Tuesday, January 23, 2024

concert review: Sacramento Philharmonic

This is the other orchestra of which the Oakland Symphony's Michael Morgan was music director until his death three years ago. But while Oakland still hasn't appointed a permanent replacement, Sacramento has. As of this season, their "Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor" is Ari Pelto, an American of Finnish descent. Sacramento seems to be doing well for itself: attendance is bursting the bounds of its very spacious venue, and as of next season they plan to give each concert twice, as San Jose does (Oakland doesn't).

I've been at one time or another to several orchestras in the Central Valley, but this event on Saturday was my first concert in Sacramento. Pelto arranged for a concert with a couple of my not-often-heard favorites, and I couldn't resist, despite the long drive and, as it turned out, the rain.

The program's main piece was the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto. The soloist was Michelle Cann, whom I remember from some Silicon Valley Music Festival concerts a few years back. She's matured into a powerful soloist with a way of putting legato smoothness even into the "tolling bells" opening of this concerto. Due perhaps to the very wide shape of the auditorium, the piano sound dissipated and didn't focus well, so Cann didn't always dominate over the (quite large) orchestra as she should have. But the liveliness of her performance was outclassed by the encore: she began Rach's Prelude in C-sharp minor with slow gravity, and then suddenly switched to an ultra-fast jazzed-up version, making free with rhythm and emphasis. Heuwell Tircuit would have hated it.

In a pre-concert talk, Pelto said he wanted Prokofiev's Lieutenant Kijé Suite to reflect the irony and farce of the movie it's arranged from, and I thought, how refreshing. Music sources used to claim (falsely) that the movie had never actually been made, and now here's a conductor who's seen it. (As have I.) It was light and energetic, with some of the solos almost hinting at the same kind of freedom with rhythm that Michelle Cann took in her encore.

And lastly, Sibelius's Third, his most understated but most beautiful symphony. This again was a light-toned performance, feeling fragile in its careful charm.

I was very happy with all of this, and yes it was worth the trouble I took to get there.

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