Andrés Cárdenes has established himself as a premier concert violinist and a first-rate conductor, and he brought both of those talents to bear in an excellent performance by a decidedly scaled-down version of the Sacramento Philharmonic in a concert at the Community Center Theater last weekend.
The Cuban born Cárdenes, currently the Music Director of Orchestral Studies at Carnegie Mellon University and conductor of the institution’s orchestra, conducted the Philharmonic with a distinct flair that translated well to a sizeable audience on a cold and rainy night. But it was his violin playing that was most impressive on all four of the Vivaldi concertos that comprise the famous “Four Seasons” by the composer.
The program for the concert was an automatic crowd-pleaser, even with a significantly smaller complement of musicians on the stage. The opening selection was one of Gioacchino Rossini’s opera overtures (from “L’Italiana in Algeri”). It opens with a soft fluttering of strings before the robust main theme kicks in. As with all of Rossini’s opera overtures, this one places emphasis on all sections of the orchestra and offers significant solo work for selected principals. On the latter point, excellent work by the principal oboe (Thomas Nugent) and flute (Mathew Krejci) players elevated the performance. We were puzzled by the focus Mr. Cárdenes directed at the cello and bass sections of the orchestra at two distinct points in the overture, as those sections did not seem to have significant roles in the score at those points. But the result was hardly of concern, as the orchestra delivered a solid performance. Mr. Cárdenes noted his principal players in the strong ovation that followed.
The orchestra next offered Franz Joseph Haydn’s 101st Symphony, commonly referred to as “The Clock.” Its nickname derives from the Andante movement (the second), which is marked by a distinct rhythmic pulse that sounds much like the second-by-second ticking of a clock. That movement also offered an excellent flute solo by Mr. Krejci.
The symphonies of “Papa” Haydn are all too rarely played by modern orchestras. In part, the reason may be that he wrote so many of them (106 have been scored) that no single one stands out as unique. But each offers the kind of complexity that is featured in the 101st. In addition to the surprising elaborations that cover the monotonous pulse of the second movement, the minuet in the third movement contains dissonances that make what could be ordinary scoring challenging for both the musicians and the conductor. And the finale features conflicting fugues that ultimately come together in a rousing conclusion.
Mr. Cárdenes led the musicians through the four movements skillfully, and the result was a fully satisfying rendition of this delightful symphony.
Antonio Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” has become more popular, perhaps, than any other Baroque era composition apart from Handel’s “Messiah.” And listening to all four concertos played together in one concert provides ample evidence of why they are so beloved. Each is set in the classic mode, with two quick tempo movements sandwiching a slower one. And within those fast-paced movements, the solo violin is provided numerous opportunities for virtuosic playing.
Mr. Cárdenes played them with a chamber-orchestra size complement that made the small unit from the first half of the concert look larger than it was. But the concertos were written for orchestras of similar size. And with the addition of the harpsichord that the works are scored for, the resulting performance was not at all disappointing.
Mr. Cárdenes looked occasionally at the printed score as he played his solos throughout the four pieces, but he clearly didn’t need to, as he obviously knew not just the notes, but the inflections he intended to give to each phrase. It was a masterful, and nearly perfect, performance, in which he was ably supported by the recurring cello accompaniment provided by principal cellist Robin Bonnell, who received a handshake from Mr. Cárdenes in recognition of his contribution at the end of the performance.
Also receiving recognition was Theresa Keene, who provided a strong harpsichord solo in the second movement of the “Autumn” concerto (the third of the four in the sequence Mr. Cárdenes followed on this night). Ms. Keene and her colleagues are all to be commended for being as accomplished in their effort as Mr. Cárdenes was in the excellent performance that they all provided to an appreciative audience.