CONCERT REVIEW: RPO "Applachian Spring"

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Thursday night, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra put on a concert of works by Astor Piazzolla, Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, and Manuel de Falla. They added also an opening work titled "Fanfare to Flora," to celebrate the life and music of Eastman School of Music Dean Douglas Lowry, who died earlier this month.

The headline work may have been Copland's Suite from Appalachian Spring, but the star performance came from Juliana Athayde, violin, for Piazzolla's "Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas" ("The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires"), arranged by Leonid Desyatnikov.

How often do we see a composer's name followed by "arr." for "arranged by?" Often enough that I have a running question in my head asking, "Just how much 'arranged by?'" According to the program notes, while each one of the four pieces was written by Piazzolla, an Argentinean, it was Russian composer Desyatnikov who posthumously unified them into "The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires" and wrote the playful variations on Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" into each season. Athayde and the RPO not only perfectly timed and phrased these little joking references to Vivaldi, but also revealed with sparkle in their eyes, looking straight at the audience, what I have often heard to be the musicians' own witty personalities.

Athayde, first violin of the RPO, grew up in a family steeped in classical and jazz, and her RPO profile says her iPod ranges from Bach to Bartók to Ellington and Coltrane. There simply is no appropriately classical way to describe Athayde's performance last night. It has to be said: Athayde brought her game. Athayde was in her element, intimately surrounded by 23 stringed instruments of the RPO, and Rachleff brought the same sensitivity he previously gave to guest violinist Augustin Hadelich at the RPO in 2010.

The Barber piece was the Overture to School for Scandal, Op. 5, which was nicely done. The RPO string section is particularly adept at works of this composer and style.

However, I wasn't sold on the Copland. It is a well-known and often-played piece, which creates a challenge in and of itself. One particular point was the rounds of the Shaker "Simple Gifts." I was looking for an execution that would peal the bells of country churches across a New England landscape, but it came across as a bit monochromatic. The performance didn't quite catch the mood of which this work is capable.

[Editor's Note: Due to unforeseen circumstances the critic had to leave the concert prior to the performance of the Falla piece.]

The RPO will repeat the program Saturday, October 26, at 8 p.m. at Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre, 60 Gibbs St. Tickets cost $15-$82. For more information call 454-2100 or visit www.RPO.org.

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