By Dennis D. Rooney
In its initial concert of the current academic year, the Lynn Philharmonia and its conductor, Guillermo Figueroa, offered a satisfyingly meaty program of standard repertoire and a novelty.
The latter was a violin concerto by American composer Richard Sortomme (b. 1948). Elmar Oliveira commissioned the work and premiered it in Savannah last year. In three movements, the work was inspired (according to the composer’s program note) by the Violin Concerto of Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), written in 1945 and premiered two years later in St. Louis by Jascha Heifetz.
The two works are of about equal length (30 minutes) and share elaborate and inventive orchestration, which sustains interest in Sortomme’s Concerto even when his invention occasionally flags. His orchestra glows and glitters appealingly. Dense textures sometimes obscure the solo line, particularly when the tessitura ascends to the sopranino register, which it does at several climactic moments throughout the work, thus diminishing its brilliance. The opening Moderato movement was alternately lush, grotesque and arid (especially in the rather stillborn solo cadenza midway through the movement).
The second movement, “Chorale and Romance,” opens with a brass chorale that strong suggests Prokofiev. “Romance” ordinarily would suggest a lyric, sometimes elegiac, character in the solo violin. In this instance, however, its material was more episodic, with only disjunct lyrical interludes. The Allegro con spirito finale is described by Sortomme as a moto perpetuo. It begins that way but becomes more episodic as it progresses, with mini-duets with the woodwinds. In fact, such episodes are heard throughout the work rising above the tutti. They would have counted for more in the hands of more experienced players who would know how to quickly elicit their character.
Despite the work’s challenges, Figueroa led the Lynn Philharmonia in a satisfying exposition. Oliveira, artist-in-residence at the Lynn Conservatory of Music, despite being covered by them at times, had the measure of the solo part, as one would expect from the dedicatee. It was masterly playing from one of the most distinguished performers residing in South Florida.
Figueroa opened the program with Haydn’s Symphony No. 88 in G, which follows the composer’s “Paris” Symphonies. Written in 1787, it was one of two works commissioned by Johann Peter Tost, a second violinist in Haydn’s Eszterházy Orchestra. Despite the lack of a nickname, it is one of the composer’s most popular symphonies.
The rests in the first movement’s slow introduction gave the student players some trouble, but as Adagio gave way to Allegro, the violins intoned the first theme with a lovely suavity. It was hard to maintain such tonal elegance against horns that were always too loud, but Figueroa elicited what was in general a musically sensitive account.
The second half presented a suite from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake, Op. 20, premiered in 1877 in Moscow unsuccessfully, then triumphantly revived in St. Petersburg in 1895, after which it became the most popular of the composer’s great symphonic ballets, which also include The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker.
Swan Lake is an evening-long entertainment. Figueroa conducted the Lynn players in a suite of excerpts from the nearly three hours of the complete score that, according to his prefatory remarks, was fashioned from Acts Two and Four of the ballet by George Balanchine, the long-time artistic director of the New York City ballet and which, as a member of its orchestra, Figueroa performed.
Beginning with the Overture to Act Two, with its plaintive melancholy oboe solo, immortalized by its use in Dracula and The Mummy, two classic Universal horror films from the early 1930s, the suite progresses to the great pas d’action between the White Swan (Odette) and Prince Siegfried, an Andante that begins with one of Tchaikovsky’s showy harp solos (expertly played by Yana Lyashko) and continues to a duet for violin and cello, played with beautiful style by concertmaster Yordan Tenev and principal cello Trace Johnson.
The material from Act Four culminated with the final apotheosis in which the oboe melody in the minor mode is tranfigured to the major. The playing of the Philharmonia throughout was engaged and spirited, even if colors were sometimes garish and unblended. The final pages gave full measure to the brass but all were enthusiastically engaged. It was a pleasure to see and hear.