I saw and felt Saturday night’s concert by the Fort Wayne Philharmonic as more an excellent four-course dinner rather than “A Pretty Night” as the program was billed. Four courses: the appetizer was a thoughtful piece by the Japanese composer Takemitsu, the main course was Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, followed by “Ain’t it a Pretty Night by Floyd Carlisle and a delightful desert in the form of van Beethoven’s Pastoral.
Takemitsu’s piece is modern, premiered in 1977, ethereal, moody, abrupt, pensive, as if describing the feelings of a man who has just lost his longtime lover. It reminded me of an old movie featuring Joseph Cotton who meets an oddly dressed woman while skating and eventually discovers she is of another time and place and he, despite his greatest efforts can not hold her in his time and place. She vanishes beneath the ice. Takemitsu reminded me of that movie. It was a piece that elicited a rather philistine comment from a man seated behind me that his kid could do as well, but hardly. It held the attention of the audience and was rewarded by a lengthy round of applause from the all-too-sparse audience.
Strauss followed. Soprano Janice Chandler-Eteme was superb. Nothing short. She sang with passion. Unfortunately, with too many sopranos, her voice was too often swallowed by the strength of the orchestra and the size of the hall. I heard the same when Rene Fleming sang with the Berlin Philharmonic last year. The orchestra simply must turn down two notches.
The piece was very moody for good reason. Strauss had been the greatest of composers in Germany prior to the coming of the Nazis. He was accused of collaborating with the Nazis and suffered not only from the Nazis who felt he had not been good enough, but in watching his beloved country smashed to pieces by Allied bombers. After the war he was humiliated, made an example by the Allies in their efforts to “de-Nazify” Germany. Eventually, he took what he had left and cross to Switzerland where he died in 1949. The Last Four Songs sounds every bit like a man contemplating his death, thinking of the sad past and making one last attempt to sort it all out. It was melancholy at best, but overwhelmingly morose. It was beautifully, movingly performed and, despite the size of the hall, Ms. Chandler-Eteme’s presentation was exceptional.
Also well received and a second standing ovation was the Carlisle Floyd 1954 composition, “Ain’t it a Pretty Night.” Very American. Seldom heard. It is from an opera, Susannah, that tells the biblical story of Susannah, accused of adultery and condemned to death by the patriarchal elders. The Prophet Daniel turns the tables, shows she is innocent and has the elders put to death. Ah revenge… The composition is very emotional and was sung with great energy by Ms. Chandler-Eteme, and received with deep appreciation by the audience.
Finally, Maestro Andrew Constantine chose Ludwig van Beethoven’s Pastoral, Symphony Nr. 6, to close the evening. After all the pondering of death, of injustice and ethereal other worlds the Beethoven was just the perfect choice to rouse the audience and send them into the evening cold with energy and a smile. It was performed nearly flawlessly, with energy, enthusiasm and craft. I thought that if ten music-lovers where given quality recordings of the Chicago Symphony or the Wiener Philharmonik in order to make a blind-comparison to the FWPO, they would have a hard time discerning the difference. Each presentation of a work is a combination of execution and interpretation. Constantine has done an excellent job with the Philharmonic in a very short time. They perform as a well prepared and harmonic team. Even the French horns, the weakest section in the orchestra, was on its game last night.
There was another nice touch to the evening: large delegations from two of our four sister cities, Takaoka, Japan, and Gera, Germany, attended the performance. Thoughtful planning must have gone into choosing pieces that represented our three cultures: the American Floyd, the Germans van Beethoven and Strauss and the Japanese Takamitsu. Certainly, many people were involved in the planning and our guests could not help to have gone away from the hall deeply impressed with our Philharmonic, and by extension, our community.