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Albert George Schram conducts the Orlando Philharmonic at St. Luke’s

Musicians from the OPO get ready for the performance
Musicians from the OPO get ready for the performance
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Albert George Schram conducts the Orlando Philharmonic at St. Luke’s

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The program for the final concert of the 2013-2014 St. Luke’s Concert Series featured three joyous and lighthearted pieces, mostly upbeat, and an equally ebullient performance by guest conductor Albert George Schram, leading the Orlando Philharmonic.

The Netherlands native made his debut performance at Oviedo’s St. Luke's Lutheran Church on Saturday evening, and infused his charismatic personality and expressive conducting style into the selected scores.

One of the most memorable overtures in Italian opera, Rossini’s Il Barbiere de Seville bounces and gambols with its rollicking mood. Schram kept the ensemble riding in constant motion, leading up to the famous cartoonish staccato theme for violins and piccolo. The recurring episode was well articulated.

Richard Strauss’ Suite from Le Borgeois Gentilhomme is a departure from the heavily orchestrated tone poems and operas for which the twentieth century giant is known. Schram and the OPO shed light into this facet of the composer with a crisp and cohesive reading of the piece.

The brass section came through with elegance throughout, especially halfway through the Overture from Act I, when a majestic trombone (Brian Brink) and trumpet (Lyman Brodie, William Cooper) duo contrasts sharply from the frolicky opening string passage. Principal Oboe Jamie Strefeler got a solo spotlight toward the end, as the piece progressed into the next of its nine short movements.

Subsequent sections featured warm performances by woodwinds. Concertmaster Joni Hanze-Bjella was the soloist for ‘The Arrival and Dance of the Tailors.’ Her self-assured violin lines came across loud and clear, over support from French horns and clarinets.

A standout moment was the ‘Entrance of Cleonte’ movement, for its entirely different mood and solemn character. Schram slowed his gestures for the relaxed tempo that opens the section in the lower strings. After a contrasting section, the solemn music is revisited by the full ensemble; the addition of brass sounded perfectly mellifluous, especially in its final iteration with bass drum, timpani and the ringing of the triangle.

After intermission the orchestra launched into the up-tempo merrymaking of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony. Schram and the musicians balanced well the strings vs. woodwinds juxtaposition that defines the piece.

Perhaps the most moving moment of the Italian is the ‘Con moto moderato’ third movement, particularly the trio section that the French horns open with dignity. Mark Fischer and Kevin Brooks captured that sweet and lush tone that makes the instrument’s timbre unique and the passage memorable.

The finale is the fastest of all four movements, and is cast in a minor key that contrasts sharply from the tonality of the preceding movements, especially the A Major opening allegro. Principal Flute Colleen Blagov captured the contrasts in dynamics well, with the rest of the woodwinds responding well to Schram’s very adept handling of the orchestra.

These were straight readings – true in intention and appropriate in style – by a seasoned and highly entertaining conductor. His swift arms gestures and communicative smile fit the music and drew spirited precision from the OPO musicians.

To visit the Orlando Phil’s website and learn about upcoming performances, click here.

To visit the St. Luke's Lutheran Church website, click here.

To watch a performance of the ‘Entrance of Cleonte’ movement, from Strauss’ Suite from Le Borgeois Gentilhomme, click here.

To read reviews of previous Orlando Phil performances, click here.