News-Times Online

Concert Reviews
For The 2007 – 2008 Season

Past Reviews

Sergey Vladimiroff, Saturday Oct. 13th

Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Saturday, Oct. 27th

Danbury Concert Chorus, Sunday Nov. 11th

Danbury Community Orchestra, Sunday Dec. 2nd

Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet, Dec. 7, 8, & 9

Handel's Messiah, Friday Dec. 14th

Young People's Concert, Sunday Jan. 27th – not reviewed

DCO & DPSO, Sunday, Mar. 2nd

Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Sunday Mar. 16th

Danbury Community Orchestra, Sunday, May 4th

Mozart Requiem, Saturday, May 10th


Powerful choral work in All-Mozart Concert

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY--Legends behind some of the masterpieces composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 -- 1791) continue to amaze and bemuse audiences more than two centuries after his all too early passing. True or not, the stories themselves are just too good to let go of, although we'll probably never know what really happened.

The Danbury Music Centre presented what will be remembered as a legendary great event last Saturday night at St. James Episcopal Church. Conductor Ariel Rudiakov led the Danbury Concert Chorus and the Danbury Symphony Orchestra in a stirring all-Mozart program. It's entirely possible that they sounded even better than back in Mozart's time. You have to wonder what it was like at the premiere of the opera "Don Giovanni" if the procrastinating Mozart only completed the score on the morning of the opening, and musicians were actually sight reading the last minute transcriptions. Regardless, we all benefit from the passage of time.

Rudiakov was on the receiving end of substantial supporting effort from Richard Price, music director for the Danbury Concert Chorus. Price spent countless hours preparing the chorus for a major portion of the concert. The chorus was split on either side of the orchestra, with tenors and sopranos on the left and bass and altos on the right, creating clear separation between the four vocal sections.

Each of the gifted soloists added their distinctive voice to the huge assemblage, well over 100 in all. They were Kerry Ryer-Parker, soprano, Kirsten Solleck, mezzo, James Ruff, tenor, and Keith Kibler, bass.

Mozart's mass appeal was lyrically demonstrated in "Missa Brevis in F Major, KV 192," but everyone saved their energy for an awesome display of power in "Requiem in D minor, KV 626." This was not your usual Mozart. This was a great composer communicating with his God on his deathbed. The story behind the "Requiem" is surrounded by mystery, but supposedly Mozart believed he was composing his own funeral music, and perhaps this proved to be correct.

We can't be sure how much of the music was actually composed by Mozart and who else helped complete it. Suffice to say that work maintains a unified cohesiveness, alternating between fears of death and seeking forgiveness.

The chorus and soloists combined well throughout. Driving melodic lines and thrusting choral parts blended into a breathtaking work. Certain parts stood out with their beautifully reverential harmonies, especially "Lacrimosa." The soloists formed quartets in "Tuba Mirum" and "Recordare," comparing and contrasting the tonal qualities of the different voices: Ryer-Parker's light bright soprano, Sollek's rich resonant mezzo, Ruff's strong clear tenor, and Kibler's deep moving bass.

Rudiakov, the chorus, and orchestra all received enthusiastic applause, but the loudest cheers were saved for Richard Price, whose behind the scenes presence really added to the success of the collaboration.


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English horn concerto gets Connecticut premiere

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY -- The quality of programs given by the Danbury Community Orchestra has been steadily improving under the leadership of Stephen Michael Smith, music director and conductor for the Danbury Music Centre. Yet another composition was given its Connecticut premiere last Sunday at Ives Hall, along with some well chosen works that made for good listening.

The DCO performed two movements in the Connecticut premiere of "Concerto for English Horn and Orchestra" by Robert Edward Smith (b. 1946), no relation to director Smith. Here we are in the so-called post-modern 21st century, but regardless of when the concerto was written, the music sounded hundreds of years old and was very pretty.

The deep and elegant sounds of the English horn, featuring James Thoensen, opened the andante movement, but it was an instructive contrast hearing the oboe, followed by solos for all of the other woodwinds. Composer Smith shook hands with conductor Smith following the well received performance.

