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Review: Orchestra performs brilliantly

February 20, 2000|By William Bland

See also: MSO proves to be fluent in French

On Saturday evening, Feb.19th, the Maryland Symphony, under the direction of Elizabeth Schulze, performed a brilliant program of French orchestral music of the Romantic period.

Interesting programming has been a hallmark of Maestra Schultz's concerts, and this particular blend of French composers had a historical interest as well as a musical unity.

The concert began with a standard concert-opener, the overture "Zampa," by the relatively obscure opera-ballet composer Ferdinand Hrold. The orchestra had a lyric energy as one melody followed another in a sparkling, rhythmic rendition of this classic.


This work, by the way, joins a distinguished list of other overtures to operas that have now been forgotten, including most famously, a work by a composer that Hrold somewhat imitated, Rossini, whose overture is the famous "William Tell," or how about the "Light Calvary Overture" by von Suppe? All are overtures that now begin concerts, not operas.

The Piano Concerto No. 4 in C minor, written in 1874 by Camille Saint-Sans, featured a superb pianist, Seung-Un Ha.

This concerto, written by Saint-Sans for his own performance, features continuous technical difficulties for the pianist, and Ha handled them all with assurance. The piano was uneven in its voicing, however, and this occasionally interfered with her melodic phrasing.

While not as immediately accessible as the Second Concerto, a war-horse by any standard, the Fourth nevertheless has emotional writing reminiscent of Saint-Sans' greatest composition, the Third Symphony, called the Organ Symphony. The audience responded to Ha's performance with a standing ovation.

Following the intermission, the orchestra presented an excellent interpretation and performance of a great composition, the Symphony Fantastique by Hector Berlioz, written in 1830.

After the death of Beethoven in 1827, composers were faced with a tremendous challenge. How could you write a symphony after the Beethoven Ninth? It was a problem that Berlioz answered with all the eccentric genius he possessed.

He shifted the attention from the musical material to the emotional expressions of the artist, the composer. He gave music a personal program and filled his musical form with what the French call the "vagues du passion," the ephemeral play of the imagination and emotions.

All this is packed into the Symphony Fantastique, expressed with combination of instruments unheard until Berlioz wrote for them.

The Maryland Symphony performed this tour de force with an intensity that fully conveyed Schulze's stylistic grasp of this extremely difficult composition. All sections performed outstandingly, and the brass were especially impressive in the March to the Scaffold.

This was a concert of which everyone could be proud. Well-performed and beautifully interpreted, it was an impressive display of orchestral excellence.

One note regarding the next concert, featuring the Dmitri Shostokovich Violin Concerto March 18 and 19. I urge listeners to obtain a copy of Shostokovich's autobiography, "Testimony." This stunning account of a composer's life in the Soviet Union under Stalin will make your blood run cold, and will add incredible depth to an understanding of Shostokovich's extremely personal music.

William Bland is a composer and pianist living in Shepherdstown, W.Va.

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