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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Ukiah Symphony / Sunday, October 2, 2022
Phillip Lenberg, conductor. Paul Yarbrough, viola; Stephen Zielinski, clarinet

P. Yarbrough, S. Zielinski, P. Lenberg Oct. 2

BUCOLIC DAY AND MUSIC AT UKIAH SYMPHONY'S OPENING CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, October 2, 2022

People arriving at the Mendocino College campus usually have the same reaction – a lovely quiet place, birds chirping, sounds of distant tennis, hardly anyone around. Bucolic indeed, and that seemed the overarching theme of the Ukiah Symphony’s season opening concerts Oct. 1 and 2 in the College’s Center Theater.

The Sunday afternoon concert of Ponce, Bruch, Strauss and Dvorák is reviewed here.

Conductor Phillip Lenberg has broadened the Orchestra’s sound since taking the baton five years ago from Les Pfützenreuter, with more depth in the string sections and more carefully managed sonority, especially in building climaxes. Not less individual virtuosity perhaps, but now more harnessed and elegant playing.

This was on display in Dvorák’s splendid and mostly pastoral Czech Suite, composed in 1879. The five movements unfolded over 25 minutes with no real sign of the composer in the first Praeludium. Dvorák appeared in the succeeding Polka, and rustic folk music is everywhere in the work. The hall’s direct and bright sound underscored the beguiling homespun themes.

The conductor eschewed long ritards, getting warm sound from the five cellos and three bass viols, with the most powerful music appearing in the Furiant finale, introduced by Beth Aiken’s oboe solo, and ending in an exciting accelerando with Randy Hood’s imposing timpani.

The afternoon’s lyrical theme was heard in two short works, Ponce’s Nocturno (from the 1922 Chapultepec Suite), and Strauss’ early E Flat Wind Serenade. Both received excellent performances, the first with a little mystery and languid tempos, and the second exhibiting a nostalgic character, albeit with quick references to low-volume triumphs and harbingers of Strauss operas. Two bassoons and Maryann Sacksteder’s contrabassoon added piquant musical support.

Bruch’s E Minor Concerto for Clarinet and Viola, Op. 88, featured soloists Stephen Zielinski and violist Paul Yarbrough. The three-movement work from 1911 continued the composer’s dedication to Romanticism, and pays no attention to compositional developments of the period. And given its beauty it’s a little mundane.

Mr. Yarbrough played well throughout, especially telling in the two amen held notes at the end of the second movement. However, the violist was often seen but not heard, his playing covered by Mr. Zielinski’s luscious clarinet interpretation of the overripe melodies, mostly and rightly pointing to Brahms. Mr. Zielinski commands a spacious, captivating tone, warmly satisfying through the instrument’s range. It’s easy to picture his Brahms E-Flat Sonata interpretation.

Themes in the pizzicato strings were distinctly heard, as was Gary Miller’s lone trumpet stage right.