BWW Review: THE SAN DIEGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA at The Jacobs Music Center
Conducting with a combination of precise hand signals and smooth sweeping arm gestures, Jader Bignamini went all-out to please and entertain in his guest appearance with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, and he succeeded. The familiar works he selected seemed to form a spectacular five-movement concerto for orchestra.
I seem to be saying this in every SD Symphony review lately, but it is true again. The orchestra has never sounded better. Nor have the soloists. Principal cellist Yao Zhao's warmly romantic phrasing and tone set a high bar at the very outset of the opening piece, Rossini's William Tell Overture. I usually wait impatiently for the Lone-Ranger trumpet calls that signal the arrival of the Swiss cavalry, but this time the long lead-in was a delicious appetizer, with chamber-music-like balances and beautiful solo and section playing. Bignamini built the tension until blazing brass brought the piece to its stirring conclusion.
Martucci's Notturno, Opus 70, No. 1 was a perfect change-of-pace. Many of the late-Romantic composer's piano and orchestral works were highly regarded during his lifetime. Notturno is still programmed with some regularity, though his popularity has faded, . The San Diego strings brought a full lush sound to its warm melancholy melodies.
Capriccio Espagnol by Rimsky-Korsakov, who literally wrote the book on orchestration, is an even flashier showpiece than Rossini's famous overture. Bignamini took it at a lively clip, and the orchestra responded with an exciting performance. After the piece reached its swirling euphoric conclusion, first-chair soloists, Clarinetist Sheryl Renk, French-horn player Benjamin Jaber, and Concert Master Jeff Thayer were among those who stood when singled out by the conductor. The audience applauded and shouted enthusiastic approval.
Two works by Ottorino Respighi followed intermission, La boutique fantasque and Pines of Rome. The former is a suite of arrangements of some of Rossini's lightest and most cheerful melodies. Each of its eight movements is a delicious bonbon, and the performance itself was a delight.
Respighi studied with Rimsky-Korsakov. The Pines of Rome orchestration suggests he was an excellent student. The showpiece begins with excited sparkling percussion and heroic horn calls heralding a walk through Roman woods that begins with happy children playing games. The second section, in gloomy contrast, was inspired by Roman catacombs. The composer scored a wistful backstage trumpet to reinforce the feeling of loss. Three is a gentle nocturn that includes the recording of the song of a bird.
Bignamini sculpted the final movement beautifully, besting Respighi's backstage trumpet with two at each side of the balcony. The majestic closing theme reached an overwhelming tutti climax, as forceful as anything I've heard in a symphony concert-hall. It was a fitting end to a hugely entertaining and well played program.
Visit the San Diego Symphony website for a schedule of future concerts and other events.
Photos courtesy of San Diego Symphony.