Chamber Orchestra to perform in Cleveland
Thursday evening, the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra performed works by Debussy, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky in Finney Chapel. Thanks to the Conservatory’s long-standing connection with the Cleveland Orchestra, the Oberlin ensemble will perform this program in Severance Hall tonight under the direction of Cleveland Orchestra Assistant Conductor James Gaffigan.
The concert opened with Claude Debussy’s famous Prélude à l’après midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn), based on a poem by French symbolist poet Stephane Mallarmé. Debussy described this orchestral piece as a “series of scenes against which the desires and dreams of a fawn are seen to stir in the afternoon heat.” The orchestra performed Prelude with refinement and sophistication. All the musicians followed Gaffigan’s flexible tempo changes with ease and the many soloists performed with confidence.
Following the Debussy piece was the 1945 suite from Igor Stravinsky’s ballet L’Oiseau de feu (The Firebird). Stravinsky wrote two suites based on the popular theatre work of the same title. The first and most frequently performed was written in 1919. Stravinsky’s second suite, performed Thursday evening, integrates more of the original ballet material to form a longer suite.
The orchestra began the work in a weak fashion. Intonation problems plagued the low strings in the “Introduction” and the orchestra lacked sentimental expressivity in the “Chorovod”. Yet, once they reached the popular “Infernal Dance”, a fiery energy swept over the players. The “Finale”, beginning with sophomore Jeff Staulcup’s beautiful horn solo and ending with a bright, triumphant sound in the brass section, concluded this epic work.
The prelude to Act I of Modest Mussorgsky’s opera Khovanshchina (Dawn on the Moscow River) continued the program. This opera depicts the political struggles of 17th-century Russia. Yet, for such a dramatic plot, Mussorgsky’s prelude is surprisingly light-hearted and lyrical. Lasting only five minutes, the work featured many lovely solos, particularly from the woodwind section.
The height of Thursday’s program was the final work: Debussy’s La mer. Each of the three movements offered a unique and colorful portrayal of the ocean. The orchestra’s timbre ranged from powerful and dramatic to simple and transparent. Once again, members of the woodwind section performed charming solos.
One group of the orchestra deserves particular attention for its performance
on Thursday night: the percussion. As usual, their sense of precision and
expressivity approached a professional level. Highlights of their playing
included the exuberant drama in Stravinsky’s “Infernal Dance”,
as well as the multitude of colors they provided in La Mer. The Cleveland
audience will surely enjoy tonight’s concert in Severance Hall.