Spokane Symphony Orchestra Friday, Oct. 6, at the Opera House
Guest conductor Patricia Handy and violin soloist Anne Akiko Meyers made the Spokane Symphony’s Classics Concert at the Opera House as rewarding a place to be as the Mariners-Yankees baseball game in the Seattle Kingdome Friday night.
Meyers, making her first appearance in Spokane, is a dazzling violinist. In Prokofiev’s First Violin Concerto, she produced stream of lovely sound with flawless technical control. But she shares these traits with dozens of other young fiddle players. These youngsters can play with the greatest of ease passages with which most violinists of a half-century ago would have struggled mightily.
What separates Meyers from the crowd is her ability to put a personal stamp on what she plays. The stamp she put on her Prokofiev Saturday stressed the concerto’s lyric warmth at the expense of its grittier ironies, but hers was a beautiful, very personal statement.
Handy and the orchestra bonded nicely with Meyers’ approach in some truly magical experiences. Who could forget the hushed shimmer of the orchestral strings prior to Meyers’ final entry in the first movement? And the gentle rocking of the melodic interchange between clarinetist Virgina Jones and flutist Bruce Bodden against Meyers’ insistent, quiet trilling in the finale? These are moments any symphony-goer can cherish for a long time.
Handy opened Friday’s program by whipping up turbulent seas in Wagner’s “Flying Dutchman” Overture. The Dutchman’s ominous horns and surging seas contrasted nicely with the tranquil mood Handy set for Senta’s Redemption theme plaintively played by English hornist Barbara Cantlon.
Some fuzzy entrances in the Wagner overture and, later, in Schumann’s “Spring” Symphony indicated that the orchestra players had some difficulty locking into Handy’s large, wheeling gestures. But her conducting manner conveyed easily the moods she sought.
Schumann’s “Spring” is loaded with traps for the unwary conductor. This symphony’s rich textures can become leaden, but Handy kept them light. Schumann’s discursive repetitions can become tedious, but for the most part, Handy gave them an enlivening variety. The songfulness she brought to the Larghetto made it a highlight for me, along with the springiness of the finale. Only the Scherzo seemed dutiful rather than danceable.
Handy, who was heard here two seasons ago with the symphony for a concert at The Met, showed an exuberance Friday that I did not recall her exhibiting two years ago. Watching her at work in rehearsal, listening to her speak to an audience at the symphony’s new Lunch ‘n’ Learn series and hearing her conduct Friday, revealed a serious, articulate musician who knows what she wants, and she goes after it with energy and intelligence.
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