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New Seasonings: For his second crack at Symphony Silicon Valley, guest conductor Paul Polivnick programmed works by Rimsky-Korsakov, Haydn and Saint-Saëns.

Silicon Startup

Symphony Silicon Valley stumbled a little before rising to rare beauty in season-opening program

By Scott MacClelland

THE INAUGURAL SEASON of Symphony Silicon Valley got off to a rocky start last Saturday at San Jose's Center for the Performing Arts. Guest conductor Paul Polivnick, who drew an excellent response from the orchestra last season, was unable to overcome musician unease in the opening Russian Easter Overture by Rimsky-Korsakov. Probably the opus is ill advised for launching a new season by a more-or-less new orchestra, because it begins in fits and starts, intentionally tentative partial phrases alternating with thoughtful reflections.

When the piece reached its first steady pulse, matters quickly settled down, and cameo solos finally took heed of their fellow travelers. Even so, the reading tended to be hard bitten, suffered unbalanced passages and wanted more generously blooming sonorities. But there was a silver lining; it put an overbright light on the multitude of sparkling details to be found in the composer's brilliant palette. To the delight of the almost sold-out audience, the large orchestra made a plenty big noise, proving, as a conductor friend quipped many years ago--not without tongue in cheek--that "loud music is best."

From the bright and brassy Korsakov, the program turned to Haydn's rococo Cello Concerto in C, a work known only as a beguiling description in the composer's diaries until it was rediscovered in the 1960s. For this occasion, the soloist was William De Rosa, a veteran performer who studied, at age 12, with Gregor Piatigorsky, and later with Leonard Rose and Lynn Harrell. De Rosa assumed a convivial posture, responding to the pulse of the music even before his entrance, and playing with engaging style and personality. Just before the solo cadenza of the first movement, his C string slipped, forcing a split-second retuning that overshot the mark and resulted in a few errant notes in the improvisational solo itself. (One had to marvel at De Rosa's cool head, saving the best of it in spite of the situation.)

In the slow movement, De Rosa explored a range of expression that went beyond the character of the music itself, but then came through with violinistic bravura for the spirited finale, the most acclaimed movement of the piece. The 1739 Montagnana cello delivered a splendid speaking voice, especially in the high register, and an ear-filling tone that reached every corner of the hall. With horns and oboes discretely filling in, the string orchestra sounded smooth and warm but, in contrast to the Korsakov, needed sharper articulation.

With all forces reassembled, the orchestra gave its best of show in Saint-Saëns' popular Organ Symphony in C Minor. But despite all the showy bombast of trumpets, trombones, cymbals and drums, the best of the best emerged in the second half of the first movement, the poco adagio. Here the string sonority, supported by the softly intoning organ, swelled into a thing of rare beauty, richly saturated and supple under Polivnick's sensitive phrasing. It was one of those moments that deserved to be encored. But of course, further adventures lay ahead, including the scherzo punctuated by its glittering piano runs, and--with the organ now in full flood--heroic, chorale-dominated finale.

Symphony Silicon Valley performs works by Argento, Prokofiev and Dvorák on Nov. 22 at 8pm at the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts. (408.286.2600)

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From the October 16-22, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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