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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Concert Review: Romance Isn't Dead

Wagner, Bruch and Bruckner in New Jersey.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
NJSO maestro Jacques Lacombe and friend.
Sometimes, a good program is all you need.

A good example is this week's set of concerts by the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra under music director Jacques Lacombe. This program featured veteran concert violinist Sarah Chang playing Max Bruch's First Violin Concerto. Bracketing this Romantic masterpice: works by Richard Wagner and Anton Bruckner, two very different composers who were individually obsessed with the concepts of salvation and redemption.

Thursday's matinee concert at the New Jersey Performing Arts center opened with the Good Friday Spell  an instrumental arrangement of a scene from the third act of Wagner's final opera Parsifal. Starting with a fanfare and flourish, the NJSO woodwinds and horns blended with a luminous sound, evoking the peace and tranquility of Wagner's stage picture. One could almost hear the voices as the tone poem wound forwrd, conducted with purpose by Mr. Lacombe.

Ms. Chang joined the orchestra for the Bruch concerto, that composer's best-loved and most popular work. She plaayed the first notes with a singing, aspiring tone, lending poetry to the notes of the cadenza that starts the concerto before being answered by the full power of the orchestra. The soulful, folk-inspired main theme had warmth and heft.

This lyric approach to the concerto extended to the soulful Adagio, where the violin theme is supported by warm, rich chords for cellos and low winds that make the utterance of the soloist sound vocal and almost operatic. The monologue-like solo part arose to a climax of quiet joy before launching into the folk-dance rhythms of the all-out finale. This propulsive last movement, with its signature theme was accompanied with energy by Mr. Lacombe's forces, engaging in call-and-response with Ms. Chang up to the furious finish.

Bruckner's Fourth Symphony was the composer's first real success. The composer edited down his sprawling ideas, creating a romantic work that had just enough of a programmatic idea to make this composer's unique, somewhat abstract vision understandable to the general public. It also has the virtue of being the shortest of the major Bruckner symphonies, clocking in at over an hour.

Playing Bruckner's demanding brass parts are the true test of any orchestra. Here, the NJSO players launched into the ascending theme in the horns over a lush tremolo of strings. The horn-call was answered by a surge of low brass and percussion. Mr. Lacombe proved adroit in navigating the repetitions of the opening movement, building each of Bruckner's sonic structures with increased energy, density and spiritual commitment.

The slow movement proved ideally suited to this orchestra, with an eloquent opening for plucked strings giving way to a majestic climax. The Scherzo, with its "hunting horn" theme was played with clarity and rhythmic grace, with Mr. Lacombe leading his players expertly into the eloquent central Trio. The finale assembled all of the previous themes (plus a reference to the funeral march from Act III of Parsifal) into a furious assault of sound, staking Mr. Lacombe's claim as a Bruckner conductor to be reckoned with..

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