The musicians and the audience for the July 22 EMF all-student Festival Orchestra performance ought to get medals of merit for enduring the high heat and humidity in Dana Auditorium while the air conditioning was out of order. Neither conductor José-Luis Novo nor his players showed any flagging of commitment. Thank goodness it was a program of short works that added up to less time than the average concert.
Novo secured perfect balance and blend from the orchestra for the dazzling opening fanfare that begins Samuel Barber’s exuberant Overture to The School for Scandal, Op. 5 (1933). The 22-year-old composer achieved a wonderful “Mozartean” lightness in the effervescent score. The violins were marvelously together as they played the jig-like first theme. The principal oboe phrased the sentimental second theme with warmth and a good, even tone. Lively contributions were made by both the clarinet and the flute.
Composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957) was the Wunderkind of turn of the century Vienna, Austria, regarded as a major hope for the future of music by many, including conductor Bruno Walter. His opera, Die tote Stadt (The Dead City) (1920) brought him international fame. During the 1930s, he came to the United States to work on some operettas that were being filmed. The Anschluß (1938) prevented his return home. Staying in Hollywood, he pioneered the development of large, Romantic-style scores such as those composed for the adventure films of Errol Flynn.
Korngold’s Cello Concerto had its genesis as part of a score for the 1946 film Deception. According to Frederick L. Kirshnit (in a program note for the American Symphony Orchestra's 2005 season), the "music is featur(ed) as the central character..., involved not just in the background but as a major participant in the dialogue and plot twists." In the movie, the “egomaniacal composer Alexander Hollenius (brilliantly played by Claude Rains) tells (the) cellist (played by) Paul Henried... that the key to his concerto is in the fugato section,” the second portion of the eleven-minute, one-movement work. Korngold’s contract allowed him to extract music from the film (along with parts of the score that had been cut from the movie) to make this Cello Concerto for the concert hall.
Playing a lovely 1710 Matteo Goffriller cello, Matt Haimovitz produced a gorgeous full and rich tone that gloried in Korngold’s Romantic idiom, in which the Cello Concerto abounds. His bow arm was extraordinarily supple, and his intonation was beyond reproach, no matter how high the exposed notes. Novo and his student musicians provided a fine and carefully-balanced accompaniment. During comments during an earlier EMF “Musically Speaking” session, Haimovitz said that next season he is going to add to his repertory a nocturne Korngold intended for Deception that was not used in the film.
Franz Waxman’s Carmen Fantasie (1947) is a showpiece for the violin composed for the film Humoresque. It quickly became common fare in the concert hall. Haimovitz played his own transcription for the cello. His rapid, varied bowings and pizzicatos were thrilling enough, but his execution of what several string players called a trill on double stops was simply staggering.
Novo directed a satisfying standard interpretation of Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 4 in d minor, Op. 120. The difficult opening chords were perfectly weighted, and the string sections displayed very disciplined ensemble. Highlights of the four continuously-played movements were the excellent horns in the first movement, the fine solos from the cello and oboe in the second, an organ-like quality for the winds and brass in the third, and a particularly well-prepared transition to the finale, in which the brass had a chance to shine.