Saturday, March 24, 2007

Columbia Symphony concert dishes meat and potatoes with gusto

The Columbia Symphony served up a rich, musical dinner last night in a program that contained the music of three major staples: Brahms, Beethoven, and Sibelius. Led by Huw Edwards, the orchestra performed Brahms' "Tragic Overture," Sibelius's Symphony No. 5, and Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 2 with guest soloist Susan Chan. Overall, the concert had many satisfying moments, but the effect was marred at times by intonation problems in various sections of the orchestra.
The performance began with the Brahms' great overture and the interpretation by Edwards and his ensemble had plenty of verve to convey the conflicting emotions of hope and loss that run through this piece. The violins exhibited a warm, vibratant tone, but once in a while (for example, at the end of a descending scale) the section didn't agree on the notes. The brass played gloriously, although the horns seemed a little hesitant now and then.
Next on the program came the Beethoven concerto with pianist Chan, who played the piece eloquently, especially the slower second movement. I felt that the last movement, a lively rondo, could have used more spring in its step and need a slightly louder sound, just to give it more contrast. The violins again showed some slippage at times with their notes. The audience wholeheartedly responded to the piece with cheering and a standing ovation.
After intermission, the orchestra performed the Sibelius No. 5. There were some rhythmic roughness in the first movement, but I really enjoyed how the music came to a rollicking end. The ensemble successfully negotiated a number of challenging tempo changes, especially in the second movement. The brass sounded glorious for the most part, but they weren't flawless. All in all, though, the orchestra delivered an emotionally gratifying performance of this masterpiece.

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