Advertisement

Review: Symphony performs well under Schulze

January 18, 1999

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra performed its third concert of the season under the direction of Elizabeth Schulze, one of four conductors auditioning for the position of music director of the symphony. Schulze began the program with Johann Strauss' "Overture to Die Fledermaus." This familiar and effervescent waltz music of Vienna is displayed throughout this popular work. Schulze lead the orchestra with a vibrant enthusiasm and attention to the customary tempo changes and expressive rubato phrasings.

The main event of the evening's concert was the performance of Richard Strauss' "Four Last Songs," sung beautifully by Rochelle Ellis. The four poems, titled "Spring," "September," Time to Sleep" and "At Dusk," are a musical depiction of the cycle of life's journey. Strauss wrote these songs towards the end of his own life, and used the theme from one of his earliest works titled "Death and Transfiguration" in the final song of this set.

Advertisement

The performance by Ellis was delightful and inspired. She sang with a clarity and purity of tone that blended wonderfully with the cascading melodies in the orchestra. From the bright, colorful depiction of "Spring" to the introspective, somber reflection of "At Dusk," Ellis' voice flowed with emotion and power. The orchestra accompaniment complimented the mood of each song with its difficult and delicate dynamic contrasts.

The final piece of the evening was Sibelius' "Symphony No. 2 in D major." This is one of the Finnish composer's better known and more popular symphonies. Sibelius loved the perfection of the form of the symphony, and was especially good at building his music from small melodic ideas. This is true of the beginning of the first movement of this symphony, which starts with pulsating repeated notes in the strings on a rising three note motive. Unfortunately, the orchestra's start on this movement was somewhat tentative and not together until several measures into the piece. Sibelius' music is filled with sudden stops and starts of melodic fragments, and a sense of overall phrasing and connection between these fragments is difficult to accomplish. The orchestra struggled somewhat to develop this phrasing, and became better as the music progressed. Even so, the first movement was lacking in the power and dynamic assertiveness required.

Schulze displays a commanding presence on the podium, using full, sweeping arm gestures throughout most of the music. There are times that a more concise and limited conducting style would have been appropriate. In the second movement, for example, the beginning has pizzicato (plucked) strings and needs limited motion to be precise. The orchestra did respond well to the emotional quality of the movement, which Schulze drew heavily from the musicians. The third movement is a fast and furious scherzo, in which the strings never seem to stop galloping over the fingerboard. It leads to the daunting and powerful final movement, where Sibelius' uses all that has come before and restates it in a blazing combination of unison strings and full choral brass explosions. The orchestra responded to Schulze's direction with conviction, and brought the audience to its feet with a well deserved ovation.

The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|