“Fantasies & Enigmas” Review

Classical Sonoma

Jackson Theater Welcomes A New Resident Orchestra

Review by Terry McNeill
Saturday, January 26, 2019

Moving to a permanent new performance venue can be a perilous undertaking for an orchestra, with different acoustics, the loyal audience finding the new spot and infrastructure challenges of lighting and lobby and backstage operations. In their first concert Jan. 26 in Windsor’s Jackson Theater the Sonoma County Philharmonic managed to master the new hall and produced music at their usual high level before 250 people, with a repeat the following afternoon.

Conductor Norman Gamboa drew a warm sound from his orchestra in the Bruch Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46, with violin soloist Lin He. Mr. He’s focused and plangent sound was never large, and recalled the recent poised but not extravagant or high temperature approach of violinist Jennifer Koh with the Marin Symphony. The conductor’s section placement was usual (second violins stage left) but the concert harp was surprisingly positioned next to the cellos, and soloist Cristina Kopriva had a prominent part in the lyrical Bruch.

Acoustics in the Jackson were sharply less reverberate than the Santa Rosa High School hall, but warm and direct with the lip of the balcony much closer to the stage front than at SRHS. This seemed to favor the poetry of the adagio cantabile, ending with Mr. He’s brilliant high e string note. The scherzo’s expressive themes were projected well by Ms. Kopriva and Mr. He, with the latter’s wide vibrato and lovely trills.

Intonation difficulties at the opening of the andante sostenuto and blurring in fast scale passages resolved quickly, and Mr. He played the virtuoso ascending and descending runs and double stops in exemplary fashion. Passages from the five horns were splendid. The finale was lively with Mr. Gamboa in consummate control and Mr. He widening his vibrato and finishing the cadenza with a long and perfectly shaped trill.

Following intermission English hornist Anthony Perry and trumpeter Tom Hyde were the soloists in Copeland’s meditative 11-minute Quiet City, composed in 1941. As usual Mr. Hyde’s conclusive playing was never piercing or shrill, and he swelled on notes to achieve substantial loudness. The unique English horn sound has been in my ears since first hearing it in the introduction to the third act of Tristan und Isolde, and here Mr. Perry beguiling playing was softly effective. Mr. Gamboa drew subtle string playing from the reduced orchestra, and his pacing was generous.

Elgar’s Enigma Variations, Op. 36, concluded the concert in a performance where brass and horn solos were prominent, and splendid playing abounded throughout. Mr. Gamboa was clearly shaping the long thematic line throughout the 14 variations. Fetching individual playing came from clarinetist Nick Xenelis; flutists Emily Reynolds and Valerie White; Miranda Kincaid (bassoon) and in several short solos by violist Robby Morales.

The famous adagio variation (No. 9, “Nimrod”) was played with a light touch and the conductor moved the tempo and shaped a lovely flute phrase. There was only a brief accelerando leading to the finale, and throughout the 33-minute piece Mr. Gamboa never was in any hurry, letting instrument sound ranging from Floyd Reinhart’s tuba part to frequently rumbling strings to shine forth.

The Jackson provided a happy musical home for its new resident orchestra.

Ending the 20th anniversary season will be concerts in Jackson April 6 (7:30) and 7 (2:00) with the main work Prokofiev’s monumental Fifth Symphony in B Flat Major, Op. 100.

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