Orchestral Music Review Print



EMF's Terrific All-American Orchestral Program

July 2, 2005 - Greensboro, NC:


The opening EMF orchestral concert, given on July 2, was the most brilliant I can recall since 1979. The benefits of the appointment of conductor Gerard Schwarz as Music Advisor have borne fruit. Schwarz has done more than anyone since Bernstein to promote widespread performances of music by important 20th-century American composers in the concert hall and on CDs. Instead of a classical or romantic warhorse, finely crafted works by composers who never took up the once-dominant "academic" atonal style easily held a packed Dana Auditorium audience's attention.

David Diamond's Symphony No. 4 was commissioned by the Koussevitzky Foundation in memory of the conductor's wife Natalie and premiered in 1948. The nonmusical ideas behind the piece were thoughts of mortality suggested by the founder of psychophysics, Gustav Fechner, who viewed death as a transitional form of sleep. While the music is readily accessible and tonal, the composer has his own unique voice. The first movement is lyrical and often lightly scored, with sprightly writing for the oboe. The second movement has a thicker, romantic texture with an orchestral piano part, played on this occasion by Gideon Rubin. Sections with pizzicato strings and a lovely brass chorale were memorable. The finale is fast and jaunty, with nice parts for oboe and trumpet. A rhythmic section for piano and percussion caught my attention.

The past two decades have seen Samuel Barber's entrancing Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14, take its place a part of the basic canon for many violinists. The first two movements are sweetly lyrical; the second is a rhapsodic meditation filled with a bittersweet sadness. The important second movement oboe solo was gorgeously phrased by principal Eric Olson. The short finale tests the violinist's armory of techniques with its perpetual motion played at a headlong dash, rapidly bowed. Schwarz provided well-balanced accompaniment for Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, a controversial soloist. Some critics have been put off by her distracting body language, but some members of the public take this to be intense involvement. I have heard her in concert half a dozen times; on this occasion she was on her best behavior. While her face was a constantly shifting pattern of expressions, she stood still pretty much in one place while playing and did not unnecessarily call attention to herself when she was not. She projected rich and warm tone, stylishly phrased and with excellent intonation.

Aaron Copland was an established master when he composed "An Outdoor Overture" in 1938. It has all the characteristics of his mature style – clean, open sonorities, and clear-cut rhythms. The composer described the four themes used as "grandiose," "snappy and march-like," "lyric," and "march-like." All are eventually combined. Schwarz led a vibrant performance with brilliant trumpets and a superb bassoon solo; the "lyric" theme was wafted by gentle and well-blended cellos and violas.

It seems that almost every major 20th-century American composer studied with Nadia Boulanger except Howard Hanson. His music owes more to Sibelius than to French elegance and refined sense of color. The composer's "Romantic" Symphony (No. 2), Op. 30, is aptly named. The melodic lines are extraordinarily broad and immediately hold one's attention. Schwarz led a vivid interpretation defined by alert attacks, tight ensemble, full and rich strings, and glowing brass. Among the principals who performed outstanding solos were Leslie Norton, horn, Eric Olson, oboe, and Karen Birch, English horn.

For a list of the EMF's concerts, click here [inactive 11/05].