One of the great joys of orchestral music is that it can be enjoyed in many different ways. One can listen for beautiful melodies or delightful combinations of instrumental sounds, or enjoy perceiving relationships between one piece and another by the same or different composers.
All these pleasures were on offer Saturday, when the Spokane Symphony performed music of Spanish origin and influence at the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox. One could mention yet another pleasure: that of hearing a superbly programmed selection of music designed to convey to the audience not only enjoyment, but deeper understanding of the culture that produced such music. The planner, of course, was music director and conductor Eckart Preu, whose vital role in the cultural life of our community looms larger with each concert. He chose pieces – some obscure, some familiar – that shared common qualities of vitality, rhythmic impact, poignant melody and dazzling virtuosity.
The most obvious example of this last quality was the playing of guitarist Jason Vieaux in the popular Concierto de Aranjuez for Guitar and Orchestra by Joaquin Rodrigo.
Vieaux’s mastery of his instrument, his virtuosity, seems to make possible what the average player cannot imagine. His right hand coaxes a shimmering rainbow of color from the guitar, while his left hand seems to appear at different places on the fingerboard without having to traverse the space that separates them. This incredible speed gives him the ability to lavish expression on every note, no matter how brief, all the while remaining sufficiently relaxed to respond to the inspiration of his colleagues. Vieaux’s encore was an exquisite arrangement of Duke Ellington’s “In a Sentimental Mood,” in which he continued to achieve the impossible without apparent effort.
But virtuosity was hardly confined to the soloist on that evening. Its crucial role in Spanish music was illustrated by the first piece on the program, “Ritmo Jondo” by Carlos Surinach. Sparely scored for percussion, trumpet and clarinet, the piece required each player to show terrific virtuosity, while maintaining an intimate, chamber-music integration with the other players. Principal trumpet Larry Jess, in particular, delivered a master class in agility, fluency and tone-color, all in the space of three minutes.
The idea of individual virtuosity within a larger orchestral fabric blossomed in the Variaciones Concertantes for Chamber Orchestra Op. 23 of Alberto Ginastera, and the immensely popular Capriccio Espagnol, Op. 34 of Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.
The ability of such players as Mateusz Wolski (violin), Nick Carper (viola), John Marshall (cello), Lynne Feller-Marshall (bassoon), Sheila McNally (English horn), Jennifer Scriggins Brummett (horn), Chip Phillips and Dan Cotter (clarinet), and the remarkable Patrick McNally (bass), to bring off performances of music of this difficulty at such a high level of mastery is staggering.