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SYMPHONY REVIEW

Conductor Alondra de la Parra

DRAMATIC SUMMER MUSICAL FARE IN WEILL

by Terry McNeill
Monday, July 14, 2014

Napa’s Festival Del Sole’s summer resident orchestra, Sphinx, made a dramatic Weill Hall appearance July 15 with three star performers and a curious mix of pungent repertoire.

Violinist Pinchas Zuckerman received the biggest adulation from the audience, closing the first half playing Bruch’s G Minor Concerto, Op. 26, with his customary control and consistency. An old friend to the Concerto, Mr. Zuckerman played with fastidious if conventional phrasing through the three movements, and the ruminating Adagio elicited his most convincing virtuosity.

With conductor Alondra de la Parra keeping the orchestra mostly with the soloist, the gypsy rhythms of the finale allowed Mr. Zuckerman to dig into the strings and his quick appoggiaturas added spice. At times the violin line, a long romantic line in this poetic work, got lost in the orchestra fabric. There was a standing ovation from the 800 in the hall.

In a series of mostly Italian opera arias tenor James Valenti sang with firm control and balanced registers. He has an attractive stage presence and his voice, though this evening tending to the monochromatic, was especially rich in the baritone range. The Orchestra never covered Mr. Valenti even in Tosti’s dramatic “Ideale,” long a Pavarotti specialty, and Salvatore Cardillo’s lovely "Core ‘ngrato." There was a break from Italian with Lehar’s “Dein ist mein gazes herz”, and here Mr. Valenti emphasized the suave slow waltz rhythms that reminded me that Sigmund Romberg knew Lehar’s compositions.

There were three orchestra works interspaced in the program, beginning with a short and furious Overture from Bizet’s Carmen, and in the first half the famous Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. The Intermezzo’s tempo was judicious and Ms. de la Parra had a deft baton, changing the repeated phrases just slightly.

After intermission came Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony, the G major one from 1889. The Sphinx made the most of the work’s two boisterous movements, and the gracious Allegretto based on a charming waltz theme was performed with élan. Throughout the Symphony the conductor coaxed colorful and piquant effects from the orchestra, but with sporadic instrumental blemishes in horns and winds. Ms. de la Parra conducted without score but with a secure Dvorak flair.

This Orchestra, founded 16 years ago to spotlight Afro-American and Latino musicians, had the high string power that non-professional ensembles seldom have, but also lacked the string polish and articulation of top-drawer symphonies.