Frost Symphony scales the heights impressively with Bruckner
A challenging program of works by Stravinsky and Bruckner tested the artistic mettle of the University of Miami’s Frost Symphony Orchestra Sunday afternoon at Gusman Concert Hall. That the music-making often transcended the student level of the ensemble was a tribute to conductor Thomas Sleeper and the dedicated coaching of instrumental faculty members.
Stravinsky’s suite from the 1920 ballet Pulcinella opened the concert, conducted by Zoe Zeniodi, the university’s first candidate for a performance degree in conducting. Originally thought to have been based on music by Pergolesi, Pulcinella is an adaptation of themes by several obscure eighteenth century composers dressed in spicy harmonies and instrumentation that is quintessentially Stravinsky. Zeniodi led a vivacious, classically scaled account of this effervescent score that never slighted the acerbic wit and bracing dissonance beneath the polished neo-classical surface.
With the members of the Bergonzi String Quartet occupying first chairs, string articulation was crisp and precise. Glenn Basham’s violin solos were shaped with aristocratic elegance. Faculty member Brian Powell brought rhythmic urgency and supple dexterity to the tricky double bass solo. In the lovely Gavotte and variations, principal oboe Jim Drayton and flutist Cassandra Rondinelli took pride of place for tonal sweetness and fleet execution. Bright trumpet and trombone solos spiked the deceptively stately minuet, prefacing a zestful, high speed finale.
Following the chamber-sized dimensions of the Stravinsky work, the full ensemble took the stage for Anton Bruckner’s mighty Symphony No. 9 in D minor. Bruckner’s symphonies are vast cathedrals in sound. A devout mystic, Bruckner evoked the sonorities of a grand pipe organ in orchestral terms. Left incomplete at the composer’s death, the three movements of the Ninth Symphony fully convey a journey from darkness to light. It is difficult to imagine a greater conclusion to this masterpiece than the sublime third movement Adagio.
With only a few minor fluffs in the winds and brass, the Frost Symphony’s highly responsive performance channeled expressive power, large-scale orchestral weight and corporate sheen. From the opening string tremolos and horn calls to the glorious conclusion, Sleeper’s spacious leadership ignited Bruckner’s mystical exultation without succumbing to the ponderous thumping that can reduce the score to leaden monotony. The brief melodic threads and sudden harmonic shifts were perfectly gauged. An inexorable sense of surging momentum lifted the vast opening movement to inspired flight. Sleeper vividly conveyed the reverent majesty of Bruckner’s sacred mystery. His account of the Scherzo was unusually dark and foreboding, the lively dance of the trio providing only brief respite.
In the heavenly stasis of the final movement, the richness and warmth of the large string contingent glowed with vivid colors. The sunburst of brass heralding the transition to a major key was a thrilling celebration, impressively scaled by Sleeper. Indeed the Frost players and their inspired conductor produced a Bruckner performance that would do many second tier professional ensembles proud.
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Mon Sep 13, 2010
at 11:43 am