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Redwood Symphony puts on a ‘fantastique’ performance
February 20, 2015, 05:00 AM By David Bratman Daily Journal

Eric Kujawsky

Jon Mulvey

Is Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique an appropriate work for a Valentine’s Day concert? The Redwood Symphony and its music director, Eric Kujawsky, think so, for they played it on Saturday at Cañada College.

I’m not so sure. This work was inspired by the French composer’s one-sided obsession, hardly his love, for Harriet Smithson, an Irish actress. He’d hardly met her and they didn’t even have a language in common (They did eventually marry, after he courted her ardently enough. It did not go well). In the music, she spurns him, he murders her, and then she becomes a witch. Not a very romantic plot, nor a very coherent one, either.

Whatever the date of the performance, though, this rendition of the Symphonie was fantastique. Berlioz wrote big, for massed ensembles. The Redwood Symphony has the forces. Multiple drums and even multiple tubas kept this work loud. It sounded more individualized than massed, though. Imagine the rampaging mob charging into battle at the end of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” instead of the mechanized forces of “The Battle of the Five Armies.” It was more human, more believable, and in its way more impressive.

One of the few quiet parts occurs in the third movement, “Scene in the Fields.” Two pipers — Peter Stahl on English horn and Michael Odynski on oboe — traded plaintive phrases. These were the highlights of a lot of good wind performances throughout.

The strings were also good, with some strong work from the cellos in particular. Horns and brass were rough in the “March to the Scaffold” but gathered up well for the raucous finale. Synthesizers substituted for the difficult harp parts in the second-movement ballroom. Purists should be shocked, but, unfortunately for them and for unemployed harpists, it worked.

The concert began with Rossini’s La scala di seta overture, led by assistant conductor Kristin Link. This ran lively through Rossini’s enormous crescendos, but the players had more trouble with the tricky fast notes than they did in Berlioz.

In between came a concerto by the contemporary American composer Michael Daugherty — a favorite of Kujawsky’s — for the highly contemporary instrument of the electric guitar. This was played by Jon Mulvey, who brought physicality to his performance by crouching a lot. Daugherty titles his work “Gee’s Bend,” for a town in Alabama famous for its quilts.

There seemed nothing particularly quiltish about the concerto. Both the outer movements were full of the distortion and wailing that electric guitars are known for. Daugherty writes that the first movement evokes Jimi Hendrix, while the last is inspired more by the likes of Bo Diddley and Duane Allman. It seemed a distinction without much difference to me. Sometimes the guitar was louder than the orchestra, and sometimes the orchestra, playing all out through both movements, was louder than the guitar. However loud it got, though, Berlioz was still louder.

The middle movements were much more fun. The second movement featured attractive slow blues picking on the guitar, emphasizing its kinship with the acoustic guitar, just more audible over the quiet string background than an unamplified instrument would be.

In the third movement, Mulvey quietly strummed his guitar as it and a washboard provided rhythmic accompaniment to winningly jazzy solos and group playing from all over the wind section, from English horn — Peter Stahl taking the well-deserved prime position again — to piccolo.

Redwood Symphony’s next concert, on March 28, features the only slightly less offbeat offering of a bassoon concerto, played by its composer, Doug McCracken, plus Bartók’s challenging Violin Concerto No. 2 and Sibelius’ enigmatic Symphony No. 7.



Tags: guitar, mdash, movement,

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