Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 49
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
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New Jersey Symphony Warms Up Weekend With Classical Variations

Nancy Plum

The day after Thanksgiving is always a time for winding down. For a number of years, the members of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra have “wound down” by presenting appealing concerts at Richardson Auditorium on the night after the holiday. This year, guest conductor Thierry Fischer and the orchestra explored “Classical Variations” — three symphonic works rooted in the 18th century Classical tradition. The three works of Prokofiev, Beethoven, and Schubert were presented by the ensemble as variations on the Classical attributes of simplicity and balance, and Mr. Fischer particularly focused on the balance of dynamics and texture.

Sergei Prokofiev composed his “Classical” Symphony No. 1 in the style of Franz Joseph Haydn, and the NJSO appropriately maintained the Haydn-esque flavor with light strings in the opening Allegro. Mr. Fischer led the work in a tempo which was not overly fast, with an especially nice drop in dynamic level before the second theme. Also notable was the steadiness of the bassoons against the second theme in the strings.

As conductor, Mr. Fischer did a great deal with dynamics throughout the work, and demonstrated a lot of stylistic flair on the podium, certainly evident in the nice Viennese style found in the second movement. The third movement Gavotte was a bit heavy-handed, perhaps stressing the symphony’s Russian roots, but Mr. Fischer brought out well the dance element of the movement. The fourth movement was begun in a nice quick tempo, with good dynamic builds within the music. Mr. Fischer also emphasized the question-and-answer effect between the violins and violas as he brought the work to a close in a very quick tempo.

The New Jersey Symphony’s next concert will be on January 30, 2009 with violinist Brittany Sklar and the music of Kodaly, Copland, Barber, and Dvorak. For information call the Richardson box office at (609) 258-5000.

The Classical roots of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 were self-evident and further highlighted by the sensitive yet deliberate playing of guest soloist Simone Dinnerstein. Ms. Dinnerstein, an American pianist receiving a great deal of attention for her recent recording of Bach, plays very close to the keyboard and with a good sense of drama in the music. This concerto is pretty tame by Beethoven standards, and Ms. Dinnerstein especially emphasized the even running 16th notes which are characteristic of the period in which the work was written. The cadenza to the first movement contains most of the drama of the movement, and Ms. Dinnerstein effectively enabled the cadenza to become a small piano work unto itself. Her unison runs in the third movement were especially impressive and she maintained a very light touch on transition passages in the same movement.

Mr. Fischer kept the orchestral playing well within the Classical style, with light rhythmic punctuation by timpanist Randall Hicks. This concerto is scored for no clarinets and only one flute, but the winds, especially principal players oboist Robert Ingliss and flutist Bart Feller, maintained a good contrast against the strings.

Mr. Fischer closed the concert with Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 4, a work which was modeled on the Haydn Sturm und Drang dramatic style. The first movement in particular contained many dramatic sequences, led off by a rich sectional cello sound against crisp rising winds. Mr. Fischer’s tempo was again not overly fast for the first movement, but by the coda, the work had gotten up to speed.

Well blended strings marked the second movement Andante, and the Ländler which comprised the center of the third movement Menuetto was very smooth. The orchestra closed the work with effective drama, which definitely left the audience on a high note. Although the choice of encore (Schubert’s incidental music to Rosamunde) may have been a bit anti-climactic, the short work did provide an opportunity to show off the elegant playing of oboist Ingliss and flutist Feller.

The day-after-Thanksgiving concert by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra has become a tradition in the Princeton cultural community, and the audience’s reaction to Friday night’s concert indicated that people are certainly receptive to this musical alternative to Thanksgiving football.

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