The Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra opened its 27th concert season Sunday afternoon with a rousing presentation of selections from the repertoires of five 19th-century composers from The Early Romantic Tradition.
PBSO conductor Charles Jones Evans told the audience gathered in the auditorium of the Pine Bluff Convention Center that these artists used the pioneering compositions of Ludwig van Beethoven as a jumping-off point for their own interpretation of the style created by the great German.
“Every Romantic period composer was inspired by the likes of Beethoven, who injected more intensity into the music,” Evans said.
The PBSO began the 2013-14 season with a stirring rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” before settling in for an evening of European classics.
Overture to the opera, “L’Italiana in Algeri” (The Italian Girl in Algiers) (1813) by Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868), as performed by the PBSO was a delight.
Evans introduced the piece as an example of the Italian comic opera that was wildly popular in 19th-century Europe.
The piece opens with the string section rhythmically plucking their instruments, soon joined by the melody of a single oboe.
The arrival of the woodwind section signals the beginning of the main body of the Overture, backed up by the methodically melodic, quiet precision of the string section.
“Les nuits d’ete” (Summer Nights), Op. 7 (1834 for piano; orchestrated in 1856) by Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) is a gathering together of poems turned into songs that chronicle the emotions brought out by finding love and losing it.
“Berlioz was deeply influenced by Beethoven and the music created by Berlioz is truly all about him, a defining element of the Romantic era,” Evans said in his introduction to the piece.
The four songs were performed in the masterful style that regular symphony-goers have come to know and love in the person of Pine Bluff native Eleanor Pearl, whose soaring soprano voice is welcomed with the same enthusiasm as that of an old friend.
Dressed in a floor-length black gown accented by a shimmering broach with matching earrings, Pearl’s stage presence was reflective of her formal training at the Manhattan School of Music.
Pearl moved from the upbeat “Villanelle” to the sorrowful “Sur les lagunes” (On the Lagoons), taking the listener on a roller coaster ride from the heights of happiness to the depths of despair, sung in the native French of the composer but also written in the native English of the majority of the PBSO audience.
Pearl concluded with “Au Cimetiere” (In the Grave Yard) and “L ‘lle Inconnu”e (The Unknown Land).
In “Overture, Op. 52” (1841) by Robert Schumann (1810-1856) the PBSO brought the emotional intensity of the piece to vivid life.
The piece begins in a somber mood that quickly ascends the emotional scale to reflect a sense of excitement and joy with the woodwinds prominent.
After a 15-minute intermission the PBSO concert master and first-chair violinist Linda Hsu performed “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso, Op. 28” (1867) by Camille Saint-Saens (1835-1921) to the accompaniment of the PBSO.
Hsu absolutely stunned the audience with her performance, one which was truly a violin master class.
As described in the concert program this piece is a sterling display of the violin’s technical possibilities balanced by Saint-Saens’ unerring sense of musical form.
Throughout the performance Hsu easily demonstrated why she holds the title of concertmaster.
The PBSO performed “Symphony No. 4 in A, Op. 90” (“Italian”) (1833) by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) made up of four movements; an allegro vivace, an andante con moto; a con moto moderato; and a saltarello: Presto.
Evans said this was the first performance of the Symphony No. 4 in Pine Bluff.
As described in the concert program the opening movement begins with the violins leading the symphony through a leaping melody that is seconded by the clarinets. The allegro is quite peppy and almost guaranteed to put a smile on the listener’s face.
The andante is an almost 180-degree turn from the pep of its predecessor, composed as it was in the style of a slow march.
The con moto moderato utilizes the bassoons and the horn section to evoke a gentle dance. Finally the saltarello recreates an exuberant dance which Evans said is the most famous of the four movements.
All in all the PBSO began its 27th season with the professionalism and technical execution that concertgoers have come to expect from Pine Bluff’s hometown symphony orchestra.