Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra finishes on strong note
Jan. 25, 2014
Cold weather didn't keep devotees of the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra away from their subscription concert, "Celebrating Women Composers," on Saturday night. The music selected formed a rather eclectic program, spanning a wide range of musical history and varying styles.
The concert opened with a rendering of a 2008 composition by the American conductor/composer Diane Wittry, titled "Mists." Scored for full orchestra, the piece featured numerous contrasting colors and emotions, from its dark opening, to its brass-laden climax. While there were occasional moments of musical interest, in all, I found the piece to be rather lackluster, and deficient in continuity.
The orchestra's principal flutist, Linda Nielsen Korducki, was featured soloist for the Concertino for Flute and Orchestra in D major, by Cécile Chaminade.
From its familiar opening melody, and through the technically advanced passages, Korducki demonstrated her complete understanding of the music. She possesses a lovely tone, with great strength in the low register, and balance throughout the flute’s entire range. Her articulation was precise as were the rapid scales featured in the concertino’s middle section.
A rich fullness was present in the orchestral accompaniment; a nice balance, supporting, but never overriding the prominent role of the flute. It was an absolute joy to hear this time-honored work so beautifully played by an accomplished professional.
The crowning glory of the evening, however, had to be the performance of the "Gaelic Symphony" by Amy Beach. This 40-plus minute composition in four movements can truly be recognized as one of the great symphonies in American musical history.
The orchestra played at its best while closely adhering to conductor Brian Groner's expert direction. The color, harmony, thematic elements and sheer genius of orchestration technique put this work in a class by itself.
The opening movement, Allegro con fuoco, was filled with grand and heroic musical gestures. From the beginning, Beach was able to show her familiarity with orchestration and color, while reducing the full orchestra to many clearly defined solo passages. In the case of the first movement, these were primarily found in the principal horn and clarinet parts, expertly played by Bruce Atwell, principal horn, and Christopher Zello, principal clarinet.
This idea of "featured" solos continues into the second movement, Alla Siciliana; Allegro vivace, in three part form, alternating from the lilt of the siciliano which emphasized the winds, to a sprightly middle section calling attention to the strings.
The third movement, Lento con molto espressione, with the emphasis on expressive. The highlight of this movement was an extended violin solo played beautifully by concertmaster Yuliya Smead. This solo concludes while being joined in duet with the principal cello, again, well played by Laura Kenney Henckel. I can't help but feel that the word "gorgeous" best describes this movement.
The finale, Allegro di molto, was filled with motion and rhythmic energy. It is in this movement where Groner's direction came to the fore. His tempos were exhilarating, and his attention to detail brought out the very best that the score had to offer.
It was evident that the orchestra was feeling the excitement of playing this glorious symphony.
- James Chaudoir, UW Oshkosh