Cancellation has dogged the San Diego Symphony this season. The splendid young violinist Hilary Hahn cancelled her season-opening date with the orchestra in October; this weekend’s slated guest conductor Sir Neville Marriner cancelled, and just this week the Symphony office announced Star Wars composer and conductor John Williams will not make his John Williams Celebration concerts at the end of January.
However, a mere ninety seconds into Friday’s (Jan. 9) concert-opening Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla, Edo de Waart’s polished, authoritative command on the podium banished every shred of regret over Marriner’s absence. The globe-trotting Dutch conductor took Mikhail Glinka’s effervescent score at a breathless tempo just short dangerous, suggesting a brash euphoria that was hard to resist.
Responding with go-for-broke enthusiasm, the strings gave a spirited account of Glinka’s rippling figures, led by guest Concertmaster Frank Almond filling in for San Diego Symphony Concertmaster Jeff Thayer, currently on leave. Longtime San Diego music lovers recall when the teen-age Frank Almond was the local wunderkind, whose prowess was confimed by winning the Nicolo Paganini Competition in Genoa, Italy, at age 17.
Almond now serves at Concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony, where he works under Music
Director de Waart. Throughout the evening, the two visiting musicians demonstrated their easy-going collegial collaboration, which the San Diego musicians appeared to accept eagerly.
Alina Pogostkina, the program’s other visiting violinist, brought a dreamy yet breathtakingly precise approach to Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D Major. Not everyone acclaims this ingratiating, unabashedly tonal concerto replete with themes recycled from the composer’s best Hollywood motion picture scores. But the young Russian violinist’s voluptuously sculpted melodies, astonishing purity of tone in her instrument’s highest register, and nimble execution of the finale’s intricate figurations made a highly convincing case for this work, which was crafted for no less a violinist than Jascha Heifetz. De Waart kept the orchestral accompaniment light and appropriately transparent, an iridescent backdrop to the soloist’s rhapsodic flights.
Elgar’s “Enigma” Variations reveal the composer’s gift for melodic invention at every turn, and I am happy to report that de Waart delighted in both the ardor and humor behind Elgar’s invention, avoiding the temptation some conductors find irresistible, stretching out the slow variations and padding them with Victorian pomposity. The orchestra rewarded his obvious affection for this work with an unusually warm string sonority and stylish, fervent wind solos. I also noticed a newly found coehsion in the brass sections, especially in the eleventh variation, and in the twelfth variation, the violas and cellos poured out their most delectable solo lines.
This concert given at the Jacobs Music Center’s Copley Symphony Hall under the baton of Edo de Waart was repeated on January 10 at 8:00 p.m. and January 11 at 2:00 p.m. The next Jacobs Masterworks programs will be heard February 6 – 8, 2015, in the same venue under the leadership of Music Director Jahja Ling.