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Soloists provided balance, precision

January 17, 2000

Saturday evening, in an adventurous program of mid-20th century music, the Maryland Symphony orchestra presented the principal players of the wind, brass and string sections of the orchestra in concertos by the Swiss composers Frank Martin and Ernest Bloch. Also presented were orchestral works by American composers Samuel Barber and Howard Hanson.

Wind and brass soloists were featured in the "Concerto for Seven Winds" by Martin. Each performer, Frances Averitt, flute, Cecilia Papendick, oboe, Beverly Butts, clarinet, Karen Manar, bassoon, Joseph Levinsky, horn, Charles Grab, trumpet, and Wayne Wells, trombone, played with excellent precision and interpretation in this difficult, classically structured work. All the instruments were equally featured in solo passages, balanced by a very sensitive accompaniment in the orchestra. In the Bloch "Concerto Grosso No.2," the principal string players were the soloists, Valerie Clemens and Petia Radneva-Manolova, violins, Phyllis Freeman, viola, Denise Nathanson, cello. Again, each soloist was superb, in solo parts both lyrical and dramatic. The string orchestra accompaniment was especially well-performed and contrasted perfectly with the smaller grouping of string soloists.

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There is, incidentally, one other 20th century string quartet concerto that comes to mind - the Schoenberg Concerto (outstandingly performed in this area several years ago by the Shippensburg Festival Orchestra). The Schoenberg has better musical ideas, but this Bloch concerto in more immediate, and the string quartet doesn't fade into the general string texture as in the Schoenberg composition.

Howard Hanson's Symphony No.2 - the "Romantic" - richly deserved the bravos and standing ovation it received at the end of the program. This three movement work is based on emotional harmonic themes, restated throughout each section, culminating in a orchestra statement of real power. Maestro Schulze beautifully emphasized both the emotion and structure of the composition, while allowing the orchestra soloists a wide range of interpretation. Joseph Lovinsky's horn solos were especially ravishing. It is ironic that Hanson's music, severely and contemptuously criticized for its conservatism when it was written in 1930, has outlived works by more famously avant-garde contemporaries, to appeal directly to an audiences heart, not its logic.

I have saved my criticism for last, but honesty compels me to write that in spite of the excellent playing that followed, the Samuel Barber's "Overture to The School for Scandal" was, indeed, scandalous. The intonation was terrible, the interpretation was disjointed, and this already slight composition was discardable. What happened?

And one other complaint. I intensely dislike the comments that Maestro Schulze makes before the compositions. Not only does she repeat what's already in the barely adequate program notes, but in her eagerness to engage the audience in repertoire she obviously loves, she rambles, sings somewhat recognizable musical examples, and also, occasionally, perhaps to be humorous, makes unconsciously condescending statements about the composer or the music. I know Maestro Tuckwell talked to the audience frequently. That's reason enough not to do it now. Let the music speak for itself.

When the orchestra plays as well as it did on this concert, music has more eloquence than words can possibly persuade.

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