Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 11
 
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
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Music/Theater

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Depicts 19th Century Drama through Music

Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra subtitled its most recent concert series “Don Juan,” referring to the Richard Strauss tone poem which was the centerpiece of the program. However, rather than be at the core of the performance with other works bracketing, the complex Strauss piece was at the end, preceded by three other pieces full of action and stories. Guest conductor Lawrence Renes relied on his experience in opera to guide the NJSO players through a performance on Friday night in Richardson Auditorium which was full of musical narratives and drama.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture tells a story of revenge and tragedy rooted in the Roman Empire, and the concise one-movement work is packed with instrumental activity. Mr. Renes maintained an intense drama, and although the music could have used a bit more instrumental bite at times, the levels of intensity were built well. The ensemble was especially well balanced in the lyrical section of the piece, with the winds nicely embedded in the orchestral fabric.

New Jersey Symphony will present its final concert of the 2009-10 Richardson series on Friday April 30. It will be Conducted by Ludovic Morlot, the concert will feature Strauss’ “Four Last Songs,” Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, and guest soprano Jennifer Check. For information call 1-800-ALLEGRO.

Mr. Renes followed the Beethoven opener with a piece which showcased one of the orchestra’s own — Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor featuring principal cellist Jonathan Spitz. Although not a specifically programmatic work, this concerto depicts the story of Schumann himself; Mr. Spitz described the concerto as an expression of Schumann’s “pain and vulnerability with a hopeful yearning for a world that doesn’t have that pain.”

Mr. Spitz clearly took a very personal approach to the concerto, and his mastery of Schumann’s technical demands was evident. He opened the first movement with a clean cello line and very even vibrato, with an especially delicate sound in the high register. Playing the 1742 Balestrieri cello, Mr. Spitz brought out the concerto’s classical roots as well as its Romantic pathos.

The second movement featured a duet between the cello soloist and principal cello from the orchestra, in this case Stephen Fang. Mr. Fang’s instrument possessed a reedier character than that of Mr. Spitz, and the two timbres went together well, accompanied by bassoonist Robert Wagner, and joined by the rest of the ensemble.

The crisp third movement featured the most technically demanding aspects of the concerto. As in the first movement, the orchestra set up the soloist well, and Mr. Spitz had clearly put a great deal of thought into the motivic sequences and running passages. As the piece picked up speed toward the end, Mr. Spitz’s quick passages were perfectly timed with the violins. It was also clear at the work’s conclusion that Mr. Spitz is well respected by his peers in the orchestra.

The orchestra took a break from story-telling to present a refreshing Mozart Linz Symphony, composed in the Classical tradition of Franz Joseph Haydn. The opening adagio brought out the majestic and martial nature of the work, and Mr. Renes paid particular attention to dynamic variety in the allegro which followed. The scoring of this work is unusual in that there are no flutes, and the overall wind color was darker, aided by very clean horns and a lean sectional violin sound. Phrases in the third movement’s trio were elegantly played by oboist Robert Ingliss, echoed by bassoonist Robert Wagner.

The orchestra then delved into Strauss’ programmatic tone poem, increasing the ensemble’s size to accommodate a vastly more dense orchestral color. Strauss scored this work for a greater variety of instruments, mostly in the percussion section, and an expanded brass section. Mr. Renes allowed the orchestra to play full out, with especially precise brass amidst a great deal of instrumental activity. The two mistresses in Don Juan’s life were portrayed by solo violin and oboe, played by concertmaster Eric Wyrick and Robert Ingliss, respectively. Mr. Ingliss had a particularly long line to maintain, never seeming to breathe while playing. The orchestra closed the “Don Juan” story with a striking and substantial sound, and treated the audience to a graceful encore in the “Nimrod” movement of Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations.

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