Sunday, November 7, 2021

two concerts

California Symphony
I'd heard several times before with pleasure this orchestra that plays at Lesher Center in Walnut Creek, out in the further East Bay. But this year's schedule included some programs so tempting that, despite the distance from home, I plumped for a three-ticket subscription. (And found on my seat a new subscriber's gift in the form of two chits for intermission drinks at the bar. I had a diet Coke, my usual in those circumstances.)
This concert, for instance: an all-strings performance, featuring two large scale works that are favorites of mine. The first was Vivaldi's Four Seasons, all of it, led (without a conductor) by violin soloist Alexi Kenney in a dry, crisp, steely manner as if it were by Telemann. Often very fast: Winter's Largo movement was taken as Allegro con moto and was consequently over in about one minute. The other weird feature was the continuo. During some of the slow movements the harpsichord player transferred his fingers to an adjacent positive organ and played elaborations which gave a church-music air to the proceedings.
The other large feature, for a much larger ensemble, was Mahler's orchestration of Schubert's "Death and the Maiden" Quartet, a version of that beloved piece I always like to hear. Led by music director Donato Cabrera, this was a serious and weighty interpretation, better with the tender and ethereal than the driving and intense, reaching impressive sublimity with the close of the Andante.
Also on the program, two short works by African-American composers: George Walker's inescapable Lyric, very much living up to its title; and Jessie Montgomery's busy and rushed Starburst.

New Millennium Chamber Orchestra
The music director was out sick, so the conductor was the assistant, Tabitha Tetreault, normally a utility instrumentalist with this volunteer group. Less eloquent (her word) and more succinct (mine) than her boss, she spoke only briefly before each piece, and otherwise referred inquirers to the impressively specific program notes. On the podium, she has a textbook baton style, with the left hand copying the right when it isn't giving expressive marks or cues.
Center of the program was The Blue Room by Reena Esmail, a violin concerto in a sort of Shostakovich/modal style that NMCO played once before in my hearing, four years ago, with the same soloist, concertmaster Colyn Fischer.
The rest of the concert was taken from the miscellaneous drawer of the standard repertoire: Beethoven's Egmont overture, Brahms's Haydn Variations, Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances Suite 1, and Ravel's Mother Goose. The music was a little stodgy - thus the Brahms was played as if each variation were a separate movement - but it had line and coherence. The Beethoven, as the only single undivided work, was the one which had a chance to build up some dramatic power. But the others are more designed to be charming, and some fine instrumental color managed to convey that.

No comments:

Post a Comment