The Symphonia at Roberts Theatre, Boca Raton – James Judd conducts Still & Bizet – Jason Vieaux plays Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez

William Grant Still, arr. Alexander Platt
Lyric String Quartette — II: The Quiet One
Concierto de Aranjuez
Symphony in C

Jason Vieaux (guitar)
The Symphonia
James Judd

Reviewed by: David M. Rice

Reviewed: 4 December, 2021
Venue: Roberts Theatre, Saint Andrews School, Boca Raton, Florida

This concert featured popular works by Rodrigo and Bizet, preceded by music by African-American composer William Grant Still. James Judd was the guest conductor, a role he has played many times with the chamber orchestra since its founding (as Symphonia Boca Raton) in 2004 by former members of the Florida Philharmonic, of which Judd had been music director for fifteen years. Owing to Covid protocols, there was social distancing of audience members, all of whom were masked, and the program was performed without an intermission. 

The concert began with a heartwarming performance of the middle movement of Still’s Lyric Quartette, in an arrangement for string orchestra by Alexander Platt, who was originally scheduled to conduct. Still subtitled his work “Musical Portraits of Three Friends,” but did not name them. The second movement describes ‘The Quiet One’ with a theme, inspired by an Incan tune from the Peruvian Andes, that is developed, but not really transformed, throughout its six-minute duration. Although written in 1960 when the composer was sixty-five, this music, with its consonant harmonies and regular rhythms could just as well have dated from the early years of the twentieth-century. Judd drew intense and sweetly melodic playing, with richly resonant solo contributions from concertmaster Mei Mei Luo.

Next was Joaquín Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, in a virtuosic performance by Jason Vieaux. Amplification of the solo instrument achieved an appropriate balance with the orchestra, allowing listeners to appreciate the intricacies of Vieaux’s playing. His superb technique was immediately evident in the solo that begins the work, and even more so in the dazzling cadenza toward the end of the opening movement. In the Adagio, Jeffrey Apana’s superbly played solos on cor anglais were echoed and interlaced with Vieaux’s equally brilliant rendition of the Andalusian melody, repeating notes and adding ornamentation as the guitar’s counterpart to the horn’s sustained legatos. Judd and Vieaux took the finale’s rollicking folk-tune at a brisk pace, rounding out this exploration of Rodrigo’s quintessentially Spanish melodies and rhythms.

The concert concluded with an effervescent traversal of Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C, a youthful but masterful composition that remained unpublished and essentially undiscovered for nearly eighty years, not receiving its premiere performance until 1935, sixty years after the composer’s death. Judd attacked the opening movement with vigor, the first violins and flutes charging ahead, toying with the opening three-note motif. An oboe voiced the Adagio’s sinuous tune, with strings providing a pizzicato accompaniment and then an extended fughetta before the oboe theme returned to complete the movement, the transitions in tempo and instrumentation all nicely managed by Judd. The Scherzo sparkled, and in the Trio, the strings droned in fifths beneath lively woodwinds. The orchestra was in top form in the Allegro vivace Finale, the strings well up to the challenging demands of extremely rapid figurations as the music surged forward, transitioning to a legato theme and then shifting back and forth between the two subjects, building up tension until the ultimate resolution.

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