July 7, 2021

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra Presents Third and Final “Emerge” Concert

By Nancy Plum

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra concluded its “Emerge” digital concert film series last week with a presentation of two towering orchestral works. Recorded in Prudential Hall at Newark’s New Jersey Performing Arts Center in March of this year, this final installment of the trilogy featured Russian pianist and composer Daniil Trifonov and trumpeter Anderson Romero performing Dmitri Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto #1, also known as Concerto in C Minor for Piano, Trumpet and String Orchestra. Led by JNSO Music Director Xian Zhang, last Wednesday night’s performance also included Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, played by a reduced but no less effective roster of the Orchestra. The online concert was accompanied by visual images focusing on nature and wildlife, filmed throughout New Jersey in communities ranging from Newark to Cape May.

Shostakovich’s 1933 Concerto for piano, trumpet and string orchestra was an homage to the Baroque era through its use of two solo instruments against the accompanying ensemble. Unlike Shostakovich’s more somber and programmatic symphonic works, the Concerto has a lighter and more humorous feeling, diverging from the Russian Romantic compositional tradition of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff.

The soloists for NJSO’s performance of the Concerto were no strangers to New Jersey audiences; pianist Daniil Trifonov has performed in Princeton in recent seasons, and Anderson Romero is NJSO’s assistant principal trumpet. In Wednesday’s performance, Trifonov showed very quick hands on the keyboard, emphasizing well the percussive and slightly quirky nature of the Concerto. Trifonov and conductor Zhang were symbiotic in bending the tempi of the music, finding lyricism even in the more forceful passages. In the expressive sections of the first movement “Allegro,” Trifonov played with his hands lingering on the keys as much as possible, at times demonstrating a very light left hand. Playing from within the orchestral ensemble, Romero provided a joyful and martial trumpet solo throughout the first movement.

The second movement “Lento” featured a haunting melody from the violins, with the piano solo in intense octaves. Playing a muted trumpet, Romero executed his own melodic lines. Zhang consistently dictated cadential effects well, as the string and piano built intensity through passages of repetitive notes. Although the piano seemed more instrumentally prominent, Romero’s trumpet added color and rhythmic crispness to the performance. Trifonov proved himself to be a dynamic performer, and both soloists were visually well-captured by the camera work of director Yuri Alves.

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra began Beethoven’s 1806 Symphony No. 4 with an extended slow introduction, taking time with the suspenseful and dark passages leading to a fast and chipper “Allegro.” Light flute playing added airiness to the spirited orchestral palette, accompanied by a clean pair of bassoons. A graceful melody was heard from the violins in the second movement, accented by winds and brass, with effective dynamic shading from all players. Zhang led the Orchestra through an off-beat “Scherzo,” maintaining a brisk speed while emphasizing the graceful sections of the intervening “Trio.” Swirling strings launched the final movement, with a freshness of sound and buoyancy belying the likelihood that the Orchestra has played this symphony many times in the past, but clearly never seems to tire of it. Conducting from memory, Zhang drew out the ending of the movement well, leading to a spirited final few measures.

The “Emerge” digital concert trilogy has traced New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s return to a more normal performance mode, with this most recent concert featuring two major works and a fuller instrumental roster. NJSO has announced a live 2021-22 season, gradually adding back to the schedule its venues throughout the state and returning to Princeton in January, 2022. The energy and joyousness of last week’s final “Emerge” broadcast was an effective and welcome way to launch the Orchestra back into its live season next year.

New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, as well as the previous concerts of the “Emerge” series, can be accessed for free on the Orchestra’s website. NJSO will be performing live in venues in Newark during the month of July; information about both live and digital performances of the Orchestra can be obtained by visiting njsymphony.org.