News-Times Online

Concert Reviews
For The 2005 – 2006 Season

Past Reviews

Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Sunday Nov. 6th

Danbury Concert Chorus, Sunday Nov. 13th

Danbury Community Orchestra, Sunday Dec. 7th

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet, Dec. 9, 10, & 11

Handel's Messiah, Sunday Dec. 18th

Northern Lights , Saturday Jan. 21st

Young People's Concert, Sunday Feb. 5th

Cantabile, Saturday Mar. 11th

Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Sunday Mar. 19th

Time's Mirror, Sunday, Apr. 23rd

Danbury Community Orchestra, Sunday, May 7th

Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Saturday, May 13th


Danbury Symphony: Emotional performance

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY - In their final concert of the season, the Danbury Symphony Orchestra had a program that packed an emotional wallop. With the Brahms "Tragic Overture" and two works influenced by events surrounding World War I, the Ives Hall at WestConn was somewhat somber on Saturday night. Adding a lighter piece would have been nice, but by the end of the evening, spirits were soaring.

The Danbury Music Centre presented the DSO along with guest conductor Jonathan Pasternack and cello soloist Sally Singer, both currently with the Icicle Creek Music Center in Leavenworth, Washington.

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) composed his "Tragic Overture, Op. 81" as a contrast to his lighthearted "Academic Festival Overture" rather than as a response to any particular tragedy. Beginning with a pair of Eroica-like shattering chords, the overture has the form and dramatic character of the opening movement of a symphony. The broad flowing theme rose in the strings, and expanded into a march, followed by a tender melody. The DSO performed with generally good tone in this rather upbeat piece, in spite of its name.

Regardless of its inspiration, "Cello Concerto in e minor, Op. 85" by Edward Elgar (1857-1934) is a timeless gut wrenching heart breaker, but cellist Sally Singer was certainly on top of this piece. The bold opening featured the soloist in a volatile recitative leading into an elegiac theme.

Singer ripped her way through powerful passages with pathos aplenty in the adagio. Deliberately keeping their distance, the DSO provided just the right backdrop for the soloist. With dynamics ranging from light and airy to fully bombastic with brass and percussive blasts, the concerto was incredibly impassionate. WHEW!!

After cooling off during a mandatory intermission, the DSO reconvened for the beautiful "Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 82," by Jean Sibelius (1865-1957). The Nordic horns and clarinets led into a tentative opening by the strings, but pretty soon all were rolling along together in a pleasant flight, slowly building into a full-blown aerial ballet. Rhythmic, mysterious, even ferocious at times, Sibelius' symphony had a cinematic quality to it, especially in the fourth movement. The horns sounded high and mighty in this swan theme, floating and flying into an astonishing climax.

If I were sitting at home listening to this piece, I'd probably get up and hit the repeat button, maybe a few times. But we'll just have to wait until next season and hope for more of the same from the Danbury Symphony Orchestra.

Speaking of repeat performances, once again, Joan and Fred Weisman generously provided major funding for the event. In his gracious remarks, Fred acknowledged the commitment of all the supporters for the Danbury Music Centre as being priceless.


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String section antics highlight youthful orchestra

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY - We're all familiar with the ways classical music has been used to enhance shows, movies, and other theatrical productions. But how often do you get to see a larger than life cartoon character help out a string orchestra? Really. I'm serious.

Looking rather incredible, "Stringman" came to the rescue of several young members of the Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra (DPSO) on Sunday evening at the Ives Concert Hall at WestConn. Not that they needed much help, but perhaps could use a little inspiration to practice, practice, practice. And who knows where they'll be performing someday?

Richard Meyer's comic "The Adventures of Stringman," singled out a few of the young musicians, and used the magic of practice to transform cacophony into harmony. In his flaming red suit, and sometimes at the end of his rope, Stringman had everyone in stitches.

The Danbury Music Centre presented both the DPSO and the Danbury Community Orchestra (DCO), in crowd-pleasing performances of eight well-chosen selections.

Both orchestras provide wonderful opportunities for musicians of all ages and abilities to develop their talent by participating in full-scale ensembles.

A lot of the credit goes to DCO Music Director and Conductor Stephen Michael Smith, DPSO Music Director and Conductor Glen Lebetkin, and of course to the many spirited musicians. Howard Gale and Ronna Gilbert provided major funding for the concert.

Smith and the DCO opened with "Triumphal March" from Aida by Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901). This majestic theme was adopted as the national hymn of Egypt after the operas premiere in Cairo. The strong cadence calls and responses between strings and brass built up to a controlled crescendo. The trumpet, trombones and tuba gave a solid sound for the stately procession.

The lighter "English Folk Song Suite" by Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872-1958) featured marches that sounded more like jigs, framing an airy intermezzo that felt like floating around Ives Hall on a cloud. The strings and woodwinds sounded beautiful, as the orchestra filled in and released, breathing smoothly with great poise.

