REVIEW: Philharmonic takes varied ingredients to make a tasty ‘cake’

Marie Antoinette is famous for saying “Let them eat cake," before she lost her head.

On April 17, the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic under the direction of David Bowden made a musical “cake” whose ingredients were all compositions from the time of Marie Antoinette that created a program that was fit for a queen and for a delighted audience at Judson Erne Auditorium.

Creating the same atmosphere as the palace at Versailles, the intimate concert evening featured three outstanding soloists and a partial contingent of the orchestra. The sweet sounds of the musicians and the fluffy texture of the musical offerings made for a delicious and delectable evening of live music so rare in these COVID times.

The evening began with the tasty “Dance of the Furies” from Orpheus and Euridice by Christoph Gluck, the court composer of Marie Antoinette. Playing furiously with rapid, repeated bow strokes, the Philharmonic demonstrated its grasp of the musical style of the performance period with its effective use of dynamics and a light and buoyant articulation. The interplay between the woodwinds and the horns was particularly well executed at the vigorous tempo chosen by Maestro Bowden who visually conveyed the spirit of the piece through his animated conducting style.

The main ingredient of the evening’s dessert was Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 85 “La Reine” (The Queen’s). The work was not performed in the way that most symphonies are performed today in consecutive movement order, but in the style of the period where other compositions were performed interspersed between the movements.

The first movement featured beautiful, delicately performed phrases that displayed the light fluffy texture of Haydn’s compositional style. The orchestra responded to Bowden’s aggressive punching gestures with vigorous accents that contrasted with the soaring linear melody.

The first interjection into the symphony came from another composition by Gluck, “O del mio dolce ardor” from Paris & Helen, featuring soprano Cathy Berns Rund. Rund sang the aria with great feeling and a clear rich tone that was both precise and appropriately florid. There were some minor balance issues with the orchestra in her lower range but the overall effect was captivating in this expressive love song.

Returning to the second movement of the Haydn, the orchestra demonstrated its versatility by playing with a full rich tone while maintaining the classical lightness of the period. Wonderful dynamic contrasts, then subtle dynamic shadings kept the listener focused on the genius of Haydn’s compositional techniques and elegant musical stylings.

Bowden’s conducting skillfully reflected the nuance of each musical phrase and his control of the orchestral sound allowed some beautiful solo flute passages to float over the fullness of the strings along with the other wind instruments in the ensemble as they were featured.

Bringing veteran Philharmonic member and principal flute Kathy Dell to the front for the next special ingredient in our cake, the ensemble performed “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” also from Orpheus and Euridice. Playing with the polish and assuredness of her stature as a longtime member of the group, Dell displayed a crystal clear yet warm tone that allowed her long sustained notes to soar over the orchestra.

With the experience of their years of collaboration, she and maestro Bowden were able to musically bend the tempo of her phrases so deftly and precisely that they created an overwhelming sense of peace and tranquility that had the audience acknowledging her performance with sustained and enthusiastic applause.

Before conducting the final movement of the symphony and the final piece of the concert, Bowden took a moment to acknowledge the contribution of concertmaster Daniel Aizenshtadt, as this was his final concert with the orchestra before returning to Israel. In a fitting finale, this final movement showcased the virtuosity of the violins with their excellent quick articulation, a rich robust tone, and an artistic flair that flowed from Bowden’s dramatic pause to their final bow stroke to the sky.

For an audience eager to hear live music, this concert cake was a delight to the palate of all those in attendance.