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Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra Concert – Review

Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra Concert – Saturday, October 26, 2002
Review By Courtenay Caublé – The Ridgefield Press
Nov. 11, 2002


The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra’s season opener last Saturday evening at the Ridgefield High School Auditorium abounded in the lush romantic melodies and sonic splendor that RSO Music Director Sidney Rothstein promised in his program booklet comments; and if it didn’t have quite the “everything” also promised, we can only rejoice that we may have even more to look forward to in future programs. For this occasion, which was sponsored in part by the Ridgefield Bank and Carnall Insurance, twenty-four-year-old pianist Emi Nakajima joined Maestro Rothstein and the RSO to play Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in F-sharp minor in a colorful (if somewhat oddly mixed) program that also included Wagner’s Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan und Isolde, nineteenth century Italian composer Giuseppe Martucci’s Notturno, and Ottorino Respighi’s Pines of Rome.

After reviewing all of the RSO’s concerts for about a quarter of a century, my most immediate reaction to Saturday evening’s performance was proud delight (as a Ridgefielder) at the astonishing metamorphosis that the ensemble has undergone, particularly in the few years since Maestro Rothstein took over its leadership. I’m now able to join the other enthusiastic members of the RSO’s capacity audiences in full expectation of hearing fine music at least competently and often beautifully played, and without having to harp at length in my reviews about distracting technical flaws.
Both the Wagner work and Respighi’s Pines of Rome are tests of a conductor’s sensitivity and technical command and of an orchestra’s ability to respond to the subtleties of its leader’s interpretations; and, in addition, the Respighi work is either an orchestral showpiece or an orchestra show-up piece, depending on the quality of performance.

Wagner’s score in the Prelude and Liebestod moves forward tenderly, restlessly, and increasingly passionately, with subtle dynamic fluctuations, myriad opportunities for full orchestral sonority, and with numerous dangerously “open” spots for solo woodwinds and small groups of instruments. All of that was managed smoothly enough and with sufficient polish to encourage full audience involvement with the music. During the applause at the end, a man in front of me turned to his companion and said, “That was really good.” Though I could have played the critic and picked at fine points here or there, I thought so too.

The Pines of Rome, with a colorful orchestration that calls for an expanded orchestra that includes a piano, a celeste, an organ, off-stage brass, and a recording of birdsong, is indeed a sonic experience. Occasional minor flaws discernible only to flaw hunters went largely unnoticed and in no way spoiled the fine overall effect. And there was some lovely solo and sectional playing.

Giuseppe Martucci’s lovely orchestration of his Notturno, which he originally wrote for piano solo, richly enhances the piece’s lush romantic lyricism, and Rothstein and the orchestra played it beautifully, with soaring string sonority and lovely individual solo spots, particularly a lovely extended cello solo by the John Voss, the RSO’s assistant principal cellist.

Although there is an obvious similarity between Rachmaninoff’s treatment of the solo piano and of musical textures in his first piano concerto and in his immensely popular second and third concertos, the reason for its comparative neglect is equally obvious. The later concertos feature flowing, lyrical themes that lend themselves both to easily followable developmental expansion and to audience retention. The audience can leave the concert hall humming the tunes. Though also rhapsodic in expression, most of the first concerto’s thematic material lacks sufficient lyrical integrity to make it memorable. The result is that the long melodic phrases, almost invariably embedded in cascades of surrounding technical glitter, make the piece seem almost like a competition display work.

Emi Nakajima’s delicate loveliness and graceful stage presence leave one unprepared for her approach to the piano, which is powerful and authoritative enough to make Rachmaninoff’s spirit smile with approval. It also lent a particular effectiveness to the work’s fairly frequent declamatory passages. Elsewhere there was good evidence of a well-schooled technique, permitting considerable control in the clear enunciation of melodic notes against the background of Rachmaninoff’s ever-present surrounding fioratura. If there was something missing, it was what seemed to me to be Miss Nakajima’s less than total immersion in the music she was playing – as if she had played the piece so many times that her involvement might have lost its immediacy.

The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra’s next concert, set for Saturday, December 7, will feature the RSO’s own Tourmaline String Quartet in Louis Spohr’s Concerto for String quartet and Orchestra along with Mozart’s Overture to The Magic Flute, the first movement from Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor (conducted by John Patrick, recipient of the RSO’s annual Golden Baton auction award), and Robert Schumann’s Symphony No. 2 in C Major.

Related Reviews:
Review of this concert by Howard Tuvelle