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Review: F-M Symphony warms up to winter with Sung in its heart

FARGO — The Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra tied into the communitywide, midwinter celebration Frostival on Saturday, Jan. 27, with its latest installment of the Masterworks Concert Series.

The set consisted of songs set in or inspired by winter — and, in doing so, left the audience all warm and fuzzy.

Concertmaster Ben Sung served as soloist on Antonio Vivaldi's "Winter" from his concerto "The Four Seasons." Once again, the violinist dazzled with his playing.

Sung is stepping down from his post at the end of the season, choosing not to commute for concerts from his home in Florida. His decision, while completely understandable, may leave FMSO concertgoers a bit cold.

Watching Sung over the years has been a treat, not only because of his musical prowess, but because of his enthusiasm. Whether he's playing a solo or playing along with the orchestra, he often looked like he was having the most fun in the room.

Sung's passion was contagious on Saturday as he led a smaller, mostly string ensemble through the familiar piece. It was as much fun to watch his fingers fly as to catch his interplay with Greg Hamilton, his cellist counterpart, or observe associate concertmaster Sonja Harasim transfixed on the principal.

At only 10 minutes long, the piece was a highlight to the show and a delight for the audience, a sweet followup to the selection of dances from Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's "The Nutcracker." Perhaps the best known wintry piece of classical music, Saturday's performance proved the work is a treat any time of the year that you can hear it played live.

Keyboardist Jay Hershberger's touches on the celeste were like the lightest of steps. Nikki Lemire's harp added an enchanted touch to "In the Pine Forest" and "Waltz of the Flowers," which earned a show-stopping ovation before the finale, "Grand pas de Deux."

It would be hard to top that much audible joy, so musical director Christopher Zimmerman took the night in a totally different direction in the second half with Dmitri Shostakovich's "Symphony No. 11."

Better known as "The Year 1905," the work depicts the slaughter of unarmed protesters that marched on the Winter Palace. It opens with an ominous theme that hangs as heavy as fog on that January day, known as "Bloody Sunday," erupts in the second movement with a flurry of percussion, then stops suddenly to survey the carnage.

The work utilizes folk songs of the time, but you don't need to know Russian history or culture as a screen above the orchestra shows depictions of the day and drops footnotes on references.

It's a dark composition, but compelling.

The programming for this concert may have not be the most musically complex, but it was like comfort food for the ears — familiar, warm, rich and completely fulfilling.

If you go

What: Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra Masterworks Concert

When: 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 28

Where: Festival Concert Hall, NDSU

Info: Tickets range from $30 to $40; www.fmsymphony.org or 701-478-3676.

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