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Fox Valley Symphony Opens 49th Season

Oct. 3, 2015


A beautifully programmed evening of music opened the 49th season of the Fox Valley Symphony Orchestra, expertly lead by music director Brian Groner.

The program opened with Overture to Semiramide, by Gioachino Rossini. I find that Rossini’s overtures are always delightful, and Serimanide is particularly well written, giving each section of the orchestra an opportunity to come to the fore, and display their own character. The orchestra played it well, including the numerous solos tossed about the score.

It’s not that often one gets to hear a concerto played by the French horn in a concert setting. Not only did the audience have the opportunity to hear one, but also, and more importantly, they were able to hear one played by a young and very gifted performer. The concerto was Richard Strauss’ Horn Concerto No. 1 in E-flat Major, and the talented young soloist was Austin Larson.

Larson’s knowledge of the concerto, and command of his instrument were evident from the heroic opening horn call, and never faltered throughout the entire piece. Always in command, he played with utmost accuracy, and a smooth and even sound, secure in all ranges of his instrument. His sense of balance with the orchestra was ideal.

Two elements stood out above the rest, the ease at which he played the many rapid scalar and arpeggiated passages, and the beauty of his lyrical phrasing, with the latter being especially noticed in the opening measures of the second movement.

A delightful final movement filled with exciting banter between the horn and the orchestra closes the concerto.

Symphony No. 4 in F minor, by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, is a tour-de-force in the orchestral repertory. Maestro Groner truly showed his understanding of Tchaikovsky’s majestic symphony, and the orchestra responded by following each gesture of his baton.

The key element in Tchaikovsky’s Fourth, is tempo… tempo… tempo. The character of each movement is dependent on the “right” tempo to properly set it off. Groner’s tempos were spot-on, making this performance all the more enjoyable.

The first movement, Andante sostenuto – Moderato con anima, opens with a brilliant and forceful fanfare, which will repeat later in the symphony, building to include the entire brass section of the orchestra. This gives way to a slightly off-kilter waltz of a more subdued nature. Both extremes of musical personality were handled well by the players.

The second movement, Andantino in modo di canzona, is introduced by a haunting and melancholy oboe solo, and beautifully played by principal oboist Jennifer Hodges Bryan. Of all the movements of this symphony, the second by far brings out ballet composer of Tchaikovsky. Melodies were scattered around the orchestra, while the strings provided a silken accompaniment.

The third movement, Scherzo: Pizzicato ostinato, offers yet another contrast in the musical characters that makeup this symphony. The string section plays the entire movement pizzicato rather than using their bows, creating a stunning effect. This is broken by passages played by first the woodwinds, and then by the brass. I found Groner’s tempo in this movement perfect.

The finale, Allegro con fuoco, may well be the most well known of the symphony. Once again the brass section is present in full splendor, making their presence known. Brass fanfares, and furious passages in the strings set the tones of this virtuosic movement. Add to that cymbals and bass drum and the music becomes all the more dramatic.

In contrast, Tchaikovsky uses a Russian folk song “In the Field Stands a Birch Tree” to counter the harsh and powerful brass writing. Initially the setting is light, again recalling the ballet composer, but eventually the brass take over the theme, turning it into a segue to the return of the opening fanfare. A rousing, and brilliantly played passage with full orchestra brings the symphony to a close.

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