Classical Sonoma

Eclectic Instrumental Excitement in SoCo Phil Concert

Review by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 16, 2019

Beginning with a scintillating reading of Rossini’s Overture to the Opera “Semiramide,” the Sonoma County Philharmonic performed a splendid program Nov. 16 in the Jackson Theater, and featured two additional works, one showcasing the winner of the San Francisco Conservatory’s Young Artist Award.

It’s pretty hard to not move your body with Rossini’s infectious rhythms and thematic charm, and the audience of 200 seemed to enjoy doing so, even with conductor Norman Gamboa adopting mostly poky tempos and conventional phrasing. The horn section sounded pungently brassy and oboist Chris Krive’s elegant playing paralleled the virtuosity of Debra Scheüerman’s flute and the smile inducing high-wire piccolo line of Emily Reynolds. This Overture from the early 1820s is a sure-fire opening for whatever comes next in the program, usually musically disparate. Loud bravos and applause were heard.

And different Prokofiev’s D Major Violin Concerto was, with the young soloist Pierce Wang playing without score, and though it took a while for him to get going, he did catch the mysterious shimmer of the opening chords. His upper register was his most secure, and the So Co Phil woodwind section gave admirable support throughout the opening Andantino – Andante. Christina Kopriva’s harp solos were always audible. In the second Adagio di molto movement the composer’s dissonant harmonies were strikingly played in the brass and Mr. Wang’s octave playing, with occasional pitch variance, combined in duos with the flute and piccolo. Ms. Kopriva played a lovely glissando half way through and the high strings sang again the melancholy first theme.

Fine bassoon (Steven Peterson) and clarinet playing were heard in the finale, with Floyd Reinhart’s tuba line heard clearly behind the pyrotechnical virtuosity from the soloist’s double stops, quasi-sarcastic tune projection and fast ascending scale passages. Surprisingly the Concerto ended with a long fermata in D major, and a return to the quiet shimmer of the opening. It was haunting and beautiful. The applause was long and strong, with a bouquet for Mr. Wang, one curtain call, a short speech by an SF Conservatory Dean, but no soloist encore.

There had been talk that County fire-related abbreviated rehearsals could affect the Orchestra’s ability to manage the many rhythmic complexities of Rachmaninoff’s Op. 45 Symphonic Dances. But no worry, as Mr. Gamboa drew a performance that underscored the composer’s brilliant orchestration with glittering playing in each section. In three loose movements the Dances have consonant harmonies and include sad themes with a seemingly Czarist Russian color and flavor. Contributing to the rich sonic mix were Mr. Krive and clarinetist Nick Xenelis; bass clarinetist Kathy Brooks, harp, and orchestra pianist Carol Schindler .

Short march sections featured four horns and at times three trumpets, and the playing veered in the Lento assai – Allegro from and occasional raw sonic “edge” to a swaying 1930s dance character, with difficult undulating passages for the violins. The conductor found the nostalgic warmth that underlies even the most demanding writing, a character of the composer’s music from this 1940 work and the A Minor Symphony (his third) that came just four years before. The woodwinds in this movement were first cabin, as were Dave Lindgren’s trumpet playing and the bright snare drum rattle from an unannounced percussion player.

It was altogether a wholly creditable and convincing concert, the second in a set of two. Mr. Gamboa conducts an all French program (Debussy, Ravel, Berlioz) the first two days of February in Jackson, the Philharmonic’s penultimate concert of the 2019/2020 season.

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