By Dennis D. Rooney
The Symphonia Boca Raton made its first appearance March 27 in Old School Square’s Crest Theatre, and the orchestra sounded far better there than my two previous encounters with it, both of which were amplified concerts at Mizner Park. There, they could not be fairly or accurately judged due to the distortion of the amplification. Although the Crest’s acoustics are dry, there are no unpleasant reflections to color the tone of the various sections.
Before there was any music, we had to endure the usual parade of local boosters congratulating themselves on how wonderful the occasion was. When the lightly scored “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice opened a program titled “Vienna’s Riches,” the orchestra was heard at its best. The announcement of the concert had promised some innovation. A few slides were projected on the video monitors that flanked the proscenium. Otherwise, the conductor had fashioned a narration that was more anecdotal than informative, delivered in an enthusiastic manner that kept reminding me of a bad imitation of a Monty Python sketch.
In introducing Mozart’s Haffner Symphony (No. 35 in D, K. 385), conductor Alastair Willis created a fictional observer who told of the relationship of Mozart with the prominent Salzburg merchant family of Haffner. The ennoblement of the younger Sigmund Haffner in 1782 was the reason the symphony was written (hence its nickname). He continued by describing its later performance at a concert at Vienna’s Burgtheater in early 1783 at which Emperor Joseph II was present. Interspersed were the symphony’s four movements, each of which was followed by applause and the resumption of inane chatter. The orchestra played an honest account of the score with good spirit, although the finale hardly suggested Mozart’s instruction to play it “as fast as possible.”
Willis next attempted to describe a stylistic succession from Mozart to Beethoven and followed it with a respectable account of the Coriolan Overture (Op. 62), written in 1807 for a production of Heinrich von Collin’s play of the same name, which shares some details with the better-known play by Shakespeare. My only reservation was the over-prominent tympani in the unresonant acoustic. Different drums or lighter beaters seem necessary for the Symphonia’s future performances there.
The overture was followed by Willis’s labored attempt to play “Name That Tune,” where the correct answer was the Viennese Dances by Beethoven, two of which were played. Brahms didn’t become a Viennese until after he wrote his Hungarian Dances but we got No. 3 in F, from Book I, in the composer’s own orchestration.
Brahms’s connection to Vienna’s “Waltz King,” Johann Strauss Jr., was made by Willis, who recounted the account of the autograph Brahms left on a fan, on which the first measures of the Blue Danube waltz were inscribed, followed by “Unfortunately, not by J. Brahms.” We then heard the Blue Danube. As a performance it was serviceable, although not especially danceable. Willis inserted a few agogic distortions, apparently to suggest the delayed third beat of the famous “Viennese lilt,” but the effect did not emerge.
What success was achieved was due entirely to the playing of the orchestra, which has clearly found a successful new venue. But next time they should lose the patronizing kiddie concert format and focus on the music.