Sunday, March 25, 2012

concert review: San Jose Chamber Orchestra

This concert was full of unpredictabilities and surprises. For one thing, I didn't decide until literally half an hour before it started that I was definitely going to go. Fortunately, le petit Trianon is only 15 minutes from here when the traffic permits.

For a second, Eric Kujawsky of the Redwood Symphony, who was going to guest conduct, was ill, and SJCO music director Barbara Day Turner led the program instead.

For a third, I did not know until I arrived and saw the program book which Beethoven string quartet they were going to play in a string orchestra adaptation, as the orchestra's web site listed two different quartets for this role in different places. It turned out to be the Razumovsky Third. The scoring was the responsibility of Kujawsky, whose contribution basically consisted of designating on which forte passages the bass would double the celli, assigning a few virtuoso moments to soloists, and - judging from the quality of the performance - writing the tempo/characterization instruction "sluggish" on various parts of the score.

As a performance of the quartet it was distinctly unremarkable, but it was nevertheless interesting to hear this piece blown up to the size of a (small: 16 players altogether) string orchestra.

Also on the program: Strut by Michael Daugherty, his attempt at an evocation of the Harlem Renaissance. Its only resemblance to the music of that time came in the presence of a lot of what the Nazis called "pattering on the sordine" when they banned it. (Link courtesy of Arthur Hlavaty here.) This being Daugherty, there's lots of mechanistic flair, including plenty of short glissandi disguised as bent notes.

And Copland's Clarinet Concerto, the one written for Benny Goodman, played here by Michael Corner. Corner is about as good a clarinetist as you'll find down in these parts, but though his phrasing was fine, for whatever reason his tone was harsh and glaring in the opening slow section. Maybe it was the acoustics, because towards the end of that section he adjusted his mouthpiece on the fly and afterwards sounded much better. During the concluding fast section he mouthed along with the orchestra whenever he was not playing, as if willing them to swing as smoothly as he did. It was an uphill struggle.

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