The Raleigh Symphony Orchestra did some of its best playing and entertaining in Jones Auditorium on Sunday evening, pleasing its fairly large audience with well-known music of the Romantic period of Germany and France. The second half of the program featured French solo harp music and concluded with an arrangement of Pachelbel’s frequently performed Canon in D for — count ’em — eleven harps and orchestra. The RSO and its Music Director and Conductor Alan Neilson offered a well-played concert in which all the instrumentalists demonstrated the techniques of fine ensemble musicians: crisp beginnings and endings of phrases, accurate intonation, and careful attention to dynamics

The concert opened with Robert Schumann’s Manfred Overture, Op.115, first performed in 1852. This music portrays the suffering and Sturm und Drang dominating the life of Lord Byron’s guilt-ridden, ultra-romantic character Manfred, whose anguish is a result of the suggested illicit love between him and his deceased half-sister Astarte. In the brasses and lower winds and their constant dynamic shifts, Schumann’s dark, brooding orchestration emphasizes Manfred’s unending torments and holds the attention of the audience. One need not know Manfred’s story to respond suitably to Schumann’s evocative scoring. This piece received one of the orchestra’s best performances of the evening.

Next was the “Academic Festival” Overture, composed in 1880, one of Johannes Brahms’ most famous pieces, with its incorporation of four university tunes and other music reflecting the university atmosphere as seen by one not directly involved. The successful performance of this overture requires crisp, classical phrasing, and strong techniques by all the instrumentalists in the orchestra, all of which Brahms himself would have heard in the RSO’s performance.

The last music performed on the first half of the program was Franz Schubert’s great Symphony No. 8 in B minor (the “Unfinished”), the two extant movements of which were completed in 1822. The first movement, an allegro moderato, will always be recognized for its famous, beautiful cello melody, and the passionate, grand orchestral playing in the second movement, a stirring andante con moto, has power and beauty that touch the hearts of its listeners. Neilson and his instrumentalists, particularly the principal cellist, were able to project the complete musical intentions of the allegro moderato but were less successful with the second movement.

The music on the second half of this concert, for which many people in the audience were waiting, featured magnificent playing of the harp by Anita Burroughs-Price and eleven of her students from North and South Carolina. Burroughs-Price showed her mastery of the instrument in two major compositions, conducted by Jim Waddelow. In Maurice Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro,” commissioned in 1905, the composer’s impressionistic style is given full expression, especially the rich orchestral color in the winds, strings, and harp, which is plucked and thus stands out from the sustained voices of the other instruments. This work has always impressed players and audiences, especially because of its demands on the harpist to make complete use of the instrument’s great range and color. Burroughs-Price certainly met these demands and was treated to an enthusiastic response from her appreciative audience. The “Sicilienne” by Gabriel Fauré, written in 1898 and dramatizing the story of Pelleas and Melisande, was the third and most famous of the four movements of the work; it is the composer’s evocative depiction of a particularly romantic scene between the two lovers. The orchestral music and certainly the scoring for harp in this movement gave every musician on stage, most particularly Burroughs-Price, the chance to contribute to the romantic power of the piece.

To conclude the evening’s performance, Burroughs-Price, her ten students* and their harps crowded the stage as the principal performers in Johann Pachelbel’s ubiquitous but beloved Canon in D.  The competent playing of teacher and students was a tribute to everyone involved.

*These are the students: Abby Baxter (7), Stephanie Baxter (7), & Georgia Baxter (10) (Wake Forest); EmmaLee Morrison (8) (Cary); Emily Parker (11) (Efland); Wilson Storey (13) (Wake Forest); Karla Shuford (Shelby, now at Meredith College); Winnie B. Holland (Shelby, now at NCSU); Andrea Blanchfield (Wake Forest, now at Furman University); & Brittany Stokes (Atlanta, now at Furman University).