Column: Splendid Soloist, Patriotic Works at GSO Concert

By Linda Phillips

Hungary? Finnish-ed?? Czech!!

In an intensely programmed, musically provocative concert, highlighted by an emotionally and technically wonderful solo performance, The Greenwich Symphony again entered a new realm of artistry, delighting its audience in the second performance its 60th season.

And a new soloist, the absolutely remarkable cellist Nicholas Canellakis, entered our hearts interpreting Dvorak.

The theme and thread of the music was nationalism, with each composer honoring the endemic music of his own country. Conductor David Gilbert gave a brief introduction to the composers, Jean Sibelius, László Lajtha and Antonin Dvorak. The countries interpreted musically were theirs: Finland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary. The Conductor remarked that two of the composers spent time in the United States, and thatLajtha was interested in and studied American folk music.

Beginning with the well-known tone poem “Finlandia” of Jean Sibelius, which echoes folk music of his country, but is actually comprised of his own lines of composition, the prolific composer created high drama in the opening brass, with kettle drums and a nationalistic theme, accelerating to a slide with cymbals, the strings a fiery musical bravado. A sweet bucolic melody, with which many of the audience hummed along, ended with a return to bombast in the kettle drums, and a stirring close.

The lesser known Lajtha “Sinfonietta No. 2” was a stirring surprise, as the orchestra pared down to strings, which were played with remarkably interesting techniques, bowing, and energy. The first movement, Tres Vif, featured whirring, buzzing strings, with a passage that sounded a bit like Aaron Copeland. The strings slithered and dithered with raw energy in the charming, childlike passages, with lots of pizzicato.

Movement Two, Lent et calme, featured a sweet melody with cellos underneath disturbing violins. The music was Hitchcockian, haunted.

Movement three, Prestissimo, was again sprightly, with running violins and pizzicato cellos, leading to the bright ending.

When some soloists play (thinking of three or four in the past 18 seasons), they seem to inhabit the music so deeply it is almost like speaking, whispering, divulging an emotional part of themselves. This is what the audience heard as Nicholas Canellakis played the “Dvorak Cello Concerto.” The young man was sharing his soul, his emotions and most intimate thoughts with the audience, searching, pondering, expressing. With technical brilliance, he called out the audience’s deepest responses.

The opening Allegro featured a powerful orchestration, oboe against rumbling drums, then a strong statement of theme, with a sonorous, lovely French horn solo, the clarinet rising in the majestic orchestration.

The cello entered, a bit late for the party, strongly restating the theme, heartfelt and dramatic. The second movement, Adagio ma non troppo opened with clarinet in a brief conversation, moving to a beautiful crying passage, the tender cello beautifully played in this somber movement, containing an exquisitely beautiful cadenza for the soloist.

Finale: Allegro moderato opened with a staunch statement, stirring and emotional, a clarinet motif with cello, flute sounding. The cellist and first violinist conversed, moving to a tender and emotional passage before the thrilling ending, with horns sounding.

This was a performance too deep for tears, and the artist was called back for three curtain calls to cries of “bravo.”

A mention of two pillars of the Greenwich Symphony: the gifted, accomplished Conductor David Gilbert, who ranges across musical periods and styles with love and ease: and the learned and eloquent Richard Wolter, who writes the program notes with such insight and knowledge.

The next performance of the Greenwich Symphony will be on Jan. 20-21, 2018 and will feature violinist Elissa Lee Koljonen in the Korngold Violin Concert. For tickets and information, go to, or call 203-869-2664

Linda Phillips’ classical music reviews have won four “Best Column of the Year” awards from the Connecticut Press Club, and have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Criticism. She is the author of the novel, “To The Highest Bidder,” nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

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