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SYMPHONY REVIEW

Jean Ferrandis

AU REVOIR WELLS, BONJOUR GREEN

by Steve Osborn
Monday, May 14, 2012

The Santa Rosa Symphony bid adieu to the much-maligned Wells Fargo Center on May 14 with a mostly French program that showcased the talents of its French conductor, Bruno Ferrandis, and his equally French younger brother, the flute soloist Jean Ferrandis. This Castor and Pollux of the musical firmament shone brightly on the full house, which rewarded their luminescence with repeated standing ovations.

The evening began with some obligatory thank yous from executive director Alan Silow to Symphony musicians, sponsors, ushers and other staff for the past 30 years of music-making at the church-turned-auditorium on Santa Rosa’s north side. Despite its many acoustical defects, Wells does have a certain charm, and the transition to the much-vaunted Green Music Center in Rohnert Park seems certain to bring a few regrets.

After some more preliminaries, the program began in earnest with a tentative performance of Debussy’s ballet “Jeux” (Games), a somewhat obscure effort that is no match for the composer’s far more celebrated ballet, “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun.” The plot here involves a man, two women, a tennis court and a series of tennis balls whose bouncing punctuates the humans’ increasingly erotic encounters.

Imagining this plot unfolding on the stage was a bit of a challenge, as the music seemed mostly to float on a sea of Impressionist stasis. Maestro Ferrandis coaxed ethereal chords out of the various orchestra sections, and the sound was well controlled, but forward momentum was lacking. Instead of evoking a tennis game, the music behaved more like a soundtrack for a cartoon about pixies hovering above water lilies, their wands occasionally emitting clouds of fairy dust.

The forward momentum arrived in the next piece, Mozart’s Flute Concerto No. 2, ably played by Ferrandis No. 2, a virtuoso whose career began at roughly the same time the Symphony moved into Wells. Ferrandis the younger has a purity of tone and a dynamic range that is well suited to Mozart, who bids the flute to act more like an opera singer than a woodwind player. The first movement, with its soaring melody, is like one long aria culminating in an expressive cadenza. The fleet-fingered Ferrandis tossed off all the many runs with ease, revealing the underlying beauty.

In the ensuing Adagio, the younger Ferrandis sustained notes to the max, pushing the flute’s expressive potential. He played as quietly as possible, commanding undivided attention. The concluding Rondo was pure romp, with Ferrandis the soloist playing at warp speed and Ferrandis the conductor providing unexpected ritards and strong phrasing from the compliant orchestra. The standing ovation found the brothers arm in arm.

More ovations arrived after intermission. The first was for the rarely performed “Concerto for Flute and Orchestra” by the 20th century French composer Jacques Ibert. Ferrandis No. 2 again did the honors, this time clad in a white shirt rather than a dark jacket. Playing from score, he took off briskly and never let up. The concerto has much in common with the famous flute sonata by Ibert’s contemporary, Francis Poulenc. The music is happy, festive and carefree, filled with the bustle of Parisian life during the 1930s. The third movement, an Allegro scherzando, is the most striking, with virtuoso passages alternating repeatedly with languid interludes. At times, Ferrandis’ playing drew gasps from the audience, as he skittered nimbly from one end of his instrument to the other.

The concert concluded with an impassioned reading of Ravel’s “La Valse,” one of music’s great demonic masterworks. From the sinister beginning to the shattering finale, maestro Ferrandis and the orchestra’s many skilled players evoked all the darker aspects of the French composer’s homage to the decaying Austrian empire. The three-four beat was persistent and inexorable, solid from the first measure to the last.

“La Valse” is set in Vienna, but it plays well in Santa Rosa, a town whose musical signature--the “Merry Widow” waltz--was immortalized by Alfred Hitchcock in “Shadow of a Doubt.” Waltzes are forever nostalgic, evoking a distant or more recent past. For the Santa Rosa Symphony and the Wells Fargo Center, the 30-year dance is over. A new partner for the Symphony is waiting in the wings.