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Violinist's edge adds to concert

10/12/09 • by Sherli Leonard • The Riverside Press-Enterprise

"Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," (reportedly attributed to Mozart), would have received rave reviews if performed at Memorial Chapel in Redlands by the Redlands Symphony Orchestra as they played their season-opening concert Saturday night.

With more substantial musical fare on the program, the orchestra and violin soloist Gareth Johnson, under the direction of conductor Jon Robertson, blew the socks off an enthusiastic audience.

Johnson, young and confident, leapt into Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto with an edgy bravura that challenged the subtleties of the familiar and elegant work. With an intense attitude, he dazzled the audience with lithe, nimble fingering, perfect intonation and clear, sure high notes.

Johnson opened the first movement with a sensuous quality and delivered moments of artistic integrity and awareness. He allowed the beautiful music to take command of the second movement -- no drama, no showing off -- before launching into a lickety-split, somewhat artless third movement. The splendid, ageless piece reigned and illustrated why people love this music.

Throughout, the orchestra captured the essence of outstanding musicianship, a coda to their performance in the opening programmed work, Carl Maria von Weber's overture to "Euryanthe." In that work with its varied attitudes, they demonstrated their immense capabilities, neatly executing transitions from driving and vigorous to sublimely suspenseful, and leaving no doubt about their capacity to fill either role.

Dvorak's sixth composed and first published symphony consumed the concert's second half, fulfilling Robertson's intent on filling the hall with joy in this troubled time.


The orchestra, balanced and totally committed under Robertson's baton to making brilliant music, cheerfully interpreted the symphony and rendered happiness close to excess.

In the first movement alone, glorious sounds from the brass filled the hall -- and deeply expressive strings bulked out the sound as Robertson drove the tempi to that of a steam engine churning across the landscape.

An elegant oboe solo and sensitive woodwinds led the strings into a lovely but unmemorable second movement of which sweeping horns took charge. The prolonged, almost tiresome, musical suspensions eventually resolved into the work's most satisfying moments.

Orchestral soloists, section by section, all performed grandly the music that seemed to elevate the audience into a joyful mood. What could be better?

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