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Published: Saturday, 3/6/2010

Symphony Review: Performance has plenty of sax appeal


The title of last night's Toledo Symphony Classics VI concert was catchy enough - Scheherazade and Sax Appeal - but it didn't do justice to the rich musical architecture of the program.

And despite the small glitches - rough entrances, intonation issues, awkward endings - overall, the impact was strong, with something for nearly all musical tastes.

In his first appearance with the symphony, Canadian guest maestro Alain Trudel communicated with the orchestra. His energized, focused conducting lifted the ensemble and resulted in a rewarding night.

The program opened with Sergei Prokofiev's droll and brilliant Symphony No 1 in D Major, known as the "Classical" for the 20th century composer's stated intention to capture the essence of Franz Josef Haydn in a four-movement work.

Trudel turned down the tempos. The opening Allegro was pedestrian, the Larghetto languid, and the Gavotte hefty - albeit with plenty of definition. Inner voices and the passage of thematic material from section to section were easy to follow.

The final Molto Vivace seemed sprightly after the first three movements.

Enter Sax 4th Avenue, northwest Ohio's own saxophone quartet with Stanley George, Shannon Ford, Kevin Heidbreder, and Jason Yost to introduce TSO audiences to Philip Glass via his Concerto for Saxophone Quartet.

A leading light of the minimalist movement of the late 20th century, Glass' music is intellectually challenging yet emotionally captivating. Repetitive rhythms and gradual chord changes within a limited range of tonalities are his hallmarks, and all were apparent in this 1995 work.

Seated in an arc in front of the orchestra, Sax 4th seemed as much part of the orchestra as soloists. Indeed, the construction resembles a concerto grosso, with a small ensemble countering the full orchestra. (Ford says the group has performed a version of the Glass piece for solo quartet.)

Yet it was the interaction between the quartet and section leaders from the orchestra that gave the piece rich and variable texture. Each of the four players had a solo turn through the four movements, but only in the final movement was the rich sax quartet sound apparent.

As a welcome encore, Sax 4th rocked on Ford's arrangement of "Frame by Frame," a King Crimson rock original, complete with complex choreography.

If the first half of the program was all about ensemble, the second half, Rimsky-Korsakov's evocative, lyrical Scheherazade was focused on solos by nearly every section leader in the orchestra. As sinuous melodies soared in and out of the richly harmonious matrix through four thematic movements, the orchestra reached its musical peak for the evening.

Classics Series VI will repeat at 8 p.m. today in the Peristyle. Tickets are $20-$50 at the door or toledosymphony.com or 419-246-8000.

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