RSO merges minuets, clog dances and jazz

RSO merges minuets, clog dances and jazz

By Georgia Pampel, Theater Critic

Wow! One of my first lessons in journalism, was that if my response was to cry out “Wow!”, it was perfectly valid to include that. That was the clearest immediate reaction to the Rockford Symphony Orchestra’s Classics Concert Saturday, Jan. 25, at the Coronado, led by Steven Larsen, who once again put together a program that dazzled us. The evening was titled “Up Tempo,” and combined two works that carried jazz elements with two works that focused on earlier European dance traditions.

The Symphony’s Eastman-trained Darleen Carl-Beck was the featured soloist in Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, commissioned in the 1940s for Benny Goodman. The Concerto merges Copland’s own effort to free his musical line from the restraints of classically balanced tunes, while paying homage to Gershwin as well as Goodman’s own jazz improvisation techniques. Carl-Beck demonstrated her talent, as she rendered the Concerto in ways that call forth the language of ballet—smooth extended lines, graceful forms, wide soaring leaps, twists and twirls.

Then, as if by magic, the piano rose from the depths to stage-level for the second work on the program, Ravel’s Concerto in G, to be performed by Van Cliburn prize winner (silver) Italian Antonio Pompa-Baldi. Hearing this Concerto, written by Ravel alongside his other piano concerto, a work for the

left hand, the listener can almost imagine Ravel exulting in the use of both hands, as they attack the piano as fiercely as a ravenous wild beast. This method gives a dense texture almost obscuring the melodies that open in the woodwinds, maintaining a high trill at the same time. His hands pound, then flutter and fly on the keys, then rebound high in the air, before coming back.

Then came the second movement, with its extended passage for solo piano, so soothing, so mystical, with a three-count that refuses to be a waltz, but rather a thoughtful promenade. The third movement returns to the wildness heard before. Throughout, Ravel combines syncopation with his own sense of harmonies, incorporating jazz references at times, but always focusing on the wide capabilities of the piano. Pompa-Baldi more than met the challenge of the Ravel score—he seemed to enjoy conquering it, heart and soul.

After intermission, we heard Richard Strauss’ Suite from Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, incidental music that Strauss produced for a 20th century adaptation of the 1670 Moliére play. As the play ridicules the efforts of a true bourgeois to gain acceptance by the aristocracy, stumbling and bumbling along the way, just so does the music try to portray his clumsy efforts and errors, at times calling forth references to Strauss’ own former compositions, contrasted to graceful minuets, while also using the varied sonorities in the orchestra to

tell the story. Larsen helped us along by giving us a brief sketch of the storyline before each musical section.

Maybe we still have time for a Beethoven Symphony (No. 8)? It has a lot of clog-dance folk ring to it, and isn’t it amazing to have its Rockford debut after nearly 200 years in the standard repertoire? Not only dance motifs, but also humor, as Beethoven tweaks the mechanical sound of Mälzel’s metronome, and, in the finale, even makes fun of his own habit of repeating a cadence over.

After the concert, we were ready to start studying the Mahler Fifth Symphony that dominated the Orchestra’s next Classic Concert Feb. 22.

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