What's Playing? - The Stamford Symphony, romantic souls
"Romantic Souls?" Indeed, they were. In its concerts over the weekend, the Stamford Symphony played works by three composers of the Romantic period, though one of them later veered into something very different.
This orchestra, under conductor Eckart Preu, never disappoints. Its playing over many years has continued to grow in every way, creating a cloud of sound that by turns soothes and excites. No matter what music it chooses to play, whatever period, they deliver it to the audience with skill, style and taste.
It opened with the super-sensual "Verklärte Nacht" by none other than Arnold Schoenberg (yes, that Schoenberg,) who later revolutionized music to a great degree as the creator of what we now know as atonality.
This work is one of his earlier works, for strong orchestra , based on a splendid poem by Richard Dehmel, whose texts provided many opportunities for composers of the period. It is a tapestry of musical color, and in his comments, Preu made the piece even more clear. The poem, a touching love story, was printed in the program, which was a great help to those whose might not have known the piece. Solos in viola and cello, sweeping phrases and effective use of every nuance possible in the instruments made this a remarkable performance of a remarkable piece. It really should be heard more often.
The second work was the Variations on a Rococo Theme, opus 43, with cello soloists Jan Vogler. This is a familiar work, with a lot of charm, lightening changes of mood and an opportunity for the soloist to show off, especially in a complex cadenza.
The orchestra is not just an accompanist in this piece, but an equal partner, playing "catch me if you can" and echoing the thematic vocabulary. Vogler, a guest from Dresden is a very fine cellist. He may have had some slight intonation problems with the extreme top range of his instrument, but overall, his performance was much appreciated.
The final piece was Franz Schubert's Symphony No. 4 in C Minor, known the "Tragic." I loved this one. It does begin with a dark, foreboding opening section, but it soon opens out into the kind of melodic music Schubert does best.
The first movement contained some really interesting tonal progressions and several great surprised. The second movement was a lyrical Andante, reminiscent of the songs for which he is most famous. The third section, marked Menuetto, wasn't exactly a minuet, it was more like a heavy-footed rustic waltz, a lot of fun to hear and to watch being played. The windblown strings in the final Allegro sounded as though everyone was running away from home, Everyone pulled out all the stops, so to speak. The symphony ended with the kind of flourishes that send one home with a sense of utter pleasure and delight.
Note: Benjamin Kraus, the first-ever percussionist to win the Stamford Symphony Instrumentalists Competition was invited to play his marimba at the beginning of the second half. Having heard him last Sunday at the actual competition, I'm sure the audience had a wonderful time hearing this very promising young musician. Another note in the same vein, one of finalists, violinist Sophia Pariot, will graduate from New Canaan High School this spring.