The third Masterworks Series concert of the 59th season of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra played to a large audience at the Dana Auditorium at Guilford College. The evening opened with the popular Concerto for Two Violins and Cello in D minor, Op. 3, No. 11, from L’Estro Armonico, by Antonio Vivaldi, which for several centuries was the only well-known work of the “Red Priest,” thanks in part to J. S. Bach’s magnificent transcription for organ (S.596). (In more recent times, the Swingle Singers used the first fugue to open many of their concerts in the 1970s.) Music director Dmitry Sitkovetsky modestly left the first violin solo part to the eminent violinist Jaime Laredo, whose wife, equally eminent cellist, Sharon Robinson, completed the trio of soloists.

As much as I love this work, I could not help but feel that it did not benefit from as much care and attention as the rest of the very well-rehearsed program. And why was the pretty pink harpsichord pointed away from the audience – in the balcony, one could not hear it at all!

The rest of the program consisted of a premiere of Chris Brubeck‘s Pas de Deux, commissioned by the Laredo-Robinson Duo, as well as major excerpts from Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet, Romeo and Juliet.

The Brubeck name is familiar to most musicians thanks to the fame of “Take Five” jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, father of tonight’s featured composer, Chris Brubeck, who is well-known as a bassist, trombonist, composer, and music educator.

Commissioned by a consortium of orchestras, including the GSO and the Vermont Symphony (who performed the first of the”premiere”performances), the Pas de Deux – a choreographic term which indicates a major solo duet for the two principal dancers – is a 21-minute work in three movements which highlights the strengths of the soloists.

Starting with the cello solo, the initial whimsical Bach-ian solo line is joined by the violin before the orchestra takes up a waltz-like rhythm, characteristically interrupted by meter changes before returning to the waltz. The composer had fun pairing the cello solo against the rest of the orchestra cellos in a complex and long dialogue or musical argument – and what a lovely tone Robinson produced!

The second movement is romantic and makes great use of the muted strings, cool harmonies and neat colors in the woodwinds. Of the three contrasting movements, I was most taken by the third, by far the longest of the three. It includes two stunning cadenzas, one for each instrument – unlike the cadenza in Brahms’ prototype, which combined the two soloists in a joint cadenza. The mood is lightly rhythmic, jazzy and had several heads bobbing in the otherwise sober orchestra countenance. A walking bass pizzicato line introduces a hint of Grappelli in Laredo’s solo line and much use is made of irregular meters, especially 7/4. The audience voiced its approval vociferously.

After intermission the orchestra performed seven excerpts of Prokofiev’s most popular ballet, Romeo and Juliet. Here the tone of the strings was lustrous and warm and the dynamics carefully monitored. There were plenty of little inaccuracies – attacks not together and unison staccatos (notably a series of 16 percussive staccatos), which didn’t come together for at least 5 beats. On the other hand, there were some magnificent solos – Carol Bernstorf on bassoon, concertmaster Marjorie Bagley, principal cellist Alexander Ezerman, Kelly Burke on clarinet, Debra Reuter-Pivetta on flute, and the whole horn section! And there were some great chilling ponticello effects from the strings. Again the audience manifested its approval in a standing ovation.

This program will be repeated Saturday evening. See the sidebar for details.