ARTSMONDAY: Bartosik Dazzles in Bach Soc Recital

Pianist Nora I. Bartosik ’08 shattered expectations of student virtuosity in her performance with the Bach Society Orchestra (BachSoc) on Saturday night in Paine Hall. The winner of BachSoc’s 2007 Concerto Competition, Bartosik lifted the mood of the evening and imbued her solos with the graceful power that emanates naturally from an artist fully in command of her craft.

Bartosik’s performance was the centerpiece of BachSoc’s Junior Parents’ Weekend concert. In front of a crowded hall, music director and conductor Aram V. Demirjian ’08 led the entirely student-run orchestra through a program of Beethoven, Grieg, and Schumann.

A spirit of youthful exuberance pervaded the night—sometimes at the expense of the furniture. The members of BachSoc clearly took pride in their self-reliant nature. Responding enthusiastically to Demirjian’s emotional and effective conducting, the musicians seemed to fill the hall with a confidence in their unbounded potential as undergraduates. Not even a wayward chair, accidentally pushed off the stage to amused applause, could dampen their spirits.

While this excitement, at its best, translated into heartfelt music, it also led to sonic imbalances and an occasional lack of polish. Such problems were evident from the concert’s first selection, Beethoven’s “Overture to ‘Egmont,’ ” op. 84. Written as incidental music for a play by Goethe, the piece depicts the Dutch opposition to Spanish rule during the 16th century.

From the first measures of the Overture, each section exhibited characteristics that would persist for the rest of the program. The strings, led by principals Alex Y. Shiozaki ’09, Kathryn S. Austin ’09, and Valerie Lee ’07, handled the opening chords with panache and provided a consistent foundation for the remainder of the concert.

However, when the woodwinds entered soon after, intonation issues soured the tonal contrast, and were not completely eradicated until an emergency between-movement tuning during the Schumann.

It was the brass, though, which were primarily responsible for the textural imbalances. The trumpets consistently overpowered the strings and woodwinds, even overblowing during the Overture’s final melodic peak—although the brass represented the victorious Dutch, the Spanish couldn’t have been quite that overwhelmed in the actual battle. This inflexible penchant for volume was a distraction in all three program selections.

Ultimately, these worries were redeemed by the arrival of Bartosik, who found new life in Edvard Grieg’s popular “Piano Concerto in A minor.” Bartosik’s delicate touch on the piano could only be described as poetry in motion. At times, Bartosik’s sublime piano solos were sullied by out-of-tune woodwind entrances, deafening trumpets, or murky French horn lines, but otherwise the Grieg was a resounding success. By the final Allegro movement, each section had adjusted to the others, and the piece ended in a justly deserved standing ovation for Bartosik–one of the most accomplished undergraduate pianists on campus.

The final selection on the program, Schumann’s “Symphony in C major,” had a tough act to follow. After a shaky beginning, the orchestra settled in by the third movement. Schumann wrote the symphony during a dark period in his life, and Demirjian again proved his mettle by fluidly emphasizing the inherent sadness of the piece. The rich tone of the flute passages by Jonathan G. Sherman ’07 especially stood out.

Yet the final movement’s resolution, stirring as it was, felt somehow anticlimactic after Bartosik’s earlier performance, prompting a nearby audience member to ask, “Is that it?”

Traveling effortlessly through her technically demanding concerto, Bartosik had clearly internalized the music in the very marrow of her being. The ebb and flow of Grieg’s memorable themes traveled flawlessly from her fingers, and, as evidenced by the other musicians’ awed expressions, the orchestra was honored to be following in her considerable wake.