SU Symphony creates a tapestry of sound

Review: The Syracuse University Symphony allowed its passion to shine through in a performance featuring Rossini and Sibelius.

The grandiose sounds of Italian composer Gioachino Rossini paired with the deeply textured and intricate work of Finish composer Jean Sibelius formed a multilayered symphonic pallet Sunday in Setnor Auditorium.

Under the baton of James Tapia, the Syracuse University Symphony Orchestra performed Gioachino Rossini’s short overture from his opera “La gazza Ladra” along with Jean Sibelius’s laborious “Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 43.”

"The symphony made good use of the overture’s dynamics, but could have played even quieter to illuminate some of the soloist charged passages"

First performed 200 years ago, Rossini’s overture showcased the power of SU’s 55-piece symphony and why his work is best performed by a full symphony. Think Rossini’s “William Tell” overture, known throughout pop culture and in Disney films for its heavy strings, blaring horns and clattering percussion.

Opening with the iconic militaristic beating of the snare drum harking back to the piece’s roots in justice, the symphony made good use of the overture’s dynamics, but could have played even quieter to illuminate some of the soloist charged passages. Though coming down from the overture’s sonorous peaks is no easy task. Strong moments were heard from the piccolo, violas and lower strings. The symphony’s professional sound can be attributed not only to the players talent but also to Tapia’s musical clarity: animated in his directions but not overly so, using the whole podium and turning to each section to give clear cues.

Sibelius’s four-movement symphony, first premiered in 1902 and coming in at nearly an hour in length, highlighted the composer’s rich, sonically layered work that requires a dynamic relationship between the strings, woodwinds and horns. Truly, the French horns put in a tremendous amount of labor, supporting other instruments with sustained notes throughout much of the entire symphony.

Tapia noted between works that this piece shows “the voice of Sibelius.”

The first movement, “Allegretto,” established Sibelius’s theme of independence and struggle for the piece, showcasing instruments like the oboe with moments of strong unisons from the strings. The musicians also rose to the occasion during a section of pizzicato, plucking through an interesting passage that played otherwise could cause the piece to drag.

The opening of the second movement started with a haunting, long pizzicato featuring the cellos and bass. As the movement progressed, Sibelius’s influence on composers like Bernard Herrmann who scored films like “Vertigo” and “Psycho” sounded eerily familiar to the complex, darker interweavings of this work.

The third and fourth movements blended together and showed the symphony’s rigor in sustaining the energy of a full symphonic work through the piece’s climatic ending. The trumpets, trombones and French horns maintained a strong brass presence throughout each movement.

Though there were still instances where transitions within movements felt disjointed and not as coherent as they could have been. There were also technically complicated sections that highlighted sounds from the violas and cellos or oboes and bassoons by themselves that could have used more punch behind the notes.

Playing loudly takes stamina and passion for the music being performed. Playing quietly demands that too, but is harder in not only sustaining notes but also making them interesting. The symphony managed to do that quite well throughout most of the performance but could have played even softer to add musicality, juxtaposing the quieter moments with the towering fortes.

As a symphony, the ensemble’s ultimate power came through the musician’s visible passion for the music and joy in performing it.

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