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[whitespace] John Walz Reaching for a Feeling: Guest cellist John Walz provided an emotionally resonant reading of Bloch's 'Schelomo' at the Santa Cruz Symphony's concert last Saturday.

Light Among The Dark

The Santa Cruz Symphony's program last Saturday didn't quite catch the depths of Dvorák

By Scott MacClelland

LARRY GRANGER'S artistic leadership at the Santa Cruz Symphony performance last Saturday stayed light despite dark moments in a program of Bartók, Bloch and Dvorák. What weight of expression did occur appeared in the solo work of cellist John Walz (in Bloch's deeply felt Schelomo) and concertmaster Kristina Anderson (Bartók's unusually personal Two Portraits).

Any classical piece carries its own balance of intellectual, formal and emotional content. Some works by Stravinsky and Ravel, for example, make little demands on emotional expression, equating a successful performance with objective accuracy. But others, including the Bloch and Dvorák's New World Symphony, must be probed beneath the notes in order to reveal their character and mystique.

This is the conductor's responsibility. Granger overlooked many of the Dvorák's cameos and close-ups in favor of a low-risk, straightforward reading. But that slighted the work's moments of mystery and dignity.

While the New World is largely a bright and breezy piece--I once heard Erich Leinsdorf play it like a divertissement--it does echo feelings of sadness and loneliness (no doubt born of the composer's homesickness while resident in this country). And the slow movement would not be chosen for play at memorials without sighing ritards and hesitating, mournful phrases.

Getting these effects means going beyond the printed notes to the sentimental essence of Dvorák's own feelings. That must come from instinct rather than intellect. The actual execution is not technically more difficult than massaging phrasing and adjusting dynamics, of moving the camera from wide-angle to close-up and back again. Regardless of his intent, the conductor is revealed for his insight into the composer's vision and soul, or, like Leinsdorf, he goes for a conspicuously idiosyncratic interpretation.

Granger had little success penetrating Bloch's brooding portrait of Solomon, admittedly a work of unique stylistic challenges. Walz gave his reading great force of personality, but Granger did not explore the protagonist's deep musings nor did he build the symphonic climaxes to a comparable degree.

Principal violinist Anderson played the Bartók with some self-consciousness but plenty of commitment, lifting the "ideal" portrait as the composer intended. The "grotesque" one gave the orchestra--which played the entire concert admirably--a vivacious scherzo.

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From the November 1-7, 2001 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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