Student, Faculty Bruch Concert Proves Emphatic

Colin Roshak, Staff Writer

It’s not very often that Conservatory faculty members take the stage alongside their students, but when they do, it’s sure to be a memorable concert. This past Saturday, Associate Professor of Viola Michael Strauss and Associate Professor of Clarinet Richard Hawkins joined the Oberlin Chamber Orchestra for a performance of Max Bruch’s Double Concerto for Clarinet, Viola and Orchestra. Alongside Bruch’s piece was Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major. The two masterpieces proved to be a thrilling combination.

Bruch composed the Double Concerto in 1911, and it is one of his only compositions that holds a place in the classical canon. Often, the first movement of a concerto consists of a lengthy introduction by the orchestra before soloists join, but Bruch’s piece instead begins with the soloists. Professor Strauss began with strong chord and a brilliant ascending line. At the peak of the line, various winds joined into the texture to support Strauss as he hinted at the main melody. He played the very beginning of this melody before being interrupted by the clarinet. Professor Hawkins reiterated the ascending motif and then gestured toward the main theme in a similar fashion. After a powerful chord from the orchestra, the two solo lines joined together, further developing the melody.

The orchestra played an accompanying role throughout the first movement. Maestro Raphael Jimenéz restrained the group just enough for the soloists to soar overtop with their melancholic, romantic duet. Strauss’ and Hawkins’ playing flowed seamlessly with impeccable intonation and long legato phrasing. The movement ended with an arpeggiated melody in the clarinet that reached a glimmering climax, resting beautifully atop the viola’s lower harmonies and a gentle orchestral foundation.

The second movement began almost tentatively, with dissonant and modulating harmonies led by bassoon and oboe solos. As soon as Hawkins joined, however, the more dance-like, active character of the movement became clear. Hawkins and Strauss alternated melodic passages that combined both virtuosic and lyrical elements. After concluding its first phrase, the orchestra reiterated the themes and transitioned into a more somber section piece. The soloists continued their dialogue, this time supported by energetic pizzicatos in the strings. The second theme was much more introspective, contrasting the palatable first theme. The music slowed before the first theme returned, this time imbued with moments from the second theme. The music entered a minor key for a moment before ending with delicate tranquility on a satisfying major chord.

The final movement began triumphantly. Blaring trumpets and a rousing fanfare crescendoed until the strings erupted into a flurry of virtuosic sextuplet passages. The orchestra pulled back and Hawkins took over the main theme before passing it back to the orchestra and then to Strauss. Both soloists, as well as the orchestra, handled the swift tempo and treacherous technical passages with great facility and effortless precision. In contrast to the elegance of the first two movements, the final movement exuded aggressive energy. The music built to a powerful forte as the two soloists exchanged melodies characterized by bouncing intervals and rising scales. The orchestra pulled away dramatically in volume as the third movement theme was stated once more by the soloist and principal flautist. To end the piece, the orchestra regained its momentum and closed with an exultant grouping of final chords.

Franz Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C Major filled the second half of the concert. Nicknamed “The Great” to distinguish the piece from his sixth symphony, which is also in the key of C Major, Symphony No. 9 was Schubert’s final completed symphony. The piece follows traditional symphonic form and consists of four movements. The first movement began with a noble French horn soli that was later joined by the entire wind section and accompanied by light pizzicatos in the strings. A conversation between the winds, who provided sweet and flowing melodies, and the strings, who interrupted the melodies with strong forte chords, dominated the slow beginning of the movement. The music hastened after this movement, taking on a militaristic character. The strings navigated treacherous runs, the horns played martial chorales and the winds juxtaposed these elements with light articulation and softer dynamics. The movement ended with a final statement that recalled the original horn soli from the piece’s beginning and powerful tutti chords.

The second movement began with ambient strings, providing the foundation for an oboe solo. The principal oboist, Conservatory junior Brooks Fisher, played the solos charmingly; his sound was perfectly suited for the dance-like music. After a short orchestral interlude, the theme returned, this time joined by the bassoon and clarinet. The clarinetist failed to achieve the same light character or sound that Fisher previously had. The timbre of the clarinet did not match the leading oboe voice, and the intonation was very inaccurate on certain notes. The strings took over the melodic line and played with a full legato and romantic phrasing. One particularly lovely moment came when the whole orchestra pulled away and the celli played a very simple but beautiful melody. The oboe eventually rejoined. The music regained momentum and the texture began to thicken as the winds folded into the mix. The movement ended with a long diminuendo and soft chords from the brass and strings.

In contrast to the dolce ending of the second movement, the third movement began with bombastic runs in the strings. Much like the first two movements of the symphony, this movement had a clear dialogue between the winds and strings. The strings would have an aggressive and forceful line immediately followed by a lighter or more melodic response from the winds. The movement alternated between a number of main themes and contrasting characters, including jubilant winds, marcato strings and rousing horns. The music ebbed and flowed. Although the movement was very repetitive — a common quality for a scherzo movement — the orchestra never lacked energy or drive.

The finale wasn’t much more than an exuberant romp to conclude the lengthy symphony. As expected, the movement shifted between a lighter and a more forceful, commanding character. The music had dramatic swells and just as dramatic subito-pianos during which the winds would play short, amiable melodies. Maestro Jimenez, who conducted the entire symphony from memory, led the ensemble with graceful sweeping motions and absolute precision. From the somber opening runs of the Bruch concerto to the triumphant concluding chords of Schubert’s final symphony, the Chamber Orchestra performed cohesively and with unrivaled verve.