Orff and Hindemith Sonic Splendor at Final SoCo Phil Concert
Review by Terry McNeill
Saturday, March 17, 2018
The stage was crammed with the full orchestra and two choirs, the Santa Rosa Symphonic Chorus and the California Redwood Chorale (Robert Hazelrigg, director). It looked like nearly 60 singers filled the risers. The auditorium was packed with regular SoCo Phil concert attendees and groups of family members, and Carl Orff’s theatrical Carmina Burana cantata from 1937 was surely the draw for the increased numbers.
It’s a complex work that has the most sections and sub sections in a performance that lasted just over an hour. With all these forces in the mix, including three vocal soloists and the Santa Rosa Children’s Choral Academy (all seated in the first row, and directed by Carol Menke from the sixth row) conductor Norman Gamboa had his hands full. In a work of these proportions a conductor usually has “the score in his head, or his head in the score,” and Mr. Gamboa deftly paid little attention to the sheet music in front of him. He clearly has given the knotty music long and dedicated scrutiny.
Sung mostly in Latin with some middle high German, old French and some Provençal, the 25 main sections unfolded with sonic power and a bevy of fine instrumental playing: long held notes from the three trombones and three trumpets: clarinet and flute solos (Nick Xenelis and Debra Scheuerman/Emily Reynolds); and an exceptional variety of percussion effects, some opposite at stage left/stage right. Dramatic sounds came from the small xylophone, three electric pianos, chimes, bells, castanets, gourds and cymbals. Certainly more were in the percussion blend that I missed.
The composer splashed many musical references about, from oddly the Flower Duet from Delibes’ “Lakmé” to late Renaissance composers (Josquin, Monteverdi), and with some neo-Baroque rhythms from composers in the 1920s. It’s a powerful stew, the sections frequently exploding without a break.
Three soloists seemed an adjunct to Carmina’s instrumental frenzy, with baritone Igor Vierira and soprano Ivalah Allen having the most extended singing, and tenor Mark Kratz was limited to one aria sung in raw falsetto. None of the arias were congenial for the respective voices, especially for Miss Allen at the top of her range in melisma over flutes and piccolo. However, she could spin a beguiling song, as in the lovely dulcissime (Sweetest boy) section, and Mr. Vieira had snazzy hand and face movements in the “All things are tempered by the sun” movement.
An extravaganza of vivid sound, Carmina ended with fortissimo punch and Erik Ohlson’s blows on the Philharmonic’s biggest bass drum. Instant audience cheers followed, and Mr. Gamboa seemed elated at his ensemble’s accomplishment, and motioned for several instrumental soloists to stand.
Hindemith is not a composer heard much in the North Bay, but the Symphonic Metamorphosis (on themes from Weber) is arguably his most popular composition for orchestra. The four-movement work from 1943 was played wonderfully, and in no way was it a modest lead in to the demands of Carmina.
The music at turns is sassy and is full of surprising accents, particularly in the fugue. Uncovering familiar Weber themes was out of reach, given the masterly orchestra details, many slight accelerandos in the scherzo, frequent dissonant chords that jarred the ear, and as usual persuasive wind solos from Ms. Scheuerman, Mr. Xenelis and bassoonist Steven Peterson. The final marsch with timpani and chimes closed a brilliant interpretation.
With such large forces at this concert praise was needed to anoint many, but the evening’s true hero was Mr. Gamboa. Thinking of just the manifold number of attacks and cutoffs that he managed so conclusively, it was an artful demonstration of control of intricate orchestral architecture and sonic texture.
This set was the final one for the Philharmonic’s 2017-2018 season, but one more “gift” to their loyal public comes on June 15. The Orchestra, again under Mr. Gamboa’s direction, will showcase the works they are performing on the musical tour of Costa Rica, set to be June 17-25. It will be their second international tour, as Gabriel Sakakeeny (now Conductor Emeritus) led an arduous but wildly successful China tour in 2010.