evening of orchestral favorites.

The first half featured Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation to the Dance, as orchestrated by Berlioz, and Edvard Grieg’s first suite from his incidental music to Peer Gynt.

Both were well played, showing off the strength of the string section, and served as a wonderful prelude to the main work of the evening, Berlioz's magum opus, Symphonie fantastique.

Composed in 1830, this "fantastic symphony" is one of the first truly recognized works of programmatic music that developed and proliferated throughout the romantic era of orchestral music. Berlioz tells a story, a fantastic story, of dreams and passions as he weaves through this five-movement giant of a symphony.

This is another one of those works that demands a total conviction of the conductor, along with a clear view of the symphony in its entirety, in order to achieve a successful performance. Such was the case with Brian Groner’s interpretation with the FVSO.

He exemplified this conviction with total control from the soft and distant opening of the first movement to the final chords of the last. The pace of the symphony was never forced. Instead, his direction allowed the symphony to unfold and develop.

The musicians of the orchestra responded with precision to his every gesture as Berlioz’s opus took shape on the concert stage.

Of all the musical elements we've learned from Berlioz through the history of music, surely one of the most important has to be his skill as an orchestrator. He may well have been the original master of French color set within the orchestral genre. All of this comes to life as we listen to the Symphonie fantastique. Again, Groner was masterful at pulling out this color from the orchestra.

From the opening movement, "Visions and Passions," the orchestra was responsive to the many musical emotions and personalities that existed. It is here where the famous theme that will repeat throughout the symphony, was admirably announced in the strings.

The lilting second movement, "A Ball," was precise and not hurried. The two harps added much to the character of the movement and it was easy to imagine the splendor of the grand event though Berlioz's scoring. The orchestra played with great continuity.

The pastoral third movement, "In the Country," marks a definite character change. It is here where the symphony becomes truly programmatic.

The final three movements have specifically identified titles and veer dramatically from the norm as far as symphonic composition is concerned.

The oboe is heard off stage as an echo to the haunting sound of the English horn which both opens and closes the movement. The solos were performed masterfully by Leslie Michelic who mastered the dark, yet idyllic, quality needed for these passages.

There is another character change as we progress to the fourth movement, "March to the Scaffold." Forgotten are the blissful measures of the third as the brass, winds and percussion come to life again. The movement was played with much bravado.
The final movement, "A Witches’ Sabbath," has yet another personality change.

From its eerie opening to its multilayered use of the Dies irae, the movement offers the most challenges to the orchestra. Enclosed in the movement is the famous solo for piccolo-clarinet, which was commandingly played by principal clarinetist, Christopher Zello.

Congratulations to Maestro Groner and the FVSO for offering an excellent performance of Berlioz's masterpiece. A standing ovation showed the audience’s approval.

- James Chaudoir • Special to The Post-Crescent

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