Skilled Performance Opens JCA Concert Series

The weather may have seemed like summer, but the music was filled with dance-filled works, which were all associated with countries far to the north.

Marylouise Nanna and the Ars Nova Chamber Orchestra opened the 2013-14 Concert Series of the Jamestown Concert Association Sunday afternoon with a skilled performance at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Jamestown.

The program was made up of four works of music, originating in England, Russia, Finland and Norway. The chamber orchestra had only 15 musicians, in addition to their conductor, plus an excellent soloist on oboe: Paul Schlossman; yet they filled the church with music and left the large audience deeply impressed.

When we think of English composer Edward Elgar, we usually think of the graduation march, or his ”Enigma Variations,” but the less known ”Serenade for String Orchestra, Op. 20” proved most appealing.

The orchestra has a dark, lush string tone, with truly outstanding legato, and while they’re capable of playing fast and light, this program was chosen to emphasize the darker sounds.

The second work on the program was by 18th century composer Domenico Cimarosa. While his name betrays Italian origins, he composed his ”Concerto in D for Oboe and Strings” during his years of serving as official court composer to Russian Empress Catherine the Great. As with many rulers, Catherine wanted great things, but she didn’t want to pay for them, so she lured Cimarosa to St. Petersburg, then gave him no funds to stage operas.

Bored, he turned to composing short instrumental works, including a long series of piano sonatas. Shortly after World War II, arranger Arthur Benjamin chose four of his favorite sonatas from the series, and arranged them into this concerto for oboe and string orchestra. Schlossman demonstrated excellent technique.

The solo part begins with the first note of the piece, and the oboist’s tone was firm, strong and beautifully controlled, ranging from a high, almost human-sounding cry to dark, low growls which stirred the listener.

He glided at lightning speed across the notes with perfect technique, sounding every note on pitch, yet moving so rapidly, one found oneself leaning forward to watch his fingers fly.

Following intermission, Nanna spoke for the first time in the program, expressing her appreciation for the Buffalo-based orchestra’s presence in the community and stating their delight in the beauty of the church.

Indeed, Sunday’s setting sun, passing through the church’s west-facing rose window, sent bold, dramatic shafts of brilliantly colored light, to illumine first the audience at the rear of the church, then moving through the concert’s nearly two hours along the rows of audience until by the concluding tones, it had the pillars on either side of the chancel, vividly aglow.

Deep emotions and strong feelings were evoked by the third work on the program, Jean Sibelius’s ”Three Pieces for String Orchestra.” The pieces, terminating with the famed ”Valse Triste,” demonstrated the perfect ensemble with which the orchestra performed, and swelled and subsided dramatically.

The much-beloved ”Holberg Suite for Strings, Op. 40,” by Norwegian Edvard Grieg, concluded the afternoon.

The suite’s moments in which the members of the first violin section are called upon to be more fiddle players than violinists, provided a light and enjoyable contrast with the rest of the performance, and demonstrated the orchestra’s near-perfect degree of ensemble and the conductor’s versatility.

The afternoon was a treat for the audience, and bode very well for the new season of the Concert Association. The next performance on that JCA program will be Nov. 1, when pianist Marina Lomazov will perform at St. Luke’s, at 8 p.m.