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Orchestral Music Review Print

Raleigh Civic Symphony Offers First of Two All-American Concerts

April 17, 2005 - Raleigh, NC:

An April 17 matinee concert, presented in Stewart Theatre at NCSU, was the first of two spring programs – the second will be April 24 – offering all-American fare – and all-20th-century fare, to boot. Admittedly, several pieces barely squeak into that era – Chadwick's Concert Overture "Euterpe" was composed in 1903, and Griffes' "The White Peacock," on the second program, dates from 1915-19 but, like the Overture, sounds like a product of an earlier period, albeit with impressionistic overtones.

The presenter is the Raleigh Civic Symphony Association, which fields the Raleigh Civic Symphony, a substantial and ever-improving full-sized orchestra, and the Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra. The close-aboard concerts may give Music Director Randolph Foy scheduling and rehearsal fits, but his astute programming and the availability of two fine ensembles again afford the public unique opportunities to hear rarely-heard but worthwhile music in exemplary contexts. The presentations, billed as "American Originals," are bolstered by Foy's erudite program notes and remarks from the stage.

The April 17 concert began with the Chadwick piece, which is redolent of late-19th-century German Romanticism. As Foy has written, it suggests Dvorák but is infused with considerably more rhythmic drive than was the norm on t'other side of the great pond. It's rhythm, a certain restlessness, and – not surprisingly - expansiveness that characterize music we lump together as "American." And this intensely dramatic work and the others being offered this spring are unquestionably classics.

David Diamond's Symphony No. 3 was premiered by the Boston Symphony under Charles Munch, who led one of his very last concerts in Raleigh. It's in the mold of Walter Piston, another neglected American symphonist, but the orchestra is larger than that other master generally used. The work's exciting rhythms and brilliant orchestration make one wonder why it and his other scores are so rarely heard. Although there were far fewer violas than listed in the program, there was strength in all sections of the RCSO in the performance, with silken strings (led by Concertmaster Lyda Cruden) and solid, secure playing from the winds and brass and ancillary instruments, including harp (Emily Laurance) and piano (Kentaro Shimizu).

After the intermission, there was a jump to the late 20th-century, for composer and flutist Jennifer Higdon's celebrated "blue cathedral" (2000) and a movement from Philip Glass' Symphony No. 2 (1994). Higdon's made the major leagues – even the NC Symphony is taking up her music, with the Concerto for Orchestra planned for January 2006. The RCSO offered a smaller, highly autobiographical work that is tantamount to a memorial for her late brother (a clarinetist), with substantial flute and clarinet solos, played by Diana Cherry and Erin Wynia, respectively, and graced by some unusual "instruments," including water glasses and Chinese health balls (small, round chimes). The performance had a lot going for it, despite the tricky rhythms and some issues with ensemble and balances. (Readers who missed this concert – or who want to sample the Higdon piece again – should check out the American Symphony Orchestra League's current "Meet the Music" posting, at http://www.meetthemusic.org/ [inactive 9/07].)

Glass is a kettle of somewhat different fish – lots of 'em. Folks either love his music or hate it – there seems to be no middle ground. The finale of his Second Symphony is repetitive but somewhat more varied than some of his earlier pieces, and there's something to be said for its hypnotic nature, which can gather up and sweep away listeners who will meet it even half-way. The RCSO's horns were somewhat less happy in this part of the program than they had been earlier, but it was a bracing, nay exhilarating ride, and the substantial program ended to great acclaim. Afterwards there was a cookout on the student center patio that permitted the audience to mingle with the artists. Here's hoping the next post-concert repast will be advertised in advance....

The second RCSA concert, by the Raleigh Civic Chamber Orchestra, will be April 24, at 4:00 p.m., in the Ballroom. Among the offerings will be the aforementioned Griffes classic, "Endymion’s Sleep" (1996) by J. Mark Scearce, Director of Music at NCSU, and works by Stephen Hartke and John Harbison. For details, see our calendar.