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‘Symphonic Dances’ review

From the opening hopeful notes from Butler County Symphony Orchestra’s principal cellist, Robin Hasenpflug, the audience in the Butler Intermediate High School was treated to an evening of “Symphonic Dances” Saturday evening, beginning, appropriately, with Carl Maria von Weber’s lovely “Invitation to the Dance.”

With grace worthy of a ballroom, Maestro Matthew Kraemer led the orchestra through the work, which elicited all the angst and joy of a first date. The initial cello solo swelled with the addition of the full orchestra’s confidence, and the terpsichore became more complex. Kraemer managed to keep a perfect balance between exuberant volume and delightful delicacy.

Featured performer Nicholas Canellakis entered the stage to play “Cello Concerto No. 1, Opus 107” by Dimitri Shostakovich. The piece in four movements contrasted strongly with the bright melodies of von Weber. It also opened with a cello solo that was more abstract but no less rhythmic and danceable.

Canellakis’ mastery of his instrument was apparent from the start as his fingers danced on the neck of the cello, alternately sweeping through lyrical passages or plucking the strings to accentuate powerful rhythms.

The second movement had a rather melancholy obligato floating over a meandering melody line. It counterposed a somber tune with a bright celesta. It then transitioned directly into the third movement which featured a prancing tempo. The piece morphed again straight into the fourth, gypsy-like, vigorous movement that was unexpectedly extremely soft almost to the point of inaudibility.

Canellakis deftly made the cello dance through all the drastic changes, and Kraemer diligently did not allow the orchestra to overpower the wonderful soloist.

For an well-deserved encore, Canellakis again took the stage to play the beloved “Going Home” portion of Antonin Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” which he introduced as “not as intense a piece” as the Shostakovich he had just played.

The final work for the evening was Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances, Opus 45.” Written in three movements, the first opened at a prancing tempo melodically intertwining through the sections of the orchestra, making extensive use of the saxophone. The theme was reminiscent of drifting snowflakes trembling delicately through the night air.

Movement two was a variation on a song at waltz tempo, and the concluding movement featured a perky, Hispanic flair accented by marimba, castanets and maracas, bringing the evening to a resounding “olé!”

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