The Sinfonia da Camera concert on Oct. 19 was dedicated to two longtime supporters of the orchestra who had passed away recently: Howard Osborn, professor of mathematics, and Robert Bartlett Riley, professor of landscape architecture, both at the University of Illinois.
The concert began on a quiet, blissful mood, with Arthur Honegger’s 1920 “Pastorale d’été” (”Summer Pastoral”). Honegger, one of the “Paris Six” of the 1920s, was from Switzerland, and this piece expressed his feelings in a Swiss alpine meadow at sunrise. The composer associated his feelings with the words of Arthur Rimbaud, “I have embraced the summer’s dawn.”
This music begins with a soaring horn theme, well played by Bernhard Scully, which is later intertwined with birdcall — like phrases from the woodwinds. At its climax, this music becomes expansive while avoiding grandiose posturing.
Second on the program was the “Concerto After Elgar for Viola and Orchestra” by David DeBoor Canfield, a work composed especially for the first violist of the Sinfonia da Camera, Csaba Erdélyi, and it is one of a series of works written by DeBoor Canfield in the style of famous composers, and usually employing a solo instrument for which the master composer had not created a concerto.
The title of this concerto suggests that the style would resemble that of Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934). To my ears, the piece sounded at times Elgarian, but without the directive “After Elgar,” I do not know if I would have identified it at once as Elgarian. To be sure, there is a passage in the finale that mimes the style of Elgar’s most famous pieces, his “Pomp and Circumstance Marches.” And then there is the tuba. I do remember some memorable passages in Elgar’s music in which that instrument is allowed to shine, and in DeBoor Canfield’s Concerto, it is often to be heard, and played very well, by Sinfonia tubist Mark Moore.
What this work had best to offer were extended passages that highlighted the suave tone of Erdélyi’s viola and his masterful technique in playing in the first movement’s cadenza sections that demanded the highest level of virtuosity.
Whether Elgarian or not, DeBoor Canfield’s work had stirring passages, the music displayed a variety of mood and rhythm, and Erdélyi brilliantly executed its virtuoso hurdles. All these factors resulted in strong applause at the work’s end. The composer came up on stage to join with Erdélyi in acknowledging the applause. Then Erdélyi returned to the stage and played beautifully an encore, which turned out to be a viola arrangement of an Allemande movement from the Sixth Suite for Solo Cello, BWV 1012 by J. S. Bach.
After intermission, the Sinfonia was led by Hobson in Antonin Dvorak’s 1888 Symphony No. 8, one of this happy composer’s most delightful works. Steeped in Bohemian folk echoes, this music overflows with magical passages, and Hobson and the Sinfonia musicians gave it a buoyant and ingratiating performance. My especial delight was the slow movement, which rises to sublime heights, reminding me of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, and, yes, that is high praise. The flute of Jonathan Keeble stood out with crystal clear effect, and the explosive masses of sound produced by the brass at the end of the finale were thrilling. The audience at the end cheered and stood in appreciation.
Hobson and the Sinfonia da Camera will next be heard on Friday, Nov. 22, when they take part in a “lightly staged” production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore, or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor.” G&S specialists Dawn Harris, director, and Boyd Mackus, as Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, veterans of last year’s “Pirates of Penzance,” will return to duty for another nautical adventure.