from the Gannett Westchester Newspapers, March 11, 1990
Concert society performs with delight
The Concert Society of Putnam and Northern Westchester might well serve as an example for other concert societies in rural areas. Now in its 18th season, it gives four concerts a year, for which it provides various music combinations and a good: chamber orchestra in performances in two locations on consecutive days.
The March 3 concert was a delightful mix of works by Amram, Mozart and Dittersdorf.
The American composer David Amram, who lives in Putnam Valley, was represented by his "Shakespearean Concerto" (1959), drawn from music composed for Joseph Papp's Shakespeare productions in New York City. The second movement is based on "The Wind and the Rain," which Amram wrote for "Twelfth Night." The work is scored for viola, oboe, two French horns and strings. Soloists were Midhat Serbagi (viola), John Hanulik (oboe), Reed Corbo and Lawrence Huntley (French horns).
Amram was present, commented on the composition and remained to meet with the audience at the intermission reception under the auspices of the "Meet the Composer Performance Fund."
The music, like the man, demonstrated intelligence, a quick wit, a ready humor and a pleasant mixture of craft and charm, ready and eager to reach into popular sources for material. Composer Amram is a French horn player and pianist and has worked with jazz greats such as Lionel Hampton and Charles Mingus.
The concerto is readily accessible and was performed with obvious delight by The Concert Society Chamber Orchestra conducted by David Gilbert, who, by the way, also conducts the Greenwich Symphony. The first movement is built on material reminiscent of folk tunes with syncopated rhythms and contrasting Iyrical interludes. The second movement is a tender poetic expression in which the viola is first liven the song theme.
Serbagi, who has been a member of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra for 23 years, made his viola sing eloquently with a touch of almost breathy tone quality, and the other musicians responded with equal intensity bringing about an interesting and moving dialogue.
Gilbert knows when to become invisible and not interject himself between the musicians and the audience. He did this here to his credit and the music's enhancement. The third movement is an irreverent, puckish, musical thumb-to-thenose statement with jazzlike passages. At one point, the upper string players tap their fingers on their instruments, like so many finger snaps while the beat goes on below. The horn players were excellent as was the oboist Hanulik, who demonstrated what seemed to be unlimited breath.
The Concerto for Harp and Chamber Orchestra by the Austrian composer Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-1799) is a transcription of his harpsichord concerto in A major by Karl Hermann Pillney. It is lightweight and in the three-movement design of fast-slow-fast. This piece perhaps more than the others demonstrated just how sympathetic an acoustic environment St. Luke's Church in Somers is for music performance. The harp was clearly audible, its rich tone able to be enjoyed and dynamic shadings clearly heard.
Of course, Barbara Allen's masterful playing made it all happen. This resident of Carmel played effortlessly with none of those awkward hesitations sometimes found in harp performances. Besides fluid arpeggiation, she coaxed a broad range of dynamics and musical inflection from an instrument that does not have a reputation for easy cooperation.
Concertmistress Dorothy Happel turned soloist and joined Serbagi in a performance of Mozart's Symphonie Concertante in E-Flat major for violin, viola and orchestra, K. 364 (1779). It is really a double concerto which pushes the viola to equal competitive stature with the violin.
This performance was characterized by fine playing by both artists, who presented a contrast (mostly pleasant) in performing styles. Happel is concentrated and ready to pounce and charge into phrases with a bright steely tone, neatly organized motions and true intonation. Serbagi seems relaxed and confident, unflappable, easily gliding into the music with broad gestures, magically appearing on time and in place with a tone that is substantial and rich but never forced. Therefore Mozart's contrast of instrumental timbre was coupled with a contrast of musical personalities and it worked well. The musical interplay of the second movement, a gorgeous duet, came to life in a most interesting way through these contrasts.
Gilbert's fine conducting is economical, . none of those stabbing, spearing motions or excited reapings about which are all too common these days, but straightforward simple direction and graceful shaping never imposing himself needlessly on these fine performers.
Francis Brancaleone is a free-lance writer.