It was a capacity audience that turned out at Hidden Valley last night to pay tribute to conductor Stewart Robertson and concertmaster Roy Malan. The occasion was a performance by The String Orchestra of Hidden Valley. This was a program that pushed many buttons, which was no surprise, since this orchestra in the past has consistently performed interesting and challenging programs for appreciative audiences.
It was announced recently that Stewart Robertson is retiring from some of his musical commitments, but as Peter Meckel explained to the audience after the concert, Robertson is in no way retiring, for he will remain a vital musician until he draws his last breath, and Robertson is actually restructuring his life to explore new directions. That the audience held him in high esteem was evident in the warm standing ovation that he and Roy Malan received at the end of the evening.
The evening’s program began with a fresh and moving performance of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro, Op. 47, for string quartet and string orchestra, a work not heard as often as his Cello Concerto or “Pomp and Circumstance.” It is interesting that this work is structured in the style of a concerto grosso with the quartet as a “concertante” and the string orchestra as a “tutti.” Emerging from its well-crafted textures at one point was a delicious fugue. What is it about a fugue that always tickles our fancy? Perhaps it’s the delight in hearing yet another specimen of a genre that has survived from the rich treasures of the Baroque to its amusing Broadway treatment in the “Fugue for Tinhorns” from “Guys & Dolls.”
The key of C Minor was very special to Mozart and is associated with some powerful works, such as the Great Mass in C Minor, K. 427, and several significant works for piano. Thus it was no surprise that the Mozart String Quintet in C Minor, K.406, involved us in considerable depth of feeling and anguish. This was a fine performance full of expressive details and precise ensemble.
After intermission we heard the Serenade for Strings, Op. 6, by Josef Suk, a work loaded with Viennese charm and containing some magic moments, such as a lovely cello solo in the third movement, a fine solo by Roy Malan and a passage where a melody in the cellos was accompanied by pizzicato strings.
Ending the concert was a deeply moving performance of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Speaking to the audience after its conclusion, Peter Meckel told us that Samuel Barber had been a guest at HVMS fifty years previously.
As an encore, a group of singers came out and sang a brief song by Samuel Barber (in an arrangement by Steve Tosh), “Sure on This Shining Night,” based on a poem by James Agee from “Permit Me Voyage.” It was lovely.