Friday evening, March 21, 2014, guest conductor Gerard Schwarz led New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in a winning program that featured Concertmaster Eric Wyrick as soloist in Richard Strauss’ “Violin Concerto in D Minor,” Op. 8. The program opened with Karl Goldmark’s concert overture “In Springtime,” Op. 36, and Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 5 in D Minor,” Op. 47, occupied the concert’s second half.
The 1880s brought to fruition two of these works. The 18-year-old Strauss saw the premiere of his violin concerto in 1882, and 1889 saw the premiere of “In Springtime” by the 39-year-old Goldmark. The Fifth Symphony came along in 1937 when Shostakovich was aged 31. That such relative youth could produce such brilliant works is hard to fathom.
Who does not like “In Springtime”? By their effusive execution of the bubbly score, it obviously is an NJSO favourite. From the birdsong of the clarinet, flute and oboe to the warmly exuberant strings, this piece was a fitting welcome to Spring, which had arrived a few days earlier.
As Eric Wyrick mentioned in his interview this past Tuesday, Richard Strauss’ delightful violin concerto is undeservedly neglected. Orchestra and soloist seemed slightly at odds with the conductor in the opening Allegro. Things came together perfectly by the first recapitulation of the opening theme, and the solo violin no longer blended with the orchestra but rather stood out as the showpiece it is. The second movement (“Lento, ma non troppo,” Slow but not overly so) did not fail to charm, from its immediate violin entry over subdued winds and whispering strings through to its likewise quiet end. Strauss composed the final “Rondo: Presto” (Quick, in a recurring round) to be all fun and games. Everyone onstage frolicked to the ecstatic enjoyment of the audience. Eric Wyrick scored a resounding success with his performance, which his colleagues warmly applauded.
“Symphony No. 5 in D Minor,” Op. 47, was the crowning piece of the concert. Again, after a shaky start, orchestra and conductor achieved full cohesion and played as one. The first movement contains so much to admire: a lurching eight-note figure that recurs throughout in countless permutations, ominous bass winds, a lively brass fanfare over agitated timpani and snare drum—signalling the militia showing up to transport someone to Siberia?
The ensuing “Allegretto” (Lively) gives a nod to Gustav Mahler and the ländler movements in most of his symphonies. The achingly quiet “Largo” (Broadly, unhurried) provoked in the audience the beautiful sound of everyone listening intently, in total rapt silence. The concluding “Allegro non troppo” (Glad without overdoing it), full of musical surprises including rousing gypsy music, brought the audience to its feet in a standing ovation.
NJSO lives up to its motto: “Music that moves.” This is true literally, from the remaining performances in two other New Jersey venues, and it’s true from the intense emotional response it produces to those fortunate enough to be in attendance.
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