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SYMPHONY REVIEW

Conductor Sarah Ioannides

MENDELSSOHN'S SCOTTISH SAVES THE EVENING IN SRS WEILL CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Monday, February 11, 2019

The audience entering Weill Hall for Santa Rosa Symphony concerts Feb. 9-11 were presented with a program that on first glance appeared a curious patchwork – a great symphony mixed with a seldom heard concerto and two disparate overtures, and a guest conductor unknown locally. Monday night’s concert, the third in the set, is reviewed here.

Conductor Sarah Ioannides proved throughout the evening to have a firm control of the music and the wonderful SRS players, but offered no particular interpretative revelations during the 89 minutes of music. Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s C Major Overture opened the program and passed without much notice, despite lovely string ensemble playing, Meredith Brown’s horn solo and musical references to Von Weber’s overtures.

Clara Schumann’s A Minor Concerto, Op. 7, completed the first half with pianist Sara Davis Buechner as piano soloist. This is a difficult work to sound convincing in a modern concert hall, as the themes are conventional and the harmonic progressions seem aimless. The 1833 work begins with dramatic octaves crashing down (as in Robert Schumann’s A Minor Concerto from 1845) but much of the passagework, runs and arpeggios don’t lie easily for the soloist’s technique. Ms. Ioannides kept the sonic balances in check, and deferred to Ms. Buechner in the big thematic statements in the allegro maestoso and in the stirring romanze with the fetching duo of the pianist and cellist Adelle-Akiko Kearns. This use of a cello solo was unique in concertos of the time, even one that has a strong resemblance to the music of Hummel and Moscheles.

The finale had music and playing of more individuality, and handsome flute solos from Kathleen Lane Reynolds. Ms. Buechner’s playing sounded labored at times, and surprisingly she used score with a page turner, something now never seen with virtuoso pianists in conventional repertoire in an urban hall. Oddly it was Madame Schumann that was one of the first to play concerted works from memory, with this piece 186 years now old.

Readers interested in first rate Clara Schumann music might consult her Piano Trio and the heart-on-sleeve Romance from the Op. 22 Suite, the latter played in Weill Feb. 8 by violinist Joshua Bell and Pianist Sam Haywood.

Following intermission Robert Schumann’s dramatic and dark-hued E-Flat Major Overture, Op. 115, was heard. This is echt Schumann with continual reference to the Rhenish (3rd) Symphony, though the charm and sparkling hues of the Rhenish are absent. Ms. Ioannides drew a compelling performance with sterling trumpet duets from Kale Cumings and Scott Macomber. String sound was potent, with the usual SRS sitting of second violins stage left giving sectional differentiation.

The evening’s finest music came with Mendelssohn’s E-Flat Major Symphony (Op. 56, “Scottish”), a work the conductor fashioned with energy and elegant phrasing. After a solemn introduction things became impassioned (at allegro un poco) with a juxtaposition of orchestral light and mystery, but always a dense sound that this listener (in the balcony) found compelling. There was continual timpani artistry of Andrew Lewis. The composer omitted trombones but the Symphony’s seven basses and five horns gave strong thematic underpinning through the 41-minute work. Wind playing in the adagio had lovely small touches, with Ms. Lane, clarinetist Roy Zajac and oboist Laura Reynolds in lovely trios and duos.

Ms. Ioannides drove the concluding fiercely energetic allegro maestoso assai to a potent conclusion, beginning early in the movement to build the momentum, albeit with small songful pianissimo sections that slowed at times but never diminished the drama.

A standing ovation from most of the 850 in Weill seemingly compelled the conductor to recognize many of the Symphony’s musicians, and additional applause.

Virginia Eskin and Daniel Glover contributed to this review.