New Jersey Symphony Orchestra brought a refreshing winter program to Richardson Auditorium on Friday night as guest conductor Douglas Boyd led the audience through a potpourri of Italiana, ranging from the late Renaissance to the 20th century.
Mr. Boyd hails from Scotland, and with a strong background in chamber ensembles, his approach to the music was intimate and concise, and full of dry British humor. The concert also served as a continuing tribute to the orchestra's Golden Age instrument collection, featuring violin soloists playing on classic 18th century instruments.
The works of Gioachino Rossini provide plenty of room for humor. La Scala di Seta is one of Rossini's lesser performed early works, and in its Overture, Mr. Boyd had no trouble conveying the dichotomy between the melody in the winds and the rapid patter in the strings. Oboist Carolyn Pollak and flutist Bart Feller were especially expressive in their contributions to the energetic and lyrical melodic lines. Mr. Boyd and the ensemble played the Overture as if it were introducing a typical Rossini farce, with quick, clean tempi and teasingly drawn-out transitions.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra's next performance will be January 27. This concert, on Mozart's 250th birthday, will feature Vladimir Feltsman as conductor and pianist in several Mozart works. For tickets call 1 800-ALLEGRO.
Violinists Brennan Sweet and Rebekah Johnson, both assistant principals of their respective sections, have been fortunate enough to be able to play the 18th century Stradivarius instruments of the orchestra's Golden Age collection. Although retooled for the modern player, these historic instruments are tailor-made for music of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and they did not disappoint in Archangelo Corellis Concerto Grosso in F Major.
Corelli's works are built on musical language, with a continuous dialogue between the soloists and the orchestra. Mr. Sweet and Ms. Johnson played their violins as if they were one instrument, well matched in timbre and color, trilling in unison especially well. Although cellist Carole Whitney appeared to be playing on a modern instrument, her tone well matched the other two soloists, with a particularly languid solo in the "Largo" andante.
Michael Tippett's Fantasia Concertante may have seemed as if it did not belong on this program, but its roots in a theme of Corelli enabled it to flow seamlessly from the Corelli concerto. Tippett scored his piece for the same trio of string soloists, and Mr. Sweet, Ms. Johnson, and Ms. Whitney maintained the same essence of musical dialogue and precision. The unusual orchestral formation of two choirs of upper strings bracketing the celli and double basses allowed the dialogue to flow across the stage. Tippett scored his solo parts with significant virtuosity, much of which fell to Mr. Sweet, who executed these measures effortlessly. With Mr. Boyd constantly playing with tempi and effect, the players had to watch their conductor.
The orchestra showed off another of its principal players, featuring Robert Wagner in Vivaldi's Bassoon Concerto in A minor. It was a fast and furious concerto, with the intensity of Vivaldi's more well-known Four Seasons concerti. The solo part moved quickly over the range of the bassoon, and despite the rapid playing, Mr. Wagner was able to find lyricism against the harpsichord accompaniment.
Although Mr. Wagner's bassoon is very different than the instrument for which Vivaldi wrote his concerti, Mr. Wagner's tone fit right into the texture of the strings fabric. The long solo lines in the second movement were played particularly smoothly.
A rousing Overture to Guillaume Tell by Rossini closed the evening, bringing the brass and timpani into the concert for the first time and bringing the audience to its feet in appreciation of the program. This was a concert that seemed to give the audience a chance to relax after the busy holidays, and they seemed visibly refreshed at the program's conclusion.
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