Review - MSO performs music with skill

January 20, 2003|by FRANCK GADZA

The Maryland Symphony Orchestra's third Masterworks Series of the season featured the music of three composers, each of whom was influenced by the folk music of his native land.

The program opened with the Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla by Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857), best known as the first champion of nationalism in Russian music.

The Maryland Symphony's string section performed the rapid scale passages with precision and accuracy. The winds and brass balanced the style of the music well, without overwhelming the strings.

Aram Khachaturian (1903-1978) was raised on the folk music of his native Armenia and was trained in the Soviet/Russian classical tradition.


The soloist for the Maryland Symphony's performance of Khachaturian's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra was Concertmaster Leonid Sushansky, who possesses a direct lineage to this work. His mother and first teacher, violinist Rimma Sushanskaya, was a pupil of David Oistrakh, who premiered the work in 1940.

The first movement is based on a short, dance-like rhythmic figure that is passed from soloist to orchestra and back. The extensive cadenza showed off Sushansky's mastery of double stops and his dramatic flair.

The second movement begins with a sad waltz-like melody, followed by a more agitated section that builds to a percussive climax. Sushansky was at his best in the long, lyrical lines that permeate this movement.

The second half of the program featured Sinfonietta by the Czechoslovakian composer Leos Jancek (1854-1928). This work's relative scarcity in the concert hall is due in part to the large number of extra musicians it requires. In addition to strings and an augmented woodwind section, the score calls for 12 trumpets, two bass trumpets, four trombones, two tenor tubas and bass tuba. The MSO chose to perform Jancek's alternate version that calls for conventional instrumentation.

The Sinfonietta is rhythmically complex, with extensive use of ostinato. Melodically, the work contains a series of contrasting motives that are strung together with little or no transition. The success of a performance depends largely on how well these motives are tied together by the conductor.

Music Director Elizabeth Schulze did an excellent job of unifying the various sections and presenting a cohesive performance.

The extra brass was missed in the opening movement. The fanfares lacked impact when performed in the conventional scoring by seven brasses instead of the augmented 16.

The second movement features a series of dance-like woodwind melodies above a rhythmic chugging in the low brass, contrasted with intense, soaring string and horn melodies. This movement suffered from some rhythmic imprecision, but conveyed a good sense of style.

The highlight of the third movement was some beautiful solo work by the Maryland Symphony's woodwind section.

A 10-note fragment by the trumpets is the basis for the entire fourth movement. This movement was performed with great vitality, and its almost schizophrenic contrasts were presented with great skill.

Frank Gazda is on the music faculty of Shepherd College in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Frederick (Md.) Community College.

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