Violinist David Gale has performed all over the world, but enjoyed playing with a home court advantage in the rondeau movement from "Concerto in G Major, No. 3" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Like the young Mozart, Gale had some fun with his solo, confidently playing through to the coda.

"Serenade, Op. 7" by Richard Strauss (1864-1949) was performed by the smaller wind orchestra, and exposed some of the group's strengths and weaknesses, without string accompaniment.

The musicianship of the ensemble was cranked up a few notches in the first movement of "Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21," by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). The sure but gentle handling of Beethoven's early style demonstrated what a joy symphonic music can be. Understandably pleased, Smith and the DCO took well-deserved bows.

Lebetkin led the DPSO in the jazzy "Blue Rhythmico" by Kirt N. Mosier. This almost entirely pre-high-school-age ensemble had a good sound, and played together well for the ritard at the end of the piece.

Both orchestras combined for the final work, two passages from "Peer Gynt: Suite No. 1, Op. 46," by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907). The opening oboe in "Morning Mood" led the way into a grand awakening, sounding superb.

And you could almost see trolls chasing the mischievous Peer Gynt in the hall of the mountain king, faster and faster, finally bursting at dawn.


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Concert chorus gives uplifting performance

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY - I don't know if there are any remodeling plans in the works for the St. James Church, but on Sunday afternoon the Danbury Concert Chorus along with the Danbury Symphony Chamber Ensemble sure tried to raise the roof a few inches.

Music Director and Conductor Richard Price combined with a sanctuary full of talented singers and musicians in an uplifting program that elevated spirits and brought everyone to their feet.

In his introductory comments, Dennis Nazzaro, a member of the board of directors for the Danbury Music Center, thanked Altos Margo Imbro, Toni Pepe and her husband John for providing major funding for this performance.

The program opened with "Ave Verum Corpus" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), a peaceful hymn that brought back memories of singing in the choir, and sounded just right in the church.

Price explained that the program called "Time's Mirror" would provide an opportunity to reflect on the same text, "Magnifcat," as set to music in three strikingly different styles, allowing the listener to "see" the composers with greater clarity. Taken from Scripture, "Magnificat" (My soul doth magnify the Lord) is the prayer of the Virgin Mary that she is to be the mother of Christ.

Around the 9th century, a function of Gregorian Chant was to make the religious service more audible in an empty church space.

Price had the chorus line up along the two outer aisles, with men and women on separate sides of the church, chanting a capella.

The surround sound effect was better than wearing headphones, magnifying the fullness of the chorus. Bass soloist Michael Forbes and organist Maxim Vladimiroff sounded sacred in this setting.

Vladimiroff had his hands full with the second version of "Magnificat," as composed by Deitrich Buxtehude (1637-1707), using many notes for each syllable. Even though they were greatly outnumbered by the other sections, the tenors came through clearly in this jovial concerto for chorus.

The Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Part (b.1935) emerged from an eight-year hibernation in 1989 with inverted droning and bell ringing tintinnabulation in his "Magnificat." The chorus handled the challenges of this eerie airy version wonderfully, with Heidi Sullivan sounding amazing in the upper registers. Not an easy piece to perform, the oscillations and modulations built up to spectacular rafter-lifting crescendos. I'm not sure if Part had completely departed from his earlier style.

After intermission, "Gloria" by Antonio Vivaldi (c. 1669-1741) needed no introduction. It was good to hear the members of the Danbury Symphony Chamber Ensemble, The Concert Chorus, and soloists in full glory. The Sopranos, Laura Danehower Whyte and Eunice Hill blended beautifully, especially in their vibrato parts.

Trumpeter Anthony Nunes and oboist Jim Thoensen brought the piece to life in the opening fanfare as well as the reprise in "Quonium tu solus Sanctus." The string section sounded fuller than its six members: Natalya Shamis and Alison Breisler, violins; Elizabeth Dickson and Edith Schwab, violas; Laura Flachbart, cello; and Walter Sudik, bass.

The four choral sections sounded ethereal in "Et in terra pax hominubus," powerful in "Gratias agimus tibi," and magnificent throughout. Listening to the finale, "Cum Sancto Spitito," was like a blessed event, and my only regret was that the concert had to come to an end.


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Guest conductor, pianist enliven Danbury Symphony

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY — When Guest Conductor James Sadewhite was invited to lead the Danbury Symphony Orchestra, I'm not sure what he was asked to do. But in watching him last Sunday night, he was busy and seemed comfortable wearing many hats. From adjusting the position of the grand piano and the podium to giving entertaining introductions to the compositions, as well as conducting several major works without a baton, Sadewhite had his hands full.

Phil Petrosky, vice president of the board of directors for the Danbury Music Centre introduced Sadewhite as being new to the orchestra, hoping to bring fresh appeal. The combined efforts of all involved proved to be very appealing.