Soloist Thoensen didn't let his reed dry up as he was playing his English horn again in the opening movement for "Afro-American Symphony," by William Grant Still (1895 -- 1978). Loaded with historical significance, this was the first symphony by a black composer to be performed by a major American orchestra at its premiere in 1930.

Still was born in Mississippi and traded musical ideas with Gershwin and Ellington, creating an amalgam of blues and jazz. I can't do justice to the intrinsic involvement of race in American musical history here. Ken Burns just scratched the surface in his 10-part documentary "Jazz." The 1930s were a delightful period in music from the standpoint of today's listener, but maybe not so joyous for the musicians living through it back then.

The DCO used muted trumpet, two pianos offstage, and some nice clarinet work to give a bluesy feeling with lots of rhythmic swing. I believe Smith succeeded in motivating the audience to go out and get a recording to hear the rest of Still's wonderful symphony.

The DCO Trombone Ensemble played "Two Motets by Anton Bruckner (1824 -- 1896), and the hymn "Achieved is Thy Glorious Work" by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 -- 1809) with some unusual low harmonies and good control of pitch.

The orchestra was playing with true exuberance in the ever popular opening movement to "Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67" by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 -- 1827). Brass and tympani packed a wallop, and there were clean crisp exchanges between the sections in a hard-driving piece that should warn everyone to fasten their seat belts before starting.

They closed with a rocket ride, "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" from "The Planets" by Gustav Holst (1874 -- 1914). Whoosh! French horns were in full force here, and the strings really came together for the second theme, building up to a powerful climax.

Gershwin's "Summertime" was played at a relaxed tempo, making for a satisfying encore. This was a strong finish for the season; Smith and the DCO should be proud.


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Danbury Symphony explores Russian art

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY -- Promoting the fine arts was a task taken on with gusto last weekend by the Danbury Music Centre.

Not only did they present a performance of the Danbury Symphony Orchestra that featured familiar Russian classics, they also put the spotlight on works by local artists in conjunction with WestConn's Department of Production and Design. The art show, "Danbury: Pictures at an Exhibition," was on display at Ives Hall.

This collaboration of art and music came together for me while viewing four photographs of the DMC's production of "The Nutcracker." The photos were taken by Eric Gottschalk, president of the DMC's board of directors. Gottschalk was onstage during last December's performances and caught some shots of the dancers that showed more than met the eye during the smoky parts of the ballet.

After recent musical visits to Paris and Spain with the Danbury Symphony Orchestra, Music Director and Conductor Ariel Rudiakov continued his exploration of foreign composers, with an all-Russian concert that had some surprising ports of call.

In opening with "Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla" by Mikhail Glinka (1804 - 1857), the strings had no place to hide, going at racehorse pace from the get go. They managed to maintain the delightful elements of the Russian folk tunes daringly well. Brass and winds boosted the orchestra as they flew into the supercharged overture.

Even after Walter Sudick opened up the top of the Bosendorfer grand piano, Rudiakov stood tall, without a podium. But all eyes were on Elena Baksht as she launched into "Piano concerto No. 1 in b minor, Op. 23," reinforcing why this piece is so deeply embedded in everyone's head.

The booming brass led Baksht into this hot concerto, as her own style of phrasing and articulation gave freshness to this popular work. Some of the initial exchanges between the soloist and the DSO were a bit uneven.

But the romantic lushness of the first movement drew heavily on Tchaikovsky's scoring and elicited a strong ovation from the audience. By the 3rd movement, Baksht and the DSO were performing with greater fluidity, bringing the concerto to a bold climax.

During intermission, Marcia Klebanow pondered whether after hearing Baksht, other pianists would practice more or just close their pianos. Others in the audience seemed more than happy with everything the gorgeous soloist presented.

The art show theme came back on stage in a cogent orchestral masterpiece, "Pictures at an Exhibition" by Modest Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881). Trumpet fanfares brought the DSO strolling down the promenade at a musical display of artwork inspired by Victor Hartmann.

Rudiakov took everyone through an extended tour of ten paintings, each with its own soul, as the DSO brought vivid colors and textures to each of the pieces. The brass section was spectacular throughout. The alto saxophone floating through "The Old Castle" made me wonder why we don't hear more of this instrument in orchestral composition.

