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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Sonoma County Philharmonic / Saturday, November 18, 2017
Norman Gamboa, conductor. Pam Otsuka, violin; Robby Morales, viola

Violist Robby Morales

SONIC SPLASH AND ENSEMBLE DELICACY AT SO CO PHIL CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Saturday, November 18, 2017

Franckís wonderful D Minor Symphony is a rarity on todayís concert programs, and I canít remember a North Bay performance in many years from any of the six resident area orchestras. So it was good to see the Sonoma County Philharmonic feature it in their Nov. 18 and 19 concerts at Santa Rosa High School. The first of the set is reviewed here.

The Belgian composerís only Symphony is difficult structurally to perform, though underpinned by the recurring them in each of the three movements. To some itís a theme bordering on banality, and to others itís a theme of nobility crafted and ingeniously developed by the seasoned master in 1889, shortly before his death. Conductor Norman Gamboa drew from his Orchestra a performance of considerable power and excitement. The many short climaxes of the opening allegro gave cumulative cohesion to the sound, with faint references to the beguiling contemporary harmonies of Wagerís operas and Lisztís tone poems.

Christina Koprivaís harp solo opened the andante were Chris Kriveís elegant oboe solo over murmuring string pizzicato was a highlight. Tempos were judicious throughout, and the sonic momentum of the first movementís allegro returned in the finale. The brass sounded heroically and Anthony Perryís plaintive English horn solos were handsome. Mr. Gamboa built an apex of Franckís inspired drama, anticipating the cutoff at the ending that has always seemed to me too short and inconclusive. Audience response was warm and loud.

Mozartís E-Flat Major Symphonia Concertante (K. 364) was the capstone of the first half and featured as soloists two of the So Co Philís principals, violinist Pam Otsuka and violist Robby Morales. Jeffrey Kahane conducted a memorable performance of the work in Weill two summers ago, and Mr. Gamboaís interpretation shared many of the same felicities Ė attention to small details, chaste phrasing and soloist support. The music from 1779 is of course sharply different from the two other works on the program, with a reduced size ensemble and needing transparency of sound rather than robust volume and thick textures.

The long introduction (the soloists played through the tutti) to the allegro maestoso led to the opening solo entrances, both well played and indicating, especially in the cadenzas where seemingly ample rehearsal time was spent. The goal here is to capture the musicís delicacy, but always wrapped in impeccable instrumental technique and balance. Itís odd that pitch and phrase coordination in these luscious cadenzaduos mostly avoided the intonation deficiencies and blurring in short trills and turns that were often present when playing in the first movementís ensemble. Mr. Morales overcame these pesky problems in the lovely sadness and lament of the andante where his bottom register tone was burnished and secure.

Tricky horn phrases opened the presto finale and the orchestra exhibited some of the most cohesive playing of the evening, deftly controlled by the conductor. The slower-than-usual tempo allowed Ms. Otsukaís violin line to soar and carry to the back row of the acoustically lively hall. Her violin tone was lambent, alternatively melding and contrasting with Mr. Morales. Greeting the soloists after the final convincing chord were a standing ovation and several presentation bouquets.

Opening the evening was a rollicking eight-minute playing of Shostakovichís Festive Overture. It was a snazzy way to begin and always an audience favorite, as evidenced by recent local performances by the Santa Rosa Symphony, Russian National Orchestra, Mariinsky Orchestra and the Mendocino Music Festival Orchestra. Outstanding in this exciting romp were Mary Kemnecís piccolo playing, and the persuasive solos of flutists Debra Scheuerman and Emily Reynolds. Mr. Gamboa conducted without score.