The Ridgefield Symphony’s fine 2013-14 season opener last Saturday evening at Ridgefield High School’s Anne S. Richardson Auditorium offered convincing proof of how thoughtful programming, well-managed interpretations, and fine playing can come together to provide a memorable listening experience.
With its varied but complementary styles, Music Director Gerald Steichen’s fine program included Hungarian composer Zoltan Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta, Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, and Beethoven’s great Symphony No. 7. Violinist Jennifer Frautschi was Maestro Steichen’s splendid guest soloist.
Particularly with the quality performance it got, composer and ethnomusicologist Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta was a perfect concert opener. Derived from Hungarian military “enlistment” pieces and replete with engaging rhythmic shifts and touches of near-orientalism, the Dances are immediately communicable, and Maestro Steichen was at his very best as both interpreter and conductor, skillfully delineating nuances, rhythms, and balances. Sensitively following their conductor’s reading of the score, the orchestra was equally impressive. Kodaly’s colorful orchestration features telling use of both woodwind and brass solos and sections, and both of those sections came though to perfection, with excellent balances and especially fine playing by French horn, clarinet, flute, and oboe principals.
Jennifer Frautschi, playing a vibrant 1722 Stradivarius violin and with Maestro Steichen’s well-known accompaniment expertise providing consistent support, delivered a performance that was both technically flawless and musically engaging. She handled the energetic virtuosic filigree in the first and (even more especially) in the final movement with a natural ease; but Prokofiev’s more lyrical approach in his second violin concerto than in his earlier works provided Ms. Frautschi and her warm Stradivarius with opportunities to sing, especially in the pensive second movement, where her sensitive phrasing and nuance control both punctuated the melodic flow and defined its emotional movement. So both technically and lyrically, Ms. Frautschi’s solo performance and the solo-orchestra collaboration provided a memorable offering.
Finally, although (at least for me) there seemed to be less of a finished performance sparkle to the reading of Beethoven’s wonderful Seventh Symphony than there was to the preceding two works, the playing was both evenly professional and enjoyable, and there were frequent high points — the wonderful second movement in particular, with a well-managed sequence of variations over a persistent rhythmical underpinning, and the Finale, which was excitingly handled, providing a rousing end to one of the Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra’s best concerts to date and an impressive harbinger of more musical treats yet in store.
The Ridgefield Symphony Orchestra, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary during its 2014-15 season, is a Ridgefield miracle that both needs and deserves our support, offering both the entertainment provided by popular music and the edification and accompanying enjoyment that come from learning about and hearing great art music of both the past and present — music that, because it often requires mental as well as aural involvement, currently runs the risk of becoming a dead language.