The program opened with "Prelude to Hansel and Gretel," originally composed by Engelbert Humerdinck (1854-1921) as musical entertainment for his family. This eventually went on to become the most popular of Humperdinck's nine operas. The overture began with the horns playing a mournful theme (we all know how this story ends), gradually merging with the strings in the brighter midsection. Not having much previous experience with the DSO, Sadewhite seemed quite at ease.

A concert grand piano is not a small instrument. After piano virtuoso Albert Lotto was introduced, he and Sadewhite personally repositioned the piano and podium, in order for everyone to be able to see each other a little better. They set the brakes on the piano legs, but could have nailed down the pianists seat for the piece that followed.

"Piano Concerto in A minor" by Edvard Grieg (1843-1907) is certainly one of the most popular romantic compositions of all time. The thunderous roll of timpani and the dramatic piano entrance are instantly recognizable in the passionate opening movement. Blazing with energy, building to a cadenza before a brilliant thematic summation, the keyboard was on fire. Lotto was literally leaping out of his seat, throwing himself into the piece.

The overall gentleness of the adagio was ethereal, with delicate trills building to an impassioned ending. The dancing piano threw off more sparks in the rhythmically vivacious third movement. The lovely flute statement of the final theme sent the pianist into seventh heaven, cloud nine, wherever, only to land solidly on his fingertips for the coda. The small audience gave a big standing ovation to all.

After a brief intermission, Sadewhite gave a historically helpful introduction for "Symphony No. 4 in G Major, opus 88" by Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904). While Dvorak was a student of Brahms, he hadn't published the first four of his nine symphonies.

However, he ultimately did publish all of them, and renumbered those previously published. Thus, Symphony No. 4 became Symphony No. 8.

Written before Dvorak spent his summers in Spillville, Iowa, this symphony is completely European — Bohemian. As my Slovak roots might have me genetically predisposed towards Dvorak, I enjoyed this piece immensely. Using rich lush themes to push the clouds away, this pastoral symphony was an appropriate way to celebrate the last night of winter. The woodwinds sounded like birds in a garden that was slowly unfolding and blossoming into full bloom. The strings were reasonably well integrated during the extended coda.

Sadewhite interacted well with the orchestra, the stagehands, and the audience. It would be fortunate if he returned to Danbury for future events.


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Vocalists combine in 'Cantabile'

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY — Once again, the Danbury Music Centre presented a high caliber concert. An octet of singers from the area performed "Cantabile" last Saturday at the Marion Anderson Recital Hall.

All members of the group were essentially quite capable singers, and they combined nicely performing solos, duets, trios, quartets, and octets. I found the different groupings of the singers to be quite effective in allowing each of the voices to be clearly heard on its own.

The well-planned program included compositions often arranged for larger chorales or as instrumental pieces. The strength of the octet was in its size, and the careful selection of which voices were to be used for each part of the program.

I apologize for not naming the specific vocalists, piece by piece. Suffice it to say each performer gave a strong contribution to a well integrated ensemble. The members of "Cantabile" include Sharon Cheney, Elizabeth Norton Lasley, Sharon Goodkowsky, Michael Forbes, David Eggers, Gwynne Wittmann, Dan Coffman, and Keith Roberts.

The nimble fingers of Susan Anthony Klein provided a spirited piano accompaniment. Maureen Kelly wore at least two hats, as vocalist, pianist, as well as strategist. Pamela Hoffman provided behind the scene support and coaching in the preparation of the event.

The evening started off with "Sound the Trumpet" by Henry Purcell (1659-1695), performed as a duet for tenor and bass.

Right away, the voices served very well as instruments.

The colorful and expressive "Peaceable Kingdom" by Randall Thompson (1899-1984) was inspired by the naturalist painter Edward Hicks and scriptural text from Isaiah. Performed a cappella, the selections evoked themes of harmony, toleration, and coexistence.

Opposing choruses contrasted blessings bestowed on the righteous and woes inflicted on the wicked. Soprano and bass lines reflected each other as reeds mirrored by a brook in one song. The cathedral ceiling of the Danbury Music Centre enhanced the acoustics and the dramatic intensity of the unaccompanied choral work.

The mood of the music as well as the evening gowns changed after the intermission. Many facets of love were explored in selections from "Liebeslieder Walzer" (Love Song Waltzes) by Johannes Brahms (1833-1897). Perhaps this isn't everyone's favorite Brahms composition, but it's a sentimental choice of mine. About 30 years ago, I was a tenor in the Roseburg Concert Chorale, performing this work in Oregon. I thought the "Cantabile" arrangements sounded well balanced, allowing each voice to sound distinct. The boy-girl couples gave smooth deliveries for the gliding OOM-pah-pah waltz tempos.

Three short selections by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) were theatrically staged, using props, gestures and body language to the delight of all. The comic chemistry of the couple in "Papageno" from "The Magic Flute" was cute.

Some rousing gypsy songs from "Zigeunerlieder" by Brahms concluded the concert. Full of charm and exuberant energy, these Hungarian folk songs saluted dreams of love, and had the piano singing with the vocalists.