Rich strings and muted trumpet had a poignant conversation as rich man, poor man, "Goldenberg and Schmuyle." The hustle and bustle of "The Market" plunged into total darkness entering "The Catacombs."

And the harp opened the door to Baba Yaga's hut, a scene from some medieval science fiction nightmare. Not a place I'd recommend visiting, except musically.

The final promenade approached "The Great Gate of Kiev" with regal bearing, entering the percussive blast furnace with smoldering bravura.

In his second year, Rudiakov seems to be willing to take chances, bringing the Danbury Symphony Orchestra along with him on some exciting adventures.


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Orchestras chase away winter blues

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY -- Over 100 musicians filled the stage at WestConn last Sunday afternoon, as the Danbury Community Orchestra teamed up with the Danbury Preparatory String Orchestra. There was quite a nice turnout for the Danbury Music Centre's event, and Ives Hall was buzzing with excitement even before the show began.

Surrounded by the two orchestras playing together, DCO Music Director and Conductor Michael Smith seemed to have eyes in back of his head. Looking fit as a fiddle, Glen Lebetkin, music director and conductor for the DPSO, was pleased to still fit into his old tux.

In her introduction, Danbury Music Centre board of directors member Donna Locke explained that this was a landmark event, as it was the first time the DCO was performing a winter concert in addition to their other two annual concerts. It was quite an ambitious undertaking for Smith, Lebetkin, and the many musicians involved. The program had over ten upbeat pieces that had toes tapping, children bouncing in laps, and smiles for all.

Smith and the DCO were off to a rousing start with the peppy overture from "Il Matrimonio Segreto (The Secret Marriage)" by Domenico Cimarosa (1749 -- 1801). They followed with "Maple Leaf Rag" by Scott Joplin (1868 -- 1917), without the usual piano, but more than making up for it with brass and winds, especially the trombones. The combined orchestras played the lively "Radetzy March, Op. 228" by Johann Strauss, Sr. (1804 -- 1849), with Smith happily in the center of a sea of sound.

Lebetkin took over control of the podium, acknowledging how music brings all ages together in the DPSO. Their selections covered territory from Bach to The Beatles, as well as a few surprises.

In a number called "Fill in the Blanks" by Carrie Lane Gruselle, they had a hoe-down for strings and noise makers, with Lebetkin on penny whistle and steam engine. Lebetkin provided some challenge for his rather youthful orchestra with an overture for strings, "Carpe Diem" by Richard Meyer.

They ended with a medley of traditional Irish tunes, "Danny Rocks," arranged by Bob Phillips.

Lebetkin was gratified by how the Danbury Music Centre provides a place for everyone to perform musically, noting how many of the players in the DPSO have continued their progress with the DCO.

Smith and the combined orchestras gave a short but sweet rendering of Borodin's exotic "Polovetsian Dance" with lots of lush strings. Beyond directing all the musicians onstage, Smith encouraged everyone to go hear live music. There's no substitute.

The DCO was at their best in "Fugue in G Minor (The Little)" by J.S. Bach (1685 -- 1750), a splendid arrangement of a piece more often heard on keyboard. They closed the show with several "Hungarian Dances" by Johannes Brahms (1833 -- 1897) that included everything but live gypsies. Well, maybe next time.


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Music Centre’s ‘Messiah’ like a Christmas party in heaven

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY - You could have easily fooled me Dec. 14 at St. Peter Church on Main Street, right across from the police station. For a couple of hours, I felt like I was attending a Christmas party up in heaven.

Well, maybe some day...

“Messiah,” by Georg Fredrick Handel (1685-1759), is a timeless oratorio, and the holidays wouldn’t be complete for me without hearing it. Fortunately, for the last 50 years, Danbury Music Centre has been presenting it for all to enjoy.

This year, Music Director and Conductor Richard Price led the Danbury Concert Chorus and Baroque Chamber Orchestra - along with four fine soloists - in a majestic treatment of the masterwork. Benefiting from about 120 vocalists accompanied by the 20-piece orchestra, Handel’s music was given the royal care it deserves.

