November 9, 2006


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Purpose and pleasure
Granite State symphony tackles 20th-century works
The Granite State Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Robert C. Babb, gave a heartfelt and meaningful concert this past Saturday, Nov. 4 at the Concord City Auditorium.

The program featured a string orchestra with harpist Kathleen Lyon and included several shorter works by 20th-century composers. Babb’s introduction to each piece of music added much to the overall experience.

The evening opened with Henry Cowell’s Hymn and Fuguing Tune, which is based on folk tunes. The sections of the orchestra each played as one voice and blended very well to produce a multi-dimensional texture in which the folk melodies were heard in various parts of the orchestra.

Claude Debussy’s Danses was absolutely beautiful and featured harpist Kathleen Lyon who played extremely well.

Typical lush harmonies, swells, and triple meter reflected the Impressionist nature of this composer and the harp’s light and suggestive timbre added to this atmosphere. At one point in the second movement, the chords seemed to cascade downward as the harp played glissandos and arpeggios to subtly suggested harmony.

Harpist Lyon was met with great applause and performed a solo encore piece by Gabriel Fauré. Babb later remarked that one “could have heard a pin drop” in the City Auditorium, and indeed, the audience was listening and watching intently as Lyon continued to play impressively.

The first half of the concert closed with a very meaningful performance of English composer Edward Elgar’s Serenade in E Minor for String Orchestra Opus 20.

While all three movements of the piece are romantic in nature, a highlight was the second movement, which is slower. This movement seemed to present a longing or desire expressed in the large leaps in the melody and the crescendos that grew out of a single line.

As the movement neared its close, it seemed to slow and grow even more intense as the orchestra connected with its deeply meaningful emotion.

Babb touched upon this same emotion in the second half of the program with Gustav Mahler’s Adagietto from Symphony No. 5.

In his introduction, Babb expressed his love for the music and explained that the audience should “listen with emotions and heart.” The music seemed to inspire hope and stood well on its own apart from the rest of the symphony.

The ending had an inner peace and stillness created by sustained harmony and a pedal point that created a personal intimacy.

Gustav Holst’s St. Paul Suite represented a second piece of English music for string orchestra and was played with a purpose and with sensitivity.

The music opens with a joyous Jig that inspired applause. Ostinato was also very impressive as it places a soft, fast, and short rhythmic melody in the violas while the rest of the orchestra plays countermelodies.

Folk melodies are also woven into the texture of this piece, especially the last movement Finale (the Dargason) where the melody often known as Greensleeves could be heard.

The evening closed with Mozart’s Adagio and Fugue from 1788. Clearly a different era from the rest of the program, this piece offered the opportunity to hear each of the sections of the orchestra clearly as they entered with the fugal subject.

Babb’s introduction and explanation of a particular rhythm was warm and playful and added to the evening’s enjoyment.

A very interesting program for string orchestra and harp soloist Kathleen Lyon, the Granite State Symphony Orchestra played with the purpose and skill that guarantees a successful performance. — Margo Nothnagel.

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