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Chamber orchestra excels at blending masterpieces

SHARE Chamber orchestra excels at blending masterpieces

AMERICAN WEST SYMPHONY CHAMBER ORCHESTRA, Joel Rosenberg conducting, Thursday evening, Sept. 13; Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Sandy. Additional performance today at 7:30 p.m. in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square. Free admission.

Joel Rosenberg, one of the most versatile and visible musicians along the Wasatch Front, opened the 2001-02 concert season Thursday evening at the helm of a new string ensemble: the American West Symphony Chamber Orchestra.

Rosenberg's motivation for this new group was to have a means of promoting members of the Sandy-based American West organization into the soloist's spotlight. And judging by the orchestra's inaugural concert, Rosenberg is definitely on the right track.

In a program that neatly blended the music of two masters from the baroque with two 20th-century masterpieces, Rosenberg had the opportunity of presenting several of the talented musicians from his American West Symphony as soloists.

But before this part of the evening's program began, Rosenberg opened the concert with music by Rachmaninoff and J.S. Bach in a poignant tribute to the innocent victims of Tuesday's horrendous terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C.

Rosenberg, playing viola, was joined by pianist Marjorie Janove in the "Andante" from Rachmaninoff's Sonata for Cello and Piano in G minor, op. 19. This lovely movement was played with sensitivity and tenderness, and Rosenberg's heartfelt interpretation made the soaring melody sing with a quiet intensity that was profoundly moving.

Rosenberg then conducted the orchestra in the famous "Air" from Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. The string orchestra played this movement with spirit and fervor and effectively brought out the elegance and refined grace of this charming piece.

Charles Ives is certainly to be reckoned as one of the most original American composers of the 20th century, and his "The Unanswered Question" is definitely one of his finest abstract works. Thursday's performance of this piece underscored the multilayered quality of the music in Rosenberg's spatial orchestral setup, with four flutes in back of the strings and a solo trumpet placed behind the audience.

Rosenberg did an outstanding job with the Ives piece. Even though "The Unanswered Question" is fairly short, it's an immensely difficult work to pull off successfully, but Rosenberg and the orchestra gave an impressive performance of it. Rosenberg imbued the piece with a quiet urgency while maintaining the calm stability created by the ever-present strings.

Stravinsky's "In Memoriam Dylan Thomas" is a stirring musical setting of the Irish poet's "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night." One of Stravinsky's earliest 12-tone works, it's also one of his most touching. Tenor Kenneth Shelley gave a dramatic and vivid interpretation of the text, and together with Rosenberg and the orchestra, the performance became an unwittingly gripping and powerful commentary on this week's tragedy. Rounding out the concert were works by Handel and Vivaldi.

E-MAIL: ereichel@desnews.com