Union Savings Bank President John Kline pointed out one constant in the last 50 years - the presence of bass player Robin Anderson. Many of the musicians and vocalists have been performing this traditional piece together for years, and Union Savings Bank has provided major funding for the event since 1990.

Playing period instruments, the orchestra brought baroque authenticity to the performance. On harpsichord, Maxim Vladimiroff and organist Steven Roberts were standouts. The trumpets certainly enriched the sound of the ensemble, with strings, oboe, and tympani combining to add another dimension to the chorale.

Each of the renowned soloists had their own distinctive voice. Mezzo Eunice Hill had a delightful natural vibrato with clarity in her airs and recitatives. The lyrical hymn “He shall feed his flock” was particularly moving, with Hill being followed by soprano Leah Inger in “Come unto Him.” Inger and tenor Phillip Anderson both had pleasing tonal qualities that added splashes of color up in the higher registers.

In “Comfort Ye,” Anderson had the distinction of being the first of the multitude of voices to be heard in the oratorio. Bass Michael Riley might have been heard all the way up in heaven with his deep voice. Or perhaps it the other way around, with Riley delivering messages from God down to us, as in “Thus saith the Lord of Hosts.”

As moving and evocative as the soloists may have been, I found myself enjoying the four-part choral passages the most. Perhaps it’s the beautiful harmonies, or the strength of all those voices together, or maybe its nostalgia for my own days singing in a choir.

The chorus undoubtedly benefits from all the years they’ve been doing “Messiah,” and Price was able to get outstanding results from their collective talent and experience.

The chorus opened with a resounding version of ‘And the glory of the Lord,” filling the cavernous church with its powerful sound. Although they were greatly outnumbered by sopranos and altos, the tenor and bass sections held their own, especially in songs that separated the four parts such as “For unto us a Child is born” or a personal favorite “All we like sheep.”

Trumpets, tympani and all involved were like a volcanic eruption flowing down from on high into the pews at St. Peter’s in the “Hallelujah Chorus” and “Worthy is the Lamb” leading into the final ‘Amen Chorus.”

My only regret was that I had to restrain myself from singing along with them. Well, maybe some day...


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'Nutcracker Ballet' works like magic in Danbury

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY-The splendiferous "Nutcracker Ballet" at Danbury High School had a bit of a snowstorm competing with it Dec. 7, making just getting there quite an experience. But stepping outside after the show into the winter wonderland, everything seemed just right, like magic. Actually, the credit goes to the Danbury Music Centre for their 41st annual presentation of this timeless holiday classic.

Music Director Ariel Rudiakov was stuck in traffic and fortunately Richard Price was on hand to fill in conducting the Danbury Symphony Orchestra for the overture to Tchaikovsky's score. After Rudiakov took control of the podium, Price happily took his seat so he could enjoy watching his daughter Hannah who was one of the frisky Mini Mice.

Controlling traffic onstage was largely in the hands of Artistic Director Arthur Fredric and Co-director/Choreographer Lisa Denton. With a cast of over 200 dancers, they had their hands full. But with help from dozens of 'Nutcracker' veterans in the production staff, the show went as smooth as a sleigh ride. Even the way in which all the different sets transformed was spectacular, thanks to Associate Choreographer/Props Coordinator Dody Flynn.

Dancers of all ages were in their glory, but the little ones really stole the show. All the mice, the Ginger Clowns, and the Marzipan Lamb proved how cuteness can be contagious. Working his magic with the children, Jerry Walton instantly became the center of attention as Uncle Drosselmeyer, the character Tchaikovsky is said to have identified with most.

The overall effect of the music, the dancers, the costumes, the scenery, even the mayor, all combined to make a festive event. As Mother Ginger, Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton was "abustle," breaking in his new bustier. Boughton requested that the audience refrain from taking his picture. What can I say? Even Shannon DePaul as Clara and Ryan Bulson as Drosselmeyer's nephew didn't seem to know what to make of his skirt full of mischief.

Snow Queen Megan Schwartz and her Snow Court had to contend with a heavy smoke screen that challenged seeing what was happening for a few minutes, but they all persevered, regardless of visibility. Chorus Director Barbara Maisonpierre led the sweet sounds of the Snowflake Singers offstage as the Snowflake dancers managed to stay on their toes during the snowstorm onstage.

