Symphony serves up lively Italian feast

Grade: A

A mid-winter afternoon's dream on Sunday played to an Emens Auditorium audience who took in a bright, lively showcase of Italian-themed music from the Muncie Symphony Orchestra.

Under the baton of David Amado, associate conductor of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, MSO performed pieces by Gioacchino Rossini, Ottorino Respighi, and Felix Mendelssohn.

The first selection, Rossini's "Overture to L'Italiana in Algeri," began softly with the string section plucking a melody that evolved throughout the piece, taking on several different treatments and tonal colors before the ensemble erupted in a frenzy of fast, fluid notes. An oboe was prominent through most of the piece, carrying the melody over the strings' accompaniment.

Amado stood stiffly in place throughout the first portion of the concert, his only movement being the minimum of what the conducting required. His stationary pose may have just reflected a personal style, because there wasn't necessarily a lack of passion; to the contrary, he coaxed great amounts of emotion out of the ensemble during the mercurial Rossini piece.

Next to be performed was Respighi's musings on three paintings by Sandro Botticelli, entitled, "Trittico Botticelliano."

The first Respighi movement, "La Primavera," was an aural celebration of what the title means in English: the springtime. Fluttering trills in the upper voices provided the background for fanfare that began in the French horn, before being passed to the trumpet.

The second movement, "Adoration of the Magi," featured some excellent bassoon solo work and borrowed the medieval melody "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." The segment, rather dark in comparison to "La Primavera," ended in a hypnotic, repeated unison figure for the cellos and basses.

"The Birth of Venus" was the final Respighi movement and the highlight of the afternoon. A piano part added nicely to the mix, and was in superb balance with the rest of the ensemble. The musical arrangement was rather minimalistic, but perhaps it was the clarity that allowed the piece to be as powerful as it was. The work climaxed with the strings and winds playing a sort of melody - with the piano playing a simple, repeated motif - before winding down and returning to the soft dynamic of the opening.

After an intermission, the orchestra returned with Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony. The opening was a familiar tune that involved intricate string playing and a well-executed clarinet solo. The fanfare-ish theme that opened the piece returned repeatedly, taking on a new key or instrument each time. The longest work of the program, the piece ended with a minor key translation of the opening theme and a high-energy finale.

In the end, the MSO provided the audience with everything it could have wished for on a cold, blustery January afternoon: a riveting, emotional performance with plenty of dynamic contrast and technical mastery.


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