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Vocal music from a child's point of view dominated an unusually satisfying concert in Greensboro's War Memorial Auditorium on April 1. Soprano Marvis Martin joined conductor Dmitry Sitkovetsky and the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra for two works that reflect upon opposite ends of Time but that are nonetheless complementary.
Martin used her perfect diction combined with sensitive phrasing to evoke memories of a hot summer evening long ago in Samuel Barber's Knoxville, Summer of 1915, Op. 24. At the post concert "Meet the Artists," she explained that she drew upon her own childhood experiences in the Deep South. Sitkovetsky led a perfectly idiomatic performance with the delicate strings, woodwinds and brass, especially subtle horns, weaving Barber's richly evocative score. The James Agee text is a child's stream of conscious memory of a summer evening in 1915.
Every section was in top form for Sitkovetsky's penetrating performance of Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 4 in G Minor. With its transparent orchestration, it easily fulfilled the conductor's description of it as "Mahler's 'Pastoral' Symphony." Sitkovetsky's reseating of orchestra sections, with clearly divided violins, paid dividends in further clarifying textures. Behind the split violins across the front of the stage, the double basses, cellos and violas formed distinctly delineated lower string sections. Much of the time, individual players and sections function as chamber musicians, coalescing in a huge, unstoppable wave of sound at climaxes. Concertmaster John Fadial had a number of important solos. To emphasize the rustic in the second movement, Mahler directs that the Concertmaster use a second violin tuned scordatura , with its E string raised to F# to give it a tinny sound like a country fiddle. His duets with the normally tuned violin of Associate Concertmaster Fabrice Dharamraj were very effective. Fine solos were also given by principals cellist Beth Vanderborgh, clarinetist Kelly Burke, flutist Debra Reuter-Pivetta, violist Scott Rawls and Robert Campbell, leading the horns. Described in some references as a "Child's Vision of Heaven," the fourth movement is a setting of the poem "Der Himmel hängt voll Geigen" ("Heaven is Hung With Fiddles") from the early Romantic anthology Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Martin ideally delivered the words with naïve innocence, simply and without affectation.
The concert opened with Three Dance Episodes from Leonard Bernstein's ballet On the Town. Vigorous and sassy brass and sappy woodwinds were dominant features of the "Dance of the Great Lover" from the Dream Ballet in Act II. Rhythms were lively and string attacks were crisp and precise. The Pas de deux from the "Lonely Town" Ballet in Act I is slow and languorous with a lovely muted trumpet solo accompanied by low woodwinds. "Times Square Ballet," from the Finale of Act I, is jazzy and features snatches of the tunes "On the Town" and "New York, New York." Kelly Burke's saucy and brash clarinet solo was superb, as was the alto saxophone solo. The piece combines aspects of jazz and swing music.