New Jersey Symphony Orchestra’s (NJSO) grand finale for the Winter Festival, America, Inspiring, was an international delight! The first act began with Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony” for String Orchestra, Opus Four, where the then-20 year old took melodies from his earlier catalog of compositions, written when he was nine to 12 years old. His sense of fun is reflected well in the titles of the various movements that are very dance-like in their mien and name. The “Boisterous Bourée” is pure fun, while the “Playful Pizzicato” is a movement of entirely plucked strings–something I’ve never heard before! Acoustic and vocal in its lines, it sings with beauty. The “Sentimental Sarabande” is smooth and deep, mournful, and one can easily visualize the passion of Cathy and Healthcliff on the Moors. The “Frolicsome Finale” is that indeed–frenetic energy, like a Millennial heading toward a Friday Happy Hour, and the end is a satisfying denouement for the entire piece! Next up, virtuoso violinist Chloë Hanslip, imported from England, took the honors on Erich Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D, Opus 35. Most of us know Korngold from his evocative Hollywood scores and he was a star among stars in movie music. This beautifully passionate piece gives us the Moderato nobile, which you may want to get for Valentine’s Day–it is the sound of falling in love. The exotic wonder of limerance is in every note. The Romanze movement has a serene beauty all its own and the Allegro assai vivace is the culmination of every theme, every concept set forth earlier with more energy, verve, and giddyup. NJSO takes us to the moon and back in this work that was written in 1945. It evokes the old world lost, as the new era takes hold, and Hanslip was on fire! Her hands wrought every last scintilla of emotion from the work and, as if that was not enough, she gave us an encore of the theme from “Schindler’s List,” pure thematic perfection to close the act, and give us a souvenir until her next visit.
The second act was devoted to Antonín Dvorák’s thrilling Symphony Number Nine in E Minor “From the New World,” Opus 95. This work is popular for so many reasons–Dvorák was a huge fan of the music of the people–all people–and the First Nations melodies and African American music thrilled him. Standing astride these traditions, with Old World musicality and fresh melodies, Dvorák had already left the 19th century behind, even as he foretold the 20th when he composed this work in 1893. His Adagio–Allegro molto has the sense of vigorous energy and open country while the Largo’s folk melody starting in the winds and evoking a natural terrain. The Molto vivace brings us back to a more town-oriented type of life with energy and vitality and the Allegro con fuoco begs the long-debated question of whether John Williams took inspiration from the opening of this movement to develop his theme for the movie “Jaws.” From the opening, there is a mad dash into maelstrom and then the return of the existential question in the winds. What a metaphor! Then enter the strings and the exuberant build to a semi-quote of “Three Blind Mice,” which leads us through to as many moods as centuries with playful, majestic then rolling to cadence and flirtation with the prior themes that came before then the grand build to the finale and the huge finish. Little wonder the “New World” is such a favorite!
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