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Music Director Thomas R. Erdmann choose a very ambitious program for his largely student Elon University Orchestra which also featured both a faculty soloist and a visiting guest soloist. While Elon’s program may not be as large as the large universities in central North Carolina, its string sections averaged ten players each along with solid brass, woodwind, and percussion sections. McCrary Theatre had a large contingent of concert first-timers who applauded between all movements. This program was a good starter for music lovers.
The "Star-Spangled Banner," credited to John Stafford Smith (1750-1836) and Francis Scott Key (1779-1843) opened the concert with a fresh approach. Beginning with a violin section, each section entered in its turn until all were playing together.
I have loved the early baroque opera Egisto (1643) by Francesco Cavalli (1602-76) since PBS broadcast a recording of the American premiere at the Santa Fe Opera August 1, 1974. This was a controversial edition by Raymond Leppard and the brilliant staging had all the actions of the mortals and gods take place within a giant stylized orrery. The lovers Egisto and Clori are kidnapped by pirates along with Climene, who was taken on her wedding day to Lido. Lovers are sold separately & all eventually gather on the island of Zacynthos. By this point, Clori has fallen in love with Lido; Climene has fallen for Egisto who still loves Clori who is also loved by Ipparco, Climene’s brother. Nothing like this could happen in real life or, perhaps, within a country’s general staff! It takes many gods’ conflicting efforts over a prologue and three acts to return appropriate lover to lover.
Faculty member mezzo-soprano Hallie Hogan sang Clori’s Lament “Amor, Chi Ti Die L’ali” which combines sung stanzas with more nearly spoken recitative. The orchestra’s string sections accompanied the lyric sections and Omri Shimron accompanied the recitatives with a piano. Hogan’s diction was excellent and her voice was warm and evenly supported across its range. While Erdmann’s orchestra was much larger than a period ensemble would have been, he scaled his dynamics so as not to cover Hogan. Ensemble was generally good as was intonation. The interplay between Shimron and Hogan in recitatives was especially delightful.
The Concerto No. 3 in D major, S. 1054 is one of the most often programmed keyboard concertos of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), even when played on the modern piano. All of his keyboard concertos are believed to be arrangements of earlier works for melodic instruments. This concerto was modeled by Bach after a surviving Concerto in E major for violin, S. 1042. He reworked the ripieno parts considerably, reduced the tutti sections, and reduced the lower string parts in order to give the keyboard bass more prominence. It is in the typical fast-slow-fast structure.
Guest pianist Shuko Watanabe Petty is currently on the faculty at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia and has concertized throughout much of the eastern half of the United States and in Japan. She has specialized in and recorded contemporary music. She played the Bach with restrained elegance and a fine sense of style. She eschewed use of the piano’s pedal. Her trills were a delight. A highlight was the interplay between Watanabe and the orchestra’s low strings in the slow adagio. Balance between orchestra and piano was fine.
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) took delight in the many honors he received after his musical laboratory on the Prince Esterhazy’s estate was shut down. When invited to the annual dinner of the ancient “Royal Society of Musicians” in London in 1792, he supplied a new march by adapting the score from a March for Wind Band commissioned for the Prince of Wales. The “new” work is for strings, winds, and timpani. The opening portion for strings alone is not very memorable, mostly third rate Haydn, but interest perks up with the entrance of the winds. Erdmann and his players did about all that could be done for such a trifle.
The best playing of the evening came with two short works, The "Satirical Dance" (Polka) from the ballet The Bolt by Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-75) and the Hopak from the opera, The Fair at Sorochinsk, by Modest Mussorgsky (1839-81). The chamber music-like opening for winds and brass in the Shostakovich was given with real sass, and the full orchestra played with real abandon in both. Highlight instrumental solos for the Shostakovich were piccolo player Michelle Warshany, bassoonists Torn Turnanchik and Zil Senczy, tuba player A. J. Burgess, and flutists Michelle Warshany and Emily Greene. Trumpeter James LaRocco and French Horn players Amber Woods and Douglas Boon were delightful in the Mussorgsky.
It is rare to hear a live performance of a symphony before No. 25-41 of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart so the programming of his Symphony No. 7 in D major, K. 45 (1768) was most welcome. Georges de Saint-Foix in The Symphonies of Mozart says K. 45 “is imbued with an entirely new spirit” with the andante having the character “of some German opera arioso,” the Menuetto has a “pastoral character” while the lively finale is worthy of early Haydn. Even early Mozart is a minefield allowing no cover for slips in intonation. Erdmann led a stylish performance with generally good ensemble. Woodwinds and horns were especially good. Intonation sour spots were most noticeable in the second movement Andante.