September 25th Concert Review

A Review of the the September Concert

by Linda Phillips

An Overture and A Finale at the Extraordinary Greenwich Symphony Concert

Glorious is the only adjective to describe the opening concert of the Greenwich Symphony Orchestra after a season of its absence. The performance was wildly applauded by the still-masked audience. 

The Overture of the headline refers to the GSO’s anticipated return, a musical beginning: the Finale marks the end of the 47-year tenure of beloved conductor David Gilbert, who retired before the pandemic interrupted performances.

Former Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei, Chair of the GSO Board of Directors, spoke of a revitalized Board, and a new educational outreach, welcoming the first Guest Conductor Stuart Malina (there will be 4 more, differing at each performance of this season). As the first guest conductor, Mr. Malina was wonderful as he described the three concert works in musical and historic detail, and then wielded the baton with dance-like fervor. He described working with the GSO as an “incredible joy.”

The opening work, Samuel Barber’s Music for a Scene by Shelley, began with low angst and uncertainty in the winds, joined by cellos and swelling strings. The double basses spoke as the orchestra grew to full complement, and soared to a break in the musical clouds, French horns articulating. The kettle drums added a sad heartbeat, then the music returned to an inconsonant angst and uncertainty, the harp beginning a threnody. The pizzicato ending after the French horn called out continued the profundity of thought and emotion.

On to Mozart’s Violin Concert No. 5, written before the master was 20 years old.  Conductor Malina showed himself to be a fine articulator, and the soloist, the remarkable Chee Yun delighted the audience with her verve and perfect performance, playful and exultant. In the first movement, her beautiful bowing and expression ruled, in the second her sad violin was lured to crescendo. Her violin cadenza was flawless and imaginative. The second movement was sweet , and the third movement suddenly shifted to minor key, the violin urgent. There were lovely little solo passages throughout, and Ms. Yun was called back and played for her father in the audience a solo version of Happy Birthday as an encore.

This concert, played without an intermission, called back the full orchestra, halved for the Mozart, to play Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D Minor, the music creating a French nationalist sound within a unique structure, Movement one, a brooding opening in cellos was joined by woodwinds and kettle drums, the brasses sounding against whirring strings, a powerful statement of theme, with a bombastic ending. A horn solo opened Movement 2, oboe and French horn speaking., and movement 3 featured agitato strings, reaching a full orchestral crescendo, with a rush and energy and joy. A wrenching statement in the trumpet went to silence and sadness in a minor key before a grand crescendo to major key for the ending.

The question for listeners was how could the orchestra and players be this excellent after the Covid layoff? But they were, and the audience gave the Symphony a standing ovation. Bravo to the GSO!

The next performance of the GSO will be November 20 and 21 under guest conductor Martin Majkut. For information, go to: www.greenwichsymphony.org/2021-2022-season

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Linda Phillips’ classical music reviews have won four “Best Column of the Year” awards from the Connecticut Press Club, and have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism. She is the author of the novel, “To The Highest Bidder,” nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction.