John Frayne: Strong season finale for Hobson's Sinfonia

John Frayne: Strong season finale for Hobson's Sinfonia

The Sinfonia da Camera, led by Ian Hobson, ended the 2016-17 season with a bang on April 15 with a brilliant performance of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's "Scheherazade," which brought the Foellinger Great Hall audience to its feet with roars of approval. The rest of the pieces, by Igor Stravinsky and Alexander Glazunov, were also highly pleasing.

The Suite from Stravinsky's ballet "Pulcinella" opened the program. This work, based on pieces attributed to Giovanni Pergolesi (1710-1736), marked the close of Stravinsky's Russian period and the beginning of his neoclassical period. Stravinsky did not so much change his 18th century material in melodic lines, but rather he gave it an updated freshness by subtle rhythmic quirks and daring choices in orchestration. The Sinfonia members seemed to enjoy Stravinsky's instrumental pratfalls, especially in the "odd couple" duet for trombones and double basses. This sight gag only works in a live performance.

We now know that some of the "Pergolesi" music was really written by other people. Among the suspects are Domenico Gallo (1730-c.1768), and the grandly named Unico Wilhelm van Wassenaer (1692-1766), who wrote the original form of the "Tarantella" movement.

If raw talent ruled the art of music, Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936) should have been as great as Peter Tchaikovsky, and, with his first symphony in 1882, Glazunov seemed to be on his way. But, even after eight symphonies and successful ballets, he never quite lived up to his early promise, to my sorrow.

His 1904 "Violin Concerto," Opus 82, is a short, modest, but highly rewarding virtuoso piece, especially with the energy and finesse of Andrs Crdenas. In this Concerto, Glazunov took his time in warming up, but partway through the first movement he unleashes one of his most alluring melodies, and Crdenes played it with haunting beauty. The concerto has no pauses, and when the finale is reached, the whole Sinfonia ensemble, carefully paced by Hobson, had a chance to shine in the exciting give-and-take collaboration with Crdenas. The Glazunov piece received strong applause for all concerned.

Crdenas, who has been a frequent visitor to the Sinfonia concerts, gave a "two for one" performance, sitting in the concertmaster's chair and playing the violin solo voice of the Sultana Scheherazade in Rimsky-Korsakov's wildly popular "Symphonic Suite."

Rimsky-Korsakov, aside from his triumphs as a composer, was a famous teacher. To Glazunov he was both teacher and collaborator in rescuing Alexander Borodin's masterpiece "Prince Igor," and, in turn, Stravinsky was Rimsky's most renowned pupil.

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote a treatise on orchestration, with examples from his own works, and "Scheherazade" is a gold mine of instrumental gems. This work has long served as an introduction to the riches of classical music. But not only to the neophyte but to listeners long familiar with its affecting melodies and brilliant scoring it still retains its appeal, particularly in as accomplished a performance as by the Sinfonia, strongly led by Ian Hobson.

Despite a few dropped notes here and there, the woodwinds, brass and string choirs won laurels for their outstanding playing during this piece. Guest soloist Crdenas portrayed the storyteller masterfully, especially in the golden sunset at the end, and the solo violin part was beautifully paired with the solo harp, opulently played by Professor Ann Yeung.

During the ovation at the end, Hobson called for bows from trombones and tuba, trumpets, horns, bassoons, clarinets, flutes, English horn, piccolo, cello, and there was a surge in the applause when Crdenas took a second bow.

This concert was a celebration of the 100th birthday of Richard Cogdal, who has served many years on the advisory board of the Sinfonia da Camera.

John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at

Topics (1):Music

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