Fundamentally, the human voice may be the simplest and yet the most satisfying of all musical instruments. Almost everyone approaches music vocally at some point, often at the beginning of any attempt to perform familiar melodies. I don't think it's much of a stretch to say singing is a universal experience that allows for a lot of individuality in the part of the vocalist.

Although most of the songs were sung in foreign languages, "Cantabile" communicated the spirit of the music very well.

Performing without a conductor, the group held together like a team of real all-stars.


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Danbury youth concert a real jamboree

By Howard Tuvelle

A concert by the Danbury Symphony Orchestra is not your ordinary bill of fare, nor is it just the formal presentation of music most normally experienced - oh no, their concerts are more akin to family jamborees, in the extended family sense - often with raffles included! There is no pretense, only the making of music, and the involvement with music by the orchestra and audience as well, and in the end the sharing and sheer joy of it all.

Such was their last Sunday's performance in Ives Hall at Western Connecticut State University, featuring their concerto competition winner, flutist Jessica Nelson, a student of Dr. Kerry Walker, faculty member of the university.

Guest conductor was Swiss born Cornelia Kodkani Laemmli, who has conducted many orchestras and ensembles both in this country and in Europe. The day's program was called "Once Upon A Time, Music and Stories," and Laemmli prefaced each selection with a background story. Her remarks were short, at times humorous, revealing a charming stage manner and personality.

The program opened with the familiar "Fledermaus Overture," by J. Strauss Jr. (1825-1899) followed by two selections from "Swan Lake Suite, Op 20A," by P. Tchaikovsky (1840-1893). The orchestra was in good form and playing with remarkable accuracy of note and nuance.

Laemmli graciously introduced the 16-year old competition winner, Nelson, whose shy and natural stage manner instantly endeared her to the audience.

She played the first movement of the "Concerto for Flute in G major, K 313," an early work by W. A. Mozart (1756-1791), and did so with a calm demeanor, clarity of tone and flawless articulation. It was a performance of total satisfaction, with the conductor carefully balancing the orchestra. Bravo Miss Nelson! She was presented with a bouquet of flowers and returned her delight with smiles.

There were an impressive number of children in the packed hall. Before the concert they were asked to write their names on a slip of paper and place them in a hat; this was for the raffle to see which two would win the honor of conducting the orchestra.

The attention of all the children was excellent throughout the entire concert, but became riveted upon hearing the "William Tell Overture," by G. Rossini (1792-1868). In a way, it was sad they are too young to associate the music with the heroic western cowboy, the Lone Ranger!

The drawing for the raffle was to be after the next selection, "Harry Potter, Hedwig's Theme," by John Williams (b. 1932). As the piece was near ending, from the audience emerged a black hooded figure who walked up on the stage and over to the conductor.

With witches' and sorcerer's hats adorned by many of the orchestral members, the mood was set for the hooded figure. "Well Harry, are you ready for the drawing" asked conductor Laemmli? John Locke, a student at St. Rose's school in Newtown, played Harry.

Harry reached into the sorcerer's hat and pulled out a name. Alas, he couldn't quite make it out. Neither could the conductor!

Finally, a consultation with members of the violin section and all the names were identified. This proceeded through all the slips of paper with some declining to conduct. Two boys were selected, Caleb Summerhays, age 12 and a student at Broadway Junior High, and Philip Przybyszewski, age 8, a student at Stadley Rough school. Each conducted part of Sousa's "Stars and Stripes Forever," with the audience clapping out the rhythm. The boys acquitted themselves admirably. "Good show," as it's said!

The final "West Side Story Overture," by L. Bernstein (1918-1990) concluded the program, with conductor Laemmli inviting the audience, at her cue, to shout "Mambo" in the concluding part of the overture.

And thus the day's jamboree came to a shouting, boisterous and grand finale. The usual mild pandemonium (which is not an instrument!) followed. That's the way it goes at a Danbury Symphony Orchestra concert for children.


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Northern Lights sparkle in Danbury

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY - A festive midwinter Nordic smorgasbord of music was presented on Saturday night when the Danbury Music Center presented Northern Lights. Lox, lutefisk, and lingonberries were not to be served. Nor would there be any banjo picking, as Nancy Sudik, executive director for the DMC, said in her warm introduction.

She had been contacted earlier by some folks who wanted to know if Northern Lights was a Bluegrass band. But I don't think anyone there was disappointed. Swedish soprano Dominique Hellsten and Russian pianist/composer Maxim Vladimiroff performed together in a diverse recital of songs from the lands of the Northern Lights.

It was a pleasure to hear a collaboration of the two regional musicians who have frequently performed together. They were quite comfortable in their choice of songs. Vladimiroff is also an accompanist for the Danbury Concert Chorus.

