Recap: Tasteful, elegant music fills St. Cecilia Music Center for Grand Rapids Symphony's Classical Concert

By Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk -

The Classical Era in Classical Music is a favorite for many music fans, including Grand Rapids Symphony Music Director Marcelo Lehninger.

What’s not to like? Music the Viennese masters is substantial and satisfying, but it’s also light and cheery.

You can’t go wrong with Beethoven, Haydn or Mozart, especially not when it’s played by the Grand Rapids Symphony in St. Cecilia Music Center. It’s the right music played by the right orchestra in the right setting.

The third concert of the Grand Rapids Symphony’s Great Eras series went swimmingly on Friday, February, 16, with delightful melodies and superb ensemble playing by the core of the orchestra, with the added bonus of Principal Second Violinist Eric Tanner  as soloist.

The program featured Haydn’s Symphony No. 88, Two Rondos by Mozart, and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8. Highlights were performed earlier on Friday morning for the Porter Hills Coffee Classics Series.

Remarkably, few years separated the lives of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, all of whom spent time in Vienna, the world’s most important city for music in the late 18th century. All three knew each other to some degree and influenced each other.

Beethoven’ Symphony No. 8, for instance, though a late work by Beethoven, bears an unmistakable Haydnesque flavor and structure.

What’s more, Lehninger took a light, zippy approach to the performance, especially the trio. He preceded it with a colorful, often humorous explanation of how conductors pick tempos for Beethoven’s music. Suffice to say, the jury’s out

 But at this concert, Lehninger opted for a fast-paced performance. Still, clarity, clarity and more clarity was the result, thanks to magnificent ensemble playing. Lehninger deftly handled interior lines and counter melodies and made the most of propulsive passages.

The end results was a passionate but refined performance, and a reminder that even Beethoven’s less-frequently heard symphonies still are magnificent.

Tanner, who joined the Grand Rapids Symphony in 1996 and was appointed Principal Second Violin in 1999, made his eighth solo appearance with the orchestra to play two Rondos by Mozart, one in B-Flat, one in C major. The Grand Rapids Symphony is blessed with many fine soloists. Tanner is one of them.

Both were tasteful and elegant performances yet also focused and determined. Tanner wrote composed his own solo cadenzas for both, and all were well in character with the music. He played both with a flourish.

The middle of the program was given over to Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 to recognize that 2017-18 is the Grand Rapids Symphony’ 88nd season. It’s among the lesser heard, though not unknown, of Haydn’s 104 symphonies, a truly astonishing figure.

One of the pleasures of listening to Haydn is he never stopped learning and growing as a composer. You’re always aware that he’s trying out new ideas to see what works, and it’s just as delightful for the audience to share in the discover hundreds of years later.

Lehninger’s approach was full of good cheer, even with the sturdy German approach to the minuet. The finale was a really big finish.

Posted by Jeffrey Kaczmarczyk at 9:00 AM
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