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Daniel Rowland: Princeton Symphony Orchestra Opens Season With Two Sparkling Versions of “Seasons”

Princeton Town Topics, Nancy Plum

There is always an air of freshness at the start of a new musical season — the night air is crisp with the coming of autumn and audiences are eager with anticipation of what the new season will bring. Princeton Symphony Orchestra began its 2016-17 season a bit early this year with a concert last Thursday night which was definitely a breath of fresh air — and an approach to Antonio Vivaldi which Princeton audiences likely have not heard before.

Last Thursday night’s performance at Richardson Auditorium featured 20 instrumentalists of the Princeton Symphony, led by conductor and solo violinist Daniel Rowland, performing the four three-movement concerti which comprise Vivaldi’s Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons), interspersed with a four-movement work on the same theme by 20th-century Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla.

Mr. Rowland led the Symphony with energy and verve, showing the contrasting styles of works two centuries apart and the capabilities of the Symphony strings in what was definitely high-speed Baroque.

Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons is one of the most beloved works in orchestral repertory, and a hallmark of the Baroque period of music. Chipper melodic themes and colorful programmatic orchestral writing make these concerti lively and challenging for players. Conversely, Piazzolla’s orchestral music is rooted in the rich Argentine dance tradition and is particularly geared toward the bandoneon, a Latin American concertina used extensively in tango ensembles. Piazzolla originally composed Las Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas (The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires) for bandoneon, describing the work as “musical portraits of Buenos Aires throughout the year, its buildings, its grey skies, its nostalgia and its crowded alleys.” Piazzolla’s Seasons was transcribed for solo violin and strings in the 1990s, and Mr. Rowland has spent the past ten years showing audiences worldwide how well Piazzolla’s and Vivaldi’s seasonal works go together.

Rather than pair “Spring” with “Spring” and so forth, Mr. Rowland kept the seasonal cycle moving forward by opening the concert with Vivaldi’s “Spring,” followed by Piazzolla’s “Summer in Buenos Aires.” The members of Princeton Symphony, accompanied by harpsichordist Raphael Fusco and led by Mr. Rowland, began Vivaldi’s “Spring” very quickly — almost too quickly at times. Soloist Mr. Rowland and concertmaster Basia Danilow chased each other with melodic motives and quick themes, accompanied by fast and furious playing from the lower strings.

Throughout all the works on the program, Mr. Rowland found drama in the music, encouraging the Symphony to take time at cadences and emphasize ornaments not often heard in Vivaldi’s Seasons.Conversely, Piazzolla’s “Summer in Buenos Aires” had a feeling of nostalgia which was well conveyed by the Princeton Symphony, with an immediate atmosphere of a lively city. Mr. Rowland’s solo line was more jagged than that of the Vivaldi work, and the overall orchestral palette was rich and full of color. Each of the movements of Piazzolla’s Seasons ended with an homage to Vivaldi in melodic phrases orchestral texture, providing an opportunity for the Symphony musicians to be a bit playful.

As the musical “seasons” rolled along, Mr. Rowland maintained solid communication with the ensemble players, often moving around the stage to home in on a particular instrumental section. The quick passages of both composers’ works were very quick, and the song-like contrasting sections were soft and intense, with solo lines the audience had to reach to hear. Mr. Rowland particularly drove the other players through the fast rhythms and unified jazz style of the Piazzolla movements. As soloist, he was often paired in elegant musical duets with principal cellist Alistair MacRae, especially in Vivaldi’s “Autumn.” Harpsichordist Mr. Fusco had a chance to shine in the middle movement of Vivaldi’s “Autumn,” leading the string players in what seemed to be a musical soliloquy for harpsichord.

Princeton Symphony Orchestra played these two works as an unintermissioned concert, maintaining impressive intensity and flow throughout the performance. When the final movement of Piazzolla’s “Spring” closed the concert, linking back to the opening Vivaldi “Spring,” Princeton Symphony brought out well Piazzolla’s fiery melody, contrasted with the composer’s quirky Vivaldi recollection on the harpsichord, as the lights in Richardson went down to bring this dual-century and timeless seasonal survey to a close.

