Schumann Tops in Ridgefield Concert

Review of Ridgefield Orchestra Concert—December 7, 2002—Jim Pegolotti

A near-capacity audience heard the Ridgefield Symphony’s third concert of the season, on Saturday evening at Ridgefield High School’s Anne Richardson Auditorium. On the podium was the Symphony’s music director Sidney Rothstein.

The interesting program began with Mozart’s “Magic Flute Overture,” followed by the resurrection of an unusual concerto by Louis Spohr, who was a student of Beethoven and later Germany’s greatest violinist. The concert concluded with Robert Schumann’s noble “Symphony No. 2.” While the first half left the listeners entertained, but somewhat uninspired, the second half provided musical fire and passion.

The Mozart overture, a jewel in the composer’s crown, is notable for its contrast of dramatic chords with skittish melodies. In this performance, the serious moments seemed a bit too ponderous, while its brighter moments seemed dulled by an overbalance of the heavier strings.

What followed–Spohr’s Concerto for String Quartet and Orchestra–had special audience interest since the four artists of the featured Tourmaline String Quartet are regular performers of the Symphony. With their elegant, multi-colored jackets reflecting their tourmaline name, violinists Betty Jean Hagen and Rachel Handman, violist Suzanne Corey and cellist Melissa Westgate took center stage for the rarely performed three-movement work.

Though the Quartet played with beautiful tone and firm attacks, they had to fight a problem that existed in the composition itself: the composer’s lack of contrast between soloists and orchestra. Both the melodies and the musical structure of the first two movements seemed listless. However, in the third movement the music perked-up, with the orchestra given a distinctive voice, rather than only mild accompaniment. Nevertheless, the Quartet’s ensemble playing, as well as the individual soloing, throughout the work was first-rate.

After the intermission, an unexpected musical treat resulted when John Patrick, this year’s “Golden Baton” highest bidder, strode confidently onstage to lead the orchestra in the first movement of Mozart’s “Symphony No. 25.” Viewers of the movie “Amadeus” would recognize this music immediately as the emphatic and powerful underpinning to the opening scene, where Salieri, bleeding from a self-inflicted wound, is found on the floor of his bedroom.

With the neophyte conductor’s downbeat, the Ridgefield players, particularly the strings, attacked the music with as much precision and energy as if Arturo Toscanini had made a return appearance in town. It was an exhilarating musical “Kodak moment.” Bravo, Mr. Patrick.

Returning to the podium, Maestro Rothstein, with his ever-subtle guidance, led the orchestra to a near-perfect performance of Schumann’s “Symphony No. 2.” Little more need be said except that Rothstein unearthed all the “heart-on-sleeve” romanticism that Schumann had implanted into the score.

From the symphony’s signature fanfare theme, arising mysteriously in the opening bars, to its reappearance in the work’s final glorious measures, the performance glowed.

The brass shone brilliantly in the outer movements, and in the scherzo movement the woodwinds and cellos especially produced the warmest of sounds. All in all, it was a performance to treasure.

Other reviews of this concert
bullet Review by Courtenay Caublé