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Long Beach Symphony Performs Unspirited Night Of Brahms And Dvořák

Leslie Velez |
April 30, 2012 | 6:36 p.m. PDT

Staff Writer


Image courtesy Long Beach Symphony
Image courtesy Long Beach Symphony
Many pieces of music are written by composers who take their inspiration from sources greater than them.  Infused with intricacies of melody and rhythm that honor the impressions that move them, the understated elements of these creations often bring musicians to the outer edges of their skill.  

The Long Beach Symphony Orchestra and Music Director Enrique Arturo Diemecke programmed Saturday evening’s concert of with a series of pieces that should have drawn out the best from its undoubtedly talented musicians: a symphonic dance tune appreciated by all, if not familiar from frequent adaptations on Looney Tunes, television commercials, piano music, and guitar tab; a beloved Dvořák cello concerto; a world premiere of a piece with local significance; and finally a beautifully nuanced full symphony, each carrying great emotion underneath the music.  

For this performance, however, such passion stayed well beneath the surface.

A set of Brahms’ “Hungarian Dances,” numbers five, six, and seven, began the performance.  There was gusto, there was energy -- especially on the part of Diemecke, who appeared to enjoy himself immensely as he executed a one-man ballet on the podium, happily flicking his wrists, bending down and springing up to pounce upon off-beat brass entrances.  Yet for all the schmalz, it was insipidly timid, never reaching out to meaningful extremes. 

Long Beach Symphony principal cellist Cécillia Tsan took the stage for Antonin Dvořák’s virtuosic Concerto for Violincello, op.104 in B minor in a floor length red gown, practiced and polished for the playing of this demanding piece.  She didn’t really stand a chance, though, against her supporting ensemble, a group of passenger seat drivers that overplayed textural elements and smothered Tsan’s alluring solos.  The acoustics of Terrance Theatre couldn’t hide ragged phrases or questionable rhythm, nor could it lift the most gentle passages -- string lines and woodwind solos so delicate they should be transparent -- out of the heavy mire of accompaniment.  

Diemecke meant to fetch a “sensation of majesty” in Robert Cummings’ “Suite for Double String Orchestra for Rancho Los Alamitos,” a salute to the Long Beach historical site’s importance and beauty.  Lamentably, only the first movement the piece was played in its world premiere, which puts forward a host of mixed messages.  The fanfare and good will toward Rancho Los Alamitos could have been much greater if the whole suite had been played, not to mention the justice done to the piece and Mr. Cummings.  The piece pulses forward in a wash of mellow sound, alluding to the panoramic vistas of the coastal rancho with shimmering strings.  The Long Beach Symphony took it for a demure walk down same straight path down as “Hungarian Dances,” missing another opportunity to fully express Cummings’ talents and vision.

Known for its remarkable restraint even the most powerful moments, Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 is riddled with subtleties and undercurrents.  The tightly bound symphony reflects on Brahms’ life of happy bachelorhood, each movement ending softly and flowing into the next. This is a piece that requires careful ciphering by its musicians and appreciation for its small struggles.  While the Long Beach Symphony momentarily found its voice in the swells of the third movement, with the famous horn solo coming through well, the treatment of the piece was one of passivity, a leaden sleepiness that brought down more than one audience member. 

It may have been the faraway seats or some off-balance acoustics that skewed the sound of the orchestra, wrenching a crowded house of listeners between barely audible melodies and swells so loud and sudden they parted the hair of the unsuspecting.  It’s fair to entertain the possibility.  

But regardless of whether or not blame can be assigned to the room to excuse a lackadaisical performance, the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra did not rise to levels of symphonic brilliance this night.

Reach staff writer Leslie Velez here.



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