Concert review: RPO does a fine job with festive music

04:19 PM, Dec 13, 2013

Concertmaster Juliana Athayde had an inspiring duet during this week's Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra concert. (Provided photo)/


Written By Daniel J. Kushner

On Thursday, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra delivered a subtle yet effective holiday concert featuring the highly appropriate work of J.S. Bach and Ottorino Respighi, under the direction of guest conductor James Feddeck.

Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, Suite No. 1 was decidedly magisterial. The strings’ timbre was open, full, and above all, pleasing. Feddeck’s conducting style was rather idiosyncratic, frequently flailing his arms in such a manner that seemed to obscure the beat during more robust passages. And while it did not seem to affect the performance of the orchestra, it was distracting to the eye.

In the beginning of “Villanella,” the third movement of the suite, the lush combination of oboe solo and harp accompaniment provided a poignant follow-up to the sweet, even reverberant pizzicato in the strings. The level of sensitivity and refinement achieved by the orchestra was more than apparent in the solemn yet beautifully regal slower tempi. The duet between concertmaster Juliana Athayde and acting principal cellist Kathleen Murphy Kemp was particularly sumptuous.

Leading from behind the harpsichord, Feddeck was a source of constancy during Bach’s Suite No. 3 in D Major, as he transitioned rather seamlessly from keyboard accompaniment to conductor in a performance that was equal parts precision and charm.

Respighi’s “The Adoration of the Magi” from Botticelli Triptych opened with a lonely, almost mournful bassoon that was quickly joined by an oboe and then a flute. As each new instrument entered, a sense of hope and light grew amid despair and darkness. The melodic motive of “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” soon came into focus. As it did so, the music slowly panned out to encompass more of the orchestra. This Respighian effect was executed here by the RPO with inspired intensity. The composer’s ability to create lush symphonic textures out of simple sonic architecture was well demonstrated here by Feddeck and company, in what very well may have been the highlight of the concert.

The focal point of the evening was Bach’s Magnificat, in which the orchestra was joined by William Weinert’s Eastman Chorale and five vocal soloists. From the outset, the chorale exhibited ideal balance between the different voice parts.

The soloists were consistent. Soprano Athene Mok’s strong, natural tone sounded somewhat inhibited in the lower register, but shone with clarity in her tessitura. Soprano Kara Mulder’s compelling voice cut through to the back of the hall without sacrificing quality of tone. Baritone Samuel Krall possessed a pleasant chiaroscuro sound, but his intonation faltered in spots. In a duet, alto Kendra Wienecke’s darker shades blended wonderfully with tenor Nathaniel McEwen’s bright timbre.

For the chorus, the most effective moment came during “Freut euch und jubiliert,” in which the florid vocal lines were met with the meaningful counterpoint of the cellos and basses: “Rejoice and celebrate/At Bethlehem will be found the heart’s darling little Jesus/Who shall be your joy and delight.”

This finely performed program of festive music by masterful orchestrators will be repeated on Saturday.