Music Review

Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra program:

Rossini: “Overture, Guillaume Tell”

Villa-Lobos: “Ciranda das Sete Notas”

Tchaikovsky: “Symphony #5, E Minor, Opus 64”

For the inaugural concert of conductor Scott Hosfeld’s third season this past weekend, a unified program centered around IAAO’s normally outstanding string sections seemed the order of the evening, and as usual, Hosfeld’s forces came through with exemplary performance credentials well in evidence.

At Saturday’s orchestra concert at Idyllwild Arts Academy, Bassoonist Axel Liden is the featured soloist, while Scott Hosfeld conducts the school’s orchestra. Axel performed “Ciranda Das Sete Notas” by Heitor Villa-Lobos and he is the 2017 Idyllwild Arts Academy Concerto Competition winner. Photo by Peter Szabadi

The entire short program (requiring a little over 70 minutes playing time) also seemed to lean more toward the lower orchestral sections, no doubt to delineate the individual talents of their respective members, as well as the singular talent of the featured solo bassoonist.

Taking this model as a solid basis for the concert as a whole, the actual construction proved a more than reasoned foundation for the hall’s acoustical properties as well, at least from this listener’s hearing; Lowman Concert Hall’s auditorium proved more than adequate for the required sonorities to be put forward.

Starting from the opening cello statement of Gioacchino Rossini’s overture to his last completed opera, based on the legendary Swiss hero William Tell, the orchestra’s technical prowess was well-established, and the succeeding sections only emphasized this fact even more — in particular the storm section (featuring a well-disciplined battery), the meditative woodwind section and, of course, the familiar conclusion, where conductor Hosfeld achieved the maximum rhythmic effect with a reasoned “tempo di galop” and not the usual rush to the double bar, as so many interpretations seem to eventuate.

Following a short break, the succeeding performance of the IAA Concerto competition winner for 2017 bassoonist Axel Liden was equally exemplary. The piece chosen, Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Ciranda das Sete Notas” (the title could be translated as “round dance of the seven notes”), was written during the composer’s Parisian period, and for the most part, eschews his normal Brazilian mode of expressions for those of “Les Six” (in particular Milhaud) and of Stravinsky (it seems to quote part of “The Rite of Spring” at one point).

The “seven notes” prove to be the diatonic C major scale (as stated from the first by the violin section and echoed by the solo bassoon), but later involving more and more chromatic excursions, and the piece could be categorized as “neo-Baroque” rather than neoclassical (that is, from the Stravinskian formulation) by the use of the bassoon’s particular sound as compliment to a reductional string ensemble.

Alex’s performance seemed to this listener to emphasize dexterity rather than virtuosity, as the work itself is of medium difficulty at best, and the string complement (particularly the cellos and basses) produced a genial effect generally felt by the audience throughout.

In the multi-disciplinary work of the 19th century theorist William Gardiner titled “The Music of Nature,” the key of E minor has the characteristics of persuasive, soft and tender. Whether this was Tchaikovsky’s intention or not in his 5th symphony, generally in that tonality, Hosfeld’s interpretation of the work certainly emphasized persuasion of a sort, and by the conductor’s brief introductory speech, also brought to the fore the composer’s own struggles with an aggresive depressed condition during the symphony’s composition and premiere performance.

The main motif of the work (appearing in all four movements) was presented as a clue to such compositorial strivings, and when in the concluding movement it appears in the major mode, Hosfeld’s forces combined to produce the aura of triumph over adversity.

The symphony’s middle movements had the (possibly) requisite softness and tenderness (in particular, the third movement waltz), but for overall effect, it was the outer movements’ general thrust and propulsion (with a modicum of Russian nationalism, if you will) that earned the audience’s well-continued and deserved approbationary applause.

This reviewer looks forward to the further concerts in the third year of the conductor’s position, and to further orchestral experiences of a similar high order.

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