Sibelius proves
a challenging success

Vivaldi's Four Seasons

Featuring guest conductor Joann Falletta and violinist Adele Anthony

>> 4 p.m. today at the Neal Blaisdell Concert Hall.

By Ruth O. Bingham
Special to the Star-Bulletin

Stay for the second half.

The Sibelius Symphony No. 1, rarely programmed here, was as extraordinary a first foray into symphonic writing as guest conductor Maestra Joann Falletta claimed. Those who love Sibelius will be thrilled; those who hate him will likely be won over.

Falletta is well known for her innovative programming. She explained, "The orchestral repertoire is like an iceberg, where we play this small group of pieces over and over, but there's this huge reservoir of unknown works. It's like a mission for me to introduce some of these pieces to audiences."

This Sibelius was indeed new territory for the Honolulu Symphony, and the flow was occasionally interrupted by tentative exchanges between musicians, especially in the first movement. But Falletta conducted the symphony with the passion of a mission, and Friday night's performance was memorably stirring.

Clarinetist Jim Moffitt's evocative opening solo, the inspiring second movement, that wild and fantastical scherzo, the sun bursting through in the final movement -- what wonderful music!

The articulate Falletta, a young but very promising conductor, guided the orchestra with a sure hand. At times duty-bound to conducting patterns, she nonetheless conveyed structure and meaning clearly.

Falletta's most challenging work for the evening, however, was with Vivaldi's vivid depiction of "The Four Seasons," which opened the concert and which she recently conducted for a PBS special.

Many were surely dazzled by soloist Adele Anthony's rapid finger work in that remarkable piece, and Friday night's performance had many beautiful moments, but it did not, I am sorry to say, convey Vivaldi's imagery.

Anthony, undoubtedly a virtuoso, presented an interpretation that was often "note-y," colorless, and unmindful of the long phrasing singers call "line." Most painful were disconcerting rough spots in intonation and ensemble that marred the whole.

Anthony's forte was fast and furious, as in Summer's storm and Winter's virtuosic figuration, and she extended that preference to slower movements. Summer's languor became impatient, Autumn's dances graceless races, and although Winter's pizzicato raindrops were delightful, there was no peace in sitting by her fire.

Even Vivaldi's explicit scenes failed to come into focus: Autumn's drunkards walked straightforward tempo lines; no one slipped on Winter's icy figuration; sleep's long-held notes crossed over Jordan into lifelessness; and Winter's spectacular harmonic progressions marched past without wonderment.

Falletta, at least, held the piece together, even as various parts threatened to crumble, and orchestral solos sparkled, often outshining the soloist, most notably those by concert master "Iggy" Jang, cellist Drew Eckard, and violist Mark Butn.

Harpsichordist Joe Pettit, whose name did not appear in the program, provided a solid and tasteful foundation throughout.

Ruth O. Bingham reviews classical music for the Star-Bulletin.

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