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Orchestral Music Review

Aria, Ballet, and Concerto - The Raleigh Symphony Orchestra at Meredith

February 7, 2009 - Raleigh, NC:

To appear on this program each performer first had to compete among a group of Meredith students. Winning a competition involving outside judges qualified four students to participate in the “24th  Meredith College Student Concerto/Aria Competition.” Supporting the students and providing the opening and closing ballet numbers was the Raleigh Symphony Orchestra. All performances were under the direction of Jim Waddelow, Meredith faculty member and Assistant Conductor of the RSO.

From the downbeat of the opening “Prometheus Overture,” a couple of facts came to the fore. First, there was no doubt that in this early work Beethoven had already begun to depart from his Haydnesque roots. And second, Waddelow had the orchestra primed into a fine state of readiness. In this piece and in the closing waltz from Tchiakovsky’s Sleeping Beauty Suite, the players evinced astonishing precision and polish. Since any missteps would have tended to be obvious, these two familiar “warhorses” presented both vulnerability and opportunity.

Soprano Stephanie Thurm, a junior, brought to the stage a silky voice of great potential for “Must Winter Come So Soon” from Samuel Barber’s opera Vanessa. She effectively projected the dark mood that the piece demands. She could profit from efforts to better control vibrato, that malady tending to dog so many otherwise fine sopranos. “Voi che sapete” from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro was the vehicle employed by mezzo Sarah Combs. The senior was personable with excellent stage presence in the role of Cherubino, the young page singing to the Countess. Her smooth and well controlled mid range complemented the admirable performance.

Chelsea Stith played the piano probably like no sophomore you have ever heard. She chose the allegro movement from a work by Bach, identified in the printed program only as “Piano Concerto No. 1 in d minor.” (Concerto for harpsichord and strings, S 1052?) Her fingering on this demanding piece was stunning, an obvious favorite of the enthusiastic crowd. Soprano Casey Coats divides her studying time between Meredith and North Carolina State University. “Glitter and Be Gay” from Leonard Bernstein’s Candide was her choice, and a fortunate one it was. Her natural flair for the dramatic and the comedic was on terrific display as her character pranced and preened and arrayed herself in jewelry to the delight of the audience. Her stage future would seem bright indeed.

This uncommon program was a joy from start to finish. Despite seemingly dark days for the finer arts, the prognosis for serious music is encouraging.