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Review: Fox Valley Symphony up to adventures

May 11, 2013

An adventurous evening of music brought the 45th season of the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra to a close. Works by Wagner and Schumann filled the hall, much to the delight to those in attendance.

At first glance, it appears to be a curious mix of composers, Wagner with all his grandiose pomp, and Schumann with his quirky simplicity and seemingly effortless style of writing, but in the end, a splendid choice it was.

The program opened with Richard Wagner's splendid prelude to his opera "Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg." It opens with a stately march signifying the entry of the guild of mastersingers. The strength of the brass section was clearly evident, as with the fanfare to follow.

A variant on "Walther's" song with which he wins the singing prize appears in the string section, which was augmented for this performance.

The overture concludes with Wagner bringing all of the themes together in a display of orchestral grandeur with full brass, winds and running passages in the strings competing for attention, yet working as a unified musical element.

Perhaps the real "adventure" of the evening was the presence of a last-minute substitute piano soloist for Robert Schumann's demanding Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in a minor, op. 54.

Not being able to find a soloist with the Schumann under the fingers, and "ready to go," Chicago pianist Brenda Huang, having performed it in the recent past, graciously stepped forward to save the program order.

As a safety measure, she did use music, as the re-learning of the concerto was still a work in progress, perfectly acceptable given the circumstances.

It was more than quite evident that Ms. Huang had complete mastery of the concerto from its brilliant opening to the virtuosic finale.

Her performance, though a bit academic at times, still had its moments of absolute splendor. In particular, the bold gestures of the first movement, along with its cadenza, and the scintillatingly beautiful "Intermezzo" movement, where she brought out Schumann’s true gift of lyrical melody.

Orchestra and soloist functioned well together, especially in the fast-moving and tightly woven finale.

There are those works where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. This may be said for Schumann's Symphony No. 2 in C Major, op. 61.

Schumann's symphonies have always paled in comparison to those by other German romantic symphonists, particularly Brahms. This is sad, as there is considerable merit to his symphonic output, especially his second symphony.

The symphony is composed in four movements, each of which has its own distinctive personality, set of emotions and formal designs. Together, however, they offer a viable orchestral work, true to the composer’s desire to create a new expression for the familiar formal structure of the symphony.

A lengthy opening, where we first hear an all important brass fanfare leads to an energetic allegro. Maestro Groner's tempos were ideal in setting the tone of this all important first movement. The balance and interplay among the parts was both spirited and dramatic.

Another "adventure," if you will, is the playing of the well-known dazzling violin passages in the scherzo movement: Allegro vivace. Suffice it to say, that the orchestra’s violinists played them masterfully.

With the scherzo as the second movement, Schumann kept us waiting for the emotionally charged slow movement. Written in c minor, again we hear his mastery of melody, with a smattering of contrapuntal elements in reference to the music of Bach. The orchestra's performance was genuinely beautiful, a true homage to the composer's compositional talent.

The finale is fast and filled with rhythmic energy. From the opening scale passages in the strings, through the climactic ending where we once again hear the opening fanfare, Groner and his musicians were in complete control.

The movement is filled with thematic elements and features extraordinary moments of skillful orchestration. The orchestra played wonderfully, paying close attention to Groner's gestures, and adhering to his musical directions; a fine performance of an excellent symphony.

— James Chaudoir

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