The political ills that have beset the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra in recent months and increasingly have become public knowledge were manifested in the first half of Saturday evening's concert at War Memorial Auditorium more clearly than in the other two classical concerts of the season. Maestro McRae clearly faces an uphill battle.
The program opened with one of the great masterpieces of the 20th century: Debussy's ``Prelude a l'apres-midi d'un faune.' This is a style that requires a secure ensemble throughout the entire orchestra in order to weave the subtle and magical sound nuances inherent within the thin textures of the score.This performance gave us, instead, a flabby sense of tonal relationships and less than transparent sonorities. Rhythms that should have been incisive came out as limp.
McRae announced before the program continued that, because of the brevity of the concert as it was originally planned, he had decided to add another French work to follow the Debussy. The ``Pelleas and Melisande' orchestral suite had been chosen.
This four-movement suite is best known for its third, Sicilienne movement, which is often heard as a flute solo. Unfortunately, the same lack of rhythmic incisiveness and absence of luminous sonorities throughout the suite prolonged the sense of non-event with which the program had opened.
By the time Richard Strauss' early tone poem ``Don Juan' arrived, the audience was so pleased to hear some vigor from the orchestra that many were persuaded that this was fine orchestral playing.
On the obvious level, the ensemble held together and the style was appropriately arrogant and boisterous, but the upper strings don't really play as a cohesive unit, and the brass don't play as the unified force that could capture the real thrill of these supremely chauvinistic passages.
After all this complaining, however, one must say with great enthusiasm that the Sibelius Violin Concerto, which closed the concert, was a marvelous treat. Dmitry Sitkevetsky was soloist for this tremendously effective work, which ranks as one of the best concertos in the entire literature.
Sitkevetsky is an effective virtuoso who also plays with great stylistic authority and understanding. He approached this colorful, three-movement work with a perfect balance of excitement and appropriately Scandinavian poetry that made for an altogether satisfying performance.
Paul Anthony McRae controled the orchestra in a well-rehearsed accompanyment that supported their distinguished soloist in good style.
Sitkevetsky generously played an encore for the extremely enthusiastic audience that was absolutely scintillating. I couldn't identify the work, but it is a work I'd like to hear again and again. This guy is quite a magnificent player, and it would be a pleasure to hear him in Greensboro again.