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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Vallejo Symphony / Sunday, January 31, 2016
Marc Taddei,conductor. Hadleigh Adams, baritone

Conductor Marc Taddei

VSO SEASON FINALE FEATURES COMMANDING CONDUCTING

by Elizabeth Warnimont
Sunday, January 31, 2016

New Zealand conductor Marc Taddei led the Vallejo Symphony Jan. 31 in “The Composer's Muse,” a program that emphasized the uniqueness of each selection, in Vallejo’s Hogan Auditorium. An audience of nearly 350 was the largest in the past two seasons.

The concert marks the last of three audition concerts at Hogan, conducted by candidates to replace David Ramadanoff as Music Director and to begin with the 2016-2017 season. The conductor told the audience in a pre-concert talk that each programmed work highlighted some of the less conforming, or more unusual pieces written by some of classical music's most celebrated composers.

Stravinsky was commissioned to write the ballet Apollo for no more than six dancers and lasting no longer than 30 minutes. The composer chose as his subject the Greek god Apollo, leader of the muses, though reducing the number of muses from nine to three: Calliope, the muse of poetry and rhythm; Polyhymnia, that of sacred music and mime; and Terpsichore, the muse of dance. “It is the most serene work of high modernism,” Taddei opined.

The piece opens with a distinctly serene, stately march and transitions seamlessly into its second, more sprightly and melodic part, all executed beautifully by the orchestra. The Pas d'Action (“Expressive Dance”) portion, was the most captivating part of all, its melodies continuing through rhythmic changes and subtle mood variations with sublime grace. It seemed as if the orchestra found its own muse from that point forward, continuing through the story parts of the work, in which the music represents the mythical characters in turn, with equal ease and grace.

The second selection proved a pleasant surprise, as Beethoven's “An die ferne Geliebte,” composed from 1815 to 1816, was performed with the addition of the extraordinary baritone Hadleigh Adams, also a New Zealander. Here Mr. Adams lent perfectly tempered power and clarity, if not pure emotion, to his part in the deeply romantic song cycle. Mr. Taddei explained that “An die ferne Geliebte” was one of the first of its kind, the Liederkreis or song cycle, to be embraced by a major composer. He related that while Beethoven's symphonic forms were eventually copied, this song cycle model was more immediately reproduced and embraced by his contemporaries.

“An die ferne Geliebte” was arranged for orchestra in 1915 by Felix Weingartner, and was originally written for only voice and piano and based on the poems of Alois Isidor Jeittles. In the printed program notes a song cycle is described being loose collection of songs, or more than the sum of its parts. The voice part occurring in each of the composition's six songs is consistently one of a lover who is far from his beloved, who sees all around him natural metaphors for both closeness and separation, none of which can offer him solace.

The first song tells of the lover perched on a hill, viewing with longing the hills and valleys that now separate him from his beloved: “Denn vor Liebesklang entweichet/ Jeder Raum und jede Zeit/ Und ein liebend Herz erreichet/ Was ein liebend Herz geweiht!” (“For the sound of love escapes/ From all of space and all of time,/ And a loving heart will reach/ What a loving heart holds dear!”). Subsequent song parts, which connect without pause between them, liken the lover's longing variously to mountains, clouds and streams, concluding in the final song with the repeated refrain, “Und ein liebend Herz erreichet/ Was ein liebend Herz geweiht!”

The words of the songs are intensely romantic, clearly evocative of the German romantic period in literature and the arts. They are passionate and that is precisely the element that was lacking in the performance by both the orchestra and the singer. The Orchestra seemed unable to meld their execution with Mr. Adams, and while extraordinary in tone, they seemed often quite connected to the music’s notes but entirely set apart from the lover's heart. One heard the soloist’s urgency and an emotional connection to the music, but not so much the passion of a lover separated from the object of his desire.

Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5, a work in E Minor completed in 1888, completed the concert. The conductor spoke to the audience concerning an unusual aspect of the Firth is that that the score does not contain Tchaikovsky's metronome marks, and he conducts the piece with tempos similar to the composer’s contemporaneous works, rather than the almost universally performed tempos which reflect the composer's last works. Specifically, the first movement is the most remarkably different from typical performances in its significantly increased tempos. “It turns into a bit of a balletic waltz,” he noted. “Toward the end of his life, Stravinsky lamented that he was sick of performers mangling his intentions. So let's respect the composer's intentions.”

The opening theme from clarinetists Diane Maltester and Ann Lavin was played beautifully with a delicate and melancholy emotion. Just as that theme developed in intensity, the comfortable consistency was abruptly broken with a developing cacophony of sound as the movement entered its technically impressive but highly dissonant heart, a hurried and harried jumble of motif variations.

The second (Andante cantabile) movement is much sweeter, and the VSO's brass accentuated it brilliantly, complemented by expertly timed accents from timpanist Brian Anderson. By the end of the movement, the orchestra seemed to be fully warmed to the piece, coming together more fluidly and sounding brilliantly expressive in the crescendo passages. That fluidity extended beautifully into the third, waltz movement, the early bassoon solo from Karla Ekholm shining through like a perfect rose.

In the final Andante Maestoso movement, the initial theme develops quietly in a major key, giving way to another loud and busy passage, working up to an assertive conclusion. While the orchestra well mastered the “bang” moments with sharp synchronicity and clarity, some of the supporting, quieter passages revealed the group's earlier, less well-synced playing. In addition to the brilliant crescendos, highlights included sensitive phrasing from the strings and again well timed accents from the timpanist. The first violins, led by concertmaster Joyce Lee, played elegantly.

Mr. Taddei demonstrated alert control throughout the concert, as well as a penchant for challenging innuendo in music. He seemed personable and commanding on the podium.

Audience surveys of the three conductor candidates will be used in the selection process, with the results to be announced by the VSO Board of Directors this year.