With the celesta tinkling in the orchestra, Sugar Plum Fairy Danielle Rose Dorsey looked shimmering in her outfit, and her elegant Cavalier, Raymond Pinto was like a lord a-leaping. They had good chemistry together in their ballet routines.

Of all the special dancers, my favorites were Arabian Queen Katie Stelmack and her attendants. Magically appearing from beneath a veil, Stelmack displayed amazing flexibility and balance, as the DSO woodwinds created an exotic atmosphere.

The "Fastest Legs in the Show" award goes to Zach Robinson and all the multi-colored Russian dancers. Heavenly harps helped Dew Drop Fairy Rachel Schwartz and her entourage of Flowers in their waltz.

Entertaining, exuberant, and exhilarating, the Danbury Music Centre's production of the "Nutcracker Ballet" seems to improve with age. The performance was repeated on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.


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Brass section sparkles at Danbury concert

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY -- The brass section of the Danbury Community Orchestra had to be quick on their feet last Sunday afternoon at Ives Hall. Music Director and Conductor Stephen Michael Smith had them all over the auditorium in a high spirited performance presented by the Danbury Music Centre.

DMC board member Beth Ann Fetzer gave everyone a warm welcome, sharing wishes for happy holidays in her opening remarks. She also thanked The Hand Center of Western Connecticut for their support.

For the opening piece, "Canzon septimi toni No. 1" by Giovanni Gabrieli (1557 - 1612), Smith had the brass section separated into two groups standing on the floor in front of the stage. They had an antiphonal conversation with each other, achieving a good stereo effect with clear harmonies in their fanfare. Contrasts in sound continued in abundance, with the string section playing the lively allegro movement from "Symphony No. 1 in B flat Major" by William Boyce (1711 - 1779).

The entire orchestra gave an energetic performance of "Egmont Overture, Op. 84" by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827). Smith and the DCO have done well by Beethoven, and they brought passion aplenty to this musical struggle for freedom, based on Goethe's play. By the time the tympani joined in, they were all well on their way into the forceful overture with orchestral fireworks and a dramatic finale.

The woodwinds, especially the flutes, blended well in "Legends, Op. 59, No. 3" a pleasant peasant dance by Antonin Dvorak.

Tubas and trombones were deep and ominous right off the bat in "Night on Bare Mountain" by Modest Mussorgsky (1839 - 1881), as orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov. Swirling violins sounded crisp and brisk, and Smith's direction was able to get the orchestra to stop on a dime, using sudden silence very effectively. A strong percussion section created audio special effects, with the distant tolling of the chapel bells dispersing the evil spirits at daybreak in the finale.

Smith thanked all the brave souls for coming out in the snow, and Savings Bank of Danbury for funding the Concert Mentor Chair held by Nicola White. He acknowledged clarinetist Tony Scholl's last concert with the DCO. Scholl has been with them since 1978 and will be missed.

For the last work, "Pine Trees of the Appian Way" from "Pines of Rome" by Ottorino Respighi (1879 - 1936), Smith had four trumpets up on one side of the balcony, and two trombones on the other side, creating wrap around sound from where I was sitting in the center of Ives Hall. The tone poem used strong shifts in dynamics, softly starting out plodding up the steps, building into a sustained crescendo, and a big finish.

Smith came back for a special holiday encore with a joyous rendition of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

A treasured asset for the community, the DCO consists of about half teenagers and half adult musicians. The orchestra serves everyone in several ways. Local musicians are given the opportunity to perform in an 80 member orchestra.

And the music in the programs is suitable for listeners of all ages, and can provide a wonderful introduction to classical music.


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Emotional Veterans' Letters Home Concert in Danbury

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY -- A strong tribute to servicemen and women and their loved ones was given on Veteran's Day, presented by the Danbury Music Centre at St. James Church. Music Director and Conductor Richard Price led the Danbury Concert Chorus in emotional selections that wove the themes of family, country, and God into the fabric of the stirring readings of several letters home written during wartime.

Not all eyes stayed dry in the very moving event.

