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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Concert Review: "And it was bye-bye New Jersey..."

Jacques Lacombe ends his tenure with the NJSO.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

It can be argued that the six year tenure of conductor Jacques Lacombe has been a general success for the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra. On Sunday afternoon at NJPAC, Mr. Lacombe ended his term as music director with a stylish concert that played to his passions and strengths: new music, Romantic repertory and French music the early 20th century, here represented by a pair of pieces by Maurice Ravel.

The concert opened with Night and the City, a short tone poem by Philadelphia-based composer Chris Rogerson. Written in 2014 as an homage to that city, this short work for large orchestra used taut rhythm, repeated cell-like phrases and flourishes of brass to represent the hustle and bustle of Center City. This piece saw life through the Edward T. Cone Compositon Institute, an NJSO initiative spearheaded by Mr. Lacombe, offering compositional opportunities to young composers with roots in the Garden State.

The orchestra was joined by pianist Joyce Yang, as featured soloist in Ravhmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 Lin D minor. This is the most popular and most technically forbidding of Rachmaninoff's  piano concertos, forcing the solo instrument to sing as a voice in the midst of a large choir of orchestral instruments and requiring dexterity and passion from the player, two qualities that do not always go hand in hand.

From her entry, Ms. Yang met the physical and technical challenges of this work head on, delving into the rich vein of melody that the piano explores as the first movement unfolds. Mr. Lacombe supplied careful., balanced accompaniment, allowing the piano to raise its voice nobody over the sometimes bulky instrumentation. The central slow movement, marked as an Intermezzo by the composer, continued this train of thought wth supple strings, warm-tomed brass and appropriate urging from the podium. 

The last movement of the "Rach Three" is a stern, even cruel test, partially because of its difficult requirements (Rachmaninoff, blessed with enormous hands, wrote the solo part for himself to play in concert) and partially because of thewhole work’s sheer length. Here, Ms. Yang dove in and out of the flowing stream of the orchestration, showing her own steady command of the big black Steinway. Trills, arpeggios and flourishes erupted as she moved the work forward to its endgame. A last cadenza and coda were delivered in close concert with Mr. Lacombe, to thrilling effect.

Despite the colors of its elaborate orchestration, La Valse is a grim work, one that seems to imagine all of Europe engaged in a dance of death that ultimately ends in folly. Mr. Lacombe balanced the lyric quality of the early pages with the obsessive rhythms that require careful coordination between the timpani and the other percussionists. The work whirled, teetered and crashed to a stop, with Mr. Lacombe bringing the impact home with a few strokes of his baton.

The Suite No. 2 from Daphnis et Chloe was a total contrast, a work that unfurled all the rich colors of Ravel’s giant orchestra to retell the last scenes from this gorgeous, pastoral ballet. Although Daphnis is ravel’s only collaboration with master ballet impresario Sergei Diaghalev, this performance showed why is work is best suited who the concert hall as Mr. Lacombe summoned twittering birds, a glorious golden sunrise from the brass and strings and finally a celebratory danse generale that brought the concert and his time in New averse you to a whirling and exuberant finish.

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