Concert Review: RSO begins fall concerts

We each probably have our own way of measuring the passing of the seasons and the passage of the years. One of my own milestones has always been the news heralding the formal concerts that will enrich our lives over the colder months of the year. Summer concerts in the park, no matter how “solid” the program, always have a picnic atmosphere, and while “pops” concerts clearly are crowd pleasers, they rarely give me the substance that I look for in music.

So, on Saturday night, Sept. 24, when the Rockford Symphony Orchestra filled the Coronado stage wall-to-wall, and Maestro Steven Larsen marched out to the podium, there was a rich air of anticipation all around. This season opener, titled “Heroes, Villains and Scoundrels,” offered romance and intrigue, along with dances and deviltry. Rather like the menus at the better buffet nights around town, there was truly something for everyone–and a richly satisfying feast it was!

Honoring the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, all of this season’s RSO concerts will open with a Mozart selection. Saturday, it was the elegant Overture to the opera Don Giovanni. The first bars, funereal chords, offer a sober reminder of Don Giovanni’s murder of the Commendatore, before the music switches over to the frivolous airs of Don Giovanni’s love interests.

And as a balance at the end of the concert, Richard Strauss’ ‘Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks closed with another brief dirge, a quick reference to the prankster’s downfall, until the lilting final notes remind us that it was really all in fun.

Concerto for Timpani, by Dan Welcher, celebrated the generous gift from the Clarke family, a five-piece set of timpani, which also let the RSO’s timpanist Jon Mortensen come up front to show the whole variety of ways the timpani can rule the scene, and gave the concert audience a chance to witness the energy and flamboyance that goes into making the most of the instrument.

But the dances, the romances? Richard Wagner’s excerpt from the opera Gotterdammerung, “Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhine Journey,” gave us romance in one of Wagner’s most accessible introductions to his complex use of leitmotifs to describe the scenes, the action and the characters of his operas. And Dominic Argento’s Valentino Dances honored the memory of film hero Rudolf Valentino with a rich assortment of tangos, highlighted by a rare appearance by gifted accordionist Michael Alongi, whose dexterity and style helped recall the atmosphere of the 1920s: Czech Jaromir Weinberger’s Polka and Fugue from his opera Schvanda the Bagpiper added a familiar polka to the dance mix, and those who followed carefully could spot a wide selection of dances in the third movement of the timpani concerto. Then, if you still craved the traditional romantic waltz, Franz Liszt’s Mephisto Waltz No. One had to set your toes tapping as you whirled around the dance floor.

It was a full assortment, and in an era when orchestras across the nation are too often in financial difficulty, RSO is fortunate to have local sponsorships from companies aware of the importance of music to the human soul. The Classics Series this year is credited to Commonwealth Edison, and this individual concert was also sponsored by Savant, and we owe extra thanks to both these organizations for their generosity.

For those of you who missed the concert or would like to hear a repeat, it will be broadcast on WNIU 90.5/105.7 on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m., so mark your calendars now!

From the Sept. 28-Oct. 4, 2005, issue

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