SACRAMENTO ORCHESTRA, FREEBORN HALL On Sunday, May 23, 1993 at 8:00 p. m. the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra performed four pieces by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. The program included the Festival Overture on the Danish National Anthem, Op. 15, the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 35, the Serenade for Strings in C Major, Op. 48, and the Capriccio Italien, Op. 45. Geoffrey Simon conducted and William Barbini appeared as concertmaster and soloist. Although I was impressed by the whole concert, the second half made a more lasting impression on me.
The concert opened with the Festival Overture. This piece began quietly. As the string instruments plucked in unison, the brass instruments entered with a slow melody. The mood became more dramatic as it progressed. The pace became faster and the texture more intense with fugue-like entrances. The different instruments succeeded one another until they ultimately all entered in unison. The trumpets were the most prominent players in the overture, effectively supported by the continuous beating of the drums and clanging of the cymbals.
The trumpets were soon replaced by the strings, while the brass instruments receded to the background, quickly leading to the climax in the final section of the piece. The second work of the evening was the Concerto, which began with a striking solo violin melody, which set a lighthearted tone to the piece. Very quickly, however, the orchestra, and in particular the lyrical strings and pizzicato cellos, entered and provided a firm layer of support. Barbini’s solo, contrasted well with the orchestra, and culminated in a sustained high-pitched ethereal sound, suggesting an other-worldly character.
The climax of the first movement occurred when the trumpets played a forceful hammering motive which punctuated the beautiful main theme in the violin. This was one of the most inspiring and moving passages of the entire concert. It occurred to me that it had almost a nationalistic tone to it, and I would be interested to know whether Tchaikovsky intended it that way. In contrast, the mood of the second movement was melancholy. The string instruments played a sad melody and the brass instruments enhanced the mood by their constant horn blowing in the background.
The interplay between the soloist and the orchestra took on a more intimate veneer, and they appeared to be more comfortable with each other, as opposed to the first movement where they had appeared adversarial. The third movement began “attaca,” that is without a pause at the end of the second movement. The connection of the movements, in my opinion, enhanced the ever-building climax at the end of the third movement. The soloist took on a victorious role and seemed to triumph over the orchestra.
The extremely lyrical closing theme brought an element of glory to the entire concerto. After a fifteen minute intermission, the orchestra played the last two pieces of the evening, though it was the Serenade, and in particular the first movement, which made the most lasting impression on me. An interesting characteristic of this piece is that it was composed for an ensemble consisting entirely of strings. I was at first suspicious about this, but soon realized that the absence of brass, woodwinds and percussion instruments in no way detracted from the effectiveness of the piece.
The homogeneity of the timbre was quite satisfying, as the level of communication was greatly enhanced by the intimacy and familiarity of the sound. The movement opened dramatically with the entire ensemble playing together. The instruments moved from one chord to the next, as the dynamics gradually decreased, which fueled my anticipation of a significant event. Sure enough, after a pause, the violins made a dramatic entrance by playing the serenade theme, while the warm resonating sound of the cellos enveloped them in the background.
The movement became lively and energetic, as the pizzicato cellos and the short violin strokes underscored the principal theme. The second movement opened with a flowing melody in the violins while the cellos murmured in the background, creating a sound similar to that of carnival music. The interplay between the alternating violins and cellos created an interesting dialogue which captivated my attention, as it confounded my expectations. The effect was further enhanced at the end of the movement with several fugue-like entrances in various parts of the orchestra: the cellos, then the violas, and finally the violins.