January 28, 2013 in City, Features

Symphony review: Berlioz’s vision brought to life

Larry Lapidus Correspondent
 

The splendid auditorium of the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox is a veritable riot of color: flamingo pink, pea green, azure, teal, rose, silver and gold, all simultaneously calling to the eye for attention. Yet, when the lights went down on Saturday night at the start of the concert by the Spokane Symphony, there was no loss of color. In fact, the spectrum that shone from the stage seemed even more brilliant and audacious than that which adorns the walls.

Hector Berlioz (1803-1869) literally wrote the book on modern orchestration: the Grand Traité d’Instrumentation et d’Orchestration Modernes, and he brought it to life in his Roman Carnival Overture of 1844. Almost every instrument appears in the first 30 seconds of the work. The texture is then pared to a melody on a single English horn, performed Saturday night by Sheila McNally to perfection. As the melody continues, it is taken up in turn by the rest of the winds, then by the violas, cellos, horns, percussion and, finally, the violins. The work concludes with a manic dance, a saltorello, which finishes in a burst of incredible color.

Fortunately, the management of this kaleidoscopic sequence was in the hands of the orchestra’s resident conductor, Morihiko Nakahara, who exhibited the most exquisite control of sound. Details in the fabric of sound normally indistinct emerged with force and clarity. Meanwhile, the sound of the orchestra as a whole assumed a thrilling roundness and solidity which is very close to the ideal Berlioz had in mind.

The Englishman Edward Elgar (1857-1934), crafted his Enigma Variations (1899) to prove that he had mastered the skill taught in Berlioz’s treatise. The Enigma Variations is simply one of the most moving and delightful works in the symphonic repertoire, and Nakahara and the orchestra proved themselves more than equal to most of its demands.

Certainly, there was instrumental brilliance in abundance. Nick Carper, principal viola, and John Marshall, principal cello, both mastered the elusive Elgarian blend of nobility and pathos.

This same blend, however, was not always supplied by Nakahara, who, to these ears, sometimes pursues rhythmic regularity at the expense of expression. The Elgar piece and the Violin Concerto in D major of Brahms which followed do make great technical demands, but their interpretive demands are even greater.

The orchestral introduction to the Brahms concerto, in which tender lyricism alternates with explosive energy, suffered from the lack of elasticity that one noted in the Elgar, much as if someone reading aloud caught the words but skipped the punctuation. The result was clear and sonorous, but emotionally rather blank.

One could never say that of the evening’s soloist, Saeka Matsuyama, who presented a highly expressive interpretation supported with a powerful technique. She appeared to have some difficulty in settling fully into the performance, but once she did, the results were magical. The sublime second movement, beginning with principal oboe Keith Thomas’ superb playing, allowed Matsuyama to display fully the marvelous range and intensity of which she is capable.

A recording of this concert will be broadcast at 7 p.m. today on KPBX, 91.1 FM.


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