Price saluted all veterans present before leading everyone in a version of "The Star Spangled Banner" that benefited from the full sound of about 100 fine voices that make up the Danbury Concert Chorus. A veteran himself, Maxim Vladimiroff accompanied the chorus on piano and organ.

A dramatic reading prefaced each section of the program. Harlan Jessup read the first letter home, written during the Civil War, full of rich prose giving a sincere statement of the status of the battlefield. With prayerful reverence and beautiful harmonies, the chorus sang the hymn "When David Heard," by Thomas Weelkes (1575 -1623).

The "Kyrie" from "Messe Solennelle, Op. 16" by Louis Vierne (1870 - 1937), began with climbing chromatic scales on the organ, with ascending choral sections, and created the sense of reaching up to God for help. Vladimiroff gave a forceful rendering of the solemn hymn written by Vierne, a blind organist who lost his oldest son and his brother in World War I.

Jean Hassen read a heart-breaking Vietnam War letter that said how "No one would believe how bad it is unless they're here." Soprano Patricia Scharr sang "Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier," the sad song of a wife left behind.

Scharr was joined by soloists David Jurman, Alice Unschuld, Jim Moriarty, and Anne Ktorides and oboist Tamar Beach Wells in "Song for the Mira" by Allister MacGillivray (b. 1948), a lyrical lament of a soldier longing for home. The emotional impact on the audience could be felt in "O Danny Boy," again featuring Wells on an impassionate oboe.

Lt. Roger McCollester read entries from his own journal with frightening vivid details about World War II air missions he'd hidden from his family in his letters home. As a survivor, he said "I was one of the lucky ones." The chorus created a violent scenario in Walt Whitman's tough sounding battle song "Beat! Beat! Drums!" composed by Howard Hanson (1896 - 1981).

Opening the section of the program called "Heaven," Toni Pepe read a combat nurse's sad letter about some who didn't survive. The hymn "And I Saw a New Heaven," by Edgar Bainton (1880 - 1956), created the sense of souls transcending the battlefield, going to their eternal reward. With Price's expressive direction, the chorus showed the comforting nature of music in "Sing Me to Heaven" by Daniel Gawthrop (b. 1949).

Cheryl Edelen read a request for support from an Iraq War soldier's Web site before the final section, "Peace." They ended with Vierne's "Agnus Dei," a supplication for mercy and peace. Amen.


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Danbury Symphony soars away to Spain

By Jan Stribula

DANBURY -- After a year together, the combination of Music Director and Conductor Ariel Rudiakov and the Danbury Symphony Orchestra is starting to have the sweet sounds of a success story. In parts of their far reaching program of Spanish music last Saturday night, they've never sounded better.

If only the Danbury Music Centre didn't have to compete with the World Series, there undoubtedly would have been more in attendance at Ives Hall at WestConn. But those who chose the DSO had no regrets.

Major funding for the event was provided by Peg Heetmann who sponsored the concert because she knew how much the DSO meant to her husband Paul, a violinist for many years with the orchestra.

The delightful program "Viva Espana" consisted of popular works by three Spanish masters whose compositions were much easier to listen to than to perform. They began with "Bolero" by Maurice Ravel (1875 - 1937). This was more than a musical Mobius strip, endlessly looping around. Ravel carefully orchestrated the repeating theme, adding twists and turns along the way, giving personal introductions to each instrument, slowly but steadily going from pianissimo to fortissimo.

Harp, grand piano, and saxophones added to the full assemblage of the DSO, all following the steady snare drum developing a long, long crescendo. I suspect that "Bolero" inspired Mike Oldfield's "Tubular Bells" recorded in 1973. But hearing a live orchestra beats listening to a CD or vinyl every time.

Continuing with Ravel, "Rapsodie Espagnole" was bursting with fresh new sounds bubbling up all over the stage. The woodwinds sounded wonderful, especially the bassoons, oscillating with airiness. Piccolos and horns bounced around in a complex rhythmic blend with phenomenal percussive orchestration. The stage was seemingly swaying back and forth, with eruptions of sound, exotic harmonics, and a tight finish. The overall effect easily eclipsed any minor glitches.

