The Sacramento Philharmonic is back, all the way back.
We heralded the symphony’s return last summer with its superb performance of Mahler’s “Resurrection” Symphony. And in its second concert of the new season last month, it reaffirmed its resurrection with a stirring performance of Tchaikovsky’s great Symphony No. 4 in F minor. And with Andrew Grams again conducting the 70 musicians, the performance was one of those rare events that confirm a love for orchestral music (or that create that love).
As he did in June, Mr. Grams wore a short jacket and was tie-less. It may be a statement of sorts, or it may be how he adorns himself to be comfortable. And he certainly appeared comfortable in conducting this particular orchestra and this particular composition.
Tchaikovsky’s Fourth is loaded with great moments (and movements). In fact, each movement is special. The first is bold and long, featuring no less than three separate themes, each seemingly more majestic than the one before it. The second is a light, sometimes somber, but ultimately frothy, Andante that features the woodwinds. The third, one of the most delightful in the symphonic repertoire, is a Scherzo that is entirely pizzicato (even in the woodwind and brass bridges, if you can imagine the scoring directions to produce such an effect) And the fourth is triumphant and exultant with a coda that is certainly among the most invigorating and energized of any ever written.
The challenge in conducting this work has to be in making it distinctive. As with many of the great orchestral works that are so well known and so popular, a pedestrian delivery will be only momentarily satisfying. Mr. Grams had no such intentions. He had a clear vision of how he wanted to communicate the piece. Simply stated, he had his musicians playing at a pace that was faster than any we have ever heard, especially in the fourth movement, when he had his musicians playing at a seemingly ever-increasing tempo through the coda. It was a mesmerizing performance, made all the more impressive by the musicians’ ability to keep up with their maestro.
The significantly less than capacity audience (perhaps reduced by the baseball playoffs and the Handel and Haydn Society performance at the Mondavi center?) was quick to its feet with a sustained ovation that lasted through three sets of bows by the conductor. He returned to the stage and, standing to the side, pointed for recognition to each section of his orchestra, as well as several of his principal players (most notably Thomas Nugent (oboe), Mathew Krejci (flute), Ginger Kroft (clarinet), David Granger (bassoon), and Kumiko Ito (timpani)). And, of course, he congratulated his concertmaster, Dan Flanagan, who undoubtedly deserves much of the credit for the quality of the entire orchestra, and most particulary of the violins, which were spot on throughout the concert.
As wonderful as the Tchaikovsky was, the first half of the concert was not as stellar. It opened with a lackluster performance of Humperdinck’s Overture to “Hansel and Gretel,” which we have never found to be particularly invigorating. It was followed by Bruch’s first violin concerto. It’s a popular piece that is often played by young soloists. In this instance that soloist was Simone Porter. Ms. Porter played well, but it is probably never a good sign when the orchestra sounds more impressive than the soloist. In this instance, that was the case, and while part of the reason might be the nature of the composition itself (it lacks a stirring cadenza or an extended solo turn), it might also be that Ms. Porter was a tad tentative when she needed to establish her dominance.
But in the end, everything came together in the Tchaikovsky, which is what we (and we suspect almost everyone in attendance) will remember. Tell your friends: the Sacramento Philharmonic is back.
The Philharmonic’s next scheduled concert is of the “pops” variety. On November 28, the orchestra will perform the music of Queen, the classic rock group from the 1970s and 80s. Tickets and information for the concert (at the Community Center Theater) are available from the Sacramento Philharmonic & Opera (email@example.com; 916-808-2000; 1030 15th Street, suite 200).