by Nina Auslander-Padgham
Wearing a bright turquoise dress and sparkly cowboy boots, violinist Francesca DePasquale dominated the stage of Finney Chapel even before she began playing in Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Concerto in G Minor. When the faculty violinist first entered in the “Allegro Maestoso,” her full-bodied sound soared to the back of the large chapel. Her virtuosic playing was in contrast to the Oberlin Orchestra, who under the direction of conductor Raphael Jiménez, sounded a shade sluggish and had a hard time staying together, particularly the first violins. Despite that, DePasquale sounded exceptional during the cadenza, a fiery solo accented nicely by a timpani roll.
The orchestra sounded markedly better in “Andante semplice–Andantino,” a mood change from the first movement that features more contemplative melodies, punctuated by rapid passages from DePasquale that snaked up the fingerboard. According to the program notes, “Allegro molto-Moderato,” is supposed to be energetic and dance-like, but the orchestra again had trouble keeping up with the soloist. The audience rose to their feet after the performance, applauding and cheering DePasquale, who modestly gestured to the orchestra, as if to say, “It’s them, not me.”
British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born to an African father and an English mother, and many of his compositions are influenced by African-American spirituals. This concerto was written for Maud Powell, a female American violinist, who along with Coleridge-Taylor, had to fight discrimination during their careers. Coleridge-Taylor was a trained violinist, which certainly is self-evident in this beautiful concerto. While Concerto in G Minor was over 30 minutes long, it moved effortlessly, always seeming to develop in new and interesting ways.
The same can not be said for the first piece of the night, Serenade in Seven Colours by Andrea Tarrodi, which was perfectly pleasant to listen to but felt much longer than nine minutes.
Curiously, the stage was already set for the entire orchestra, meaning the woodwinds and brass featured in the piece had to perform at the back of the stage with many empty seats clustered around them. While it was hard to see the performers, the members of the ensemble sounded strong, with Angelo Ciriello on E-flat clarinet and Carlianne Simonelli on horn standing out.
The program concluded with Benjamin Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. The piece is a collection of themes and variations, with the original theme by Henry Purcell. The orchestra started strong out of the gate, pouring their whole energy into a loud and powerful introduction. However, like in the Violin Concerto in G Minor, the players had a tough time staying together. When it ended, the ensemble received another standing ovation, but not before Jiménez shared a slight grimace with the orchestra.