The vibrations from the bass drum rumbled through my chest as the orchestra marched toward Rome on the Appian Way. On Saturday, Feb. 27, the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra gave a light, programmatic winter concert with an Italian flair and also featured Dartmouth senior and music and engineering double major Autumn Chuang ’16 as a soloist.
The orchestra began with the festive and energetic Symphony No. 4 (Op. 90 “Italian”) by Mendelssohn. The first theme of the allegro vivace movement was crisply captured by the violins as a lightness carried through the four movements. Though it might have been due to my seating location, the sound balance of the high and low strings seemed a bit off in the final movement (Saltarello), but overall it was a refreshing performance of a classic symphony.
After a brief but informative introduction of the program’s pieces by guest conductor Filippo Ciabatti, the orchestra rearranged for Elgar’s Romance for Bassoon (op. 62), which is one of the few orchestral works soloing the bassoon. DSO member Chuang gave a delightful performance of this very lyrical, tender piece. A soaring melody in the bassoon was echoed by orchestral swells shortly after as the piece rose in a crescendo following the bassoon’s rising notes. It was my first time hearing such an extensive bassoon solo in the context of an orchestral landscape, and I really appreciated the warmth and tenderness of the bassoon’s full range in the piece, through the low and even high notes. Similar to Elgar’s Enigma Variations, a thematic exploration and variation carried the piece through the D minor key, softly returning in the parallel D major key.
The second half of the concert was marked by a very programmatic selection of works: Ottorino Respighi’s Fontane di Roma and I Pini di Roma. The first suite of pieces, Fountains of Rome, magically created the soundscapes of four different fountains at four different times of the day (dawn, morning, noon and sunset). The orchestration was superb as Respighi created the sounds of water through music, from the cascading notes of the violins to the calls of the day from the horns. The DSO filled each piece with a unique character, tone and color. Pines of Rome proved to be darker and more stoic than Fountains, capturing more the movement through the forest rather than the pine tree itself. It used the interesting technique of electronic sounds in the third piece, as a recorded nightingale song floated above the long notes of the orchestra, which was both jarring yet soothing as a listener.
This was my first time hearing pieces by Respighi, and I was struck by the accessibility of his works both in Fountains and in Pines to both the trained and untrained ear. Whether you’re very familiar with classical works or not, his orchestral pieces, performed marvelously by the DSO, had a very enjoyable quality that easily translated to imagining yourself in a forest or nearby a fountain and experiencing these sounds.