After the intermission, guitarist Oren Fader joined the orchestra in a real treat for all with "Concierto de Aranjuez" by Joaquin Rodrigo (1901 - 1999). Fader's Flamenco roots go back to the legendary Alirio Diaz, who would approve of his graceful fingering and lyrical style. With its universal appeal, maybe even Miles Davis would be smiling for the adagio. The guitar and English horn intro was breath taking. Fader subtly wove the enchanting theme with the orchestra before his dexterous solo work. I liked the way he used a small amp to balance the acoustic guitar with the 60 members of the DSO.

The final selection was three dances from "The Three-Cornered Hat" by Manuel de Falla (1876 - 1946), a ballet based on a love triangle. "The Neighbors' Dance" featured a nice mix of winds and strings, and "The Miller's Dance" was vigorous with a haunting oboe, but "The Final Dance" was the DSO at their best. The 1st and 2nd violins were carrying on a lively conversation with the rest of the much improved string section. Everyone was going at full tilt with carefully controlled exuberance.

I'm ready to hop on a plane to Spain.


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Pleasing piano program in Danbury

By Gilbert Mott

The Danbury Music Centre presented the Russian-born pianist Sergei Vladimiroff in an all Chopin program on Saturday night. He played Chopin's two great sets of etudes in an individual style that came out of the long tradition of Russian piano virtuosity.

The term "etude" means "study" but the composer went far beyond the idea of student practice pieces, just as he revolutionized the technique of piano playing itself. He published his first set of 12 etudes, Opus 10, at age 23, having written several of them when he was as young as 19.

Chopin warned a pupil of his that the music of one of his etudes "can be treacherous and dangerous for the uninitiated."

Each one tackles one or more particular technical problems and students have been polishing their technique on them ever since, but Chopin magically transforms mere finger strengthening into irresistible music.

The opus 10 etudes and the 12 later ones, Opus 25, open a world of colors and emotions to the listener. Chopin was the first composer to write music designed to exploit all the tonal resources for the modern piano and his etudes explore the extremes of the keyboard, with wide-ranging arpeggios, long stretches for the hands, trills and so on. Through his own special alchemy, physical prowess is turned into musical gold.

Vladimiroff's interpretation stressed supple phrasing and rhythmic freedom over precise details and flashy surfaces. The deliberate tempo and incisive articulation in the first etude of Opus 10 set the tone. The pianist ranged freely over the keyboard as if warming up, introducing us to Chopin's romantic sensibility.

The probing, thoughtful approach to the highly chromatic No. 2 submerged the technical toughness into the overall musical effect. The beautiful third etude was more assertive and less dreamy than one sometimes hears, but the pianist's striking use of rubato (expressively flexible treatment of the time values printed in the score) gave it a free, improvisatory air.

The virtues just noted were features of the entire evening's performance, with many other enjoyable details along the way. Phrases were pushed and pulled and long melodic lines sang out. The turbulent No. 9 had a special, soulful character, with its poignant echoes and wild cries.

The famous "Revolutionary" etude, the last of Opus 10, was supposedly inspired by the Russian invasion of Chopin's native Poland. Vladimiroff started off freely and then boldly set out the martial theme against the sweeping accompaniment. After all the excitement he let the music die away, the last chords ending in a murmur.

The pianist's extroverted style gave an individual stamp to many of the etudes in both sets. One occasionally wished for more reflection and coolness; No. 1 of Opus 25, nicknamed "Aeolian Harp," missed some of the character that is meant to evoke that delicate instrument.

The second of the set, called "The Bees," whirred and buzzed convincingly. The jarring, stormy harmonies of No. 10 were effectively contrasted with its calm middle section. The dirge-like theme of Opus 11 sounded out among cascades of accompaniment, and the pianist showed how to keep the thread of a melody in the ear even as the music stops and starts again.

The final etude of the set is thought to express the might of an ocean, and the swells in his playing were expressively strong. As with the Opus 10, the ending was understated, without bravura, as if the composer's points had all been made.

The pianist seemed to delight in the music and in pleasing his receptive audience, and his stylish encores ranged from the "Nutcracker" to the jazz great Bill Evans' "Waltz for Debbie." The Marian Anderson Recital Hall is an intimate space that was well filled with listeners and with music for their enjoyment.


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