A fine program of suites by French, Spanish and American composers resulted in a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon in the Ballroom of NCSU's University Student Center April 28. The occasion was the last performance of the season by the Chamber Orchestra of the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association, whose final full-symphony program was reviewed last week in these pages by Marvin J. Ward. This is the little orchestra that could and can and does-produce! Part of the reason for its success rests with its Music Director, Randolph Foy, whose presence at NCSU and in our larger community has served as a magnet for better and better players. That he is keen on rarely-performed music from all periods and contemporary music in particular doesn't hurt a bit. In this, his situation, within the comparatively "safe" confines of a university framework, means that he is pretty much immune to the vagaries and concerns of orchestras who are more dependent upon revenue from ticket sales than the RCSA's two groups are. Sixty or so souls were on hand when this latest concert began. More patrons came in as it progressed. At the end, there was a respectable crowd-which doesn't necessarily mean that those who turned up on time were not respectable! Still, the latecomers missed the afternoon's most intriguing revelation-that old Fauré, remembered as a bearded, mustachioed figure from illustrations such as the one reprinted in the program booklet, may have sired the child Dolly for whom he wrote his wonderful little Dolly Suite, for piano four hands, which was performed in an orchestration by Henri Rabaud at the outset of the program under review. This made the Fauré Suite "love music" every bit as much as were Falla's El amor brujo Suite (given in an orchestration by William Ryden) and David Diamond's stunning Music for Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet .
The strings, headed by Concertmaster Lyda Cruden, were not absolutely together in the opening work, but the problem was ensemble as opposed to intonation, and it didn't persist very long. There was commendable strength within the woodwind and brass sections, and there were, during the afternoon, some truly stellar solo bits from various principals. The group was about half an orchestra-19 strings and 15 others-and was thus more than appropriate for the music selected. The aforementioned printed program, again with major contributions by Foy, was-as usual-a model of its kind, particularly for an educational institution. Would that the presenters of, say, the Great Artists Series would get the message that program notes make a difference at the concert and in later, at-home reading and study, too.
The version of Falla's El amor brujo that was played omitted the singer and telescoped the music severely, leading some in attendance to be unsure that it was over when it was. The RCCO projected a great deal of mood and emotion with the grand score, whose original vocalist was a singer-dancer about whom we know little concerning voice type and ability. One patron mentioned de los Angeles in connection with it, and it's true that she made a wonderful recording (recently reissued in the "Great Recordings of the Century" series), but for our money, the ambiguous sexuality of low mezzos (or even unclassifiable singers, as the creator may have been) work best. Josephine Burzio, a contralto who sounds like a tenor, sang it with Toscanini in the late '30s; a recording of the broadcast hints at what we missed with the omission of the vocal lines. Still, the RCCO's performance, which ended with the "Ritual Fire Dance," had a great deal going for it.
Foy's passion for contemporary music extends to some wild and wooly things, but Diamond's set of music for Romeo and Juliet isn't of that nature. The links between music and literature are many and varied, and this score seems to follow the story line fairly closely. The rambunctious Overture depicts the tumult of the conflict between the Montagues and Capulets, with a few reflective passages that heighten contrast. The Balcony Scene is realized in light brush-strokes, with lots of pizzicatti that may suggest lute accompaniment of some un-sung serenade. There's a measure of the Gothic in the movement devoted to Romeo and the Friar, and the section depicting Juliet and her Nurse has the fairly typical twittering of the latter against the extended melodic lines, perhaps depicting longing, of the former. The five-part suite ends with the two deaths. Those who know Prokofiev's magnificent version (which is actually danced fairly often, unlike many Stravinsky ballets) could find much common ground in Diamond's lush and evocative music, which managed never to sound very "American." We are indebted to Foy and his artists for bringing it to Raleigh.
For more information about the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association, see http://www.ncsu.edu/rcs/.