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As the July 21 concert in Dana Auditorium progressed, the all-student orchestra played with assurance and considerable passion. The program, selected by conductor Scott Sandmeier, put a premium on dazzling instrumental virtuosity, and his players readily repaid his confidence in them.
No dust was allowed to settle on Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Capriccio Espangnol," Op. 34. The opening alborada came off beautifully; there was exemplary sectional playing in the initial statement by the full orchestra, and the clarinet sang the theme brazenly above rich-sounding pizzicatos by the entire string section. Concertmaster Chaung-Lung Lin (from Tainan, Taiwan) delivered his multiple solos throughout the work with fiery panache and was outstanding in every way. The variation portion found the entire horn section in its top form. A series of cadenzas showcased the skills of the cello, clarinet, flute, horn, and oboe principals.
Showmanship for the soloist is the focus of "Totentanz," a paraphrase on Dies Irae, for piano and orchestra, composed during Franz Liszt's years as a traveling virtuoso. No thundering bass notes, no surging arpeggios, and no cascade of dense notes found soloist Yoshikazu Nagai wanting in any aspect of technique or taste. There was no spreading of pitch in low notes delivered maximum dynamic levels. The quieter portions featured many magical filigrees of delicate treble notes.
The first three symphonies of Tchaikovsky need a special touch in order to have their maximum effect. Often, a light orchestral texture must be established, and always a sense of forward momentum must be maintained. Conductor Sandmeier and his musicians had the measure of the composer's Symphony No. 2, in c minor, Op. 17 ("Little Russian"). The solo horn superbly phrased the folk tune, "Down by the Volga," that opens the symphony. The strings had a ample, rich texture. Balances among the sections were excellent. Deft attention to phrasing and rhythm helped keep the repetitions of the march in the second movement from sounding boring. The scherzo sprang forward with an almost Mendelssohnian incandescence. Sandmeier's crowning achievement was the last movement. Well-sprung rhythms and careful attention to Tchaikovsky's wide palette were used in the composer's orchestrations of the folk tune "The Crane." All sections played with passionate commitment.