The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts April 20, 2007

Obie Strings Serve Up Sibelius

Although it has always been difficult for me to feel satisfied while listening to Sibelius’s music, I was happy to hear the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra’s talents in his Third Symphony this past Tuesday in Finney Chapel. Conductor Bridget-Michaele Reischl also led the ensemble in Alberto Ginastera’s Suite from Estancia and Conservatory senior Joshua Morris’ Phonology.

Flautist and Conservatory junior Brandon George had many stellar solos during the night, starting with the first dance of Estancia, “Los trabajadores agricolas.” Most of the Argentinean national identity-themed suite shone through, using prominent Latin American rhythms and the intricate changes between them. Ginastera’s characteristic melodies stuck in the ear, glorifying the values of Argentina’s rural culture.

Without much break between the movements, Reischl and the orchestra swept through the “Danza del trigo,” in which concertmistress senior Jennifer Lan performed a successful solo. Timpanist and double-degree senior Jonathan Hepfer drew attention to his demanding part in “Los peones de hacienda.” The music went right into the “Danza final – Malambo.” In the last dance, all sections, especially the strings, tried to project as much exuberance and energy as possible, but sounded a little invariable and somewhat repetitive.

The recurring main theme occupied the same monotonous dynamic and character range, but then again, one could not expect the amount of sound the Oberlin Orchestra produced last Friday with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, as that piece is in a whole different repertoire category.

Phonology, written in 2007, is Morris’ first orchestral work and explores the different connotations between vertical chords and horizontal melodies. Morris also emphasizes the diverse qualities produced by the mixing of timbres and colors; for example, higher strings against lower strings or frenzied high woodwinds combined with strings.

Musical fragments are separated by silence, which adds a quality of contemplation to the overall character of Phonology. Conservatory first-years Brad Cherwin, clarinet, and Josh Wang, contrabassoon, received short intriguing solos while the double basses had their own special entrance.

Somewhere deep inside I knew that the dissatisfying feeling I would get from listening to Sibelius’ Symphony No. 3 would not have anything to do with the quality of the Orchestra’s performance, which was very good. But there’s something about the way most of Sibelius’ music unfolds toward an arrival point, gathering tension via faster articulation, change of tempi and increasingly loud dynamics that prepares a listener for a final culmination, except this ending never really appears. Once a cadence or another formal peak is reached, new material starts building up again, taking away from the listener any feeling of ease.

The numerous members of the high and low string sections were the building blocks in the basis of all three movements. With their dark, raspy timbre and restless sixteenth-note runs, they set the background for lovely flute and clarinet solos. The brass held through despite some intonation slips. The serious character of the almost Neo-classical work came out nicely, though transitions were somewhat unconvincing.

The absolutely gorgeous Andante con moto, quasi Allegretto employs the most pure and non-sentimental sadness that could be expressed with music. The cello and double bass parts sounded touching without being corny. Their dialogue wrapped up this second movement.

The third movement’s drive, creeping from inside, came across with impatience. It was indeed in the Moderato – Allegro where the feeling of dissatisfaction reached its peak. Its general mezzo forte/forte dynamics were repetitive, occupying mainly the low register, and bore such a sense of tempered anxiousness that only a determined ending could put to rest.

The Oberlin Chamber Orchestra’s program was neatly picked and decently delivered. Although musically far away from The Rite of Spring and Scheherazade, it was still touching in its subtlety.


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