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Rowland completely fascinated us with his playing

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Beautiful as a diamond, incandescent as the radiant beams of the sun and poetic as the night of the full moon

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Financial Times, Shirley Apthorp

“among this year’s highlights were organist Wolfgang Abendroth’s seven-part arrangement of Alban Berg’s violin concerto, all the more effective for its intimacy, with Daniel Rowland giving a lyrically intelligent account of the solo part; and a surreal but startlingly plausible version of Shostakovich’s 15th symphony for violin, cello, piano and three percussionists.”

His tone was silky smooth and sweet as honey

The Glasgow Herald

” How did he maintain such an incandescent level of tension throughout a piece as long and as involved as the Franck sonata and how many musical volts were coursing through that bow? His tone was silky smooth and sweet as honey and he seemed to be in another world, eyes closed and breathing in the very soul of the music. ” 

With his magnetic music-making he transfixed this listener

Beeld, Thijs Odendaal

Korngold’s concerto is surely one of the most “lirico dramatico” in the violin repertoire; fiendishly difficult and brilliantly composed with expansive and colourful orchestral writing.

Put the thought-provoking and always engaging violinist Daniel Rowland on the stage with an orchestra even more refined than two nights previously under Raiskin’s guidance, and you get a very special musical experience.

And so it was. Rowland enlightened every lyrical, harmonic and melodic aspect of the work, as well as the fascinating diverse constructions of the solo and orchestral writings during the performance. With his magnetic music-making he transfixed this listener, resulting in an experience that lingered in the mind long after the concert. It is, undoubtedly, an evening that will be remembered for many moons to come.

Backed up by an astonishing technical ability

Die Burger, Cape Town

“Stylish, tasteful and impeccable – but this was so much more: here was deep musical understanding that ranged from tender intimacy to the greatest excitement, always backed up by an astonishing technical ability.”

The force of his magical imagination

Die Burger, Cape Town

” The success and conviction and of the Seasons lay with Rowland. He handles the violin as an extra, but ‘integral’ limb. He creeps round the stage as an enfant terrible, dragging you and the ensemble along with the force of his magical imagination. His sound, even without vibrato, is rich and sweet as honey, his interpretation full of mood-swings and he doesn’t fear to let his violin scratch and groan.”

Faultless intonation and highest musicality

Badisches Tagesblat, Baden-Baden
” All beauties of violin playing were in evidence in this Brahms Concerto: calm bow arm, needless to say faultless intonation and highest musicality. As all of it was as in one breath with the orchestra, we witnessed a masterful performance. The stormy applause said it all.. “

It is a charisma that's hard to put into words

Haarlemse Courant, Netherlands
” With a great sense of lyricism Daniel Rowland plays these gorgeous sonatas. His whole body plays the violin, not through exaggerated movements – it is a charisma that’s hard to put into words. “

A bewitching quality that few musicians possess

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“… Rowland’s spur-of-the-moment, light-on-the-bow inspiration, whereby the music vanished in the very act of articulation – a bewitching quality that few musicians possess “

The Glasgow Herald

The Glasgow Herald

“It was not just the technical brilliance of his playing or the astonishing richness of his tone that gave his performance its unique stamp of quality. He radiated a single-minded intensity that made him seem totally at one with the music.”

What an exceptionally fine soloist and leader this British/Dutch violinist is!

Beeld, Johannesburg

” What an exceptionally fine soloist and leader this British/Dutch violinist is! We haven’t had such an emotive, but also totally and truly a charismatic guest in a very long time.. .the emotions, smouldering passions, the melancholy: Rowland transported us with daring and severity into the composers soul”

Ravishing in its finesse

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” glorious playing…ravishing in its finesse.”

The evening's tour de force

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” Daniel Rowland’s performance of the second quartet’s searingly intensive recitativo, supported by hushed humming and rich chords, was the evenings tour de force.”

The airy energy of the Vivaldi to the the lush, sultry Piazzolla material

The Citizen, Bruce Dennill

A suitable frenzy of heat and colour

The Strad, Tim Homfray

This disc succeeds because it goes to great lengths to bring out the many characters of the music, always in interesting and unexpected ways

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