The Prince William Symphony Orchestra, appearing Saturday night at Gar-Field High School in its first concert under the baton of newly appointed music director Joel Revzen, played with a sense of subtlety and refinement that shows great promise for the future.
A clean and deliberate fanfare for trumpets began Shostakovich's "Festival Overture" (Op. 96), which opened the program. After a short, somewhat unsubstantial section reminiscent of a typical Broadway overture, the work developed a driving rhythmic pattern into a compelling conclusion. The performance was precise and exciting.
The keystone piece in the program was Beethoven's gentle masterpiece, the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major (Op. 58) with soloist Joseph Kalichstein.
In a break with the tradition of grand orchestral introductions, Beethoven begins the concerto with a quiet piano solo, a short evocation that Kalichstein played with conviction and tonal beauty.
The strings followed, starting from an almost inaudible whisper. And the focus on articulation, on sensitivity, continued throughout. This was Beethoven in the tradition of Mozart, a style perfectly matched to this extraordinary, unconventional concerto.
The second movement, the famous dialogue between the aggressive, human speech rhythms of the strings against the calm, chorale-like piano, was beautifully shaped by both Revzen and Kalichstein. The orchestral sound maintained vibrancy down to the lowest dynamic levels. It was perfectly executed and very moving.
Kalichstein's extraordinary touch came to the fore in the rondo, where limpid figures and bell-like brilliance alternated in playful abandon. There was never a moment in which he or the orchestra seemed out of control.
Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, "From the New World" (Op. 95) was as carefully articulated as the rest of the program, but here a lack of depth in the strings became apparent. Revzen seems to be developing his strings to play pianissimo with great care and beauty, and this is working very well. The next stage will be to maintain tone and control in high, loud and fast passages, and to better balance the winds and brass in the full orchestral sound.
The full string sound notwithstanding, there were many wonderful moments. The great brass chorale in the largo was rich, full and solemn, with perfectly precise attacks, although the final chords from the cellos and violas were played so softly that they could not be heard above the noise of the auditorium fan (it should be turned off for future performances).
Throughout the evening there were fine solo lines from many individuals, including John Colbert on clarinet, David James on oboe, Zoila Holtzer on English horn and Janet Memoli on flute.
At the risk of sounding unpatriotic, this reviewer questions the wisdom of Revzen beginning the tradition of opening each concert with "The Star-Spangled Banner." It makes sense for the National Symphony, considering conductor Mstislav Rostropovich's special relationship with this country (not to mention the name of the group), and, to an extent, the McLean Orchestra, whose conductor, Col. Arnald Gabriel, comes from a distinguished career as a service musician.
But although the national anthem is certainly stirring and brings people to their feet, shaking off the mental cobwebs accumulated through 15 to 20 minutes of pre-concert sitting, it is also music of a particular sort, and condemns the serious programmer to consider its impact on the concert as a whole. Even the most erudite listener has to suppress the temptation to cry "Play Ball" as the applause is dying down.
In this program -- a fanfare followed the anthem -- it was not particularly out of place. But many possible programs, such as those beginning with extremely delicate music or music intended to grow from silence, might either be off limits or, worse, limited in effect by having to follow the anthem.