BWW Review: CASE SCAGLIONE CONDUCTS THE SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA at the Jacobs Music Center
Cristian Macelaru made a favorable impression as guest conductor here last year and was scheduled to return again, a sign that he may have been on the short list of possible choices for Jahja Ling's replacement. But the San Diego Symphony has selected Venezuelan conductor Rafael Payare as its new music director. That may have been a factor in Macelaru's decision to step in for Franz Welser-Möst with the Gewandhaus Orchestra instead of appearing at the Jacobs Music Center in San Diego this past weekend. Not a problem. Young American conductor Case Scaglione did not disappoint as Macelaru's replacement.
Scaglione opened with Wagner's "Overture to Tannhäuser" instead of Debussy's tone poem Jeux, which had been scheduled for Macelaru. Whether the change was made because Scaglione hadn't conducted the shifting moods and harmonies of Jeux before or simply prefers the overture, the Wagner is an easier way to get the evening off to a good start, and this was a fine performance. Scaglione built slowly to climaxes, and the brass section was regal and full-bodied, sometimes nearly obscuring the strings, which is fine with me, especially since many conductors seem to have been trained to keep a tight rein on trumpets and trombones, over-favoring the string section.
Elgar's cello concerto came next to close the first half of the concert and introduce San Diego to another fine young musician, Andrei Ionita. With passion, technique,
and a rich luscious sound, all in the service of the music, the Romanian cellist showed why he won the 2015 Tchaikovsky Competition. In a blindfold test, I'm not sure Ionita's interpretation would have come off second best to legendary cellist Jacqueline Mary du Pré, but it's well worth a YouTube search to find her Elgar concerto with a very young Daniel Barenboim conducting. The sparks between the two are palpable and the performance mesmerizing.
Kodály's Concerto for Orchestra followed intermission. It was composed a few years before fellow Hungarian Bartok's deservedly more popular work of the same name. Both folk-theme based compositions are difficult showcases for an orchestra, its conductor and first-chair soloists. All took the challenge and produced an exciting and colorful performance. Soloists were notably
effective here and throughout the evening. French horn player Benjamin Jaber's extended solos ranged from mellifluous to heroic, and clarinetist Sheryl Renk's were a model of warmth and clarity (no pun intended).
Pablo Casals once said that 20th Century Romanian composer George Enesco was "the greatest musical phenomenon since Mozart." His catalog includes five symphonies, an opera and numerous chamber works, but today he is almost forgotten except for the three Romanian rhapsodies. The first, written when he was 19, remains his most popular work with over 50 recordings in current listings. Scaglione's fast-tempoed version was a delight for all but the most jaded in the audience, and the orchestra's exciting virtuosic playing earned a more spontaneous than usual standing O and a smiling thumbs-up from the conductor.
Many of my recent reviews San Diego Symphony Orchestra reviews have been so positive, that some might begin to suspect a home-field bias. If there is any, it's not much. Music critic Alex Ross recently wrote a piece for the New Yorker about virtuoso violinist Augustin Hadelich. In it he said that Hadelich was revisiting U.S cities, including San Diego, in which he had received recognition early in his career. The violinist explained, "Some of my friends in Europe, or even in New York, are still quite snobby and don't know how really good these orchestras are."
Visit the San Diego Symphony website for a schedule of future concerts.
Photos courtesy of San Diego Symphony.