On Sunday, November 15, the Santa Cruz Symphony, under the capable baton of Maestro “Danny” Stewart, began its concert without a word being said, and in what one might consider a collective unconscious state. In support of France, the orchestra performed La Marseillaise that ended with a standing ovation by the sell-out audience. In addition, two works on the program were composed by French composers.
The concert consisted of Clair de lune (1890; revised 1905) by Claude Debussy (1862-1918); the monumental Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D. 759, “Unfinished” (1822) by Franz Schubert (1797-1828), the Cello Concerto No. 1 in A minor, Op. 33 (1872) by Camille Saint- Saens (1835-1921) featuring the brilliant 16 year-old cello soloist Zlatomir Fung. and Danzon No. 2 (1944) by Arturo Marquez (b. 1950).
Clair de lune is certainly one of Debussy’s most recognized works for piano and has been charming people, not only just pianists, for over a hundred years. The orchestration performed by the Santa Cruz Symphony was by Caplet, who has also orchestrated several other piano works by Debussy. Appropriate to what one expects in this charming work was the delicacy of tone color effectively brought out by the orchestral with especially excellent parts for harp and flute.
Two selections performed on the program did not adhere to the usual form we expect in concertos and Symphonies from the “Classical” period. The first thirty symphonies of Haydn consisted of three movements (fast, slow, fast). This evolved into an expanded structure by adding a fourth movement, thus creating a fast, slow, minuet or scherzo and fast formal structure. In both the Saint Saens and Schubert works we find a different approach to compositional formality. Saint Saens employed one continuous movement and Schubert two, thus the “Unfinished” title. The eighth symphony of Schubert is anything but “unfinished,” as a matter of fact, it is one of the most beautifully and masterfully composed works in the symphonic repertoire! Schubert had planned a third movement, but it was never realized.
In the first eight measures the cellos and contra basses introduced part one of the foreboding, somber principal theme, which then carried to the violins and next to the oboe and clarinet before the entrance of the orchestra that continued the deep sense of darkness and introspection. Maestro Stewart artfully shaped and heightened the contours of the polyphonic lines creating the dramatically profound ebb and flow of this unforgettable work. Of particular note were the pin-sharp contrasts between the dynamic levels of “pp” and “ff” found in the subordinate theme, in the second part. Also of particular note were the many solo moments meticulously executed by members of the wind, brass and percussion sections.
From the beginning of the Saint Saens Cello Concerto, the lyrical playing of sixteen year old soloist Zlatomir Fung was nicely shaped, clear and in perfect balance with the orchestra. Moments of virtuosity surged forth with energy, thrust, warmth of tone and expressive details, even in the fastest passages.
Danzon No. 2 was a delightful surprise that moved everyone in attendance. A well planned composition that offered moments of elegance and passion, and Latin rhythms that certainly must have increased the house temperature by at least 5 degrees. Marquez incorporated nostalgic Mexican melodies and exciting rhythmic patterns that wove a most interesting fabric of sound. Bravo to the percussionists who certainly enjoyed their role and to the string sections who created a superb sound aura of subtle pizzicati that were executed with perfection and charm. The charismatic Maestro personally congratulated every member of the orchestra for a brilliant ending of the 2015 Season. Now for 2016!!