The Long Beach Symphony’s 80th anniversay season continues apace, its Classics series featuring a line-up of guest conductors with widely varying personalities and conducting styles. It’s all been fantastic, until now.
The orchestra’s April concert, led by the enigmatic Lucas Richman, began with Beethoven’s popular “Egmont Overture,” one of my favorites. But our city’s pliable orchestra, easily capable of anything a conductor might ask of it, sounded bogged-down and mechanical at the piece’s opening and continued its lackluster performance of the work until its unfortunate end nine minutes hence. Having set a tempo that was ever so slightly sluggish, Richman seemed unaware that the music’s power would suffer from the fact. So the dazzling piece that night was anything but, its power and excitement never to materialize. Imagine my disappointment.
Still, there was much more to come, including the “Poeme for Vioin and Orchestra, Opus 25,” by Amedee-Ernest Chausson. After speaking to the audience amiably enough, Richman turned back to face the orchestra taking nary a split second to set the mood before a careless downbeat set the sensitive piece on a perilous path. Once again, there was no emotional preparation, and the orchestra had no choice but to merely go through the motions.
Then something magical happened. Enter the solo violin, featuring longtime LBSO concertmaster Roger Wilkie, who all but took over the conducting duties with his passionate interpretation and unquestionable skill. Clearly taking its cues from Wilkie, the orchestra’s lethargy gave way to the appropriate dynamics, and the piece’s color emerged. Wilkie’s performance was a triumph of virtuosity and emotion.
After intermission, we were treated to the groundbreaking “Symphony No. 5, Opus 47,” by Dmitri Shostakovich. With no soloist, just orchestra, it was once again up to Richman to lead and inspire, and this time he did not disappoint. The orchestra’s rousing performance of the Shostakovich was nothing short of triumphant.
The initial forceful atonal passages showcased entire string sections underlaying brightly played brass and woodwind solos. The mostly haunting first movement yields to a comical march that seems to make fun, perhaps of the Soviet regime. The piercing of loud, shrill violins played in their upper registers softens suddenly to a beautiful flute solo over a throbbing string motif.
The second movement’s “Allegretto” is fabulous in its relentless alliterative push through alternating melodies and discords to an uncertain end, but not until bold French horns have had their say.
The spectral chord progressions of the third movement’s “Largo” threaten to hypnotize until occasional optimism peeks through the tentative moodiness. Pianissimo violins provide an inviting foundation for a deliberate solo oboe. The movement nears its end with a passage more than reminiscent of Barber’s “Adagio for Strings”– curious. And finally, tremolo strings counter the staccato notes of none other than the glockenspiel.
The fourth movement opens with timpani contrasted against frantic strings. You can feel the chase, which slows as violin arpeggios begin to mesmerize, resolving to a further decelerating harp solo. A treble crescendo with featured timpani cautions of a warning finale.
Suffice it to say, violin soloist Wilkie saved the Chausson, and conductor Richman came through in spades, better late than never, to lead a spectacular Shostakovich 5th. All things considered, a concert well worth the price of admission.
The Long Beach Symphony Orchestra performs its Classics Series concerts at the Long Beach Terrace Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd. Tickets for Classics Series concerts range from $20 to $88. For tickets and concert information, for both Classics and Pops! Series concerts, visit lbso.org .