Stamford Symphony explores musical surprises

17. Nov. 2007 – Stamford Symphony explores musical surprises


It might come as a surprise that "The Mozart Effect" for performers includes an awareness that audience familiarity coupled with absolute musical transparency produces its own brand of anxiety. It might also come as a surprise that the "Surprise Symphony" of Haydn also produces this "Mozart Effect." But it should be no surprise that the Stamford Symphony, driven by the "Preu Effect," made the music sound natural and inevitable.


Things started to cook when violinist Jennifer Frautschi joined the orchestra for the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216. She played the lengthy opening tutti with the ensemble, jumping off just in time to catch the solo entrance. Isn't this kind of practicality perfect for the ensemble feel of this concerto? Frautschi developed musical ideas through arcing lines, quiet logic and nimble characterizations. Her cadenzas produced a strange kind of "Stokowski Effect." Frautschi was at home in the lyrical second movement where she produced a nonpretentious melodic grace that was more violinistic than an imitation of operatic singing. She approached the Rondo as a series of radical juxtapositions and won.

After intermission, we heard the Symphony No. 94 (the "Surprise") by Franz Joseph Haydn. This symphony was named for a single fortissimo chord that punctuates a quiet periodic theme in the second movement andante. We live in a noisy distracting age and the real surprise is that this surprise had no "Effect" upon us. Fortunately, as Preu indicated in his remarks from the podium, this symphony is built from surprises.


Perhaps in the future as common living gets even louder and more distracting, music appreciation texts will focus on the sudden eighth-note silence two bars before the codetta of the andante, or the measure of rest just before the second theme group in the finale as being the marquee "surprise" in this symphony. Preu stopped the orchestra clean during these passages and kept the music in tempo, allowing us to feel the periodic impact of the unexpected sound of "nothing."


The real surprises of this symphony seem mostly to be metric. The first movement is almost wholly built from ideas where motives that would normally be anticipations are arrivals and arrivals are anticipations. Preu patiently sorted these out in the orchestra and showed them clearly in his gestures.


Haydn requires sensitivity to details; humor and wit flow from an active awareness of the discourse. This plays into the strength of the Stamford Symphony and the work was well represented.


The evening opened with the first movement of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik followed by only the first movement of the Schubert fifth symphony in B-flat.


The Mozart movement has a life of its own that might warrant clipping it from its three sister movements, but it was tough to hear the first movement of the Schubert symphony without also hearing the Andante con moto that follows it. While it is true that the remainder of the symphony, which comprises a good 21 minutes, would not have fit on the program, the practical issues are of little consolation.


This is music that is private; like listening to a sonic diary written, then put away. It seemed lost; but how could it not? It was sandwiched between charismatic works by Mozart both in G major.


The evening as a whole was marked by the unusual sonorities and balances possible in an orchestra without clarinets. Clarinets are the great mediators of the woodwind section; they make so much blending possible. It was fascinating to hear this compendium of solutions to orchestration without clarinets and the sound never lost its tangy edge.


In an evening full of surprises, the best surprise was the announcement made by orchestra CEO Barbara J. Smith-Soroca that Eckart Preu has signed a contract to be with the Stamford Symphony for another four seasons.


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