The commercial appeal

The Commercial Appeal
By Jon W. Sparks
December 5, 2011
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Concert Review: IRIS plucks right strings at GPAC concert

Saturday night’s IRIS Orchestra concert was an all-strings triumph of programming and performance, again showing the deft touch maestro Michael Stern has in creating a presentation that is both familiar and adventurous.

Guest performer Elizabeth Hainen brought virtuoso harp skills in two remarkable performances to the Germantown Performing Arts Centre. The first was Caplet’s “Conte fantastique,” a tone poem based on Edgar Allen Poe’s “Masque of the Red Death.” The 1919 work is thrilling and terrifying, sounding today like the soundtrack from a horror film, but all the more interesting for how it set a standard for aural chills.

Hainen’s second piece was Debussy’s “Danse sacree et Danse profane,” a gorgeous work that reveals the beautiful tonalities and possibilities the harp can deliver. Hainen’s flawless and moving performance made the Debussy shimmer. For an encore, she performed “Will-o’-the-Wisp,” a delightful confection by Alphonse Hasselmans that hit the spot.

The concert opened with Mendelssohn’s “Sinfonia No. 5 for Strings,” a smart work of sweetness and wit made all the more remarkable when one realizes the composer was 12 when he wrote it in less than two weeks. The IRIS Orchestra performed it with exactly the right light touch to make it come to life.

The next work was the “Christmas Symphony” by American composer Alan Hovhaness. It’s assuredly an original work even as it draws on his childhood impressions of the holidays, grounded in tradition. But Hovhaness was also profoundly influenced by Asian music and mystical ideas, enough that this celebration of Christmas is a curious and eclectic blend of musical sensations.

The evening’s final work was Tchaikovsky’s enduring “Serenade for Strings in C Major,” a shade wobbly in some of the quietest passages, but otherwise overwhelmingly satisfying in its elegance and execution.

© 2012 Scripps Newspaper Group