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Symphony review: Concert expands listeners’ horizons

In contrast to their Classic Series, the Casual Classics concerts by the Spokane Symphony offer a glimpse of works and, sometimes, composers who are off the beaten path.

In this way, Music Director Eckart Preu and Resident Conductor Morihiko Nakahara make an important point: that pleasure is to be found not only in acknowledged masterpieces, and that those who love music should never grow complacent with the pieces they have known all their lives, but should constantly refresh and expand their exposure to the riches of music.

In Friday’s concert at the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox, the orchestra under Nakahara demonstrated another important point: that superior musicianship always provides enormous pleasure, even in works of the second rank.

The opening measures of the first piece on the program, Schubert’s early Overture in Italian Style in D major, were lovingly, indeed ravishingly phrased, first by the winds, then by the strings, and finally by the horns, setting a standard that was maintained throughout the concert.

In keeping with earlier Casual Classics centered on Beethoven and Mozart, this one was billed as “Schubert’s Facebook,” employing the social network as a metaphor for the relationships between Schubert and his contemporaries – Robert Schumann and Felix Mendelssohn.

The Facebook reference was creatively employed to explain that these men knew and admired one another’s works, and that these influences are necessary to properly understand and appreciate their music.

Mendelssohn’s concert overture, “The Fair Melusina,” demonstrated the power of music to tell a story or paint a picture, and by so doing communicated the vivid emotions that are the essence of Romanticism.

Mendelssohn’s writing for horns is at once demanding and critical to the success of the piece. The horn section played wonderfully, providing exactly the warmth and noble character the music asked for.

Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale is the work of a gifted composer of piano and vocal music who felt that he really ought to be writing symphonies. It contains all of Schumann’s strengths: ardent melody, vivid characterization and harmonic ingenuity. It also betrays his chronic weaknesses: tiresome rhythmic repetitiveness and difficulty in maintaining a sense of forward movement.

Nakahara and the orchestra, however, played it for all its worth, if not more.

Schubert’s Symphony No. 4 in C minor, “Tragic,” was the most substantial work on the program and contained, perhaps, the evening’s only example of musical misjudgment. In the first movement, Nakahara took a very measured tempo, not at all the allegro vivace indicated in the score, perhaps to maintain the clarity and molding of each phrase. As a result, however, the movement plodded.

Apart from that, the symphony communicated the joy in making music that illuminated the entire evening.