Last Sunday, the Windsor Symphony Orchestra held an afternoon of intimate classics at The Heritage Auditorium on the upper floor of Assumption Hall. It was the perfect setting for an afternoon of unique string classics from Mozart, Schubert and Schoenberg.

There was a bit of talk amongst the audience about Schoenberg’s Transfigured Night (or Verklarte Nacht) as the themed piece for the show. Many didn’t know what to expect, while others knew of Schoenberg’s early history when his works were labelled degenerate music by the Nazi party. Regardless, it was a courageous piece for the WSO to not only perform, but to make the show piece of its Heritage Auditorium show.

Transfigured Night is a stunning piece and may very well be the best and most exciting selection of the entire 2017-18 season. Inspired by Richard Dehmel ‘s poem of the same name, the one movement masterpiece was also crafted around Schoenberg’s feelings about meeting his future wife for the first time.

The romantic piece sweeps around for about 30 minutes and could easily have been the soundtrack to a movie about the poem. Transfigured Night, like the poem, is in five sections. The first, third, and fifth sections portray the deeply intertwined feelings of a newly-in-love couple walking together in the cold, moonlit night. The second section agitatedly expresses the woman’s painful disclosure that she is pregnant with the child of another man. The fourth section displays the man’s answer and assurance that they will raise the child together. By the end, it sounds as though they are walking, madly in love surrounded by glittering stars in a beautiful night sky.

The WSO somberly took us through the forest via that whirlwind of passion and it seemed to surprise the audience with its gorgeous dose of emotional and expressionistic strings. It’s odd to think that the piece actually caused riots and fights when it premiered in Vienna 1902, but Schoenberg was creating something new at the time. It was the first work of chamber music that overtly portrayed a complete story. Until then, storytelling was restricted to symphonic works and operas.

In 1902, writers of the day criticized the work for its structure and harmonic style, especially a particular unresolved inverted ninth chord that was declared completely unacceptable at the time and was even rejected by the Vienna Music Society.

The WSO also performed Schubert’s Mass No. 2 in G Major with the WSO Chorus and soloists Julie Ludwig, Ryan Fitzgerald and Bruce Kotowich, who was filling in for an absent Jeremy Ludwig. The Auditorium with its stellar stained-glass windows was the perfect setting for a sacred piece like this. The choir shined through such recognizable movements as Kyrie and Gloria, with masterful soprano Julie Ludwig taking on most of the solos in the work. Kotowich’s bass was solid and powerful at just the right moments. While we only heard Fitzgerald’s tenor just once, he sounded great.

The afternoon ended with Mozart, which seems to be something that’s become essential to the WSO repertoire. It’s a bit like required listening ad often demanded by the audience. Conductor Robert Franz selected the uplifting and spirited Serenata Notturna (Serenade No. 6 in D Major). It sounded like something you might hear on the upper deck of the Titanic and was obviously written for the upper class of Mozart’s day.

Serenata Notturna is a shorter piece of about 15 minutes and was broken down into three movements. With a bit of wit, Mozart crafted two fun solos into the work, the first, a violin solo performed by WSO Concertmaster Lillian Scheirich, which was followed by an amusing timpani solo from Jacob Mannion.

Transfigured Night was an extremely entertaining afternoon of music from the Windsor Symphony Orchestra, highlighted by one of the more unique and risky pieces they’ve performed. The result was the most exciting performance of a season that’s been filled with sold-out classics, passionate rockers and breakthrough original pieces. Here’s hoping there’s more of this type of work in future seasons.

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