Orchestral Music Review



Eastern Music Festival Orchestra: Powerful Performance Caps Fine All-Russian Program

July 12, 2008 - Greensboro, NC:


Music Director Gerard Schwarz chose an enterprising and imaginative all-Russian program for the second concert of the professional Eastern Music Festival Orchestra. The Festival's all-faculty musicians played on the edge of their seats treating an audience filled with their students and music lovers in Dana Auditorium to the highest standards of instrumental and musical interpretation. Guest pianist Cecile Licad proved that Rachmaninoff's heavy-weight concertos are not necessarily "For Men Only."

It was fascinating to hear a rare performance of Scherzo fantastique for Orchestra, Op. 3 (1907/08) by Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971). According to Steven Ledbetter's program notes, the composer drew upon several musical traditions and influences from Germany, France, and Russia, especially Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice. The gossamer string opening was played with magical delicacy. Section ensemble was in lock step, instantly following Schwarz's slightest nuance of color or dynamics. Experienced listeners constantly heard little details that anticipated the scoring of the Firebird Ballet.

This summer's programming juxtaposed two extremes of the work of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). My CVNC colleague reviewed the previous night's performance of the composer's massive, sprawling Symphony No. 11 by one of the two student orchestras. It is typically brooding and dark as are most of his symphonies. This concert's Symphony No. 9 in E-flat, Op.70 could not have provided a stronger contrast. For much of his adult life, Shostakovich kept a small suitcase packed in case a Black Maria car arrived to haul him off to the Gulag or death. Feeling like he was in Stalin's crosshairs, many of the composer's most introspective pieces were "composed for the desk drawer." Others hide subtle subtexts. In the wake of his large, serious wartime Symphonies 6 and 7, a positive summing up of the victory over fascism was anticipated. Instead the Ninth Symphony is light-weight and sassy with a sardonic tinge, suggesting something by Haydn and harkening back to Shostakovich's own First Symphony or Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony. Schwarz led an alert and vivid performance in which the orchestra was instantly responsive to every sudden shift or turn of the score. The first movement's rhythms were sharply etched. Multer's violin solo was delightfully tart while the woodwinds were piquant.
The dark, ominous clarinet solo by Shannon Scott that opened the second movement was ideally phrased.

Not many decades ago, the ripe Romanticism of the Third Piano Concerto in D minor, Op. 30 by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) seemed to be the preserve of men. Only the late Gina Bachauer broke with the trend by regularly playing the composer's concertos in the concert hall and on recordings. Philippine-born pianist Cecile Licad has taken on this repertory since the beginnings of her recording career on CBS. There was no lack of power or finesse in her fiery EMF performance. Her dynamic range was breathtaking from thundering chords to the most delicate pp. The fastest passages were precisely articulated. Her co-ordination with important orchestra instrumental solos had the quality of fine chamber music. Schwarz led a finely balanced accompaniment that fit Licad's interpretation like kid gloves.