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Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra Celebrates 45 Years in Style

May 5, 2012

5/5/12: By James Chaudoir

The walls of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center may well still be ringing from echoes of the vibrant sounds of Gustav Mahler's monumental first symphony as played by the FVSO on Saturday night. And a resounding performance it was.

Symphony No. 1 in D Major, "Titan", was a long time in the making. Though Mahler began sketching the work in 1885, it wasn't until 1899 that it reached its final form and was ready for publication.

In the years between its first performance and its publication, Mahler had composed his second and third symphonies, embarked upon his career as a conductor and had been appointed Director of the Vienna Opera in addition to much revision of the first symphony.

Movement one opens with a high-pitched pedal point in the violins, setting the tone for the familiar sound of bird calls and military fanfares heard in the background. The orchestra had a slight problem with timing in the opening bars that was was quickly corrected, and forgotten, as it forged on valiantly through the movement.

Mr. Groner’s tempos were precise and well-calculated to portray the unfolding of elements in the work. The slow opening leads to a moderate, yet restrained, allegro built on primarily one theme.
This allegro was handled masterfully well by Groner and his musicians, offering the give and take so necessary in successfully navigating a Mahler score. When they came to the movement's "tricky" ending, they played through it without a flaw.

The second movement offers a hearing of the dance music of Mahler's life. Scored in three sections, fast-slow-fast, and scored in waltz meter throughout. The playing was superb, tempos ideal and the stylistic effect impeccable.

The third movement can easily be called a bit of a curiosity. Here we are introduced to one of Mahler’s many funeral marches. This time, however, the theme is more than quite familiar to the listener. It is none other than "Frère Jacques," but played in the minor mode. We hear it introduced as a double bass solo played in the high register, and then offered up as a round through the orchestra.

Again Groner's tempo worked well and the orchestra fell into sync without the loss of a beat. Solos were featured in the movement, plus a couple of Bavarian trumpets to add charm, all offering individual players to show their strengths.

The brilliant finale is a tour-de-force. Like so many of Mahler's works, it's not until the end that you need the most strength. I was taken aback with the skill at which the orchestra pulled this off.

As the third movement falls away quietly in the distance, the finale opens with a reverberating shout of energy. The brass come to the fore and set the tone. It is interspersed with contemplative passages utilizing the strings and winds. No one gets a rest.

The final movement is unquestionably the climax of the entire symphony, but perhaps the real surprise is the return of material from the first movement just as the symphony is about the reach its close. The handling of this passage was stunning, as it led us to the glorious final fanfare and crowning bravura of the final cadential measures.

The next sound heard was the audience erupting into voluminous applause.

The first half of the program should not be forgotten. It offered two pieces to help us celebrate cinco-de-mayo.

“Tierre de Temporal” by Juan Pablo Garcia Moncayo was a pleasant piece, opening quietly and offering a smooth theme that quickly spread through the orchestra. A quickening of tempo and more grandiose gestures led the piece to a full orchestral ending; well played.

Next was “Mundo” by Gustavo Leone, which featured mezzo-soprano Cynthia Stiehl. The piece was quite sectional and allowed the vocalist to sing vocalizes as part of the orchestra, in contrast to the portions of text for which she was called upon to recite.

I particularly liked the columns of sound created in the opening with the voice scored carefully into the created harmonies. Ms Stiehl’s voice served the piece well, as the recitations were clearly heard and articulate. There were, however, moments in the vocalize where it sounded a bit strained and uneven.
In all, a wonderful program to end the season

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