REVIEW: (Chamber Orchestra) Segal’s nurturing presence leads to sparkling concert

Music Review: IU Chamber Orchestra

Review: Segal’s nurturing presence leads to sparkling concert

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer
October 12, 2012

It was good to welcome Uriel Segal back. After an absence from campus, on Wednesday evening, he led the Indiana University Chamber Orchestra in a highly satisfying concert, one that resulted in extended and warm applause from the audience gathered in Auer Hall.

Segal seems, over the years, to have had a particularly comfortable relationship with the Chamber Orchestra. That was once again evident on this occasion.

His nurturing presence brought continuing response, positive response, from the musicians. They played as a body. They played with confidence. They played with conviction. All that was clear evidence the maestro had both trained and teased them: trained them to master the repertoire and teased them to accept his interpretive decisions.

The program began with a trifle, Carl Maria von Weber’s Overture to the one-act comedy, “Abu Hassan.” It ended with the far opposite of a trifle, Mozart’s Symphony No. 41, his last one, known as the “Jupiter.” In between, Segal and the orchestra turned to a 20th century charmer, Benjamin Britten’s 1937 Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge.

The Weber overture lasts less than four minutes. A frothy little piece it is, bouncing swiftly along and requiring a touch as light-footed as can be and buoyant, too, qualities that the Chamber Orchestra delivered.

The Britten Variations are scored for strings. They honor his teacher, a lesser-known British composer who recognized young “Benji’s” talent and took him as his only student. Their artistic relationship obviously worked; the student’s fame came to far exceed that of the master.

In tribute to what Britten knew Frank Bridge had taught him, he took a theme from Bridge’s Three Idylls for String Quartet and from it composed an introduction and 10 variations.

The theme itself bears a softness, an aura of nostalgia, quite likely reflecting Britten’s feeling of gratitude for his mentor. The Variations remind one of Elgar’s “Enigma Variations.”

Britten indicated on a copy of the published score that each variation represented part of Bridge’s personality. What he also did was show off his skills and his knowledge of styles that other composers of the time — Stravinsky, Bartok, and the 12-tone crew — were using. One hears sad variations, an Adagio and a “Funeral March” that mark a personal tragedy, the loss of his mother. One hears a whimsical, Shostakovich-like March, a bi-tonal waltz parody (“Wiener Walzer”), an “Aria Italiana” calling Rossini to mind, a “Bourree Classique” bringing neo-classicism into modern parlance, and more. The Variations end with a Fugue that matches the best.

Segal had the Chamber Orchestra strings working beautifully as a team. The performance had grace and grandeur, accord and ardor and wit. As for Mozart’s magnificent “Jupiter,” here, too, one benefited from those very same qualities, provided, of course, by the full orchestra. Eloquence was present in its reading, as were both expressiveness and restraint.

Quite rightly, the audience cheered this sparkling and adroitly crafted performance.

Copyright: 2012

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