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SYMPHONY REVIEW

Cellist Christian Poltéra

A CELLO CONCERTO FROM A DISTANT WORLD

by Terry McNeill
Monday, November 10, 2014

Several surprises characterized the Santa Rosa Symphony’s Nov. 10 Weill Hall concert, the first being an almost full house on a Monday night after the same program was heard the two previous days.

The important surprise was how well the audience liked the thorny Dutilleux cello concerto, Tout un Monde Lointain (A Whole Distant World), written for Rostropovich in 1970 and played to the hilt by Swiss cellist Christian Poltéra. It was a courageous program selection by conductor Bruno Ferrandis, especially when surrounded by familiar Debussy and Beethoven.

Taking just under 30 minutes in five movements, the concerto asks the soloist for pristine high-register bowing, eerie descending slides down the fingerboard, and a wide vibrato in difficult fingering positions and phrases. Mr. Poltéra mastered the difficulties with seeming ease, playing from score and in sync with Mr. Ferrandis’ exact orchestral control.

Highlights for me were the duets between concertmaster Jay Zhong and Mr. Poltéra in the fetching lament of the Regard (Gaze) second movement; the novel sound of celesta winding in an out of the percussion lines (marimba, xylophone, bongo drums and triangle); and the interplay between single harp notes and the Symphony’s resonant cello and bass sections. Throughout this wonderful work are wisps from Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto, a piece contemporary to the Dutilleux. But the often hazy and shimmering French composer’s sonority is unique, as was Mr. Poltéra’s softly fading tremolo ending.

Messrs. Poltéra and Ferrandis were recalled three times by an enthusiastic ovation.

Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in A Major closed the evening, a four-movement work with the orchestra sharply reduced in size from the two previous compositions. An extended introduction established vehement rhythmic patterns from timpanist Andrew Lewis, and the playing everywhere was surefooted, especially in duos between piccolo player Stacey Pelinka and flutist Kathleen Lane Reynolds.

Beethoven's ebullient Scherzo and a demanding Presto third movement were performed with precision and flair. Bassoonists Carla Wilson and Shawn Jones were heard clearly from my balcony seat, as were two blaring but congruent trumpeters. Mr. Ferrandis kept the Symphony’s momentum going into the wild and swirling finale, deftly balancing the rhythmic definition and taking a tempo that seemed overly fast but oh so right.

The applause was loud, and select members of the Symphony were recognized by the conductor.

Opening the concert was a delicate and carefully paced performance of Debussy’s Prelude a L’aprés-midi d’un faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun). Though radical in its time, the now familiar work from 1894 is as captivating as any 11-minute work in the literature. After the famous opening flute solo, played alluringly by Ms. Reynolds, the performance contained virtuosic playing from hornist Meredith Brown, harpist Randall Pratt, clarinetist Roy Zajac, oboist Laura Reynolds and bassoonist Carla Wilson.

Mr. Ferrandis conducted from score and drew rich and gauzy colors from the strings, especially from the viola section.