Happy is the ensemble that relishes its own sound. While only two staples of the Romantic style – the Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-flat Major, Op. 83 and the Dvorak Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88 – made up the program for Symphony Silicon Valley’s concert of January 19 at the California Theatre, conductor Daniel Meyer had the orchestra execute with the kind of sonorous homogeneity that allows the players themselves to enjoy the integration of their respective parts into an aesthetically satisfying whole. With the participation of this evening’s piano soloist, Jon Kimura Parker, in the Brahms, the collaboration found blissful expression in the program, designed to please an audience committed to the proven classics.
Veteran pianist Claudio Arrau had made a point of the Brahms keyboard technique, an especial touch and span required for the performance of his two concertos, of which the B-flat Major (1881) treats the instrument both as a massive solo voice and an obbligato part, as if the music had assumed “baroque” proportions that demand a potent continuo. Jon Kimura Parker and conductor Meyer decided on broad, leisurely tempos, so the music – often proceeding from the solo French horn (Meredith Brown) to announce a Do-Re-Mi motto theme –- spread a luxurious tapestry that included a majestic march and subsequent episodes that could dance, even in the minor keys. Parker’s crisp attacks could achieve thunderous sonority –- as in the early cadenza that echoes aspects of Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto – and diaphanous lightness in jeweled chains of arpeggios and scalar modulations far afield of B-flat major. The demonic Allegro appassionato in D Minor, the scherzo, made lightning as well as thunder, then blazed into D Major so that Meyer, too, vaulted the skies in sounding brass and ardent trumpets (James F. Dooley and John King) and tympani (Robert J. Erlebach, Jr.).
For many an auditor, the heart of the concerto lies in its Andante movement, a lyrically extended nocturne in the Italian style that combines the songful solo cello (Evan Kahn) with the keyboard, a combination that would later become the lied from Op. 105, Immer leiser wird mein Schlummer. Even after a passionate, darkly hued outburst, Brahms returns to his solo cello (in F-sharp Major) to cap off the basic ternary form. Marked Piu adagio, this transition had Parker’s projecting the depth of personal intimacy, finally resolving into a dialogue between Parker and two clarinets. The composer’s long association with “Roma” or gypsy-style comes to the fore in the last movement, Allegretto grazioso, a charming rondo that granted Parker some explosive bravura, though without the support of trumpets and tympani. The movement enjoyed a feline grace, suppleness, and naturalness of expression that projected the ripest of musical fruits, a true feast for the ear that compelled our gifted soloist to perform an encore, Scott Joplin’s serene ragtime stride, “Solace.”
Antonin Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 in G Major, Op. 88 (1889) proffers a marvelous combination of national, Czech energies and a soaring pantheism, a richly colored paean to Nature. Conductor Meyer and the Symphony Silicon Valley demonstrated the composer’s seamless sense of style and orchestration, each movement unfolding with an irresistible array of lyricism, drama, and instrumental acumen. From her earliest appearance, in the G Minor opening sequence, principal flute Sarah Benton made her liquid presence known; and, by the end of the work, with its blazing final “Slavonic dance” coda, the orchestra members themselves clamored for her solo bow, given the richness of her solo variation episode.
It soon became apparent that the Symphony comprises nothing less than a troupe of gifted soloists, so the lovely second movement violin solo by Robin Mayforth held us in temporary thrall. The big moments, rich in brass and string sonorities, made both the second and last movements particularly resonant with Dvorak’s melodic power and his illuminated fanfares. Again, the enchanted mystery of the work arises in the Allegretto graziosothird movement, a haunted, syncopated waltz that ends with a tripping Bohemian duple-meter dance marked Molto vivace that exploits the movement’s trio section materials. The last movement, for all its national flavor, reminded us of how much of the Great German Tradition Dvorak had imbibed, the sense that both Beethoven and Schumann inform his grand line and often monumental drama. The wonderful, textural contrasts, the dynamic between intimate, solo passages and striking tuttis, had us grateful for the homogeneous ensemble and the sense of aesthetic closure they bring to the music they champion.