Thursday, November 13, 2008

'1001 Nights,' Oct. 16-18

From Jacksonville Florida Symphony:

By The Times-Union

'1001 Nights,' Oct. 16-18

Tone color has become an important characteristic for much of the symphonic writing in the 20th century. And though the title of the program was 1001 Nights (in reference to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, Symphonic Suite) that closed the evening, the program could have easily been simply called "pinnacles of orchestral tone color." Thursday's Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra's program was a cornucopia of exciting timbres, enthusiastically received by the audience.

The evening started with Freeflight: Fanfares & Fantasy, composed in 1989 by American Joseph Schwanter. Schwanter, born in 1943, has been honored throughout his illustrious career with such awards as the Pulitzer Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship and first prize in the Kennedy Center Friedheim competition. Conductor Fabio Mechetti brought life into Schwanter's piece that featured brass fanfares, countered sweet string passages and delicate percussion textures. Additionally, the strings were punctuated with short comments provided by the brass, adding up to an effective definition of American tone color.

The colors were even further enhanced during Aram Khachaturian's Piano Concerto, led by a flavorful allegro maestoso first movement. The piece featured both proud melodic content inspired by Armenian folk songs,and playful sections featuring the oboe. The pinnacle of the writing was when the flextone, a percussion instrument with a small flexible metal sheet held together with a wire frame ending in a handle, appeared in the second movement, Andante con anima. The melody, performed on the instrument, was doubled with sincere playing by the strings.

And while Khachaturian's reputation as an orchestrator has long been known, it provided the perfect vehicle for an amazing, virtuosic performance by New Jersey pianist Terrence Wilson. Wilson, a graduate of the Juilliard School, exhibited clear voicings and melodies that complemented Khachaturian's work - in short; Wilson's timbre was perfect. Wilson was clearly the audience favorite, and their lengthy applause was well deserved, especially considering that while Wilson's easily showcased fiery playing in the first, and third (Allegro brillante) movements, he was equally proficient in the delicate approach to the second movement.

The featured piece of the evening was the Scheherazade symphonic suite, and it should be no surprise that a master orchestrator such as Rimsky-Korsakov would be an excellent programming choice when featured with the earlier pieces. The piece was inspired by The Thousand and One Nights, a collection of fantasy stories featured in an ancient legend focused on Scheherazade, a sultana who had married a sultan known as Shakriar. He thought he should marry a woman, then put her to death on the first night of their marriage. His rationale was that women were full of deceit, and it was better to end the marriage sooner rather than later. The sultana told Shakrair stories that enchanted him to the point that he delayed her execution daily. She was so effective, the stories, based on adventures in the Middle East, continued for 1,001 nights. Rimsky-Korsakov's movements, The Sea and Sinbad's Ship, The Story of the Kalandar Prince, The Young Prince and the Young Princess and Festival at Baghdad - The Sea - Shipwreck, were based on these a few of the miraculous tales of fantasy.

Mechetti's masterful direction of the orchestra brings out the true colors intended by the composer, highlighted at the end with a beautiful final comment performed by the concert master, Ruxandra Marquardt.

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