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An Italian Vacation at Carnegie Hall

Music review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sat Mar 18th, 2017

Michael Kelly and Julianne Borg

When the marching bands on Fifth Ave ceased their seemingly endless drumming, Bard College’s TON Orchestra took to Stern auditorium at Carnegie Hall. They opened with Rossiniana, P. 148, a 1925 orchestral suite by Ottorino Respighi, based on late piano pieces (Sins of Old Age) by Gioachino Rossini. These were four modest landscape pieces that Respighi composed on various vacations. They evoked an atmosphere of sea, mountains, sunset vista. Through these incidental musical postcards, I attempted to imagine visiting Capri, Sicily, and other locales I have never seen.

As a former student of the Russian orchestral master Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Respighi’s scoring is emotionally subtle and brilliant, yet at moments so darkling and evocative that it has been sometimes used as ballet music. The TON orchestra delivered unified resonance to these meditative pieces.

“Church Windows,” composed the following year (the title and program aspects to the title being suggested by a friend), contains more substantive excitement and drama, especially the last two of the four movements. Concertmaster violinist Michael Rau (depicted in teaser photo) stood out with his vibrant, ardent, self-confident, passionate sound as Leon Botstein led the 65-strong orchestra (23 violins) to a rousing climax in the concluding tarantella.

A one-act intermezzo, Susanna’s Secret (1909), by Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari followed. This rather frivolous Goldoni-type comedy pokes fun at martial tensions conjured by the rise of feminism, which disturbed the controlling egos of insecure men. Since neither Italian men nor women had any timely interest in the subject, the operetta was first produced in Germany. This rather obscure yet charming drawing room drama centers upon the risqué concept of smoking before it was discovered to be unhealthy.

This un-staged and un-costumed performance became a showcase for two wonderful voices: baritone Michael Kelly and soprano Julianne Borg. Both were flawless in their delivery, pacing, modulation, and genial humor. They are both at the beginning of serious careers and we expect to be delighted by their singing at future appearances.