Stamford symphony opens season with inspired performance

21. Oct. 2010 – The Stamford Symphony opened it's 2010-11 season with a program of music by Prokofiev, Brahms and Beethoven.

The jewel of this concert was a razor-sharp performance of the famous fifth symphony by Beethoven on the second half of the program. In the preconcert discussion, conductor Eckart Preu discussed the challenges of putting this infamous work together during rehearsals. He said the main challenge was "finding the common denominator." Since everyone in the orchestra brought significant experience with this work, playing it with innumerable other conductors, how could they pool this collective wisdom and make the best decisions?

This is one of the most famous works of classical music and there are many different ways of approaching it, all of which have a solid performance practice behind them.

Preu told a story of a time about 10 years ago when he came out of a concert hall and came face-to-face with a man who appeared to be intoxicated and living in the street. He said the man looked him over carefully, then sang: "Da-Da-Da. DaaaaaH!"

Preu led the Stamford Symphony through the first movement in a brisk tempo without undue emphasis on the opening motto. It was a performance that was practical rather than philosophical, dancing rather than metaphysical. It was refreshing.

There was a sense of metric clarity in the first movement that made the telescoping rhythmic patterns in the development powerful. It also prepared for maximum impact when Melanie Feld played the oboe cadenza, as time itself seemed to stop momentarily in the recapitulation.

This season has brought several new musicians in prominent seats to the orchestra. Among those who made an impact was clarinetist Romie de Guise-Langlois. She contributed immediately to the fine woodwind ensemble of the SSO and also played several inspired passages, like the line on top of the first variation in the second movement that one almost never notices.

The evening began with the Symphony No. 1, called the "Classical Symphony," by Prokofiev. This is a work of charms, but it is notoriously difficult to play because the textures are crystalline and also completely exposed. It was a challenge to program this as the first work on a concert -- especially for the first concert of the season. The SSO section violins were not up to the challenge. They were frequently messy in figuration: the gorgeous tune in the second movement, the first turn in the Gavotte, and many other places had smudges.

SSO concertmaster Erica Kiesewetter and cellist Edward Arron joined the orchestra as soloists in the Brahms Double Concerto Op. 102. It sounded like a different orchestra. The orchestral sound during the concerto was broad and powerful. Kiesewetter and Arron brought an intricate chamber music sensibility to the solo parts. Arron sought passion and intensity, Kiesewetter sensibility, logic, and precision. Yet, when they played lines together, or when one of them continued or extended the line of the other, they sounded like one player instead of two.

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