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FV Symphony hits a high note

Mar. 19, 2016

The Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra offered a wonderful variety of musical gems to their audience for their fourth concert this season. Composers both new and familiar to concert-goers were represented on the program.

"Feria Mágica (Magic Fair)" by the Spanish-born composer Carlos Suriñach opened the program at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in Appleton. The work, which utilized an expanded percussion section, was filled with rhythmic energy, bright dissonances, and filled with elements of Spanish flair.

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, like so many of his works, begins with a little musical surprise for the audience. In this case, it is the solo piano playing the opening measures to introduce the concerto, a simple phrase, echoed by the orchestra, engaging the listeners into the beauty of the music, while leaving us unaware of the powerful measures that are to come.

The soloist for this performance was Raffi Besalyan, a gifted pianist who was more than capable of managing Beethoven’s beautiful, yet demanding 4th concerto.

There was a certain sense of lyricism to his playing, and his technical prowess was made known as he mastered the numerous passages filled with scales and arpeggios. In was in several of these passages where I marveled at Besalyan’s ability to clearly delineate the different voices Beethoven had layered into the music.

Also significant was Besalyan’s ability to bring out striking dynamic contrasts in the music’s lines, this was most notable in the cadenza of the first movement.

His interpretation of the stark, yet passionate, second movement was quite lovely. He handled the dialogue between soloist and orchestra skillfully and with elegance.

Beethoven’s firey finale, Rondo: Vivace, is enough to put any soloist to the test. It was in this movement where Besalyan’s technical artistry came to the fore. He played the movement with flair of ease, meeting one challenge after the next. Once again, he was at his best with his interpretation of the cadenza, crisp, coherent, and musically satisfying.

For an encore, Mr. Besalyan performed a delightfully pleasing selection, “Spring,” by the Armenian composer Komitas.

The crowning glory of the evening was unquestionably the performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s massive Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major. Once again, we found an expanded orchestra on stage, multiple woodwinds, a full compliment of brass, harp, and auxiliary percussion.

The first movement is filled with melodies, complex harmonies, and inventive orchestral colors. The music is grandiose and dramatic, but we will quickly learn that these characteristics play into the other movements as well. No doubt, the symphony was conceived as a single unit, with four integral, yet distinct, parts.

From the onset of the work, the members of the orchestra, and conductor Brian Groner showed that they were up to the task of taking on this monumental musical composition. This was evident in their attention to details, mastering technical passages, and most importantly, bringing out the many different colors, and characteristics the work possesses.

Contrasting the drama of the first movement is a light and articulate Allegro marcato. Once again we hear many carefully created orchestral colors. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this movement is the constant changing of character as the music progresses; easily mastered by Groner and the musicians.

The third movement, Adagio, is where we heard the strings take on a more prominent role. This beautiful movement is arguably one of the most perfect slow movements Prokofiev wrote, easily comparable to the music found in Romeo and Juliette.

The finale, Allegro giocoso, features themes heard in the first movement, this time played by the cello section. Solo melodic fragments are tossed about the principals of the orchestra, and all were played admirably. Here we can’t help but notice Prokofiev’s attraction to dance as one lively passage leads to another.
James Chaudoir - Post Crescent

Players in the orchestra were watchful of every nuance of Groner’s baton. They played through the movement, as with the entire symphony, with precision and musicality. The great dynamic contrasts of the orchestra were astounding.

It was truly a cohesive rendition of a truly great orchestral work, built on Maestro Groner’s complete knowledge of the score, and his ability to translate this to each and every member of the orchestra, and they, in turn, playing at the top of their skills. The type of playing that a orchestral masterpiece deserves.

In my years of reviewing these programs, the performance of this symphony was the most magnificent sound I have heard come from the stage. Outstanding!

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