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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Ukiah Symphony / Sunday, February 22, 2009
88 X 2
Elizabeth MacDougall and Elena Casanova, Pianists

Elizabeth MacDougall (l) and Elena Casanova with Ukiah SO Conductor Less Pfutzenreuter

TWO WORLD PREMIERES AT UKIAH SYMPHONY CONCERT

by Larry Flor
Sunday, February 22, 2009

On a rainy Feb. 22, with lots of weekend entertainment available, a unique and exciting concert occurred on the bucolic Mendocino College campus where the Ukiah Symphony, under the baton of conductor Les Pfutzenreuter, performed works of the old and the “brand new” and something in-between. On the program was the rarely heard Beethoven Symphony No. 4 in B-Flat Major, two world premiere works, and the delightful Concerto for Two Pianos by Francis Poulenc.

The first half was solely the Beethoven Symphony. It started with some ragged ensemble and pesky intonation problems, especially in the strings, and entrances and cut-offs which were not quite precise. However, things improved as the musicians warmed to their task and the conductor’s careful section balancing. Special kudos go to flautist Becky Ayers and clarinetist Eric Van Dyke for their phrasing and rich tone in the Adagio movement. The fast rising passages in the concluding allegro proved a challenge for the strings to stay together, but in summary, the symphony was admirably played

Two world premieres were presented after intermission, beginning with the Ukiah resident David Smith’s Concerto Anacapa, featuring insouciant piano soloist Elena Casanova. The gem of this three-movement work was the second part, where Casanova played with elegance, the piece fitting her style perfectly. However, for this reviewer the entire composition felt unbalanced with a very short and rhythmic opening movement, a much longer second movement, and a third movement of moderate length. As a whole, the work did capture the image of Anacapa, a rocky off-Santa Barbara island, with the wind section playing especially well.

The second premiere was the Concertino for Piano and Orchestra, a single-movement by San Fernando Valley-based composer Kathleen Mayne. Here again a Mendocino County pianist, this time Elizabeth MacDougall, was the soloist. The writing was more conventional than the Anacapa Concerto, using the Sonata-Allegro form and starting with short but powerful octave passages. In contrast to the David Smith work, the emphasis here focused on the various treatments of the thematic material rather than conveying a landscape image. As with Casanova, Elizabeth MacDougall played with adroit phrasing and just the right amount of panache, lacking only a little more introspection and dynamic contrast. Both Smith and Mayne were present and took bows from the stage at the conclusion of the respective performances.

The afternoon’s finale was the Poulenc Concerto with MacDougall and Casanova returning to their pianos as soloists. This concerto, written in 1932, is one of the standards among the two-piano concerto repertoire and both artists were equal to the technical, musical, and ensemble demands of the work. Both soloists avoided succumbing to playing the Allegro ma non troppo and Allegro molto movements as merely a technical tour de force,, keeping the phrasing and tempos faithful to the composer’s directions. Perhaps the coda in the first movement could have been a more transparent and rhythmically elastic, setting up the final closing measures of the movement in sharper outline. The opening of the Larghetto was simply stated and the transition of the theme from Piano I to Piano II was seamless. Their colorful treatment of the opening theme was played with telling tenderness, superior to the famous recording of the LaBeque sisters. As with the opening movement, there could have been more elasticity in the transitions between thematic sections, but conductor Pfutzenreuter kept everything moving. Minor points perhaps in a charming performance full of lyricism. The last movement was played with energy and provided just enough playfulness to sustain momentum, the duo scale passages clean and in sync.

The Poulenc proved a fitting end to the concert, the third of the season, and drew a big ovation from the nearly 500 people in Center Theater