Sunday, January 27, 2013

The DSO is BACK!

By Guest Blogger, Christine Facciolo
Christine holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music and continues to apply her voice to all genres of music.  An arts lover since childhood, she currently works as a freelance writer.

There’s nothing more magical than when great music comes to life in the hands of expert players under the direction of a conductor who breathes animation into the music.  And that’s exactly what happened when the Delaware Symphony Orchestra and Maestro David Amado opened the 2013 season on Friday, January 25.

The program featured three late 19th Century works: Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 and the overture to the opera Hansel and Gretel by Engelbert Humperdinck. And while the heavy lifting of the Romantic era was pretty much over by this time, the continued popularity of these selections shows the enduring appeal of this most influential period in the history of Western music.

Dvorak spent the years between 1892 and 1895 in America, having been invited to develop an “American sound.”  Indeed, people often comment on the “American-ness” of his final symphony—that its themes recall Negro spirituals or Native American music.

But what’s at work here: fact or the mere power of suggestion?   If it hadn’t been composed in America or been nicknamed “From the New World,” would anyone on this side of the Atlantic have made the connection?  Dvorak never acknowledged use of particular melodies, but rather attempted to transfer the idioms of folk music to the symphonic form. The Ninth Symphony is every bit as Dvorak and Czech as anything he’d ever written — right down to the bucolic trio in the Scherzo.

But none of that matters, for Dvorak has given us one of the greatest gems of the symphonic literature — and the DSO one of its finest performances. The rhythmic vitality of the opening movement was present throughout with some excellent horn playing in particular.  The gorgeous Largo melody was presented with a graceful poise bookended with a series of sonorous chromatic harmonies. Bursts of orchestral sunlight punctuated the dramatic Scherzo. The brass came blazing back in the Finale which under Amado’s direction was full of urgency, drive and passion.

Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 is a fascinating but still underrated piece.  It contains some of the composer’s most beguiling melodies and one of the finest cadenzas ever written.  DSO principal pianist Lura Johnson rendered the first movement with an air of confidence and ease — her cadenza powerful yet insightful and moving.  In the following movements, Rachmaninoff’s Romanticism blossoms while her virtuosity sizzles.  Amado and the orchestra did well with a score that really doesn’t give the instrumentalist much to chew on.

The concert opened with the overture to Engelbert Humperdinck’s opera Hansel and Gretel.  The composition is imaginative, mixing childlike simplicity with feisty depth.  The brass shined in the opening bars of this holiday favorite, a perfect selection for a snowy Friday night.

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