Review: Chamber Orchestra presents program of variety, challenge

Chamber Orchestra presents program of variety, challenge

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer |
October 21, 2011

The musical weather inside was surely more pleasant than the cold, wind and rain outside on Wednesday evening. Conductor Uriel Segal had the Indiana University Chamber Orchestra primed for a finely tuned program of variety and challenge in Auer Hall, one featuring a new work, a less-recognized-than-it-should-be early 20th century masterwork and a Mozart staple.

The new piece, a composition by Andrew Estel, was written as a requirement for his doctor of music degree from IU. He calls it “Summer Fields: Three Tone Poems for Chamber Orchestra,” and it proved to be an interesting and certainly well-conceived item that, he says, was “inspired by memories of summer days growing up in Appalachia.”

The first of the tone poems is titled “Day Games” and featured rough-and-tumble developments, definitely suggestive of things happening. The music heard was brisk, playful, noisy, a bit long for what it accomplished, but effective, nevertheless. “Evening Prayer,” which followed, had little of the peace such a title might indicate. Here, instead, was the prayer of someone troubled and probably requesting forgiveness; the score unfolded as shadowy, disquieting. In contrast, the brief third tone poem, “Night Games,” was animated, driving, volatile, not unlike the opening of “Summer Fields,” Estel’s conclusion thereby serving as the other bookend to the reflective centerpiece.

Ernst Bloch’s splendid Concerto Grosso No. 1, written in 1924, followed, it requiring only the strings and piano. For them, however, the duties were considerable, and, oh, how famously they played for Maestro Segal: through an aggressive Prelude, a gripping and yet also consoling Dirge, some joy-evoking dances and a brilliant Fugue. The underrated Ernst Bloch meant, as is the goal for a concerto grosso, to showcase the orchestra the way a regular concerto spotlights a soloist, and he certainly did. What he also showed is how proficient he was as orchestrator. This is a wonderful work that, although not neglected, deserves more attention than it gets. Segal and the Chamber Orchestra gave it the sort of high quality attention it deserves.

Wednesday’s program ended with Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 in D Major, referred to as the “Prague” Symphony because Mozart brought it along when he returned to that city for a revival of “The Marriage of Figaro,” which had been a stunning success there. The symphony is not among the composer’s most profound creations, but it contains more than its fair share of attractions. There are festive moments, along with those more somber and ones amiable. To all this, Segal and the orchestra gave a neatly articulated reading, dramatic when the score asked for that and infectiously buoyant in the lighter passages, particularly those in the Presto Finale.

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