Conductors often ally themselves with specific composers to promote their music and expose these composers works to the public's ear. Lawrence Foster, Music Director of the Gulbenkian Orchestra in Lisbon and guest conductor of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra (NJSO) this past weekend, has long been an advocate of the music of Romanian composer Georges Enesco, whose works are largely unknown, with the exception of his popular Rhapsodies.
Mr. Foster paired two short Enesco works with two popular symphonic war horses in the orchestra's post-Thanksgiving concert Friday night in Richardson Auditorium. Enesco's Orchestral Suite No. 1 focuses heavily on strings, which the NJSO used as an opportunity to showcase its Golden Age Collection of historic instruments in the two movements of the Suite presented Friday night. Mr. Foster referred to these movements as "soundbites" of Enesco's music, designed to both show the composer's style (including his fascination with Bach) and acknowledge the 50th anniversary of his death. The opening long unison Prélude for strings was described by Mr. Foster as a Bach solo sonata with Romanian harmonies, and the orchestra's string section, subtly accompanied by timpanist Randall Hicks, brought out the nationalistic Slavic feeling with a sound not heavily overladen with vibrato. This was passionate music, marked with clean breaks in phrasing. The winds in the second movement blended well into the string color, with an especially effective English horn drone played by Andrew Adelson.
Mr. Foster may seek to promote the music of Enesco, but the audience's heart on Friday night belonged to Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2, especially as performed by pianist Jonathan Biss. A child prodigy in a long line of family musicians, Mr. Biss took a very delicate approach to the concerto, playing with great fluidity and an especially light left hand. He tapered the music within the phrases while bringing out the playful side of the piece. The cadenzas, especially in the first movement, were small pieces in themselves. Mr. Foster used a somewhat angular and jagged conducting style in this work, fortunately tempered by Mr. Biss' artistry. The second movement Adagio was stately, with Mr. Biss drawing out the closing measures in song-like quality. In the third movement, it was evident that this concerto was the type of music which could play itself, and a work in which one could easily imagine Beethoven sitting at the keyboard in performance.
Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 brought the orchestra to its fullest sound, with Mr. Foster eliciting a graceful flow among the four movements. The Scottish 'snaps' which give this symphony its nickname were well executed, and clarinetist Karl Herman provided a sprightly Scottish theme. Although the instruments did not always speak at the same time in the third movement syncopations, the movement was striking in its very steady brass and consistently accurate winds.
The New Jersey Symphony is in transition this year to having Neeme Järvi as its full-fledged music director. The orchestra's choices of its guest conductors has brought a wide array of styles and personalities to New Jersey stages, each of whom has brought a unique musical taste to the podium. Throughout this transition year, the orchestra has maintained its solid musicianship and ensemble artistry.
The New Jersey Symphony Orchestra's next concert on January 6, 2006 will present music of Rossini, Corelli, Respighi and Tippett, with several of the orchestra members featured as soloists. For information call 1-800-ALLEGRO.
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