Santa Fe Symphony conducted by Guillermo Figueroa
The Santa Fe Symphony’s performance last Sunday seemed like two separate concerts: a mediocre one before intermission and a pretty good one after, the halves sharing little in terms of vision or execution. The more successful, post-intermission portion was an agreeable reading of Dvorák’s˘ Symphony No. 8, to which guest conductor Guillermo Figueroa must have devoted most of the rehearsal time. He plotted the piece at a swiftly moving yet comfortable pace, rarely luxuriating in the more pastoral expanses. He nonetheless achieved a pleasing lilt in the slow second movement, particularly in the contrasting episode 47 measures i n, where solo f lute and oboe sing out their melody against a gentle accompaniment of violins playing descending scales in sixths, the whole set above violas and cellos plucking gentle pizzicatos. One wishes that more spans had been invested with as much character in what was mostly a literal interpretation.
Figueroa i s one of t he finalists under consideration to become t he orchestra’s next chief conductor. On the podium he seemed comfortable in his own skin, not concerned with indicating every jot and tiddle, which would normally be superfluous when working with a professional orchestra. As a conductor, he took a minimally interventionist approach. If only he had intervened more in the first half!
The concert opened with Weber’s Overture to Der Freischütz. To put it more precisely, it opened twice, since the musicians fell into opposing factions in deciding where Figueroa’s downbeat resided. No matter, one thought; surely they would agree four bars later, when the music repeats at a different pitch level. Again, a double attack. Rhythmic non-simultaneities continued to plague the piece, as did balance issues between the winds and strings, the latter sounding more wan than they have in recent outings. One never sensed the pent-up evil waiting to explode in this piece. It was a Freischütz Overture largely devoid of tension, a possibility I would not have previously considered likely.
Violinist Michael Ludwig then appeared as t he guest soloist in Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5. The Symphony’s advance publicity called special attention to this concerto’s “brilliant orchestration” — a hard claim to justify in this journeyman work, and incomprehensible in light of the lackluster rendition it received. The principal distinction of Ludwig’s playing was his sweetness of tone. That certainly qualifies as a positive attribute, but, lacking sonic variety over the course of the three movements, the experience grew saccharine. Even the so- called “Turkish” music in the finale showed not much kick. The Adagio adhered to a somnolent tempo, and the cadenzas all fell f lat, with the soloist doling them out phrase-by-phrase, grinding to one halt after another. Neither the conductor nor the orchestra conveyed affection for Mozart’s score. — James M. Keller