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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma County Philharmonic / Sunday, April 10, 2016
Norman Gamboa, conductor. Marilyn Thompson, piano

Pianist Marilyn Thompson April 9 Acknowledging Applause

SPANISH SPLENDOR IN SO CO PHIL'S SEASON FINALE CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, April 10, 2016

Two program staples for the Sonoma County Philharmonic have been works of a Latin flavor, and spotlighting local soloists. Conductor Norman Gamboa has mounted intriguing Central American, Mexican and Spanish works for years, and flutist Kathleen Lane Reynolds, pianists Alice Zhu Lauren Xie, and trombonist Bruce Chrisp have recently been featured.

So it was no surprise at the April 9 concert in Santa Rosa High School that these worthwhile trends continued, with pianist Marilyn Thompson playing virtuoso parts in Falla’s “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” and as an orchestra member in the same composer’s Suite from the revised 1924 edition of the ballet El Amor Brujo.

In the “nights” performance Mr. Gamboa gave the shimmering score a mostly relaxed tempo character, the acoustics of the bright hall favoring orchestra power over the piano part. Ms. Thompson had fetching short duos with violist David Hill but all through the 25-minute work the piano sound, save for the top treble, lacked brilliance against the often too loud orchestra.

In the concluding “En los jardines de la Sierra Córdoba” there were extended orchestral solo parts, eerie tremolos and explosive sforzandos for both piano and orchestra, and the soloist’s most convincing playing. This music evokes fragrant Spanish colors, and Mr. Gamboa fashioned slight hesitations in the beat that accented the rhythms. The long slow coda was played luminously.

Falla’s brilliance as an orchestrator can be spoken of in the same breath as Ravel and Shostakovich, and his 1917 Suite from the ballet El Amor Brujo was a riot of pungent sound in twelve parts, with three short vocal solos. The composer chose interesting duos to expand the sonic fabric, including oboe and trumpet (Chris Krive and Tom Hyde), Valerie White and Debra Scheuerman’s flutes and clarinetist Nick Xenelis. All evening Mr. Krive played elegant solo parts, often stating main themes. A honeyed sound from the middle of the orchestra.

In this sonic feast there were lush lyrical sections (En la Cueva, A Media noche) that Puccini would have appreciated, the piano sounding like chimes, cellist Margaret Moores’ solos and a one-time solo by concertmaster Pam Otsuka. As in the Santa Rosa Symphony’s April 4 concert that featured Falla’s “El Sombrero de Tres Picos,” the short parts here for a singer don’t seem to add much to the mix. Soprano Carmen Mitchell’s expressive voice wove in and out of the orchestral fabric, catching the dry and sporadically piercing pitches of Falla’s Andalusia inflection.

Mr. Gamboa has a penchant for these colors and rhythms, which carried over to two short works with definite Spanish flavor that contrasted well with the big Falla works: Turina’s La Procesión del Rocio, Op. 9, and Gerónimo Giménez’ Intermezzo from La Boda de Luis Alonso (The wedding…). Both are often included as openers to programs of Spanish music, and both received glowing and theatrical readings under Mr. Gamboa’s command.

The Turina was perhaps the least Iberian work of the concert, but no less sassy and brassy for it. An opening long flute solo over snare drum obbligato was taken by the conductor at a leisurely pace, capturing the “procession” of the music in a gallant way.

Gerónimo Giméniz specialized in the Spanish zarzuela dance style, and the “Boda” was a barnburner piece that hints of his contemporary Francisco Tárrega’s Castilan compositions, with rapid changes in tempos and snazzy castanet sounds. This music quickly grabs your attention and elicits some bodily “swing” in a short ten minutes. It’s hard to remain motionless when each delicious repetition returns with greater flair.

In remarks to the audience of 300 the conductor mentioned that earlier in the day parts of the concert’s pieces were played before a packed hall of Santa Rosa school children in outreach, with a large portion of them Spanish speaking and enthusiastically cheering. In the more formal evening performance the playing delightfully brought similar responses.