Sonic Splash and Ensemble Delicacy at SoCo Phil Concert
Review by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017
Franck’s wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on today’s concert programs, and I can’t remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High School. The first of the set is reviewed here.
The Belgian composer’s only Symphony is difficult structurally to perform, though underpinned by the recurring them in each of the three movements. To some it’s a theme bordering on banality, and to others it’s a theme of nobility crafted and ingeniously developed by the seasoned master in 1889, shortly before his death. Conductor Norman Gamboa drew from his Orchestra a performance of considerable power and excitement. The many short climaxes of the opening allegro gave cumulative cohesion to the sound, with faint references to the beguiling contemporary harmonies of Wager’s operas and Liszt’s tone poems.
Christina Kopriva’s harp solo opened the andante were Chris Krive’s elegant oboe solo over murmuring string pizzicato was a highlight. Tempos were judicious throughout, and the sonic momentum of the first movement’s allegro returned in the finale. The brass sounded heroically and Anthony Perry’s plaintive English horn solos were handsome. Mr. Gamboa built an apex of Franck’s inspired drama, anticipating the cutoff at the ending that has always seemed to me too short and inconclusive. Audience response was warm and loud.
Mozart’s E-Flat Major Symphonia Concertante (K. 364) was the capstone of the first half and featured as soloists two of the So Co Phil’s principals, violinist Pam Otsuka and violist Robby Morales. Jeffrey Kahane conducted a memorable performance of the work in Weill two summers ago, and Mr. Gamboa’s interpretation shared many of the same felicities – attention to small details, chaste phrasing and soloist support. The music from 1779 is of course sharply different from the two other works on the program, with a reduced size ensemble and needing transparency of sound rather than robust volume and thick textures.
The long introduction (the soloists played through the tutti) to the allegro maestoso led to the opening solo entrances, both well played and indicating, especially in the cadenzas where seemingly ample rehearsal time was spent. The goal here is to capture the music’s delicacy, but always wrapped in impeccable instrumental technique and balance. It’s odd that pitch and phrase coordination in these luscious cadenzaduos mostly avoided the intonation deficiencies and blurring in short trills and turns that were often present when playing in the first movement’s ensemble. Mr. Morales overcame these pesky problems in the lovely sadness and lament of the andante where his bottom register tone was burnished and secure.
Tricky horn phrases opened the presto finale and the orchestra exhibited some of the most cohesive playing of the evening, deftly controlled by the conductor. The slower-than-usual tempo allowed Ms. Otsuka’s violin line to soar and carry to the back row of the acoustically lively hall. Her violin tone was lambent, alternatively melding and contrasting with Mr. Morales. Greeting the soloists after the final convincing chord were a standing ovation and several presentation bouquets.
Opening the evening was a rollicking eight-minute playing of Shostakovich’s Festive Overture. It was a snazzy way to begin and always an audience favorite, as evidenced by recent local performances by the Santa Rosa Symphony, Russian National Orchestra, Mariinsky Orchestra and the Mendocino Music Festival Orchestra. Outstanding in this exciting romp were Mary Kemnec’s piccolo playing, and the persuasive solos of flutists Valerie White and Emily Reynolds. Mr. Gamboa conducted without score.