Music/Theater

Princeton University Orchestra Shows Off Best of Concerto Players in Works of Brahms and Mahler

Nancy Plum

Princeton University may not be a music conservatory, but over the past few years (especially with the establishment of the Certificate Program), the Music Department has produced some musical stars. Among those stars this year are the two remaining siblings of the Carpenter trio. The oldest brother recently graduated, and the two remaining Carpenters, violist David and violinist Lauren, regularly perform both within and outside the confines of the University Orchestra. A co-winner of the 2005 Princeton University Concerto Competition, Lauren Carpenter's most recent starring moment with the orchestra was this past weekend in a blazing performance of Brahms Violin Concerto in D Major a concert which was even able to stop Princeton students on their way to their winter formals for a bit of classical music in Richardson Auditorium.

Composed in 1878, this concerto is very much in the tradition of Beethoven's late symphonies, with a solo part that is pretty ferocious, even for Brahms. A long orchestral introduction to the opening "Allegro" gave Ms. Carpenter plenty of time to get in the right musical mindset for her fierce and demanding opening solo passages, and she did not disappoint in her interpretation. Ms. Carpenter took her time with the phrasing and play of the music. A player of great determination, she also used the cadenza to the first movement to explore a wide range of dynamics and double stops.

Ms. Carpenter collaborated well with conductor Michael Pratt to bring out the best from the orchestra throughout the rest of the concerto. In the second movement "Adagio," a solo oboe and clarinet, supported by the rest of the winds, accompanied Ms. Carpenter's extremely dolce playing. The soloist led the way through the closing Rondo, demonstrating that she is a decisive player with a clear idea of what she wants from the music.

Ms. Carpenter was one of the winners of this years Concerto Competition. The other was senior Sean Effinger-Dean, a baritone currently studying with University faculty member Mary Nessinger. For his prize performance, Mr. Effinger-Dean chose some pretty challenging repertoire for a man of his age: Gustav Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer). These four songs, like many of Mahler's works, capture the turbulence and emotional commotion of a given period in his life, in this case his love for a coloratura soprano. Mr. Effinger-Dean took these songs on fearlessly, demonstrating self-possession in presentation and full command of the music, as well as a voice which moved exceedingly well through the registers.

Passages in these songs extend well into the tenor range, and Mr. Effinger-Dean was careful to extend his range very lightly, such as on the text "and then in the sunshine at once the world began to twinkle" and from the second song, "I went out this morning over the field." He contrastingly demonstrated a very rich tone in the subsequent song, well accompanied by the instruments. Both instruments and singer moved well through the moods of the verses of each song, especially ending the last song elegantly.

Mr. Pratt paired these two concerto performances with works which confirmed the ensemble's solid preparation and collective musicianship. Claude Debussys Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun opened the concert with a languid solo flute, played with mellowness and subtlety. Mr. Pratt took a great deal of space within the silences in the piece, with the characteristic dissonances not rubbed in too much. With this approach, the music was very picturesque. Tranquil oboe playing was provided by Connor Ross, and harpists Annabelle Beaver and Joanna Shawruss added an effective impressionistic touch to the texture.

This work was contrasted by Manuel de Falla's Three Dances from The Three Cornered Hat, a ballet suite depicting a comedy taking place in Spain. The second dance in particular was very Eastern in nature, led by solo oboist Peter Varela and solo hornist James Marvel, as well as pianist Jennifer Chu. The orchestra volume was never out of control, becoming the loudest of the concert in the third Final Dance. The dynamic build in the strings was especially exciting.

Although no tour seems to be planned this year for the orchestra, the rest of the season appears to be challenging, beginning in February 2006 with a repeat of the Debussy Prelude to The Afternoon of a Faun, as part of the Program in Theater and Dance Spring Dance Festival. This performance will take place on February 24 (with repeats on the 25th and 26th) in Berlind Theater in the McCarter Theatre Center.

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