|[ORPHEUS review to be published soon. Please check back here Monday evening.]|
PHILHARMONIC EXPLORES LOVE AND LOSS
Orchestra takes a darker than usual tone with Valentine's Day themes.
By Larry Warkentin - February 14, 2010
Saturday evening the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra presented a Valentineís Day program at the Saroyan Theatre that seemed to dwell more on the sorrow of parting than the joy of love. Two musical versions of Romeo and Juliet, one by Tchaikovsky and the other by Prokofiev and the heart rending music of Coriglianoís "The Red Violin, Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra" stir the deepest emotions of tragic love. In between these obviously programmatic compositions about love is Samuel Barberís Violin Concerto.
Conductor Theodore Kuchar opened with Tchaikovskyís "Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy-Overture" which was written when the composer was 28 years old. Critics and friends alike considered the composition to be a failure. After a decade of incubation and two revisions the final version has become a much loved favorite.
The orchestra played admirably. The woodwinds opened with sonorous warmth suggesting the character of Friar Lawrence. Then the lower strings introduce the foreboding theme with its rising half step. Kuchar emphasized this theme as an ominous warning of what lies ahead for the young lovers. The battle music intended to illustrate the fight between the Montagues and Capulets was unnecessarily fast. The orchestra handled the tempo effectively but it seemed more like a fast paced hockey game than a duel between rivals. The love theme, which is almost too familiar because of its use and abuse in movies and TV shows, was well prepared and its entrance produced a moment of great passion and poignant sadness.
The Violin Concerto by American composer Samuel Barber was composed in 1939. The soloist, Martin Chalifour, concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic has created for himself an enviable solo career with orchestras around the world. This concerto, in many ways, seems more romantic than the Romeo and Juliet music that precedes and follows it. It has beautiful melodic phrases and warm harmonic progressions consistent with the style of the composer of Adagio for Strings.
As a showpiece for the violin soloist, Barber's work may not stand up to other concertos. In this performance it seemed more like a serenade for orchestra with solos for violin and oboe. Perhaps the orchestra was too loud, or the soloist not strong enough, or the score too heavily orchestrated. It may be that all three problems contributed to the fact that the soloist was submerged in the sound. It was only in the final movement, the Presto in moto perpetuo, that the soloist projected and his playing was brilliant. The notes flew past like a flock of starlings being pursued by a hawk.
Following intermission soloist Chalifour and the orchestra played John Coriglianoís Chaconne for Violin and Orchestra. This music is drawn from the composerís Academy Award winning movie score, The Red Violin. While Romeo and Juliet is a love story gone wrong, The Red Violin is the story of an instrument maker who mixes his dying wifeís blood in the varnish of a violin so her spirit can live on.
The score is treacherous and fascinating. Surprising sonorities and asymmetrical rhythms give excitement to the music. The challenges of this composition caused one of those rare moments when the conductor has to stop the performance and get the soloist and orchestra synchronized. Occasionally one needs to be reminded that music performance is fraught with danger and part of its attraction is the high level of skill demanded. Chalifourís playing was precise and impressive. The texture of the music permitted his violin to project, especially in the lower register. It seemed to get a bit thin in the higher notes.
The program ended with selections from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 64 by Sergei Prokofiev. This music was composed for a full length ballet from which the composer selected this suite. Without the stage setting and the dancers' gestures one would be hard pressed to find much of the young lovers' story in this music. That is not to say that the music is uninteresting. It is filled with the bittersweet sarcasm for which Prokofiev is famous.
Kuchar made the music come alive. The swagger of the Montagues and Capulets as they challenge each other was obvious in the ponderous dance rhythm of the first movement. The oboe solo in the second movement was beautifully played. The lower strings played with warmth and passion, and the final movement, depicting Tybaltís death, was filled with tragic intensity.
Larry Warkentin, D.M.A, is professor emeritus, Fresno Pacific University.