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Elon collaboration is fun, fanciful

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On Tuesday night, Elon University’s student orchestra joined forces with two seasoned professionals to produce a program full of color and masterful playing.

Directed by conductor and trumpeter extraordinaire Thomas Erdmann, the orchestra and soloists treated the large and attentive audience to works spanning nearly 250 years of the classical music tradition.

After the customary National Anthem, the concert began in earnest with Alan Hovhaness’ “Overture for Strings and Trombone” from 1967. Joining the orchestra was Elon’s own Matthew Buckmaster, trombonist and director of the jazz ensemble.

Reflecting Hovhaness’ interest in Eastern music, the overture unfolds like an Indian improvisation, with the strings providing an alluring ambient accompaniment to the soloist’s meditative recitative. The students’ dynamic balance was impeccable, and Buckmaster’s playing was warm and deeply expressive.

The next two pieces also featured one of Elon’s faculty members, pianist Victoria Fischer Faw, listed as Dr. Victoria Fischer on the program.

First was the dainty Piano Concerto No. 4 by Johann Christian Bach, one of the many successful children of the great Johann Sebastian.

Fischer’s playing was sensitive, sprightly and tasteful throughout. The delicate scoring in the orchestral parts, however, left the students exposed and audibly nervous, resulting in a few rough moments in the slow middle movement.

Erdmann and the students held it together, however, and gave Fischer a grand platform for the concerto’s final theme-and-variations movement.

Next came the earliest surviving work by Gustav Mahler, the single-movement Piano Quartet in A Minor of 1876. This gloomy piece seemed even heavier and darker in its orchestral arrangement, and the students were impressively capable of handling the chromatic, prickly harmonies in the string parts.

Fischer was again a sensitive soloist, sometimes receding gently into the orchestral background, sometimes breaking through the texture with anguished outbursts.

The highlight of the evening was Václav Nelhýbel’s “A Mighty Fortress,” a rousing fantasy on the perennial Lutheran chorale “Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott.” Whereas the svelte lines of the Bach concerto left the students vulnerable, the lush scoring of Nelhýbel’s fantasy allowed the players to dig in courageously. They played with passion and conviction, and the audience returned that passion with enthusiastic applause.

Closing the concert was an arrangement of an audience favorite, the Hungarian Dance No. 5 of Johannes Brahms. The orchestration by Albert Parlow was heavy-handed to the point of comedy, and made for a giddy finale.

Conductor and orchestra alike took advantage of the excesses and indulged in a well-earned release of energy.

Contact Nicholas Rich at nicholaserich@gmail.com.

This News & Record arts coverage is supported by contributions to ArtsGreensboro’s Arts & Theatre Media Fund.

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