Review by Ailine Hess
The Hamilton Philharmonic closed its 2014-2015 season at Hamilton Place with a concert was directed by former conductor James Sommerville, who also appeared as the soloist for the evening. The program included major orchestral works from the 18th and19th centuries. The concert opened with Mozart’s Horn Concerto No. 4 in E-flat Major, K.495. This work was completed in 1786 and was composed for Ignaz Leutgeb. Many soloists conduct while performing, but the French horn soloist plus conductor present unique challenges.
To have the bell of the instrument facing the audience puts the performers’ back to the musicians…both performed as one. The first movement displayed a beautiful, legato sound from the soloist as well as his clear and crisp technique. The first violins shone with lovely phrasing and strong ensemble work. The Rondo, the third movement, brings the concerto to a close with a sense of fun. The first theme, which repeats several times in a Rondo, shows the vitality of the work. The soloist was able to explore the brassier side of the French horn sound as well as display excellent technique.
The Schubert “Unfinished Symphony” No. 8 in B minor brought the first half of the programme to a close. The work was not performed during the composer’s lifetime. It was completed in, 1822, but first performed on December 17, 1865 by a musical society in Vienna under the direction of Johann Herbeck. Many wonder why the symphony doesn’t contain the usual 4 movements. Schubert composed but did not fully orchestrate a third movement. As to why he did not ‘finish’ the symphony, there is only speculation.
The first movement introduction opens with an ominous melody played ably by the cello and bass sections. The beautiful principal theme, played by the cello section, shows the lyrical, melodic writing of Schubert at his best though the tempo seemed slow. This symphony showcases the woodwind section of the orchestra, particularly the Principal Oboe, Jon Peterson, and Principal Clarinet, Stephen Pierre, in the second movement. The long melodic lines were performed with great beauty. The addition of trumpets and trombones toward the end of the movement adds orchestral richness and colour to the end of the symphony.
The concert closed with a performance of Brahms Symphony No. 4 in E minor, Op. 98. The first performance of this symphony took place on October 25, 1885 by the Meiningen Orchestra under the direction of the composer himself. Hans von Bulow directed subsequent performances with the orchestra. Whereas Schubert uses long melodic lines, Brahms takes a musical motif and through imitation, counter melody, rhythmic devices creates an emotionally charged work of great intellect. The influence of Bach and the Baroque are apparent in his writing. The melodic motif opens the first movement with the violins. Balance in the first movement was an issue when the full orchestra played. The string section is not quite big enough for full winds, brass, and timpani. The horn section is highlighted throughout the symphony and filled its role with pleasure. The third movement, though not a Scherzo, has that feeling and it was conveyed to the audience. The fourth movement is an unusual form for a symphony. It is a passacaglia; which is a form borrowed from the Baroque Era. Brahms also borrowed the passacaglia theme from the Cantata 150 by J. S. Bach. After the theme is played there are a series of variations showcasing various sections of the orchestra. The Principal flautist, Leslie Newman, was a highlight.
Though it was a fine concert, the lack of any music composed after 1885 was a disappointment. Sommerville mentioned the public’s distrust of modern music with an anecdote about Brahms. If music is to have a future, it needs to appreciate the present.