David Ramanadoff, Conductor
The Master Sinfonia Chamber Orchestra, David Ramanadoff conducting, presented a fine concert, Sunday afternoon, January 28, at the Los Altos United Methodist Church, with a program of Vaughan Williams, Mozart, and Mendelssohn. Veteran pianist Hans Boepple made excellent sense of Mozart’s valedictory Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595, ingratiating its exquisite contours in a manner that several times took this reviewer back to the “golden” pianism of Sir Clifford Curzon, especially in the E-flat Major Larghetto. The final work, Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony, the “Scottish,” received from Ramanadoff a clear and controlled reading, as expansive as it proved eminently lyrical and dramatic.
Master Sinfonia opened with the 1910 classic Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis, a piece that bears
excellent witness to Vaughan Williams’ love of Renaissance harmony and Tallis (1505-1585) in particular, especially music set in the Phrygian mode, with its flatted second and seventh degrees of the scale. Vaughan Williams arranged his free-flowing fantasia for strings for three choirs – two string orchestras and string quartet – to permit generous spacing (originally for the Three Choirs Festival) in an atmosphere of antiphonal, devotional ecstasy. Ramadanoff gracefully led a rendition that blended layered harmony with alternately intimate and organ-sonority grandeur, a sustained mood of “mystical rumination” that culminates in a glorious climax. Viola Julia Hawkes intoned the entry into the “concertino” section of what often appears as a grand concerto grosso, whose passions and audacious harmony transcend Renaissance limits and resonate to the heart of contemporary music.
When Mozart conceived his 1791 Piano Concerto No. 27, he re-engaged the form that, along with opera, best captivated his fancy; this, after a three-year hiatus from the medium. Rather modestly scored, the concerto aims for a virile yet graceful intimacy, often achieving a soft apotheosis that beguiles us for its learned simplicity. What both soloist Boepple and conductor Ramanadoff achieved enjoyed the total, inner serenity of the piece, its easy access to beauty and consolation. Despite the cruel physical and fiscal circumstances of the concerto’s creation, there bodes no evil or malice in a work so directly lyrical and absent of ostentation. That is not to deny the piano’s quicksilver runs and pearly trills, and the engaging color of the upward Mannheim “rockets” that illuminate the string work. No less ardent, this afternoon, were Master Sinfonia’s wind and brass sections, providing the “open-work” interchanges between piano and orchestra, which in their most refined moments, become epiphanies of liquid grace. Besides the thoroughly professional contribution of Maestro Boepple, we had to note the consistently sonorous efforts of bassoon Noah Cort, whose music imparted color and humor to many of Mozart’s seamless passages.
Ramanadoff concluded with an aroused, searching rendition of Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony in A Minor, Op. 56, whose gestation period began with an 1829 trip to Scotland and the British Isles and culminated in this work of 1842. The ruins of Holyrood Cathedral and tender sympathy for Mary, Queen of Scots infuse the opening movement with a dire seriousness of purpose, well realized by Mendelssohn’s mature craft, since the “Scottish” was in fact the last of his completed symphonies. Ramanadoff took the first-movement repeat, which lent even more expansiveness to the dour oboes, winds, and horns. With the development section a virtual storm of passions arose, driven by that same polyphonic gift that marks Mendelssohn’s other testament to Scotland, the Fingal’s Cave Overture.
Ramanadoff, in deference to the composer’s wishes, played the successive movements attacca, without pause. A bit of fanfare and the clarinet of Jeff Wolfeld introduced the spirited Scherzo, a highland dance both rustic and breezy. Ever becoming a major presence in this brilliant orchestral exercise, the tympani (the reliable Len Sperry) exerted its own force, that would culminate in the last movement, Allegro vivacissimo. The third movement, Adagio, soon shed much of its “militant” fervor and revealed the composer in his most melodious gift, even in the dotted-rhythm passages that become ceremonial and solemn, a nostalgic recollection of lost glories often celebrated by Walter Scott. The last movement, however, did impart that warlike sensibility that too appealed to Bruch for his own Scottish Fantasy. Whatever of the “Scottish fog mood” that influences the early measures of this colossal work soon dispelled into a fervent and jubilant affirmation in A Major, athletic, virile, and thoroughly convincing.