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FVSO thrills in season's second concert

Nov. 14, 2015

Post Crescent - James Chaudoir

The Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra performed a rather captivating selection of music on Saturday night for its second program of this concert season.

Aram Khachaturian’s 1944 “Suite from Masquerade” was the opening piece. The five movements of the suite were Waltz, Nocturne, Mazurka, Romance and Galop, all composed with well-crafted interplay between the strings and winds. Of particular note is the moving violin solo in the Nocturne, nicely played by concertmaster Yuliya Smead.

Svara-Yantra, a Concerto for Violin, Tabla and Orchestra, by Shirish Korde, offered the audience a cross-cultural musical experience. While scored for the modern, or “western,” symphony orchestra, the concerto incorporates traditional elements of Indian music as well. These elements include the use of Indian ragas, which are melodic modes, or patterns, and the addition of the Tabla, an Indian drum, as a solo instrument.

The music can best be described as mesmerizing. At times, the orchestra would provide colorful harmonic support, approaching minimalism. At others, striking melodic imitation of the vibrant lines heard in the solo violin, as demonstrated in the final movement, Cranes Dancing.

I found Korde’s orchestration to be particularly successful, especially the use of a chamber wind section, only one player representing an instrumental section and the addition of mallet percussion. This voicing allowed him to create subtle yet effective colors and sound columns, while allowing the solo voices to continually come to the fore.

Performing the solo roles were Marcia Henry Liebenow, violin, and Zach Harmon, tabla.

Liebenow’s interpretation of the score was impressive. Her sound was rich and sonorous in the lower passages while light and yet penetrating when the melodic phrases floated into the upper registers.

She seemed to be very much at ease, displaying great artistry with the bending lines and microtonal inflections needed to express the ragas used for each movement.

Harmon’s mastery of the tabla was more than quite evident. This was most apparent during his extended cadenza, midway through the composition.

In addition to the use of the tabla, the score also called for a drum kit to be used, with the tabla functioning as a part of that set. Harmon was most skillful in combining the two. Opportunities for improvisation were offered in the score, a task that Harmon not only relished, but also played with artistic excellence.

The second half of the program was comprised of a single work, the delightful Symphony No. 35 in D Major “Haffner,” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The rousing opening of the first movement, Allegro con spirito, comprised of leaping octaves followed by racing scales in the violins, sets the tone of what is to follow. With the exception of a few bars of respite, this intensity permeates the entire movement.

The charming second movement, Andante, offers the listener a more relaxed experience. The strings are the focal element in this movement. Though the tempo is slower, that doesn’t mean that musical activity doesn’t exist, as there is much motion in the parts.

Unlike the pleasant Andante, the third movement, Menuetto, is more rustic in nature. The winds are featured in the Trio providing a welcomed change in orchestral color.

Finale: Presto, is in rondo form, and restores the musical fervor of the first movement. Filled with scales and arpeggios, the movement progresses at a rapid pace with attention paid to both strings and winds.

History suggests that Mozart wanted this movement played as fast as possible, which could beg the question, how fast was “fast” during Mozart’s time?

The orchestra performed the symphony well. The sound quality and agility of both the strings and the winds were clear and articulate, allowing Mozart’s compositional desires come through as intended. Brian Groner’s direction was excellent, establishing ideal tempos, and unifying the four movements into a symphonic whole.

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