Concert Review: April 31, 2000
The following review appeared in the Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2000
Santa Monica Orchestra Strikes Rare Note With Violin Concerto
By RICHARD S. GINELL, Special to The Times
A look at the repertory that Allen Robert Gross has brought to the Santa Monica Symphony Orchestra in his nine seasons as music director is quite revealing. Though Beethoven and Mozart are far and away the most heavily represented composers, some rather difficult, new and obscure items turn up frequently, giving this semipro orchestra (about 75% of which consists of volunteer musicians) chances to stretch itself.
On that theme, they made a bit of news Sunday night by presenting the West Coast premiere of Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's 1997 Violin Concerto, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Lawrence Sonderling enjoying the solo part's frequent opportunities for lyrical introspection. The material that Zwilich came up with isn't terribly memorable--some attractive shimmering here, leading to some mild angst there, all in a safe neo-Romantic language. But each movement has a coherent shape and direction, and the most impressive stretch is the quiet, sustained, sensitive elegy at the close of the work, which reminds one just a bit of the final lovely minutes of the Berg Violin Concerto.
Ultimately, though, the biggest challenge that Gross and his orchestra have to face from concert to concert is their hall--the acoustically challenged Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Whatever the virtues of the performance of Rossini's "Semiramide" Overture, they were lost in the homogenous, boomy, sonic murk that made indistinct hash of the long, mighty crescendos.
Rimsky-Korsakov's suite from the opera "The Tale of Tsar Saltan" fared somewhat better, with subdued brass to start three of the four movements and a relaxed spin through the most famous section, "The Flight of the Bumble Bee." At times, Richard Strauss' formidable orchestral tour de force "Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks" was more than the ensemble could handle, especially early on, but with some careful conducting, Gross managed to keep things on track.
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