• Music Review: Famous composers, unfamiliar music
    By Jim Lowe
     | March 12,2014
    Anthony Edwards / Staff Photo

    From left, principal violist Russell Wilson, cellist Bonnie Klimowski and principal cellist John Dunlop play during Sunday’s Vermont Symphony Orchestra concert at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre.

    Chances are that every member of Sunday afternoon’s audience at Rutland’s Paramount Theatre knew the names of two composers on the Vermont Symphony Orchestra program well — but likely none had heard before the music that represented them.

    That fact doesn’t reflect any on the Rutland audience, as it was certainly true of the Burlington audience, where the VSO performed the same program at the Flynn Center on Saturday, and the Bellows Falls Opera House audience that heard the program Monday.

    After all, what music lover hasn’t heard of Franz Schubert (1797-1828)? And many are certainly familiar with his famous “Death and the Maiden” String Quartet (No. 14 in d minor, D. 810). But how many have heard it before performed by a full symphony orchestra? Certainly not this reviewer.

    About a decade ago, Andy Stein, formerly bandleader and arranger for “A Prairie Home Companion,” transcribed the famous quartet for orchestra. (Stein, a fine violinist, has performed as soloist with Brattleboro’s Windham Orchestra several times.) VSO Music Director Jaime Laredo, who generally eschews transcriptions, heard it and liked it so much he programmed it.

    And it works — but it’s not the quartet.

    Instead, as he didn’t tamper much with the original notes, Stein’s version of “Death and the Maiden” sounds like another Schubert symphony, full of the composer’s glorious lyricism, drama and rich sounds. Conversely, it lacked the intimately intense drama that only chamber music can achieve.

    And Laredo and the VSO delivered this difficult score with skill and flair, as well as a rich and beautiful sound. Most of the principal players had important solo roles, but the concertmaster, violinist Katherine Winterstein, and principal cellist John Dunlop delivered particularly beautiful and effective solo performances.

    Continuing, there are few who haven’t heard of British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), but his Concerto for Bass Tuba and Orchestra was unknown to most (including this critic). Takatsugu (“Taka”) Hagiwara, the VSO’s principal, delivered the work’s virtuosity, showing off the instrument in unexpected ways. More than that, he played this neo-Romantic work with a warm lyricism and natural musicality that made for a most rewarding musical experience.

    The concert opened with the “tried and true.” Rossini’s Overture to “Il Turco in Italia (A Turk in Italy)” proved as brilliant, colorful and witty as it is demanding for the orchestra. And the VSO delivered, particularly principal hornist Shelagh Abate, who played her big solos with a warm and beautiful lyricism.

    The VSO, without challenging the audience too much, stretched its musical experience — always welcome.

    Vermont Symphony Orchestra

    The Vermont Symphony Orchestra will close the 2013-14 season at 8 p.m. May 3 at Burlington’s Flynn Center for the Performing Arts. Music Director Jaime Laredo will conduct Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with soprano Hyunah Yu, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G Major with Anna Polonsky, and Debussy’s Prelude to “The Afternoon of a Faun.” For tickets or information, call 864-5741, ext. 10, or go online to www.vso.org.

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