As soon as Bruce Bodden walked onto the stage of the Martin Woldson Theater at the Fox to open the sixth in this season’s Classics concerts, warm applause filled the house.
As principal flutist of the Spokane Symphony since 1990, he has become known as a much-loved member of the arts community for his generous nature, his sharp wit and his high artistic standards. At the conclusion of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 for strings and solo flute, the applause was transformed to a foot-stamping, “bravo”-shouting chorus of amazement and gratitude for the superb musicianship and incredible virtuosity we had just seen.
Bach’s four orchestral suites, which he termed “Ouvertures,” are collections of dances that arose in the courts of France and swept through Europe in the early 18th century on a wave of popularity.
The reason was easy to see at Saturday’s concert: with the lively and energetic accompaniment of 20 of Bodden’s colleagues from the string sections, attentively led by guest conductor Daniel Hege, the flutist breathed life into a seemingly inexhaustible series of melodies that were at once courtly, seductive and vivacious.
Throughout, Bodden displayed the exceptional variety of tone he commands, now warm, now penetrating or pure … whatever the phrase requires to achieve maximum expressiveness.
No matter how rapid the tempo (and some movements, such as the concluding “Badinerie” were taken at an amazing clip), Bodden’s playing remained completely relaxed, which allowed him to maintain a lyrical continuity of line amid a flurry of 32nd notes, even finding time where there seemed to be none for sly and imaginative ornaments.
Amid the treasure we have in the Spokane Symphony, this man is a nugget of pure gold.
The refinement and attention to detail Hege exhibited in leading the orchestra through the Bach suite also helped to make the second piece on the program, the Chamber Symphony Op. 110a of Dmitri Shostakovich, a moving and memorable experience.
The string orchestra that first took the stage for the Bach was slightly but significantly augmented by members of the double bass section. Shostakovich composed this music, deeply personal and tragic in tone, as a string quartet, which was later arranged by his colleague, the violist and conductor Rudolf Barshai, for the larger ensemble.
In remarks before the concert, Hege described the role of the conductor as providing an environment within which the players of the orchestra could express themselves fully.
This collegial approach proved ideal for the Shostakovich work, which was composed, like the Bach, without a conductor in mind.
Hege showed a fine ear for instrumental balance, so that Shostakovich’s complex contrapuntal strands were clearly audible and able to find their intended target: the human heart.
The work’s few solo passages, retained from the original String Quartet No. 8, were effective, as in the case of Concertmaster Mateusz Wolski’s deeply felt solo in the first movement, and principal cellist John Marshall’s quietly intense rendition in the third movement of a quotation by Shostakovich from his own Cello Concerto No 1.
When applied to the final piece on the program, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor Op. 67, Hege’s non-interventionist conception of the conductor betrayed its limitations.
Again, the playing of the orchestra was admirably transparent and well-balanced. Entrances were precise, rhythms well-sprung, and tempi regular – in fact, a bit too regular.
In a work so varied and complex as this, achieving such perfect execution is no mean feat. But this great work demands more. It demands urgency, passion, a sense of compelling, uncompromising destination.
For all the careful, well-considered musicianship of Saturday’s performance, I heard none of the fierce, inflammatory energy that characterizes not only the greatest recordings of Beethoven’s music, but many of the performances we have been fortunate to hear at the Fox.
Larry Lapidus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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