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Symphony gives musical fathers their due

03/15/13 • by Sherli Leonard • The Riverside Press-Enterprise

That the Redlands Symphony Orchestra will perform well on any piece of programmed music is a given, as they did in the Saturday evening concert featuring works for small orchestra by two sets of fathers and sons, and one piece by the father of a far more famous son.

That the orchestra's principal players would perform extraordinarily well is also a given, as they did in this concert. Particularly notable, principal flute Sara Andon took her instrument into the sublime section with her work on JS Bach's Orchestra Suite No. 2 in B minor. In the Rondeau, the flute warmed the ear, mellow relief from the high busy-ness of the strings, while it sounded strong, like a mockingbird determined to be heard, in the Polonaise. My notes say simply, “More fine flute,” for the Badinerie.

Principal horn Laura Brenes provided more evidence of the orchestra's mettle as she performed the Concerto for Horn by Franz Strauss, father of Richard. Conductor Jon Robertson promised a magnificent tone from Brenes' horn, and she delivered with the sound and texture of warm caramel. Articulate runs, mighty louds, tender softs, and clean octaves carried through the work, but the treat was her encore, a waltz with lofty leaps, and graceful, shapely melodic lines. With marvelous control, Brenes never bobbled.

The program proved as intriguing and satisfying as the orchestra's performance, and Robertson gave the audience plenty to consider during his pre-concert talk. Watch for the obligation of the conductor, as it grows heavier with the complexity of the music, he said. Be mindful of the contrasts and comparisons of the familial works: one would be the genius, the other not.

Nowhere was this more evident than with the Mozart family as the orchestra performed the Serenade in D major by Leopold Mozart and the Symphony No. 38 “Prague” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Even without the contrast, Leopold's work seemed simplistic with lots of repetition, a steady drone by horns and brass shoving it into monotony. Not the fault of the musicians; they play what's written. (Alas, this is my one chance to be critical with this orchestra. Never mind the mundane work, the orchestra still made the piece glitter.)

The son's genius roared in comparison as the orchestra performed Symphony No. 38, moving the themes from major to minor, working the chromatic scales, provoking and teasing the listener. Elevated on its own several notches over the father's piece, it swelled in stature even more with the orchestra's exuberant performance.

JS Bach and his sons Carl Philipp Emanuel provided the other match-up - no contest, by my book. The Orchestra Suite by Bach the elder utilized a sparse ensemble with every musician exposed. With great and stately care and clean, light execution of the intricate harmonies, the musicians showed a deep respect for this old and elegant music. Principal Bass Connie Deeter played with great strength and agility to neatly ground the work.

People don't get the opportunity to hear this music often, said Robertson in an earlier interview. In this setting, the music did double duty, entertaining while piquing the listeners' interest in and appreciation of fine music.

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