Rochester Orchestra and Chorale concert had moments of 'Glory'
By Gary Sprague
Music of the 20th century might be a sub-theme of the "Glory" concert performed by the Rochester Orchestra and Chorale Saturday night. Three of the four works represent explorations into the beauty and diversity that is contemporary music while remaining on the conservative edge of 20th-century style.
The concert began with a rendition of Ravel's "Alborada del Gracioso." As usual, the woodwind section did well in providing the melodic clarity needed in Ravel's works, represented by the opening theme stated wistfully in the clarinet and oboe above pizzicato accompaniment. The bassoon solo in the middle section continued the effective contrast between melody and accompaniment.
While there were moments of musical intensity in the performance, the piece suffered from lack of formal and harmonic precision, much needed to render Ravel's works effectively. As the ensemble approached the climactic point, it did not quite achieve the expected joyous abandon of the conclusion.
The Rochester Chorale joined the orchestra in Poulenc's setting of the Biblical Latin text for Gloria. The piece is composed in a fashion that works against the natural metric flow of both the music and the words.
Gloria calls for good balance in the performance, with striking contrasts between the soloist, chorale and orchestra. The dynamic control needed for an effective accompaniment was lost and the chorale was hindered by a lack of cohesiveness accentuated by the use of the house sound system to amplify the singers.
Alison Feldt, the guest soloist, began the third movement splendidly, and did well to sing over the amplified choir, but the chorale seemed to want to outsing the soloist. Why her voice was not also amplified is a curiosity, but the performance of the highly energetic fourth movement deserves a second hearing.
In "Death and Transfiguration" by Richard Strauss, the music tells the story of a dying man recalling his childhood and his soul's eventual rise to heaven. The orchestra seemed much more comfortable with this work, and demonstrated good contrast in performing the dynamic subtleties in the slow sustained opening.
The orchestra had no trouble achieving the grandiose side of Strauss' work. The long, broad crescendos were well-timed and contrasted effectively with the more melodic sections. The concert master's violin solo in the third section of the piece was refined and moving, and the brass finally achieved the sense of ensemble playing as the orchestra rose triumphantly to the heavenly realms of the tone poem's conclusion.
Ginestera's "Suite from Estancia" provided rhythmic vitality and great energy after the long-winded Strauss. The orchestra achieved true ensemble performance in each of the four movements.
The toil of "The Land Workers" was represented by the motoric rhythmic drive and short melodic motifs repeated over and over. The second movement, "Dance of the Wheat," contained a more traditional melody that was played beautifully by the flutes, trombones and muted trumpets over staccato piano and strings.
Of special note was the precision playing of the ever-changing meters of the third movement, "The Cattle Men." The percussion ensemble deserves special recognition in the performance of the Final Dance: Malambo, as the movement developed the energetic, pulsating rhythmic drive of this Argentinian folk dance.
Gary Sprague of Kasson is a professor of music at Minnesota Bible College in Rochester.