Chamber Opener Comes Into Focus Print
Music - Feature Stories
Tuesday, 23 October 2001 18:00
The Quad City Symphony Chamber Series is quickly becoming a favorite. Beginning its second year as a concert staple, the regular symphony players kicked the sub-season off on October 21 with a performance at Augustana College’s Wallenberg Hall. Featuring works of minimalist Nigel Westlake, Claude Debussy, and Antonin Dvorak, the concert had the feel of a picture slowly coming into focus. With such a diverse program, the pieces blended remarkably well, and the performances were top-notch.

Nigel Westlake’s short Omphalo Centric Lecture for Four Marimbas kicked off the concert, with trance-like groupings pulsing and fading to the very end. Like a musical arc, the piece started slowly and subtly, moved to its apex, and then subsided. The piece seemed abstract, yet each rhythmic element built into another and also linked it to the rest of the piece.

Westlake is known for his work on feature films such as Babe, Celluloid Heroes, and the IMAX film Antarctica. Omphalo had the feel of a feature-film score, but missing its visuals, leaving the imagining to the audience.

Following Westlake’s piece was Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola, and Harp. Impressionistic, with its broad musical painting and structure, it built on the earlier piece, featuring the best of Debussy’s knack for harmony, form, and delicate command of nuance.

Entirely unassuming, the piece moved from periods of caution and slightness to moments of dashing musical colors in the Finale: Allegro moderator ma risoluto. Most distinguished was the performance by harpist Sally Goodwin Vogel, who expressed the subtle qualities of Debussy’s sonata.

After a brief intermission, the musical picture became clear with Dvorak’s Czech-inspired Quintet in G Major for Strings. Though the performers stumbled early with some rough playing, they quickly redoubled their efforts to provide a strong performance. The first movement, an Allegro con fuoco, combines a variety of musical fragments that, as in Westlake’s piece, build on one another. Throughout, the audience hears the fragments until the quintet reaches a climax in the Finale: Allegro assai.

What made this work memorable were the performances from Dawn Marino-Ohmes on violin and Gary Palmer on double bass. Even though she was not the lead violinist, Marino-Ohmes’ playing supported the others. And Dvorak made the unusual choice of a double bass for the quintet, but the instrument makes perfect sense; its solemn range balanced the swirling violins and violas, and helped complete what the cello was trying to accomplish.

Despite some jagged playing near the end of the concert, the performance was exceptional, and this opening concert was a showcase of musical development. From an abstract beginning to a highly charged, clearly perceived romantic conclusion, the concert came into focus with each successive piece. With another chamber concert not coming until January, the dedicated, growing audience for this series will surely be full of unsettled anticipation.
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