Symphony impresses with classic program

The Berkshire Symphony Orchestra presented a concert of three demanding pieces to a nearly-full Chapin Hall last Friday. This concert saw less adventurous programming than previous concerts by director Ron Feldman, but the skill with which the orchestra played compensated for any deficit in program planning.

Feldman started off the program with an obscure J.C. Bach piece, Sinfonia Concertante. Although the first few measures started off a little shakily in the violins and violas, the ensemble quickly snapped into concert mode and afterwards played solidly. When Floyd Hebert’s flute doubled the violin line, it added a subtle shade of warmth; he and flutist Katherine Haklisch ’04 played well with one another.

What really made this piece extraordinary, though, was the wonderful violin solos by concertmaster Ronald Gorevic and Loren Silvertrust ’04. Between ritornelli, the two engaged in lively duets with one another, intermittently accompanied by the rest of the orchestra. Their tone color even matched one another’s on the interlocking lines. I felt that more dynamic contrast could have been used to offset the ritornelli from the solo sections; at times the different sections seemed to be a uniform wash of sound.

The second movement, “Andate,” started off with a string statement which was slightly out of tune. Oboist Carl Jenkins soon added a soaring line above the string accompaniment. Although he played with a sonorous tone, Jenkins let some notes speak late, and a few wrong tones found their way into the mix. Additionally, his articulation seemed muddy and I could not discern a lot of it from my vantage point in the balcony. He ended the movement with a short cadenza.

The third movement, “Tempo di Menuetto,” started with a strong opening in the strings that soon included the woodwinds. At this point in the piece, the intonation in the winds was suffering a bit, but the technical ease with which the instrumentalists played this piece made up for it. The violin duo came back, much to my delight. Gorevic and Silvertrust again played off of one another’s energy and dynamism. Their articulation and dynamic contrast set a standard soon heeded by the rest of the orchestra, culminating in an exciting close to the piece.

The one fault I could find with this piece was that it was fairly long and tended to repeat itself. It seemed a dull choice for the ability and talent of this orchestra.

Pianist Lydia Artimiw next joined the orchestra for her rendition of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A Major, K.488. The strings started off with a well-stated, confidently played theme. When the woodwinds joined them on the reprise, they added a soft warmth to which the violins responded.

Artimiw entered with her line just as sweetly as the original string exposition. In doubling a string line, she added an ethereal, shimmering effect in sixteenth notes. From time to time, the woodwinds seemed to lag behind the piano; they should have anticipated the acoustics a little better. Artimiw ended the first movement with a dexterous cadenza. I found myself in awe of the fact that one set of ten fingers produced the display of technical skill and musicality that she evoked from the instrument.

The second andante movement started off with the solo piano. All throughout, the rest of the orchestra restrained their dynamics well so that the piano could be heard. The woodwinds in this movement played with an incredible sound; in particular, the flute part sounded rich and luscious.

During the presto movement, Artimiw displayed how delicately she could play the instrument even when playing very quickly or loudly. Each little variation section of this rondo-like movement was a miniature of the movement itself; she added a distinct color and mood to each theme.

String accents on the melody were played adeptly, though some of the woodwind balance was off. In particular, the clarinets were unequal; I would have liked to hear more of the top line, as it disrupted the clarity of the woodwind choir a little bit. The orchestra was very expressive, overall: when players of this caliber come together to play, it’s often futile to keep on analyzing the music, listening for things that go right and wrong.

All throughout Artimiw’s performance, I enjoyed watching her close physical interaction with the instrument. She hunched herself close to the keys but still managed to play them with the most delicate of touches; a flourish up and away from the keyboard finished each phrase in the piece. Artimiw was the shining gem in the crown of this concert; Feldman’s decision to include her made this concert truly excellent.

After a brief intermission, the orchestra returned en masse to play Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F Major. The first movement, “Allegro con brio,” started off with a strong opening, though perhaps a little under tempo; however, the orchestra accelerated well under Feldman’s baton.

Throughout this movement, Susan Martula’s clarinet lines shone brightly; woodwind interjections were well-played. The oboe-clarinet imitation came across crisply and cleanly, and dynamic contrast across the board was superb. When the violas and celli played solo, they filled the hall with their rich and beautiful sound, a marked contrast to the usual busy orchestration Brahms often utilized in his quicker movements.

The orchestra’s shift to E-flat minor was ominous, even foreboding; the players’ color changed to a more edgy, sinister one. Perhaps the brass could have tuned more precisely, but they settled into the fabric nicely.

Feldman’s broad, sweeping gestures showed his command of the piece; the orchestra, as well, responded eagerly. This orchestra plays Romantic-era pieces more expressively than any other type of symphony; their ease with it certainly added a degree of panache.

The second movement, Andante, opened with a fluid clarinet line. Strings and woodwinds juxtaposed different sounds up against one another. This piece’s shifting tonal centers left the listener with a somewhat unsettled, mysterious taste and just hints of resolution.

Third, the “Poco Allegretto” opened with a rich and vibrant cello line. The strings in this movement were simply captivating. The horn solo restating the original theme was well done; it evoked the exact mood of the opening cello line. Susan Martula and Jonathan Salter ’02 deserve commendation for matching their tone colors especially well on the traded-off lines; they sounded like one clarinet. This movement tapped into a richness that was not previously present in the concert.

Tthe orchestra concluded with the “Allegro” movement. The flowing first line fragmented over time and instrumental sections fit into so many different moods and motives interspersed throughout the movement. A bright triplet melody strode through cello and horn, and later both violin sections. This piece left me spellbound with its lyricism, and its excellence concluded this taxing piece, and a demanding concert, on a well-played final theme.

There comes a time in every Berkshire Symphony concert when I sit back and decide not to criticize what I hear any more because the music is just too enjoyable. Last week’s concert proved to be no exception (this time midway through the Brahms), and Feldman and the symphony no doubt will continue to do the same in the remaining concerts of the year.