February 2, 2005

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Classical Music: Mozart's birthday bash in Concord

Concertmaster plays newly acquired 1707 violin

By Jeff Rapsis  jrapsis@hippopress.com

Local music-lovers marked last weekend's 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth by packing Concord City Auditorium on Saturday, Jan. 28 for a performance featuring works by the Austrian wunderkind.

Conductors Robert C. Babb and Ryan Turner led the combined forces of the Granite State Symphony Orchestra and the Concord Chorale in a classy concert that the full house loudly cheered.

The program was a nice mix of works, none of them Mozart's greatest hits but still a good representation of the composer's wide-ranging abilities.

What really stood out, however, was the clean, crisp, and vibrant performance that Babb and Turner both drew from the musicians. Tight ensemble, solid string intonation, fine woodwind playing—it all combined for a glorious sound.

A contributing factor was the Chorale's portable "shell" set up on the stage, which helped the sound ring out from the proscenium stage and fill the hall. That, plus crackerjack playing, resulted in performances that brought the details in Mozart's scores to life with surprising clarity.

At its best, the Granite State Symphony Orchestra sounded not like a group, but like a single instrument. The Concord Chorale's singing was of the same high standard as well. When it all clicked, which was often, the performance was thrilling. You'd think these musicians played together every day all year round, and they don't.

Babb opened with a well-realized performance of the early opera overture Lucio Sillia. All parts could be heard with precision and clarity, but it was no cold-fish clinical reading. Rather, it was warm, playful, and full of the youthful spirit of a score Mozart penned at a young age.

Babb and the GSSO then followed with a completely convincing and entirely captivating rendition of the Violin Concerto No. 4 with concertmaster Elliott Markow as soloist.

This marked the "coming out" performance of Markow's newly acquired 1707 Rogeri violin, a historic instrument capable of a melt-in-your-ear tone. Markow produced an especially memorable realization of the work's solo cadenzas, taking time to savor passages and using the pauses to heighten the drama.

Mozart's concerto gave ample opportunity to display the instrument's melodic sweet side, while Marlow's a jaw-dropping encore performance of Nathan Milstein's Variations on the 24th Caprice for solo violin by Paganini brought out the bravura side of both instrument and performer.

Turner led the combined ensemble in a well-realized performance Mozart's Coronation Mass, maintaining a delicate balance between too little and too much. Turner's Concord Chorale singers captured the celebratory nature of much of this score, bringing excitement and fresh energy to all parts.

The concert closed with a moving rendition of Mozart's familiar Ave Verum Corpus, with Babb and Turner both taking well-deserved bows during the ovation that followed.

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