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A sunny afternoon after so much rain made the campus of Guilford College all the more attractive and bucolic. A large and widely diverse turnout of music lovers enjoyed the fine acoustics of Dana Auditorium in an imaginative program designed for the final concert of the Philharmonia of Greensboro’s 2014-15 season. The community orchestra is just one of many varied artistic enterprises supported by The Music Center which is in turn supported by an enlightened city government. The Music Center oversees 17 very diverse community arts ensembles.
There was nothing stale about the choice of music by Music Director Peter Perret. A rare performance of a wind serenade by the seventeen-year-old Richard Strauss (1864-1949), followed by an unusual sinfonia concertante by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) formed the first half of the concert. The virtuosic Scherherazade of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was the meat of the concert after intermission. A linking overall theme of this concert was the depth of skill of the orchestra’s principal players.
In the Serenade in E-flat, Op.7 for thirteen winds, the young Richard Strauss synthesized the classical influences of the “family music trinity of Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven” into his own sound which is readily identifiable in the distinctive contours of the pieces’ melodies. The composer’s father was a brilliant horn player. The work is written for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, contrabassoon, and four horns and is played in one movement. Perret directed a solid interpretation, holding his players closely together and bringing out the full richness of Strauss’ melodies. Ensemble was very good for a community orchestra made up of players of diverse levels of skill. There were some slight rough edges when the horns played together but the important recapitulation, when the horns warmly repeat the first theme, came off nicely.
The Sinfonia Concertante in B-Flat, (Hob. I/105) was hastily composed by Haydn between February and March, 1792 during his first of two visits to London. It is supposed to have been written in response to a similar work composed by Ignaz Pleyel, one of Haydn’s former students who was being promoted by the London press as a “rival.” A sinfonia concertante is a concerto with more than one soloist. It evolved from the earlier Baroque concerto grosso form. Haydn had already composed solo concertos for each of the four instruments of this sinfonia concertante: oboe, bassoon, violin, and cello. It is in three movements. During the outer fast movements, the solo quartet regularly dominates and recedes into the orchestral texture. The slow movement focuses upon the solo quartet but still emphasizes the “give and take” quality of chamber music.
Perret led a clear-cut Classical interpretation. The whole orchestra sounded a little ragged when playing forte but settled smoothly when accompanying the soloists. The warm, sweet sound of oboist Matthew Covington was a constant delight! Bassoonist Carolina Shogry, concertmaster Eve Hubbard, and cellist Margaret Petty brought plenty of character to their solos and delightful ensemble pairings.
The concert ended with a dramatic and vital performance of Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite, Op. 35 by the Russian master of orchestration, Rimsky-Korsakov. Oriental subjects were popular sources of inspiration in the 18th-19th centuries and none more than One Thousand and One Nights. The composer warned his titles of the four separate movements are disconnected, evocative episodes. Perret pulled out all the stops and his players gave it their considerable all!
Every section leader got a chance to shine and all delivered the goods. It addition to the four soloists already mentioned in the Haydn, other fine turns were taken by clarinetist Mike Regan, flutist Nancy Thurston, bassoonist Phil Atkins, harpist Sally Duncan, trumpeter Sumner Spradling, and Mike Regan on horn. The many solo violin episodes were brilliantly played by Hubbard with a beautiful tone and vivid expression. This was matched by the outstanding oboe solos of Covington.