Orchestral Music Review



Winston-Salem Symphony Shines From Within

February 10, 2009 - Winston-Salem, NC:


The Winston-Salem Symphony focused the spotlight on itself in three concerts this weekend, showcasing orchestra musicians in solo roles, and the orchestra itself in splendor in the Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók (1881-1945). The concert also introduced newly-appointed Assistant Conductor, Matthew Troy, to the audience. He conducted the Sinfonia Concertante in Eb, K. 297b, a somewhat different version of a work the Winston-Salem Symphony has performed frequently, featuring four wind players from the orchestra as soloists.

Music director Robert Moody opened this concert of “Orchestra Headliners” with the familiar Concerto for Two Trumpets in C by Antonio Vivaldi, featuring Anita Cirba and Ken Wilmot, playing on piccolo trumpets in “A.”  This was a brilliant opening to the concert, played by these virtuosi with almost perfect intonation and synchronization. (Brass and woodwind instruments are constructed in a wide variety of keys which allows them to play easily in a greater variety of tonalities. The note written “C” would sound “A” on a trumpet in “A.”)

The Mozart Sinfonia Concertante in Eb, K. 297b is one of two sinfonia concertantes penned by Mozart (the other is the glorious K. 364 for violin and viola). The original of this work has been lost and there is some question about the authenticity of the version most often played, using the oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon. The Harvard scholar and pianist, Robert Levin, has reconstructed a version that uses the flute in place of the clarinet, which is the version played in this concert.

Flutist Kathy Levy played the flute part with gentle understatement and modesty. Newcomers to the symphony Amanda Gerfin, oboe, and Saxton Rose, bassoon, both are graced with warm tones and excellent intonation. Newly appointed principal horn, Robert Campbell, rounded out the quartet of soloists with panache as he and Rose were often paired in technically challenging duets. Only the last movement seemed long, its dozen variations and repeats seeming to reinforce the key of Eb which we had been hearing a bit too much! (Contrary to custom, even the middle movement, "Adagio," is in the key of Eb .)

A surprise performance of Leroy Anderson’s ebullient "Bugler’s Holiday," was played handily at a brake-neck speed by trumpeters Cirba and Wilmot, joined by Karl Kassner for the occasion.  The previously announced premiere of an oboe concerto by Bruce Broughton has been postponed until next season.

After intermission, the much expanded orchestra played the Concerto for Orchestra by Béla Bartók. The last major work of this Hungarian composer, it is also one of his most often performed. It was commissioned by the Boston Symphony on the advice of compatriot Fritz Reiner who knew Bartók was a penniless refugee in the U.S. and in poor health. Bartók’s music is deeply influenced by his long study of folk music (Rumanian, Hungarian, Gypsy, Turkish and North African folk music) which lends an oriental flavor to his music.

The first movement (and to some degree, the last) is perhaps the most “modern” sounding of this 50-minute work, and certainly the most rhythmically challenging. Starting quietly and mysteriously in the lowest registers of the orchestra, the movement gradually picks up momentum until it fairly erupts in rhythmic outbursts as the brass dominate in raucous rounds. The opening phrase seemed oddly chopped by pauses from the podium.

The second movement, "Giuoco delle coppie," ("Game of couples") is a witty pairing of winds in successive duets, always in parallel motion but separated by a different interval for each “couple.”  A quiet brass chorale ensues, followed by a reprise of the earlier “games,” but with an added part, as though the couple had produced an offspring! This movement lends meaning to the title, Concerto for Orchestra, the couples being treated in a concerto-like fashion.

Bartók visited the Appalachian Mountains in the last years of his life where he is thought to have written portions of the "Elegia," the third movement, (as well as the often-performed 3rd Piano Concerto, which he left unfinished). This movement is profoundly touching, opening and closing with sounds of nature and night, so typical of Bartók. In the middle of this movement is an impassioned musical plea (heard previously in the introduction to the first movement) played by the strings.

Bartók has added an extra movement to what one might call a standard symphonic form, an intermezzo ("Intermezzo interrotto"), interrupted by a quotation from the 7th Symphony of Shostakovich, a raucous march which Bartók parodies with glissandos in the trombones. The finale is a brilliant and fast sonata form in the style of a perpetual motion – indeed the upper strings play more notes, faster, than in the whole previous four movements combined. Here the playing was taut and the ensemble tight, bringing the work to a satisfying climax. Indeed, Maestro Moody made us all proud of his fine symphony.