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Reading Symphony Orchestra steps back in time

Concert review — 14 January 2002
Review By Susan L. Peña
Reading Pennsylvania Eagle/Times Correspondent

The RSO offers a rare tribute to the Classical era by performing works composed between 1760 and 1800 on a stage decorated to reflect the time period.


The Reading Symphony Orchestra became, temporarily, a chamber orchestra over the weekend, in a concert that could have been heard circa 1800. The stage of the Sovereign Performing Arts Center was decorated with two paintings from that era, and candelabras, a carpet and palms added to the atmosphere of a salon on Saturday night. (The concert was repeated Sunday afternoon in the Scottish Rite Cathedral.)

In a rare tribute to the Classical era, the RSO, conducted by music director Sidney Rothstein and assistant conductor Sarah Hatsuko Hicks, performed works composed within the 40-year period from 1760 to 1800. RSO principal cellist Douglas McNames was the featured soloist in Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major that, having been composed in the early 1760s, was the earliest work on the program.Hicks conducted the first half of the program, beginning with Johann Christian Bach’s Sinfonia in B-flat Major, Op. 18, No. 2, composed in 1774 as the overture to the opera “Lucio Silla.”

In its much-reduced size, the RSO produced some lovely, spritely playing in the opening movement; an exquisite oboe solo by principal Terence Belzer enhanced the simple, pretty Andante; and the final movement bubbled along at a fine pace.Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21, followed, also under Hicks’ baton, in a performance that, though capable, was a little lacking in bite and dynamic range, at least in the first movement.The Andante movement was warm and nicely balanced; the Minuet fleet and scherzoid; the finale conducted and played with zest and playful humor.

Rothstein conducted the remainder of the program, and it was interesting to hear the differences in the orchestra under the two conductors. Under Hicks, the orchestra’s playing was a little bland, though certainly elegant and stylish. Hicks is a fine musician with much potential as a conductor.

But under Rothstein, the RSO’s playing was edgier, with more tension, making for more danger and excitement. He is at the top of his game now, and this was most obvious in the final piece of the evening, Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 (“Jupiter”).

First, though, came the Haydn concerto, in which McNames played with a light touch and a sound that was honeyed rather than caramelized in color. In contrast, he played fiercely in the quick passages of the first and third movements. The orchestra served as a sensitive partner, especially in the songful Adagio, played by all with utmost simplicity and sincerity an island of peace at the concert’s center.The Mozart symphony contained the best playing of the evening, from the crackling first movement to the masterfully shaped phrases of the Andante cantabile, from the toe-tapping minuet to the practically perfect finale. It took one’s breath away.

Marvelous Mozart Concert at Rigefield Playhouse – January 5, 2002:
Review by Courtenay Caublé
Review by Frank Merkling