Chamber Orchestra Review

Entirely Mozart Night at the Eastern Music Festival

July 10, 2004 - Greensboro, NC:

A concert featuring a posthorn is more rare than receiving a Susan B. Anthony dollar in change. Mozart's Serenade No. 9, in D, K320 ("Posthorn"), brought the July 10 concert to a sparkling finish. According to Steven Ledbetter's notes, both "a real symphony and a sinfonia concertante, made up of movements 3 and 4," are concealed within its seven movements. The composer used the first, fifth, and seventh movements to create a free-standing symphony. The nickname for the serenade comes from the use of a valveless posthorn in the second Menuetto. In the 18th century, calls blown by a post carriage driver would announce his arrival at a scheduled stop. The most striking thing in the first movement is Mozart's repeated use of the "Mannheim rocket," a long crescendo that was a specialty of that famed court orchestra. The third and fourth movements are feasts for the ears with their myriad interplay among the flutes, oboes, and bassoons.

New Yorkers of a certain vintage could have been forgiven if they thought they were at an unusually well-prepared "Mostly Mozart" concert in the '70 or '80s. The longtime director of that series, Gerard Schwarz, led the EMF's all-faculty Eastern Philharmonic Orchestra. He secured fine string detailing and a firm rhythmic base. A refined menu of quiet playing helped maximize the Serenade's crescendo effect. Every section and principal player was alert and fully engaged. Flutist Les Roettges, oboist Eric Olson, and bassoonist Cedric Coleman strongly characterized the third and fourth movement. Standing near the back of the cellos at the right, principal trumpet Rodney Mack gave a flawless performance of the posthorn part using no valves - just embouchure, lungs and a prayer.

A vigorous performance of the Symphony No. 35, in D, K.385 ("Haffner") opened the concert. Using the full orchestra, Schwarz secured tight ensemble and fine balance among the brass, woodwinds, and strings. His tempos were well with the traditional, and the work benefited from a solid underpinning of strongly defined rhythms.

Guest horn soloist Eric Ruske brought an even and lustrous tone to the Horn Concerto No. 4, in E-flat, K.495. The first movement's cadenza featured Ruske's brilliant trills, the second movement displayed his breath control while spinning long melodic lines, and the third exhibited his articulation of fast passages and his ability to sustain long-held notes.