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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 11:07 a.m., Tuesday, November 13, 2001

Symphony made more moving by Sept. 11 events

By Gregory Shepherd
Advertiser Music Critic

In a fitting tribute to those murdered in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Honolulu Symphony director Samuel Wong dedicated Camille Saint-Saens' "Symphony No. 3 in C minor, nicknamed the "Organ Symphony" to their memory. A more moving piece of music for the occasion can scarcely be imagined.

The work begins with a theme, "Dies irae" ("Days of Wrath") taken from the Gregorian chant funeral liturgy, a theme that is gradually transformed from a somber lamentation to a celebration of what the composer called "the defeat of the diabolical element." There is something quite eerie about this performance being scheduled last year and coinciding with the two-month anniversary of the attacks.

With string writing that sounds almost Mahler-esque in its elegiac inwardness, the work proceeds through sections that alternate between despair and grandeur, and Katherine Crosier's work on the all-important organ part provided the bulk of the grandeur. Her playing was not only impeccable, but the organ's volume was well-balanced with the rest of the ensemble, something that doesn't always happen with performances of this work.

The main theme of the third section is traded off from section to section, and all members of the augmented orchestra played with focus and intensity. Fine solo work matched fine ensemble work and Wong singled out several musicians, including timpanist Stuart Chafetz, trombonist James Decker, the bassoon section and others. Nyle Hallman and Andrea Fennig on duo piano were also impressive on their important part.

Principal cellist Gregory Dubay brought elegance and insight to Edouard Lalo's Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in D minor. A second-rate work overall, it does provide a nice showcase for cellists up to its challenges and Dubay was more than ready for it. With the orchestra reduced to merely sawing out repeated two- and three-note figures at times, the cello part explores some challenging technical areas, and although these areas are not very interesting to listen to, they amply showed off Dubay's expertise on the instrument.

Jacques Ibert's "Divertissement" opened Sunday's program with a splash of riotous orchestral colors that gave the spotlight to one individual musician after another. Getting in on the act were Claire Sakai-Hazzard with her harmonic tones on the solo violin section, Michael Zonshine with muted trumpet, Norman Foster's clarinet on the "perky" funeral procession, Michael Szabo on bass trombone, and Marsha Schweitzer and Phillip Gottling on bassoon.

Gregory Shepherd has been the Advertiser's classical music critic since1987.