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Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, April 17, 2000

Dancing with

By Ruth Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin


WHEN Honolulu Symphony maestro Samuel Wong was away from the New York Philharmonic for a couple weeks, his replacement, the 80-year-old Erich Leinsdorf, fell ill, providing Richard Westerfield with one of those famed opportunities that launch careers. He's been building his reputation ever since.

Articulate on and off the podium, Westerfield conducted two of the three works presented without a score before him, something few conductors attempt, even though it affords them better eye contact with the musicians. Oddly, he used a score for Boccherini's Concerto, comparatively much easier to conduct than either Barber's Symphony No. 1 or Rachmaninoff's Symphony No. 3.


Bullet Rachmaninoff Third: Repeats 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Blaisdell Concert Hall. Tickets $15-50. Call 792-2000.

Westerfield described how he views his role: "The conductor is there most of the time to accompany ... and sometimes he needs to help a bit. Good conductors can convey what they want without words just with gestures. And great orchestras, like this one, respond immediately."

The orchestra did indeed respond well and Westerfield did more than his modest "help a bit" with his dance of gestures: calling for more horn with a shaken fist, drawing out a chord as a needle through fabric, damping violins with a pat.

Only the lushly Romantic Rachmaninoff seemed to need a little more romance and a little less control, but perhaps in these days of standards set by recording, it is safer to err on the side of precision.

Barber's symphony offered golden passages: multi-metered clarinet staccatos, epic string lines, virile brass choirs ... but the 24-carat nugget was Scott Janusch's meltingly beautiful oboe solo over shimmering strings in the adagio. Partly because of the clarity Westerfield maintained, excellent solos were numerous, including one in Rachmaninoff's third movement from a musician the audience rarely gets to notice, bass clarinetist James Moffitt.

The concert's featured solo belonged to principal cellist Gregory Dubay in Boccherini's B Major Cello Concerto, composed ca. 1770 but "arranged" in the 1890s by Friedrich Grützmacher and then made famous by the great Pablo Casals. Grützmacher's version is rather strange, early Classic core with a thick late-Romantic veneer.

Classic and Romantic performance styles, whether flip sides of a coin or opposites, have little in common, so the combination yields a certain schizophrenia. But at least it's a familiar schizophrenia: however much Grützmacher's changes enrage musicologists and other purists, his version remains the most popular.

A cello may not be as showy a solo instrument as a piano, but with its wide range of "voices" and its velvet tone, it sings as no other instrument can.

Physically reserved, Dubay poured his drama into the music, each of Boccherini's three movements seeming to suit him better than the last. His playing opened up and soared through the lyrical second movement, then gracefully danced the sprightly third. He was also modest: his playing made the piece sound easier than it is ... but afterward he seemed embarrassed by the applause.

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