Braving threats of snow and other nasty winter weather, the Western Piedmont Symphony welcomed back the La Catrina Quartet as soloists and string principals for its third Masterworks Concert of the season at the P. E. Monroe Auditorium of Lenoir-Rhyne University.
Opening the program was Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) tone poem “Romeo and Juliet.” It was at the suggestion of his friend, composer Mily Balakirev, that the work was written. Balakirev was not pleased by the original version, and Tchaikovsky revised it twice before settling on a final version that was dedicated to Balakirev and heard in this concert. Tchaikovsky perfectly abstracted the drama to depict the violence of the Montagues and Capulets and the opposing love of Romeo and Juliet. The orchestra rendered their love tenderly and gently, and the warring factions with thrilling clashes, and ended with the sad finality of death.
The La Catrina Quartet, Blake Espy and Daniel Vega-Albela, violins, Jorge Martinez, viola, and Alan Doawz, cello, then appeared on stage as the soloists of Julián Orbón’s (1925-1990) Concerto Grosso for String Quartet and Orchestra. Orbón was born in Spain, raised in Cuba, lived in Mexico, and ultimately settled in the United States. He was strongly influenced by the music of Manuel de Falla, and studied under the composer Aaron Copland. He is one of the few composers to have attempted to employ a string quartet as soloist with a symphony orchestra that includes a full string section, and in Concerto Grosso he does so quite successfully.
Written in three movements, the opening is rhythmic and energetic, the second is introspective and mystical, and the finale is again fast, a thematic summary of the first two movements, but with more radical harmonies and meters. Each of the four soloists has individual solos throughout the piece, as does the quartet in ensemble. Both orchestra and quartet played with great passion and zeal, providing a very satisfying performance of a seldom-heard work.
The evening concluded with Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98, by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). This symphony is considered by some to be his magnum opus, along with his German Requiem. The first movement is full of passion and drama, the second like a requiem. The third is more joyous, but the last is also somber, using a theme from J. S. Bach’s Cantata No. 150 as the basis for a set of variations in the baroque passacaglia form. Although Brahms gave the premier of this symphony with a small chamber-size orchestra, we have come to expect it being played with a very large ensemble. In this performance, the orchestra did not disappoint, with lush, broad string choruses and bombastic wind sections, providing a very dramatic climax to a wonderful concert of romantic music.