The program included romantic to modern music composed over the last century or so by Edvard Grieg (Norway), Jean Sibelius (Finland), Serge Rachmaninoff (Russia), Gunnar de Frumerie and Lars-Erik Larsson (Sweden), and two of Vladimiroff's own compositions.

Songs sound best in the language in which they were originally composed. Hellsten introduced each piece with a reading in the native tongue and a translation, without any notes. Once or twice she asked the audience to help her find the right word for her translations. The Marion Anderson Recital Hall lends itself well for such intimacy.

Nordic composers are perhaps better known for their full orchestral works, or solo piano pieces. The Northern Lights songs had complicated arrangements for keyboard and voice, and the pieces were performed masterfully.

Vladimiroff's sense of timing and articulation were flawless. Hellsten's powerful and pleasing voice wove together with the piano creating interesting tonal qualities.

Hellsten held everyone's attention with the intensity of her presence and her eye contact. Her shimmering black gown was rather elegant.

Of the five songs by the impressionist Grieg that opened the performance, only "In times of Roses" could be called sad. Hellsten said that politically, a lot was going on in 1905 when the Nordic countries were gaining independence. Henrik Ibsen's "A Swan" was passionately performed, evoking images of Edvard Grieg performing with his wife Nina a century earlier.

We crossed the mountains to Sweden for the next two composers, the late romantic de Frumerie, and the eclectic Larsson. The text for de Frumerie's "When you close my Eyes," (All you can give me is light), had a delightful harmonic piano part. Dramatic and frantic, Larsson's songs felt like a world crumbling apart.

The two original songs by Vladimiroff that followed were the high point of the evening. "Uphill," the only song in English, was a dialogue between two travelers, one from the afterlife, and had an otherworldly haunting quality to it.

Not an easy song to perform, Hellsten provided the harmony, register and texture it needed in order to differentiate between the two parts of the conversation. A spiritual poem "O bozhe moi" (Oh God of mine), by Dmitri Merezhkovsky, felt like a prayer close to the heart. Hellsten's command of dynamics was amazing. She said, "It's a pleasure to have the composer write your songs, like custom made shoes."

Three songs by Sibelius that followed demonstrated the feelings of the nationalist movement of the times. Hellsten showed obvious delight in the four songs by her favorite composer, Rachmaninoff, especially in the final song, "These midsummer nights." Her introduction for this song described a big holiday during the wonderful summers, anticipating great things: first love, first kiss, you figure it out.

I figure it's worth keeping our eyes and ears on these two. They're already delivering great things and certainly warmed up the crowd "without a sauna!"

Major funding for the event was provided by Home Instead Senior Care.


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Danbury Music Centre's 'Messiah' a Christmas treat

By Jim Pegolotti

DANBURY - Danbury Music Centre's annual performance of George Frederic Handel's oratorio, "Messiah," once again brought a near capacity crowd to Saint Peter Church. The Sunday evening performance of the complete Part I (Christmas portion) and much of Parts II and III was under the direction of Richard Price. Both the 22-piece Baroque Chamber Orchestra and the 100-voice Danbury Concert Chorus were in top form, along with a particularly fine group of soloists.

Excuse me if I jump immediately to the musical offering of one particular soloist. I don't expect to ever hear in Danbury, maybe anywhere, a better presentation of the mezzo-soprano arias than that of Laura Vlasek Nolen. Impressed as I was by her voice in last year's "Messiah," I was completely enthralled this year. The voice ranges from powerful to gentle, with remarkable coloration. She proved this brilliantly in "He was despised and rejected."

From my seat far back in the church, her voice arrived ever on pitch, effortlessly controlled and produced. Hers is a major career in the making. The reviews from her New York City Opera debut, in "Ariane et Barbe-Bleue," by Paul Dukas, of "Sorcerer's Apprentice" fame, were most laudatory.

I'm always sympathetic to the tenor. He has the oratorio's first aria "Every valley shall be exalted," then must wait nearly two hours for his only other solo, which is in Part III. (In the Danbury version, some of the finest arias for a tenor, those in Part II, are omitted.) Tenor Christopher Pfund's voice has a bold directness, something that would have sounded better in the first aria if the tempo had been a bit slower. The later aria, "Thou shalt break them," served more effectively to illustrate the suppleness of Pfund's delivery.

Bass Christopher DeVage evidenced a rich, firm voice. I always look forward to the first bass recitative, "Thus saith the Lord," to hear how flexible the soloist's voice is. It is here that Handel creates a short tone poem on the word "shake," where the singer's voice must vibrate as if singing in an earthquake. It was wonderfully done by DeVage. His voice rang resilient and strong in the oratorio's final aria, "The trumpet will sound." Overall a most satisfying voice to hear. Stan Schmidt was the fine trumpeter.

Soprano Jacqueline Horner's excellent reputation as a soloist in baroque works was quickly affirmed with her first aria of the angel announcing the birth of Christ. Her voice is crystal clear and her enunciation splendid. In the aria "Rejoice greatly," Handel provided a glittering work to exhibit the capacity of the soprano to roam the notes of the scale with great roulades. Horner performed with precision and a variety of shadings.

