reviews

Reviews

New York

Washington

Philadelphia

Boston

Flagstaff

Daily Sun 2003 Jul

Daily Sun 2003 Mar

Daily Sun 2004 Apr

Hudson Valley

Anchorage

Utah

"...the program assembled by music director Randall Fleischer for Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra’s performance March 6 was both a study in uncommon orchestral timbres and a demonstration of the capability of various instruments to produce sonic effects not always part of their traditional vocabulary...."

 

FSO Gives Enchanting Performance of Demanding, Unusual Program

by Charles M. Spining

 

Whether by design or happenstance, the program assembled by music director Randall Fleischer for Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra’s performance March 6 was both a study in uncommon orchestral timbres and a demonstration of the capability of various instruments to produce sonic effects not always part of their traditional vocabulary. This was an opportunity for our orchestra to shine in more ways than one, and the ensemble met the challenge admirably. The shimmering waters of the 19th-century Russian Antol Liadov’s “The Enchanted Lake” form an image drawn from Russian folklore, were effectively captured by gently undulating bowing in the violins, punctuated by interjections from the flutes and other winds. Wagnerian in its harmonic language, the piece would be worthy of a “prelude” to one of that composers dramatic operatic works. The short piece, in subdued and lyrical mode, was a welcome reli ef from the all too frequent brilliant overture or flashy set piece that opens so many orchestral concerts. The audience seemed “enchanted” as well by the listenable and effectively executed piece. It’s composer appears to have learned well from his sometime teacher, that master of orchestral color, Nikola Rimsky-Korsakov.

 

An Arizona premiere filled the middle of the program. Northern Airzona University’s Director of Piano Studies, Dr. Frank Scott, played Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavara’s brilliant Second Piano Concerto with consummate skill and technical finesse. This is a work that fully exploits the tonal and acoustic resources of the modern grand piano. Resonating strings controlled by a gradual release of the sustaining pedal, and “clusters” of tones played by both the flat of the hand and sometimes the entire forearm are a feature of the first

movement. This latter technique was demonstrated by Fleischer and Scott at the beginning of the performance, probably a good idea lest the audience find the rather startling effect too unsettling.

 

The second movement juxtaposes rich chordal passages on the piano with harmonic effects, by the upper strings, a technique produced by lightly touching the strings with the fingers at the higher positions on the fingerboard. Difficult to pull off in a large ensemble, the FSO string section achieved the effect in a masterly fashion.

 

The finale of the concerto is a rhythmic “perpetual motion” with echoes of Prokofiev and Ravel in its varied metrical patterns and brilliance of orchestral writing. Occasionally, the piano seemed overpowered by the large orchestral forces, but this did not seriously detract from the overall effect of the performance. The Ardrey Auditorium audience, possibly enchanted by a large contingent of Scott’s loyal students, enthusiastically greeted the spectacular conclusion to this very unique piece, a well-deserved ovation for a fine performance. Rautavara’s music is worthy of repeated hearing, and is a significant contribution to the musical literature of the 20th century. The post-concert “likes” and “dislikes” seemed about evenly divided, and it was a tribute to the orchestra and its conductor that we are offered more challenging works of this type. It is certainly hoped that this bodes well for similar programming in future FSO seasons.

 

The dynamic and powerful Fifth Symphony of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius concluded this evening, and this was another opportunity for the orchestra to demonstrate its skill in onfronting a technically demanding score. Sibelius provides for no margin of error in his frequently exposed and spare style of writing for instruments, with widely spaced intervals in the winds, pizzicato passages for strings, and sonorities that evoke the stark northern Scandinavian landscape. As in the Strauss “Death and Transfiguration” in last month’s symphony program, the orchestra is increasingly demonstrating its ability to give exciting readings of the more challenging and inspiring examples from post Romantic symphonic literature.

 

Again, I hope that this is a significant and long-lasting trend in programming for the FSO, and it is with anticipation that I look to the announcement of the 2003-04 season’s repertoire. It is also hoped that the numerous empty seats in the house reflect the irregular Thursday performance date, and not the prospect of hearing relatively unfamiliar “modern” works.