By McLaren Harris
Saturday night’s (March 12) program by the Orchestra of Indian Hill at the Littleton High School Performing Arts Center comprised three works close to the heart of Viennese Classicism, the era and style from which many listeners gained their first experiences with true concert music. Schubert, Mozart and Beethoven, along with Haydn, exemplify perhaps most of all the sounds and spirit that drew in young audiences over many generations, as they continue to do two centuries later.
The works that conductor Bruce Hangen chose – Schubert’s “Unfinished” Symphony in B minor, Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante in E flat for four wind soloists and orchestra, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 in C major – have the fine artistic attributes that combine familiar musical idioms with opportunities to show off the orchestra’s strengths.
Like nearly all of Schubert’s compositions– he was incapable of composing anything that wasn’t beautiful – the “Unfinished” Symphony’s two movements are full of felicitous melody and harmony that envelop the listener like a warm, comfortable blanket. The orchestra’s robust low strings and delicate upper strings bespoke mystery at the opening, followed by soaring lyrical lines from the winds. The woodwinds and French horns were richly sonorous both in the first Allegro and the following Andante; the latter’s midsection was shared successively by tender lines for solo oboe (Jennifer Slowik), clarinet (Sandra Halberstadt), flute (Jessica Lizak), and French horn (Clark Matthews).
Four of the orchestra’s principal players (Stephen Jackson, clarinet, Nancy Dimock, oboe, Stephanie Busby, bassoon, and Clark Matthews, horn) became the soloists for Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante, K.297 – at least, Mozart is assumed by most to have composed it. Some critics have seized upon certain stylistic peculiarities to conclude that Mozart may have composed the solo parts and cadenzas while another, anonymous composer wrote the orchestra parts. Without getting into that, let us be satisfied that it was accorded a Köchel number, so Mozart it is.
The Sinfonia is a dashing, cheerful work with plenty of virtuosity, flair and an outright romp for the soloists, who were well prepared and excellent throughout. Clark Matthews’s high-register horn-playing was flawless; Stephen Jackson’s and Nancy Dimock’s agility was breath-taking; Stephanie Busby showed what a beautifully toned instrument the bassoon is – and quick as well.
Beethoven’s First Symphony is well enough imprinted in many or most musical minds, but the untraditional genius of the composer’s imagination is always a pleasure to hear – the opening chord progressions that finally resolve to the home key, the bold, up-tempo Scherzo (What? No minuet?), the tentative scale leading up to a full sprint in the finale, the sudden, fortissimo entrance of the low strings (signaled by conductor Hangen with a closed fist). The orchestra acquitted itself ably and energetically all the way; the concert earned a standing ovation.
Let us give credit here to Bruce Hangen. The high caliber of the instrumentalists and of the performances is due in no small part to his leadership. His program choices never fail to please, his conducting is clearly wrought, his own preparation is meticulous and that of the orchestra as exacting as it can be within the rehearsal time available. The musicians really want to play for him, and Indian Hill Music is indeed fortunate to have him.