Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 41
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
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A Rich Orchestral Program Opens Westminster Community Orchestra’s Season

Nancy Plum

There are a number of ways to interpret how Westminster Community Orchestra’s fall concert received its subtitled “Autumnal Strains” and its connection to this time of year. A selection from Alexander Glazunov’s The Seasons needs no explanation, but Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony and Brahms’ Double Concerto for Violin and Cello also have a place on an early fall day, with Schubert’s warm melodies and Brahms rich orchestration evoking changing leaves. To open Sunday afternoon’s program in Richardson Auditorium, conductor Ruth Ochs chose a work with a familiar title but by a lesser-performed composer. Most concertgoers are familiar with Vivaldi’s The Seasons, but 19th century Russian composer Alexander Glazunov also wrote a suite of pieces to match the yearly seasons. Unlike Vivaldi’s courtly suite, Glazunov composed The Seasons for a 1900 Imperial Ballet performance.

The music of Autumn tells a story, starting off with a lively Bacchanal. Dr. Ochs began the Bacchanal in a quick tempo, with the slightly raucous but appropriate flavor emphasized by cleanly played winds. Autumn is a loosely-knit collection of eight short pieces, throughout which the Community Orchestra demonstrated its ability to shift musical styles. Principal clarinetist Daniel Beerbohm was busy during this piece, playing very elegant solos at various times. The flute section as a whole provided clean octaves between the flute and piccolo, and oboist Helen Ackley was especially effective performing double duty on the oboe and English horn.

The Westminster Community Orchestra will present its next program on Saturday, January 29, 2011 at Richardson Auditorium. Tickets for “Orchestral Gems” can be obtained by calling (609) 258-9220.

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in b minor is known for its great Viennese tune, but there are many other opportunities within the two-movement Unfinished work for orchestral finesse and refinement. The Community Orchestra has an army of celli and doubles basses which carried the first movement well, accompanied by very restrained violas and horns. The tune was echoed clearly by the upper strings and Dr. Ochs brought out variety in the music as the theme developed. Dr. Ochs also emphasized the drama in Schubert’s changes of mood and kept the swirling winds well blended in the counter-melody. Especially effective were the swells of intensity toward the end of the movement.

The winds continued their accurate playing through the second movement Andante, particularly Ms. Ackley on the oboe/English horn and clarinetist Mr. Beerbohm. Delicate three-note motives were clean in the winds and the harmonies changed well within the entire ensemble.

The Community Orchestra was joined by two soloists in the closing section of the program: Brahms Double Concerto for Violin and Cello in a minor. Violinist Ileana Ciumac is on the faculty of the Westminster Conservatory and plays with an impressive number of area ensembles, including serving as concertmistress of the Community Orchestra. Cellist Tomasz Rzeczycki also teaches at the Conservatory and has a solid background in chamber music both in this country and his native Poland. These two soloists brought their chamber music expertise to the Community Orchestra for the Brahms concerto, communicating well with each other in the dialog between instruments.

The solo violin personality was more improvisatory than that of the cello, and Ms. Ciumac’s virtuostic and sequential passages were well answered by Mr. Rzeczycki. Both soloists demonstrated sensitive climbs to the upper registers of their instruments, and Mr. Rzeczycki in particular showed a finely-tuned and graceful playing style in the cello’s upper lines. Toward the end of the first movement, the soloists’ octaves were perfectly in tandem, and Dr. Ochs kept the orchestra clean in music with a great number of stops and starts.

The hymn-like wind writing of the second movement Andante was rich with Brahmsian harmony, with the winds effectively answered by a sweet solo violin. Dr. Ochs was successful in keeping the sound very quiet for this movement, enabling the third movement gypsy character to come out.

The Community Orchestra’s concert on Sunday afternoon competed with a number of other activities in Princeton, not to mention weather which called people to gardens en masse. Dr. Ochs is clearly proud of her ensemble; when the audience applauds her entering the stage, she applauds her players. Challenging repertoire and a great deal of hard work served this ensemble well on Sunday afternoon for the opening concert of the new season.

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