For two seasons conductor Stefan Sanderling has quietly lifted the musical caliber of the Toledo Symphony. His presence on the podium has been unobtrusive; rarely has he appeared to flex his authority. And it was business as usual for the first half of last night's Classics Series program at the Peristyle.
An early symphony by Haydn was sprightly and elegant; Siegfried Matthus' Concerto for Trumpet, Timpani, and Orchestra relied mostly on the soloists for its dramatic impact. Then, after intermission came Beethoven's Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica").
I came of age too late to ever hear, much less perform under, the authoritarian conductors of the mid-20th century so I can only guess what sort of atmosphere a Fritz Reiner or Arturo Toscanini must have created. But I am quite certain their ghosts would have smiled had they been in the hall last night. Indeed, it was difficult not to long for what many older and once-terrified musicians remember as the "bad old days."
Sanderling dug into the first movement of the Beethoven with an intensity that, quite frankly, I hadn't imagined he possessed. Tempos boiled, melodies soared. The Toledo Symphony, like every professional orchestra, is made up of stubborn individuals. But last night their wills bent to Sanderling's.
The results were thrilling. Across the board the orchestra performed with more intensity and conviction than I have heard in the past eight seasons of writing reviews.
I can't imagine I was alone in wanting to stand up and cheer at the first movement's conclusion. If I wasn't the music critic, I would have.
Featured in the Matthus concerto were the orchestra's principal trumpeter Lauraine Carpenter and timpanist Sally Rochotte. Beginning with the trumpet's opening anthem, Matthus has created a battle between these two most martial of instruments, each backed up respectively by armies of brass and percussion. Playing was incisive, though the soloists unfortunately passed on the opportunity to do more with the work's theatrical aspects. They hardly even looked at each other.
Cellist Martha Reikow offered a warm solo in the slow movement of the Haydn symphony.
The program is repeated at 8 tonight. Tickets range from $18 to $48 and will be available at the door.
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