Now, I must say a few words about melisma. No, this is not the latest disease, but those choices by singers to make a long, florid phrase on a single syllable. Handel permitted his singers to be a bit individualistic, but as one scholar put it, "he invariably insisted, however, that they should not be mere embellishments serving simply for outward display of vocal effect."

In several cases during the evening a soloist's melismatic "display" attempt backfired when the voice went into the higher registers without appropriate control. These were rare, but nonetheless briefly unpleasant, musical events.

I don't remember a better Danbury orchestral performance in "Messiah," especially in the quality of the strings, most certainly a tribute to conductor Price. Natalya Shamis was concertmaster, Maxim Vladimiroff, harpsichordist, and Stephen Roberts, organist. In spite of many brisk tempi throughout, Price maintained firm control and excellent cohesion between orchestra and chorus.

To truly appreciate the variety of wonderful choruses in "Messiah," you need to hear it in such a church as Saint Peter, with excellent reverberation qualities. The altos never sounded warmer than in those first choral words, "And the glory, the glory of the Lord" and the sopranos no more heavenly than in their "Glory to God" chorus. The bass section of the chorus was particularly strong and firm throughout, and the tenors praiseworthy in tone.

Other choral highlights? "Surely, Surely He hath borne our griefs" was deeply emotional in its delivery, and the female and male voices energized their wonderful competition in "Lift up your head, O ye gates." Both the "Hallelujah Chorus" and that glorious final chorus "Worthy is the Lamb" (the "Amen" portion began a bit sluggishly) had the elements of thrust and joy. They produced a most salutatory effect on the audience.

I've never heard such long and sustained applause as at the end of a Danbury "Messiah" performance. And think! All this has been going on for decades and always free to the public, this time thanks to major support from Union Savings Bank.


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Ever-improving Nutcracker in Danbury

By Jim Pegolotti

DANBURY - Over the years there have been many reviews of the Danbury Music Centre's annual "Nutcracker Ballet," performed in Danbury High School auditorium. But I doubt that any reviewer ever sat, as I did, in the back row of the balcony.

Now don't get me wrong. There is an advantage to being in the balcony with its pronounced slope: You don't have heads to peek around. However, at that distance ones does get the general impression of seeing a wide-screen movie, albeit a very fine one. (Does anyone remember Cinemascope?)

Sunday's performance, the one I attended, was a sellout, and what a joy to see so many children there. Their attention on the world of sight and sound was constant throughout the performance.

Since the entire stage is always in view from the balcony, it made me reflect particularly on the choreographic demands for this community-based production. Arthur Fredric (also the director) and Lisa Denton, assisted by Jennifer Johnston and Dody Flynn, were the choreographers.

What they had to do was to provide hundreds of youthful dancers with movements that always look good to the audience. For example, in the scene that pits the evil mice against the staunch soldiers, nearly 50 dancers (some, like the Scurry Mice, are more runners) must show purpose and not chaos. It all worked well.

Similarly successful was the snowflake scene that ended the first act. Here 21 dancers, led by the elegant Snow Queen of Danielle Rose Dorsey, appeared with professional aplomb.

After their shifting designs, the ballerinas formed five geometrically perfect lines behind the Snow Queen. As the music mounted in intensity, their swirling turns and effective arm gestures resulted in the high point of the afternoon for me.

Clara, whose gift of a nutcracker sets the whole story moving, was acted and danced by Elizabeth Rose Cox in as fine a performance as I've seen in Danbury productions. With her prince, Christopher Smalley, she oversaw all the dances of the second act, and welcomed the Sugar Plum Fairy, Maggie Ronan, and her Cavalier, Darius Barnes.

The featured pas de deux of Ronan and Barnes had effective detail; the tall, lithe Barnes showed exceptional leg extensions in his rapid movements in his solos, while Ronan exhibited elegance of form throughout.

All the dances were wonderfully staged, some with special lighting effects. Particularly intriguing, with its terra cotta hues, was the Arabian dance. A particular crowd favorite was the Russian Trepak, performed by twenty dancers, with their legs and arms flying in perfect rhythms, all from their supine positions. (Ah, to be young again.)

This is a Nutcracker that has evolved into a perfectly delightful and professionally directed production. Special note must be made of the costumes, designed by Denton, which from the balcony indicated an admirable correctness and beauty.

The Danbury Symphony, directed by Richard Price, had a fine balanced sound. Strings were light, but there was never any doubt about the rhythmic intensity and melodic values in the great Tchaikovsky score.

It should be mentioned that the unexpected occurred in the midst of the first act battle between mice and soldiers: A member of the audience became ill and the performance was interrupted for over 20 minutes. After the delay, the director "rewound" to the sleeping Clara, who once again suffered the arrival of hordes of mice and soldiers, but fortunately for her, it was only a fantasy world. The real world had left with paramedics.


