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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Ukiah Symphony / Sunday, December 5, 2010
Mendocino College Masterworks Chorale
Ukiah Symphony Orchestra
Les Pfutzenreuter, conductor

Ukiah Symphony Horn Players (l to r) Bruce Blakie, Paul Hadley, Bob Satterford and Ben Robinson

VOCAL, HARP AND HORN GLORIES IN UKIAH SYMPHONY'S CHRISTMAS CONCERT

by Elizabeth MacDougall
Sunday, December 5, 2010

A near capacity audience enjoyed the Ukiah Symphony’s Dec. 4 “Horns on Holiday” concert in Mendocino College’s Center Theater.

Music Director Les Pfutzenreuter, in his 19th year leading the Symphony, began the program with Schumann’s Concertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra. The brassy and elegant soloists were Ben Robinson, Bob Satterford, Paul Hadley, Bruce Blaikie.

The first movement (Lebhaft) had a rich Schumann sonic texture, the violins sounding full behind concertmaster Margie Rice. Each solo horn entrance had stylistic phrasing, the tricky fast passagework clear and distinct. The audience enthusiastically applauded the ending of the first movement of this and several of the other forte-ending movements in the concert. In the second movement (Romance) the horn playing was beautifully blended, and only by watching closely could one discern which of the four was actually playing the notes. The orchestra once missed a conducting beat that created a rough start to a new phrase, but in the third movement’s rising repeated passagework all was seamless brass playing, even with the brisk tempos Mr. Pfutzenreuter choose.

Next was Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite No. 1, Op. 71a, featuring harpist Jessica Schaeffer. Ms. Schaeffer, a Boston resident but known to Ukiah audiences, held the hall captive with her prismatic technique and flowing arm motions. One could just see the dancers cross the stage, matching the score’s frequent tempo changes. The flute section of Rebecca Pollack Ayres, Cathy Hall and Tracie Triolo (also on piccolo) played fetchingly in the Reed-Flutes Danses characteristiques. Woodwind player Paul McCandless, a touring soloist, made a rare appearance in the orchestra, playing the second oboe part.

After intermission Englishman John Rutter's (b. 1945) Magnificat for chorus, orchestra and soprano was performed. Soloist Abigail Rowland, a native of Ft. Bragg, sang with fresh energy and thrilling high notes. Ms. Rowland’s singing, sumptuously lyrical in the quiet sections, was juxtaposed with the power of the 45-member Masterworks Chorale. Composed in 1990 with Bach’s piece of the same name as a model, Mr. Rutter’s work gave musical beauty to the Magnificat texts of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer used in the Church of England. The interplay between the brassy fanfares and the sweet vocals of the composer's tonal style, using traditional Gregorian plainsong melodies, was warmly received by the audience.

It was a harmonious ending to an accomplished and felicitous pre-Christmas concert.