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Greenwich Symphony performance a transforming experience

02.04.11
Joshua Roman
Greenwich Citizen

By Jeffrey Johnson

Transformation was the key to the winter program given by the Greenwich Symphony Orchestra. Each work on the program was built on detours and strange twists that led us to lovely and unexpected sonic places.

The afternoon concert began with the fifth Brandenburg Concerto by Bach. Soloists Susan Rotholz on flute, violinist Krystof Witek, and harpsichordist Andrew Gordon led a small Bachian chamber group in a red-hot performance of this work.

The central transformation in this work is the way the piano inexplicably breaks away from the discourse to forge the modern piano concerto from the Baroque Concerto Grosso.

Gordon played like a man with a hundred fingers. It was incredible to hear what graceful legato he was able to coax during the swift passages in thirty-second notes. Witek and Rotholz also played beautifully with very clever phrasings. Conductor David Gilbert moved off the podium during the second movement and sat on an empty orchestral seat.

He let the second movement unfold as chamber music, returning to the podium to conduct the third movement. Bach's finale gave us the transformation from chamber music back into a concerto grosso -- the opening passage of the movement featured only soloists and the sound sparkled when the larger ensemble finally pounced into the texture.

The next transformation took place after the Bach concerto and before a single note of the next work was played.

The stage flooded with musicians, who packed close together to prepare for the Sibelius Seventh Symphony.

The weight and density of sound as Sibelius started to work on us was created in part from contrast with the Bachian world we had just heard. But also, as assistant conductor Tara Simoncic reminded us in the preconcert lecture, Sibelius was a master of surprises and of "switching gears in mid-thought." Gilbert made the transitions between the adagio sections and the scherzando episodes seamless, and trombonist Clifford Haynes led a brass sound of exquisite color and power.

After intermission cellist Joshua Roman joined the orchestra for the Elgar Cello Concerto.

Roman is on the edge of a major career. He plays with lyrical genius, and as if in a meditative trance. His technique is limitless and his intensity and confidence are inspiring to hear. He is living evidence that one can be effective as a soloist without showy histrionics. His ability to think within the Elgar concerto has matured and deepened since I heard him play it in Stamford two seasons ago.

The Elgar Cello concerto capped this program of transformations. Each movement of this concerto is cast in patterns outside of normative structures.

Elgar closed with a finale that abandoned the rondo structure in which it opened to transform into a series of melancholy reminiscences. Roman made the ending bleed with vibrant sound. He was greeted with a massive ovation from a packed hall.

"And now for something completely different," joked Roman as he sat down for an encore. He played "Julie-O" by cellist Mark Summer, who is an original member of the Turtle Island String Quartet. We left the hall thinking in blue-grass and stomping our feet on the way to our ride home.