Russian Romantics at Ridgefield High School

Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra Concert – Saturday, April 6, 2002
Review By Courtenay Caublé – The Ridgefield Press
Apr. 13, 2002


Though the announcement of the death of RSO Board member Joe Dailey (to whose memory the program was dedicated) was a sad opening note at the beginning of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra’s final concert this season last Saturday evening at Ridgefield’s High School auditorium, the concert itself was a happy winner, with sparkling performances all around. With pianist Andrew Armstrong as the featured soloist, Maestro Sidney Rothstein’s all Russian offerings included the “Aegina Variation” from Aram Khachaturian’s Spartacus, Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 3 in C Major, and Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor. And in keeping with what is now an established tradition at the RSO’s final subscription concert, the second half of the evening’s fare began with a “‘surprise” appearance (as guest conductor) by the current year’s recipient of the Golden Baton auction prize. This year’s winner was Richard Jabara, who (after earlier coaching sessions with Maestro Rothstein) led the orchestra in a rousing rendition of the “Saber Dance” from Khachaturian’s Gayane Ballet Suite.
With its splashes of orchestral color, swirling dance rhythms, and “showcase” passages for strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussion alike, Khachaturian’s Aegina Variation was a perfect warm up for both the RSO and the audience. And the concluding Rachmaninoff symphony, with its dramatic moments, its profusion of lush romantic melody, and its frequent shifts in mood, also gave evidence of how far the RSO has come under Sidney Rothstein’s leadership. With all sections of the orchestra responding sensitively, Maestro Rothstein was able to make the most of the unique beauties of individual segments while molding all of them together into a single musical statement.
Replete with essentially sound musical material and myriad opportunities for virtuoso solo display, Prokofiev’s third piano concerto is both a fine piece of music and a proven audience pleaser. And with the kind of solid and sensitive partnership we have come to expect from the RSO under Sidney Rothstein, pianist Andrew Armstrong made the most of it. He has the sort of technical discipline and even control that, in combination with sensitive attention to phrasing, articulation, and nuance, lend sparkling clarity to technically brilliant passages and imbue more lyric segments with expressive flexibility and depth of feeling. He also has the kind of stage presence that provides a significant dimension to a live musical performance with just enough showmanship to provide visual accomodation for what is happening in the music, but without the excessive gyrations that are more of a distraction than an aid to musical enjoyment. His performance Saturday evening was both dazzling and musically satisfying. The audience loved it.
They also loved Richard Jabara’s handling of Khachaturian’s Saber Dance, but for different reasons. Maestro Jabara looked wonderful, and both he and the orchestra were having so much fun that communication was immediate and constant. Enthusiastically playing away, members of the orchestra had broad grins on their faces as they assiduously avoided looking at the conductor, whose random arm movements (if watched) would have instantly derailed the performance. It was a challenge for both conductor and orchestra. But it was also great fun.
All in all, this was the best sort of concert for a season closer, providing good reasons for an immediate renewal of subscriptions for next year’s offerings.
It was an outstanding evening of near breathtaking musical satisfaction, and their season has just begun!

Related Reviews:
Review of this concert by James Pegolotti

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