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The Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle is one of the area's finest musical treasures. It was all the more welcome to see so many seats filled in the Carolina Theatre for the third concert of its impressive 2014-15 season, this installment entitled "A Toast to France." The three scheduled works were by Frenchmen or, in the case of Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959), an extended resident of Paris. A work not listed in the printed program kept to the French composers menu.
Music Director Lorenzo Muti announced the concert would open with a piece in memory of the many who have suffered from the current violence from Islamic terrorists. The familiar melody and rhythm of the Pavane in F-sharp minor, Op. 50, by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) filled the hall. Originally a piece for solo piano, Fauré orchestrated it for small orchestra with optional chorus. The strings of the orchestra were gorgeous whether playing the soothing pizzicatos of the opening or forming a lovely sheen in more intense later potions. Fine solos were given by principals Allison Dimsdale, flute, oboist Bo Newsome, and clarinetist Kevin Streich, capped by the burnished sound of the horns at the end.
Although Martinů was a Czech composer, he spent much of the 1920s in Paris, where he was influenced by the heady creativity of the French. His Serenade for Chamber Orchestra (1930) is in four movements: Allegro, Andantino, Allegretto, and Allegro. It sounded like the score had been cut up and reordered like a sonic mosaic! Concertmistress Tasi Matthews was prominent in the chaotic first movement. Among the delights of the second movement were pairs of bassoons and oboes led by Chris Ulffers and Newsome respectively. Playful woodwinds highlighted the third movement while brash brass was just part of the many instrumental juxtapositions of the finale.
The justly popular "Prélude á l'après-midi d'un faune" (1894) by Claude Debussy (1835-1921) received a gorgeous and seamless performance with sterling contributions from everyone including flutist Dimsdale, oboist Newsome, clarinetist Streich, along with harpist Laura Byrne, and Andrew McAfee, French horn.
The Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33, by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) received a truly shimmering performance. Its three movements are played without pause. The composer solved the problem that has plagued every composer who has tried to make the low-pitched cello easily heard against a full orchestra. Like all French composers since the Couperins and Rameau, Saint-Saëns valued clarity and elegance, and this score abounds in them.
This performance was doubly scintillating! I rarely comment on the fashion soloists wear but Cicely Parnas wore a black strapless gown covered with reflective elements that sparkled throughout her brilliant, virtuosic performance. A winner of the 2012 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, Parnas has toured with the Saint-Saëns First Cello Concerto, and it was evident in her complete confidence and flawless intonation, phrasing, and beautiful tone. Brava!
COT Board Chairman David Lindquist announced very positive fiscal news before the concert began. Young talented soloists are funded from The Charles and Shirley Weiss Young Artists Endowment, launched when the couple gave $50,000 seed money to solicit matching donations to create a $100,000 endowment. Lindquist said Charles Weiss had just added a further $100,000 to the fund. In addition, the 2014-15 small gift fund has met $24,000 of its $25,000 goal. Good news in pinched times for the Arts!