John Frayne: Sinfonia finishes strong; debut artists shine
For the last Sinfonia da Camera Concert of the season last Saturday, Ian Hobson chose three famous works of Ludwig Van Beethoven, and each one was the third in the series of that specific genre.
Beethoven's "Third Leonore Overture" was in a series of four versions of overtures for his opera "Fidelio."
Also, Hobson played the solo part while conducting Beethoven's "Third Piano Concerto" (1800), which is in a series of five keyboard concertos.
And lastly, the epic making "Eroica Symphony" (1802-03) was the third in the famous series of nine symphonies.
To open the program, Hobson led the Sinfonia in a stirring performance of the "Leonor No. 3 Overture," a work that, in my opinion, concentrates in around 13 minutes the most powerful mini-drama in all symphonic music. Flutist Jonathan Keeble was outstanding in his key solos, and Aaron Romm gave a heartening account, both backstage and on, of the trumpet call that signalized the rescue of Florestan, Beethoven's operatic hero.
Posed between "Leonore No. 3" and the "Eroica," the "Third Piano Concerto" comes across as Beethoven in a more relaxed, genial mood. But the piano part in this music has heroic stretches, and Hobson, at the keyboard, gave a most exciting account of it, especially in the first movement cadenza. Both piano and orchestra sounded lovely in the slow movement, and, in the finale, there was delightful and witty interplay between soloist and orchestra. The applause at the work's end was very strong for Hobson and the Sinfonia.
The "Eroica Symphony" is one of the greatest works in the orchestral repertory, and its manifold beauties were strongly evident in the playing of the Sinfonia, vigorously led by Hobson. The shifting moods, from wild exultation in the opening battle movement to the monumental display of grief in the following funeral march, were fully conveyed by the Sinfonia.
The horns were excellent in the treacherous scherzo, and in the variations of the finale, flutist Jonathan Keeble richly earned his solo bow at the work's end. Oboist John Dee's playing was outstanding, especially in the funeral march, and he too was called by Hobson for a solo bow. Bassoonist Henry Skolnick was also so honored. At the end of this magnificent work, many on the lower level stood in appreciation.
Up in the balcony where I sat, there were few in attendance. One wishes that these Sinfonia concerts were better attended. The Sinfonia da Camera is a most valuable asset to the musical life of our community.
The next day, I attended the Krannert Center Debut Artists Concert. There were multiple winners this year: soprano Alexandra Nowakowski, who is an undergraduate student of Professor Cynthia Haymon-Coleman, and pianist Samuel Gingher, a doctor of musical arts student of Professor Timothy Ehlen.
Nowakowski deployed her sweet plangent voice to lovely effect in the "Seven Gypsy Songs" by Antonin Dvorak. Especially beautiful was her singing of the famous No. 4, "Songs my mother taught me." Here, and elsewhere, Jianan Yu provided skillful and sensitive accompaniment at the piano. Two delightful songs by Mozart were followed by a Richard Strauss group in which Nowakowski showed her ample vocal powers to intense dramatic effect.
The concluding famous song, "Morgen" ("Tomorrow") was sung by Nowakowski with touching emotional restraint, and Yu's piano playing brought out the tender yearning of the song's postlude. Nowakowski's singing drew strong applause from the audience on stage.
Pianist Samuel Gingher chose unusual repertory, and also showed a penchant for working on a grand scale. Anyone who has ever touched piano keys must be grateful (if that is the right word) for Carl Czerny's voluminous piano exercises. Pianist Gingher gave his all to a committed performance of Czerny's "Piano Sonata No. 1."
I am thankful for the opportunity to hear this work, which showed Czerny's strengths and weaknesses as a creative artist. Czerny was a student of Beethoven and a teacher of Liszt, and so deserves his day in court, whatever the verdict.
Gingher also played the "Dante Sonata," by Franz Liszt, a work that is an epitome of romantic super-indulgence in extreme ranges of emotion. Gingher's piano playing thundered and roared through Liszt's invocation of Dante's "Inferno," and Gingher's lyrical playing was quite affecting in the "Francesca da Rimini" section. His release of a torrential flood of notes at the end of the Liszt piece earned him a standing ovation.
In a touching gesture of collegiality, Gingher then accompanied Nowakowski in Richard Strauss' song "Zueignung," ("Dedication") with its resounding last line — "Habe Dank!" ("Thank you!") And I am sure that the audience joined me in wishing these young artists success in their chosen careers.
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at email@example.com.