May 16, 2012

Princeton Symphony Orchestra Celebrates Mother’s Day In Impressionistic Style

To close its 2011-12 season, the Princeton Symphony Orchestra presented musical roses — two light airy flowers and one sturdy plant with solid roots. It no doubt was very difficult to come indoors on Sunday afternoon, but those who chose to forego gardening for Ravel and Brahms were treated to a Mother’s Day gift of musical lightness and serenity.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra Music Director Rossen Milanov began the concert as if introducing the audience to a garden, surveying all the flowers in one visual gaze. Princeton composer Sarah Kirkland Snider began composing the one-movement Disquiet more than ten years ago, recently revising it for inclusion in this concert. Disquiet was lush, with many orchestral colors, and despite its title, began peacefully with almost imperceptible violins. Mr. Milanov effectively brought out crescendi and descrescendi, as the “agitated restlessness” of the piece was expressed by Jeremy Levine’s precise timpani. An elegant string quartet recurred throughout the piece against harp (played by Barbara Biggers) and clean articulation from the winds and a graceful English horn solo from Nicholas Masterson. Ms. Snider offered some unusual combinations of instruments in this piece, with the sonorities between violas and celli especially nice.

This piece was very audience-friendly because of its sonorities and the many different colors in the texture. The keynote work on the program, Maurice Ravel’s Concerto in G Major for Piano and Orchestra, was also an impressive palette of musical colors, illuminated with clarity by guest piano soloist Rieko Aizawa. Ms. Aizawa began the Ravel Concerto with a quick impressionistic start, playing with precision against jazz-influenced orchestration from the ensemble. Languid when she needed to be, Ms. Aizawa played with a great deal of upper arm strength, playfully adding sauciness for the final movement. Especially mesmerizing was Ms. Aizawa’s refined playing in the second movement Adagio, with an always-steady left hand and just a bit of quirkiness to the piano melody line.

Wind solos abounded in this high-spirited piece, with sweetness added from Mr. Masterson’s English horn and flutist Jayn Rosenfeld. The brass sections were able to provide jazzy effects, including some from principal trumpeter Jerry Bryant and a klezmer-type clarinet solo from Andrew Lamy. Ravel intended this concerto to be lighthearted, and all involved seemed to be having fun in this performance.

Where Ravel’s Concerto was like delicate instrumental lace, Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 4 in E minor was solid and substantial. The orchestra pared down for this work, showing Brahms’ Classical roots, and Mr. Milanov took a contained and stately approach to the first two movements. Particularly in the second movement Andante, the wind theme was presented nicely against pizzicato strings, with a very clean pair of horns, solo clarinet and bassoon adding to the texture. Mr. Milanov took an especially relaxed approach to this movement, building tension slowly.

The Princeton Symphony took off in the final two movements, conveying the most drama and musical bite. Mr. Milanov kept the theme of the third movement decisive, with a well-blended quartet of horns. Timpanist Jeremy Levine was kept very busy during the final movement providing a martial effect to contrast the lyrical winds and a very clean trio of trombones. Also adding to the clarity of sound were trumpeters Jerry Bryant and Paul Murphy. The closing fourth movement was also marked by a clean flute solo from Ms. Rosenfeld.

Closing Mr. Milanov’s first year as music director of the Princeton Symphony Orchestra with these three works showed the ensemble’s commitment to three musical tenets: the best in orchestral repertoire, new and exciting soloists, and promoting the music of contemporary and local composers. The orchestra also promoted its coming season on Sunday afternoon, and no doubt will continue building its strength in these three areas.