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December 12, 2002 — Review by Courtenay Caublé

Even the Christmas rush couldn’t keep most of Ridgefield’s music lovers from being part of last Saturday evenings Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra audience at the Anne Richardson Auditorium. Maestro Sidney Rothsteins lyrically oriented program, sponsored in part by the Dow Chemical Company, featured Louis Spohrs Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra with the members of the Tourmaline String Quartet (composed of leading RSO string players) as soloists and also included Mozarts Magic Flute Overture and William Schumanns Symphony No. 2 in C Major. An added treat just after intermission spotlighted John Patrick, winner of this years Golden Baton auction prize, leading the orchestra in a spirited rendering of the first movement of Mozarts Symphony No. 25 in G minor.

The late British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham once quipped that the greatest value of beginning a concert with a rousing rendition of God Save the Queen was that it was a happier choice than the first scheduled work on the program as a warm-up piece for the orchestra. Perhaps a similar rendition of The Star Spangled Banner would have adjusted the initially shaky brass section intonation that slightly marred an otherwise fine interpretation of Mozarts wonderful Overture to The Magic Flute, with sparkling string and woodwind playing and fine management of balances and nuances underscoring the works shifting moods and magical use of counterpoint.

German violinist-composer Louis Spohr predated Wagner in the use of compositional techniques that Wagner later carried to full development, and his Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra was the first work of its kind. Somewhat reminiscent in form to the earlier Baroque concerto grosso, where a smaller group of instruments was paired against a larger ensemble, it goes beyond that by treating the separate string quartet both as an ensemble and as a group of equally important soloists. Frequently wistful in feeling, the work is richly lyrical, but with sufficient technical display to keep the spotlight on the soloists.

The members of the RSOs Tourmaline String Quartet are a well-matched group. With a distinguished musical career behind her, violinist Betty-Jean Hagen is a first rate solo performer whose combined musical sensitivity and polished technique and stage presence assure fine musical communication. And the other three members of the group violinist Rachel Handman, violist Suzanne Corcy, and cellist Melissa Westgate matched her in every way, with sonorous tone quality, ease of execution, and admirable ensemble precision. And Rothstein and the orchestra were no less fine in their part in the performance partnership.

I was happily impressed by Golden Baton winner John Patricks debut as a conductor. His downbeats were clear, his beat was right on the money, and (best of all) he had done his homework. He cued the right sections (sometimes a trifle too dramatically perhaps), and he knew and felt the music. An audiences awareness of such an involvement is part of what good conducting is all about. The turbulently dramatic first movement of Mozarts Symphony No. 25, prominently featured in the background score for the film Amadeus, came through without a hitch.

Finally, Maestro Rothstein and the orchestra gave a communicative reading of Schumanns Symphony No. 2. The entire score, with its dramatic depth and variety of moods, was well handled, but the rousing Finale and intensely beautiful Adagio were especially fine. And I must single out oboist Dorothy Darlingtons sensitive and expressive solo playing, particularly in the Schumann symphonys Adagio movement, but elsewhere during the concert as well.

The RSOs next appearance will be an all-Mozart program on January 4 at the Ridgefield Playhouse, featuring violinist Elissa Koljonen and Roberto Diaz, the Philadelphia Orchestras principal violist, in the composers Sinphonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra. In addition to music by Rossini and Brahms, the orchestras next subscription concert, set for Saturday, February 8, will feature pianist Matthew Bengtson playing Beethovens Fourth Piano Concerto.

Other reviews of this concert
bullet Review by Jim Pegolotti