Orchestral Music Review Print



UNCG Symphony Orchestra and Choral Forces Present Colorful Brahms and Stirring Mozart

February 28, 2010 - Greensboro, NC:


Wonderfully renovated Aycock Auditorium held a good turnout for a satisfying program featuring UNCG Music Department ensembles — the University Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Singers, and University Chorale. Two conductors led their forces in turn and the vocal faculty provided an unusually balanced and strong quartet of soloists. Having not reviewed theses forces for several semesters, it was delightful to find all of them still well up to standards. The printed program was a model of its kind, including a full listing of all performers, biographies of the conductors and vocal soloists, full texts and translations, and good succinct notes by David L. Nelson.

One of the most winning qualities of Johannes Brahms (1833-97) is his mastery of variation technique. The composer's Variations on a Theme by Haydn, Op. 56a, opened the concert. Carl Ferdinand Pohl, the librarian of Vienna's Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, was working on a biography of Haydn in 1870 and found what was thought to be a previously unpublished divertimento for wind instruments. Pohl showed it to Brahms who used this theme two years later in simultaneously composing orchestral and solo piano versions. Modern musicologists now believe the attributed St. Anthony Chorale divertimento was composed by Ignaz Pleyel.

Kevin Geraldi, Associate Director of Bands and Director of UNCG Orchestral Activities, led his large student forces in a standard interpretation of the Brahms. The brass and winds blended beautifully during the playing of the initial theme. There were more than a dozen players in each string section, except the double basses, and together they produced a full, rich sound and played with close attention to ensemble. There were few very minor burbles in the brass sections. The horn section was especially excellent, not least in the sixth variation. The woodwinds were warm-toned.

Welborn Young, Director of UNCG's Choral Activities, retained the large string sections used for the Brahms for his performance of the Requiem in D Minor, K.626, of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91). The work was left incomplete at the composer's death. The standard version completed by Franz Xavier Süssmayr et al was used. The work calls for pairs of basset-horns, bassoons, and trumpets, three trombones, and timpani, but no horns. I saw only one bassett-horn, joined by an oboe. With the exception a few stanzas of the opening "Requiem aeternam dona eis" section, Young's combined choral forces sang with very clear diction, and the text could readily be followed in the program. The "Kyrie eleision" section was outstanding as was the fast paced "Dies irae" section. Bass Donald Hartmann's rich and resonant voice was aptly sepulchral in the "Tuba mirum." (CVNC reviewed his performance in the world premiere of Libby Larsen's opera Picnic.) Tenor Robert Bracey was new to me but his voice had a wonderfully clarion ring during his portion of "Tuba mirum." It was stirring. A highlight of this section was the beautiful blend of Bracey's voice with the solo trombone during "In quo totum continetur" within the "Tuba mirum" section. Also new to me was the warm-toned mezzo-soprano Clara O'Brien, whose singing of "Judex ergo cum sedebit" was a model of clarity. Highlights of soprano Carla La Fevre's performance were her angelic rendering of "Voca me cum benedictus" and her soaring "Lux aeterna" at the end. The four soloists made an unusually well-balanced and satisfactory group in their ensemble portions such as the "Benedictus." Young's student instrumentalists played beautifully with clear articulation and unified phrasing. Balances among the vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra were excellent. The woodwinds were nicely characterized. The solo trombonist richly deserved Young's acknowledgement and his two colleagues did yeoman work throughout.