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SYMPHONY REVIEW

Norma Gamboa Congratulates Hans Brightbill After the Elgar Cello Concerto

SO CO PHIL BON VOYAGE CONCERT AN ODYSSEY OF CONTRASTING SOUND

by Terry McNeill
Friday, June 15, 2018

In a splashy bon voyage concert June 15 the Sonoma County Philharmonic Orchestra launched its June 17-25 Costa Rica tour, performing gratis in Santa Rosa’s Jackson Theater the repertoire for tour concerts in San José, Costa Rica’s capital, and in surrounding towns.

Conductor Norman Gamboa programmed works that have partly been on past Orchestra concerts in Sonoma County, including Frank La Rocca’s Crossing the Rubicon, the Symphonic Picture from Porgy and Bess, and the Elgar Cello Concerto in E Minor, Op. 85.

The Elgar was the concert’s centerpiece, featuring the Orchestra’s principal cellist, Hans Brightbill. The soloist played the 1919 work in much the same way as he did in two late January performances, also directed by Mr. Gamboa, with a warm incisive sound. Tonal richness was greatest in the low registers, and Mr. Brightbill’s vibrato was varied, especially in the lyrical adagio, where he deftly increased or decreased its intensity for rich expressivity. Jackson’s acoustics are slightly dry and reverb is minimal, but the sound is direct and Mr. Brightbill’s cello line projected substantial sonority.

The plaintive theme in the second movement was reminiscent of the Schumann A Minor Concerto, with an extended and elegantly phrased cadenza. Different from Mr. Brightbill’s past readings was his consummate ability to play softly, even when the music had a faster tempo. In several places the soloist had unison phrases with the five section cellos, and his voice leading moved the Orchestra through efficacious modulations, each tinged with melancholy.

A standing ovation followed the performance’s conclusion, and a professional hug from Mr. Gamboa at the podium for Mr. Brightbill.

Costa Rican composer Julio Fonseca (1885-1950) orchestrates in a colorful manner, and his Tropical Suite: Fiesta Compestre has been a favorite of the conductor since childhood. There is a lot going on in the 12-minute work with continual section contrasts, and echoes here and there of Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci and Viennese dance hall charm. Clarinetist Nick Xenelis and violist Robby Morales played piquant solos with an identical ascending and slowing phrase, and that pattern was also played in the cellos. The five-person percussion section was active throughout. Cutoffs were crisp.

The evening’s concert had a reduced number of high string performers (just five each first violins and violas, seven second violins) and the insouciant brass section often covered with a vivid and rousing sound. The sonic impact of the brass and four horns bordered on histrionic, but the Tropical Suite is that kind of piece. Muscular indeed.

The reviewer was unable to stay for the second half.