Civic Chamber Orchestra Presents
by Martha A. Fawbush
November 23, 2008, Raleigh, NC: Varied musical fare and solid playing characterized the enjoyable performance of the Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra before a small but appreciative audience. Under the sure direction of Randolph Foy, conductor, the orchestra provided great music from Mozart, Gabriel Fauré, and well-known local composer Bill Robinson, whose "Ananda" Concerto received its premiere performance to conclude this concert. Eric Pritchard, first violin of Duke Unversity's well-known Ciompi Quartet, offered a masterful solo performance in this work.
This concert marks my first encounter with the Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra. On the whole I had a strongly positive reaction to the well-rehearsed music they presented and admired the earnest, careful playing I heard throughout the concert. The principal players did their job admirably, providing strong leadership in all sections and modeling high levels of technical skill for the number of student players in the orchestra as well as for those who are long-time members of the Raleigh music community. In an orchestra such as this, the sharp-eared listener is aware of the fine technical skills of the strong, experienced players as well as the occasional very audible difficulties with intonation. Despite the occasional tuning problems, however, all of us who heard this concert were inclined to recall warmly the many instances of good playing rather than technical problems.
The opening work on the program, Mozart's Overture to Don Giovanni, K.527 (1781), is a masterwork reflecting the inevitable disaster awaiting the Don, the king of all womanizers. Randolph Foy went out of his way to explain the sinister D minor opening section foreshadowing Don Giovanni's encounter with the statue of the vengeful Commendatore whom he has murdered, pointing out the difference between this music and the lighter sections indicating the merrymaking between the naïve country boys and girls and the dangerous man who is a threat to the young women present, but there was really no need for him to discuss the music in any detail. Mozart's powerful overture clearly made these contrasts very obvious, and the orchestra allowed the composer to speak his dramatic and musical intentions through the precision of their playing.
In contrast to Mozart's overture, The Dolly Suite, Op. 56 (1893-96), of Gabriel Fauré, with its subtleties of melody and harmony, sophisticated rhythms and novel pairings of instruments in a number of intriguing duets, demonstrates the musical variety which made this brief concert an enjoyable experience. The six short movements of this suite brought to vivid life the tender feelings of the composer for a child who was allegedly his daughter and for whom he wrote these pieces to mark the birthdays of her early life. In performing these movements, the orchestra was able to get inside the seemingly playful outer layers of the music to reveal Fauré's feelings for the child who had a deep claim on his heart and to discover the delight of melodies and harmonies that are distinctly Fauré's. The players clearly found great pleasure in the lilting melodies of "Berceuse," the first movement, and successfully conveyed the mischievous actions of a child or a pet in the purposefully uneven triple meter and mischievous melodies of "Mi-a-ou," the second movement. The subtle melody which provides the sweetness of the third movement, "Le jardin de Dolly," showed that the instrumentalists were still emotionally and technically involved in music which they obviously appreciated, but at some points the lower brasses began to experience pronounced difficulties with intonation. The playing of the fourth movement, "Kitty-Waltz," had much to recommend it, especially the performance of the oboe principal, Kristen Turner, in her lovely interpretation of another charming Fauré melody. The canon featured in "Tendresse," the fifth movement, was the most interesting music in the suite because of its pairing of the horn and oboe, which produced a unique sound that held the audience's attention and revealed the technical skills of both players. Finally, the sixth movement, a rollicking "Pas espagnole" which all the players enjoyed, received the most consistently fine performance of any piece in Fauré's suite.
The last work on the program, talented local composer Bill Robinson's "Ananda" Concerto for violin and chamber orchestra, was a satisfactory combination of great composition, outstanding violin playing by Eric Pritchard, and solid performance by the Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra. Pritchard showed, throughout the difficult solo material, that his reputation as an excellent violinist has been well earned. He can, at the composer's request, play beautiful lyric lines, exhibit great muscular power in demanding forte passages, and dazzle his audience with brilliant passagework. He and Robinson's music are very well met.
The first movement, "Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya," begins with slow, contemplative music which revealed Pritchard's ability to play long legato lines, from which point he and the orchestra moved to more rapidly-moving phrases marked by often dissonant modern harmonies. Both soloist and orchestra worked very well together, demonstrating the careful rehearsals which enabled them to understand each other's phrasing and musical intentions. The theme and six variations of the second movement have great musical interest. The soloist states the theme a capella and then is joined by the orchestra, after which all the players showed their appreciation of Robinson's harmonically-rich variations by their fine performance. The final movement, entitled "Transfigured Ho Dao," is exactly what one would expect, an exciting hoedown, in which Pritchard's great technical skills enabled him to keep the music and his fellow musicians dashing forward at a pace which grabbed the audience's attention and retained it until the last triumphant chord.