Edward Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” filled the second half of the recent Tucson Symphony Orchestra’s Classic Series concert, but there was nothing enigmatic about violin soloist Elena Urioste’s performance earlier in the program. Her reading of the Sibelius “Violin Concerto” was incredibly virtuosic in the allegro first movement, and sonorously heartfelt in the Adagio, where the soul of the piece lies.
As for the concerto itself, one wants to suggest, “A few fewer cadenzas, Jean,” in the allegro, but the lush lower strings used so profusely throughout the rest of the piece provide such a velvet cushion for the soloist that one forgets the highest possible harmonics at the end of some of the cadenzas reaching so far above the treble clef only one’s Labrador retriever can hear it properly.
Thank God for Edward Elgar. Between the death of Henry Purcell in 1695 and Elgar’s birth two hundred years later, little of note appeared in British serious composition. England was really, really ready for Elgar, searching as the Commonwealth had been for a national musical heritage.
Elgar remained essentially in the Romantic era, leaving it to Benjamin Britten to move English music into 20th century modernism when Britten’s birth in 1913 abutted Elgar’s waning years.
Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” provided a pleasant alternative to the traditional symphony in the second half of the performance. There are 14 variations, all quite short and vastly different from each other, providing interesting contrasts within the half hour of playing time. It is a suite well known to and obviously much loved by visiting conductor David Alan Miller, current music director of the Albany Symphony, and he gave it a bright, energetic reading from a polished, well-rehearsed orchestra.
The concert opened with Joan Tower’s rather enigmatic, to reuse that term, “Tambor.” In her own program note, Tower describes writing the piece when “the strong role of the percussion began to influence the behavior of the rest of the orchestra.” Indeed, there was a whole lot of drummin’ goin’ on. The piece is interesting in that it is different.
It is high time we recognize the members of the Tucson Symphony Orchestra for having survived the past two seasons of change and the parade of visiting conductors, most of whom are pretenders to the position of music director currently vacant. There are always upsets and often dissensions at such a time, but never has any of it found its way onto the stage of any of the concerts reviewed by this critic.
The orchestra has responded professionally and with apparent good humor to the exigencies of the situation, and for this we in the audience are gratified, as, one assumes, are the board of directors and staff of the orchestra.
Good Show, ladies and gentlemen! Salute and best wishes for the holidays and the completion of the rest of the season which most probably will see the employment of a new conductor to take TSO on to ever higher musical heights.
The Mrs. Dorothy Dyer Vanek Classic Series continues Dec. 4 and 6 with “Spanish Inspiration, French Impressionism: Ravel and Falla.” Peter Bay, music director and conductor of the Austin Symphony, will be on the podium. Information and tickets at 520-882-8585 and www.tucsonsymphony.org.
Dr. Donald J. Behnke can be reached at email@example.com