Sunday, March 16, 2014

Arlington Symphony Orchestra (Va) gives major concert at new local high school today: Dvorak is featured

Today the Arlington Symphony Orchestra (Virginia, near Washington DC) put on a meaty concert at Washington-Lee High School auditorium. A. Scott Wood conducted. 
The program opened with Samuel Barber’s Esaay #1 for Orchestra, about 10 minutes. The composition is a three-part piece with an opening three-note “bugle” theme and a scherzo middle section.  The motto returns and the post-romantic work (composed around 1934) ends quietly. (Barber's brief and melodarmatic Symphony #1 is worth a hearing; #2 rambles.) 
The second piece was the familiar “Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin, which the conductor notes was orchestrated by Ferde Grofe.  (I presume Gershwin did his own for the Concerto in F).  The famous “rhapsody” melody appears half way through the work.  This jazz-inspired piece was a favorite of my mother and both aunts in Ohio. The pianist was Texas=based Edwin Newman.  The piano, a Yamaha, produced brilliant, almost metallic sound. 

After the intermission, the featured work was the familiar “From the New World” Symphony, now the Symphony #9 in E Minor by Antonin Dvorak.  This was number 5 when I was growing up, and I had an inexpensive record of it by eleventh grade.  Wood points out that the work is centered around folk tunes and the pentatonic scale, and to me it has always sounded less subtle than many of Dvorak’s other large works.  The slow movement inspires the familiar spiritual song “Gong Home”, the scherzo was supposed to relate to Longfellow.  The Finale appends a massive coda, which I think Wood takes too fast.  When those rising intervals in the bass near the end are drawn out (as in Maazel’s performance, which I remember hearing in my car when driving in Dallas once) the emotional effect can be overpowering.  The final repeated E Major chords conclude with one final blast that is held sostenuto and allowed to diminish to pianissimo. I don’t know why Dvorak composed the ending this way; no other symphony os his ends quietly.  (Some conductors diminish the final chords of some of Schubert’s movements, such as the first movement of the Eighth and Finale of the Great, but I don’t like that effect.) 
Wood also takes the first movement exposition repeat, which I’ve never seen done before.  (A very few conductors will do this with the Schubert Great.)

To my ear, the most interesting Dvorak symphonies are the first two, which both have some daring harmonic effects and long and even ponderous Bruckner-like slow movements.  These are more “Germanic” than the more familiar later symphonies.  Dvorak is usually compared to Brahms and Schumann, as composing in a style that is both Germanic and Slavic.  
The Symphony #7 (originally #2) was a favorite of a high school chum when I was a graduating senior. I always saw the halting Lydian theme that opens the finale as a “paradox theme” which I privately called “strength in weakness”.  The Seventh (D Minor) turns to Major at the very end and closes with quasi-Bruckner grandeur.

Another little even to report today:  the Ardmore Youth Choir from Pennsylvania visited Trinity Presbyterian Church in Arlington today and, combined with Trinity’s Jubilate Deo, performed the Cameroon setting of “Praise the Lord”, s Kyrie from a Mass by John Leavitt, “Ubi Caritas” by Audrey Snyder, “Shine on Me” by Rolio Dilworth, “I Will Bless the Lord at All Times” and by Aarom David Miller.  Organist Carol Feather Martin performed Jack C. Cooke’s “Prelude on Llanfyllin” and John Leavitt’s “With High Delight Let Us Unite”.  I gave the people still around a post postlude, about a minute of the conclusion of Havergal Brian’s Third Symphony, played by ear on the piano, with its “Nearer My Got to Thee” setting, culminating in a Beethoven-Fifth like climax (Feb. 15).  Reaction: “It sounds British.” Someone has to perform the “Gothic” some day.  

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