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Mephistophelian magic

Orange County
Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall
02/27/2020 -  & February 28*, 29, 2020
Christopher Rouse III: Prospero’s Rooms
Niccolò Paganini: Violin Concerto n° 1, opus 6
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Symphony n° 3 in A minor, opus 44

Augustin Hadelich (violin), Pacific Symphony, Dennis Kim (concertmaster), Michael Francis (conductor)

A. Hadelich (© Pacific Symphony)

Nothing tame in the music was on the playbill in this evening’s event. Awash in abounded unsettledness, the chosen pieces by British guest conductor Michael Francis had an unescapable, dynamic penetration and moody impression.

A demonic undercurrent whittled away in the first half. Ironically timely, the picking away at Christopher Rouse’s Prospero’s Rooms, a rousing musical depiction of Poe’s Masque of the Red Death, revealed Pacific Symphony giving an exponential summation of horrors with its heavy preponderance of percussion. The Baltimore-born composer’s single movement relied on the gong to transition into one of seven different colored rooms within Prince Prospero’s abbey. Jarring and spooky with a predetermined cataclysmic and bloody finish, M. Francis’ macabre finish “shattered the earth” like no other…what a way to begin the evening.

While severity and tumult toned down, violinist Augustin Hadelich’s return led into Paganini’s Violin Concerto n° 1 with mesmerizing vitality. Nothing short of “extraordinary” could better define this highly talented man...a true virtuoso whose ability it was to follow in the footsteps of the composer’s electrifying score. The opening “Allegro maestoso”, filled with anticipatory Rossinian verve, allowed M. Hadelich to demonstrate firm dexterity and nimbleness. In contrast, the “Adagio” unveiled a more intimate side that eventually segued into sophisticated maneuvering via a labyrinth of undissolved fretwork throughout the “Rondo: Allegro spiritoso” and its feisty Mephistophelian draw. The encore, Ruggiero Ricci’s transcription of Francisco Tárrega’s Recuerdos de la Alhambra, had impeccable transparency. Augustin Hadelich’s penetrating dialogue flushed with crystalline tremolo overlays that enraptured the audience.

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony n° 3 introduced novel symphonic ideas-of-the-time and contrasted it with Romantic freedoms in a mighty, audible oration. As a former double-bass player with the London Symphony Orchestra, Michael Francis’ choix du programme was apt since his investment within the Russian’s music has been sizeable. Most importantly, however, it was the first time the Pacific Symphony performed this piece at Segerstrom. Though occasionally cacophonous, the verdant music fluctuated “on a whim and a bang”. Gesticulation-wise, M. Francis’ widely fluidic embraces permeated every corner of the orchestra and made the engagement highly effective: first and second violins had some of the grandest moments alongside Mindy Hall’s harp giving plucky definition with side pockets of Benjamin’s Smolen’s lofty flute qualities, Warren Hagerty’s richly immense cello detailing with four percussionists lending a tremendous backbone to Rachmaninoff’s hearty score.

Though Augustin Hadelich’s Paginini reading was the pinnacle event, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony n° 3 clearly “took our breath away”.

Christie Grimstad



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