February 16, 2005

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CLASSICAL REVIEWS
Reviews by Jeff Rapsis jrapsis@hippopress.com

Nashua Symphony performs Brahms
Feb. 4 concert features soloists Markow and Watson
Review: Nashua Symphony tackles Brahms: Because it's so familiar, the Symphony No. 3 of Brahms can be a tough score for a local orchestra to get across. Audiences generally know how it goes, and anything less than a highly polished reading will sound less than satisfactory. In a performance on Saturday, Feb. 4, the Nashua Symphony was up to the challenge, though the reading was marred by a few noticeably rough passages. Under conductor Royston Nash, the broad first movement felt curiously underpowered, and suffered from some unfortunately sloppy ensemble work in some exposed strings passages. The plaintive third movement, ordinarily a high point, started too loud, giving the music no way to build and blunting its effectiveness. But things came together for the dramatic fourth movement, with all sections contributing to one of the best "Sturm and Drang" passages in any Brahms score. The "heroic theme," played on cellos and later joined by horns, was spine-tingling, as was the big key change from F major to F minor at the height of the melee.

In the program's first half, concertmaster Elliott Markow coaxed a delicately shaped performance from his violin as soloist in the seldom-heard Romance in G Major by Norwegian composer Johan Svendsen. The score, devoid of virtuoso pyrotechnics, gave Markow a chance to bring out the singing side of his instrument, a recently acquired 1707 Rogeri violin. Ably supported by his NSO colleagues, who didn't cover him in even the softest of passages, Markow's performance was musical, moving, and thoroughly satisfying.

Equally successful was NSO trumpeter Richard Watson in Aleksandr Arutunian's Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra. Watson played with a hard sound, which fit this tough-sounding but upbeat score, with its orchestral yowlps and jazzy quiet sections. He handled double-tonguing and other technical demands with ease, which allowed a sense of fun to emerge. A program-opening run-through of the overture to Verdi's La Forza Del Destino featured some superb woodwind solo playing, and made one want to hear the whole opera.

Matzerath performs Bach
All Bach all the time: recital features Well-Tempered Clavier
Book I of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is the Boston Marathon of piano pieces. Clocking in at nearly 2˝ hours, it takes stamina, endurance, and a solid sense of pacing to get through a live performance-and that's just for the audience. But, in a rare local run-through of the entire work, pianist Birgit Matzerath made it all work. At a recital on Sunday, Feb. 5, the Concord Community Music School faculty member brought Bach's landmark keyboard opus to life with a soft touch that emphasized the work's melodic content, an often-overlooked asset of the 24 preludes and fugues. Sure, it's a masterpiece of counterpoint, and Matzerath's careful-but-not-cautious playing acknowledged that-all of Bach's moving lines could be heard clearly at all times. But the melodies, which can so easily sound like no more than dry exercises, here had a singing quality that in many parts showed the value of Bach's writing as pure music. Rarely playing louder than forte, Matzerath mined the score for tunes rather than flash, and more often than not she found gold. Her slow-and-steady approach to many of the tempos helped; perhaps the weakest moments were in faster sections, which at times lacked a rhythmic snap and where the melodic lines sometimes got muddied. But this was small beer when stacked against the huge achievement of getting through the whole thing and making it sound like music in every measure. Whether or not she was inspired by Super Bowl Sunday, Matzerath delivered a championship performance.

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