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Community orchestra shines with 'B' composers

By Howard Tuvelle

The Danbury Community Orchestra, directed by Stephen Michael Smith, in a concert last Sunday at Ives Hall, presented a program entitled "B stands for…"! It was all music by composers whose names begin with the letter "B," hence, Beethoven, Bartok, Borodin and Bizet. However, this was not true of their one encore. Read on.

The opening work, "Overture to Die Geschopfe des Prometheus, Op. 43," by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827), commanded the audience's attention with its majestic opening chords. "Geschopfe" means creatures or creations, and might have pointed to an oratorio of Haydn's, "The Creation." Beethoven was fond of word play. After the impressive introductory chords the piece gets down to business. With rapid figurations by the violins, the string section got quite a workout and the orchestra proved that its violins could play in unison, a difficult task even for highly skilled professionals.

"Hungarian Sketches," by Bela Bartok (1881-1945) proved just the right contrast for the second piece on the program. There were four of them, but notable was "An evening in the village." This is a calm and gentle piece, giving the oboe and flute a chance to solo. It was beautifully played by all.

The "Bear dance," was also effective, with a driving rhythm by the cello section while the winds yelped! Many students of piano enjoy and play the keyboard version of it, with the left hand providing the ongoing rhythmical repetition. But it was the fourth piece, "Slightly tipsy," that was humorously played, as if the orchestra was… well, tipsy!

"Selections from Polovetsian Dances," by the Russian Alexander Borodin (1838-1887), is always an audience pleaser. The oboe is again prominent. The orchestra of about 70 musicians achieved a very large sonority, but never at the expense of accuracy or producing a musical tone. It was an exciting performance.

The final work of the day was challenging: "Symphony No. 1 in C," by George Bizet (1838-1875), but only the third and fourth movements.

Bizet was only 17 when composing this amazing piece. It has all the qualities of a fully mature symphony by any composer, of any age, and the orchestra gave it a fine reading. The strings had their most difficult task of the day in the fourth, movement. Professional orchestras often do not rise to the task, completely, but then this is a community and training orchestra, and they're in boot camp, so to speak!

It was a buoyant and bouncy Bizet, if not the best "B" piece on the entire program (is this alliteration getting to you as well?). For contrast, the encore was "Sleigh Ride," by Leroy Anderson. If I were a "B" I'd be upset that an "A" had to end the program, but then, 'tis the season! The orchestra dashed it off with ease, even the horse's neighing!

Conductor Smith and all the musicians are to be complimented on their splendid performance, and the sponsors should be praised for making it all possible.


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Danbury Chorus effective in new works

By Jim Pegolotti

DANBURY - On Sunday afternoon, during this its 100th anniversary year, Saint Joseph Church hosted the Danbury Concert Chorus in a program of religious works. Music director Richard Price and the 90-voice chorus filled the beautiful Romanesque church with music as old as 450 years and as new as from the last decade. Maxim Vladimiroff was the exemplary accompanist: on the pipe organ, but piano for the spirituals.

Not only was the sound of the chorus particularly well-balanced and impressive in tone, but the soprano voice of guest artist Elisabeth Baer was highly satisfying. Hers is a rich, powerful voice, in the mezzo-soprano range. She was first heard in "Avinu Malkeynu," a Hebrew prayer to "Our Father, Our King," written 50 years ago by a Chicago Jewish composer, Max Janowski (1912-1991). Baer's voice perfectly suited the plaintive, straightforward melody, with its arching line. The vibrant repetition by the chorus of each of Baer's seven petitions to God was stirring.

Three works by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) celebrated the 500th birthday of this great Anglican-text composer. His "If ye love me, keep my commandments," was especially lovingly sung. Randall Thompson's "The Last Words of David," provided evidence once again of the talent of this 20th century American composer. His capacity to provide musical paintings of the text's words showed well here.

But it was the "Ave Maria" by Jaakko Mantyjarvi, a contemporary Finnish composer (b. 1963) that caught the audience's attention in the program's first half. It was a "surround sound" experience. The 30 men of the chorus stood front and center, while the 60 women of the chorus positioned themselves in single file in the church aisles.

While the men sang the "Ave Maria" to a simple, Gregorian-like melody, the women chanted the Latin words of the prayer as if they were saying their rosaries. An "Amen," crisply spoken by both singers and chanters, brought the work to an end. The tenors and basses melded wonderfully in their featured role.

The chorus opened the second half of the program with "Dona Nobis Pacem" (Grant us peace), a 15-minute work by Latvian Composer, Peteris Vasks (b. 1946) and a Danbury premiere. The three Latin words are the only ones utilized in the work, with almost mystical repetition. As might be predicted, the work moves to what might be called a central "Mount Everest" explosion of sound. It then retreats to a conclusion that is a maintained whisper, perhaps the most beautiful sound of the afternoon as delivered by the chorus and organ. Conductor Price's remarks preceding the performance certainly helped the listeners understand the composer's musical structure and intentions.

