DSO Delivers Body and Soul


This originally appeared in the Delaware Arts Info blog – view the original here.

Great composers have a gift for looking backward as they push forward.

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Music Director David Amado, presented works by three such composers Friday, March 13, at the Laird Performing Arts Center at Tatnall School. The program featured works by Johannes Brahms (Variations on a Theme by Haydn), Gerald Finzi (Clarinet Concerto) and Jean Sibelius (Symphony No. 2). Brahms knew his Baroque and Classical music well. His love of the old masters was instilled in him by his first important teacher, Eduard Marxsen. Brahms himself would go on to advise younger composers to obtain a thorough grounding in counterpoint. This work frequently refers back to earlier eras of music, using complex counterpoint in places, yet it remains firmly rooted in the late Romantic style.

Finzi’s Clarinet Concerto is everything that the Brahms isn’t: Reserved and contemplative. Not surprising, since the composer was seriously traumatized by the deaths of three of his elder brothers in World War I. (He would leave London after the World War II to live in the country, devoting himself to composition, growing rare apples and editing the works of earlier little-known composers.) His work combines influences from the Baroque as well as English folk music tradition, yet like Brahms, his unique personal style shines through.

Sibelius’ Second Symphony is the first major step on a journey that would culminate in the Seventh Symphony which marked his true ambition: The fusing of form and content into an organic and natural unity.

The orchestra was fully engaged from the first note of the Brahms, infusing the graceful march-like theme — which actually is not by Haydn but apparently enough like him to have fooled both Brahms and Haydn scholar Karl Ferdinand Pohl — with a hymn-like solemnity that pervaded the entire work.

Eight compact and wonderfully diverse variations follow, expressing dark brooding mystery in some and joyful exuberance in others. The entrance of the strings in the first variation fast forwards the listener from the 18th Century to late Romanticism. The boisterous variation 6 has all the character of the hunt with horns coming to the fore. The finale is a stirring passacaglia itself a set of variations with the larger variations after which the theme returns triumphantly in full orchestral mode — replete with triangles and piccolos. If ever there was a transcendental moment in music, this is it.

The result was a transparency of sound which kept all the parts in balance and playing off each other nicely. In the end, the work does have a direct link to Haydn: In the code of the finale, Brahms quotes directly from the second movement of Haydn’s Clock Symphony which he regarded as one of the greatest symphonic movements of the Classical period.

The Finzi Clarinet Concerto was the astute choice of DSO’s principal clarinetist Charles Salinger. His virtuosic playing did this imaginative but rarely performed work proud, being properly assertive in the opening movement and delightfully playful in the rondo-finale. Both soloist and strings were most impressive in their execution of the concerto’s beautiful second movement.

The highlight of the evening was a glorious rendering of the Sibelius Symphony No. 2. In accordance with the composer’s intentions, Amado kept themes restrained in the first three movements, including the touching elegy embedded in the third movement, beautifully introduced by principal oboist Jeffrey O’Donnell.

This restraint gave way to the rising power of the finale, sending the orchestra soaring with a pronounced sense of majesty and bringing the audience to its feet.