4 stars out of 4
SUISUN CITY — Though classical music lovers rarely get to see or hear a newly invented instrument, followers of conductor and music director Semyon Lohss and the Solano Community Orchestra know to expect the unexpected.
In concerts recently presented at the Salvation Army Kroc Center in Suisun City and at the Vacaville Performing Arts Theatre the orchestra hosted an exciting young talent, Jon Mendle, playing his archguitar. The archguitar looks, from a distance, somewhat like a small guitar with a wide neck, but is in fact an 11 stringed hybrid of guitar and lute.
The “Concerto for Guitar in A Major, Op. 36″ of the eighteenth-century composer Mauro Giuliani was a perfect vehicle for displaying the abilities of both musician and instrument.
After an introduction played by the Solano Symphony strings with a wonderful, opulent quality, we heard the archguitar sounding, with its delicate but clear quality, a bit more like a lute than a guitar. Musicians in the early years of their careers are often technical virtuosos, and it can be exhilarating to see such expertise, but it usually takes time to develop the ability to subordinate technique in the interest of emotional truth. Mendle is already a complete musician; his precision and clear, often ringing tones conveying, in turns, nobility, lilting
gaiety, yearning, introspection, and finally, joy.
The second piece of the evening, Richard Schumann’s (1810-1856) “Genoveva Overture, Op.81,” showcased the lyrical abilities of the Solano Community Symphony. The many lovely themes presented by the violins and upper woodwinds were enhanced by strong playing in the lower strings and brass. Especially notable, however, was the rich, warm sound produced by Cynthia Simmons, Michael Houle, Nancy Sanchez and Kim Rodriguez on French horn, and Eva Kidwell and Amanda Gieske on bassoon.
Though Danish composer Niels Gade (1817-1890) considered himself a specialist in cantatas, often using themes from Scandinavian folklore, his highly accessible “Symphony No. 1″ makes an argument for more frequent presentations of his orchestral music.
Conductor Lohss and the agile Solano Symphony moved seamlessly thorough the movements, from stately to effervescent, then ruminative, until, following a thunderous volley from timpanist Paul Sunderman, the extroverted cheerfulness of the last movement. The violins played with the all the dynamic shading and expressiveness required of romantic music, while never shading into sentimentality, even as the woodwinds wove skillfully in and out of the limelight, always surprising but never jarring.
The brass, always reliable in their all too frequent supportive roles, took full advantage of the opportunities presented by this work. The trumpets were forthright when required, but melodious as well, and the trombones and tuba propelled the last movement through to its exhilarating finale.
But the French horn section, especially first chair Cynthia Simmons in several solo passages, were especially fine in this piece; fluid, mellifluous, yet supple.
Classical music aficionados in Solano County look forward to the Solano Symphony’s annual World’s Greatest Classics concert, and music director Lohss and his orchestra are to be commended for being able to attract guest artists of the caliber of Jon Mendle. But I am also delighted by Lohss’ drive to program outside of the classical ‘Top Forty.”
None of the works presented at this concert are particularly well-known, but all were, as presented by the Solano Symphony, wonderfully accessible.
Audience members very much enjoyed hearing some ’new’ music presented by old friends.
Kathleen Whalen is a music lover and author living in West Sacramento for her sins. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org