The review below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of October 21, 2001.
Friday in Popejoy Hall conductor Roger Melone and the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra and Chorus joined forces for an exuberant evening of music making. Consisting of one Beethoven and one Mozart work, the program was delivered with sustained vigor by Melone in one of his strongest performances.
There was not a trace of the hesitation or insecurity that has sometimes marked Melone's conducting of larger works. From the opening notes of Beethoven's Fourth Symphony to the last strains of Mozart's Mass in C Minor Melone displayed confidence and control. He knew exactly what he wanted to do with the music, conveying his ideas with a conviction that pulled in both the musicians and the audience.
The concert was dedicated to the memory of Yoshimi Takeda, who for 14 years led what began as the Albuquerque Symphony and then became the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra. He also founded the chorus and insisted, according to Melone in pre-concert remarks, that the NMSO should continue to maintain such an ensemble. ``A wonderful human being and a gorgeous conductor'' in Melone's estimate, Takeda died a year ago this past summer. His wife was present in the audience for the evening's tribute.
Beethoven's Fourth has tended to be overshadowed by the heroic Third and mighty Fifth.
Even in its time the symphony was seen as something lesser. Its playfulness is propelled by a dancing energy that reflects Beethoven's assimilation of the language of Haydn and Mozart.
Melone's crisp interpretation underlined these connections, focusing on the music's quicksilver grace rather than seeking to make drama of its often sharp contrasts. The slow second movement stayed a tad too much on the simple side though infused with an appealing warmth that included some tenderly shaped solos from clarinetist Michael Stordahl. Beethoven's comic horn dismissal of the third movement got lost in Melone's eagerness to give the fourth movement a running start.
Minor matters in what was overall an engaging reading.
Second in Mozart's sacred works only to his final Requiem, the Mass in C Minor offers powerful drama. At once personal and majestic, it conveys, often in operatic terms, compassion for the human condition as only Mozart can. Splendidly prepared by Melone, the chorus gave one of its most supple performances. Flexible expressively, expansive emotionally, delivering quick dynamic shifts with ease, crystal clear in enunciation, the balance excellent, the chorus was in top form.
A standout in the able quartet of soloists was soprano Mary Ellen Callahan, who, from the first notes of her ``Christe eleison'' entrance on, radiated a purity and warmth that pierced the heart.
In finely controlled singing marked by dead center pitch and subtle melodic shaping as well as a velvet evenness throughout her range, Callahan delivered one stunning passage after another.
With lovely responses from the woodwinds, her delicate ``Et incarnatus est'' solo deftly brought the Mass to its intimate center. Soprano Victoria Atwater caught the music's operatic flair thought not always with accuracy. Tenor Karl Dent and bass David Grogan were solid additions to the team.