Elizabeth Baer and the chorus ended the program with five spirituals. "Give Me That Old Time Religion," which opened the segment, was taken at an intellectual pace, rather than full of religious passion. It would be hard to fault Baer's singing in any of the five. Particularly striking was "There's a Man Goin' Round," where she was supported solely by the chorus humming the melody. It proved to me once again that simple is always best in spirituals. "Didn't My Lord Deliver Daniel" provided a rousing conclusion.

Throughout the concert, the chorus showed the fine training in projection and intonation gained over the years, but especially since Price has become their leader. A crowd of some 200 gave the performers a rousing final ovation.

The chorus dedicated the concert to the memory of two people: Leslie B. Eckstein, who had directed it from 1997 to 2001, and Dale Miller, the New Milford resident who had anchored the bass section for many years


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Danbury Symphony energizes audience at Ives Concert Hall

By Jim Pegolotti

DANBURY - On Sunday afternoon, Dr. Sandra Dackow threw her hat (baton?) in the ring to be the new music director of the Danbury Symphony by conducting the orchestra's fall concert in Ives Concert Hall. The program she chose would have been a great first concert for someone to experience who had never heard a symphony orchestra. It began with a brisk symphony by Mozart, continued with a horn concerto by Richard Strauss, then marches by John Philip Sousa, and ended with the brilliant "Capriccio Espagnol" by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakoff. As a graduate of Eastman School of Music, Dackow clearly knows her way around an orchestra with entrances cued admirably. She clearly had the attention of the orchestra and they paid great attention to her wishes to have musical phrases ebb and flow.

Mozart's Symphony No. 34 in C Major (K. 338) is unusual in having only three movements, not the usual four. Both the outer movements are "Allegro vivace," (joyful and quite fast) and indeed the orchestra gave them that quality with secure attacks and joyful bursts from trumpets and horns. The inner movement, of strings only, sounded a bit thin, but nonetheless adequate in its calm contrast. Interestingly, this is the first Mozart symphony performed by the Danbury orchestra in decades.

One can literally count on one hand the number of horn concertos commonly heard in concerts - three by Mozart and two by Richard Strauss (1864-1949). It was Strauss' Horn Concerto, No. 1, Op. 11 that Jerome Ashby, the associate principal horn in the New York Philharmonic, chose for his appearance with the symphony.

Young Strauss heard horn playing in his home from the day of his birth because his father was a horn virtuoso of the first order. So, it is no surprise that the budding composer would write his first horn concerto when he was still a teenager. The result is a combination of glorious melodies and bravado. Ashby performed throughout the three movement work with impeccable beauty of tone, choosing not to oversell the sound. Granted at times he let it be known that the horn and its "hunting call" relationship existed, but he never let it blast out. What a pleasure to have heard such beautiful playing.

The Danbury Symphony seldom has soloists, especially of such prominence. Dackow was exemplary in keeping the orchestral sound at appropriate levels, emphatic and heroic where needed, quickly bringing the orchestra down to support levels for the solo horn. Overall it was a top-notch performance.

Because the day of the concert was the birthday of John Philip Sousa, Dackow chose to conduct two Sousa marches.

She also explained to the audience some of the compositional tricks of Sousa, particularly his ability to create layer upon layer of interesting counter melodies. No one ever wrote greater marches, and probably no one ever will. Deems Taylor succinctly expressed this when he wrote: "Sousa was no Beethoven. Nonetheless he was Sousa."

Though Dackow may have gone on a bit too long with her comments, once the music started, there was no doubt her love of Sousa permeated the orchestra in the performances of the "Glory of the Yankee Navy" and "Semper Fidelis" marches. In between the two marches, the orchestra played the "Commando March" by Samuel Barber (1910-1981). Though interesting, it diluted the attention to the "March King."

Any conductor worth her or his salt wants a dramatic conclusion to a concert. For this purpose, Dackow chose Rimsky-Korsakoff's "Capriccio Espagnol." The composer spent several years in the Russian navy and toured the world (he even visited Niagara Falls), including time in Spain.

The sense of Spain, with its foot-stomping rhythms and sounds of castanets, permeates the work. From beginning to end, the orchestra did itself proud. Though almost all first chairs are called upon to solo in this work, special pressure is put upon the concertmaster in several solos. Violinist Natalya Shamis performed these with the accuracy and brash energy required.

The final measures of "Capriccio Espagnol" can be tricky. Rhythmic changes abound and they must be firm and immediate as the work rolls to its tumultuous conclusion. No worry. Conductor and orchestra handled it very well.

After the concert was all over, a longtime attendee of the Symphony's concerts asked me: "Why were there so few people here?" (My count put it at about 150.) It is a question that the Danbury Music Centre board must continually ask itself. This is a fine orchestra, the program was a charmer, and the admission was free. Go figure!


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