Editor's note: This version corrects the name of principal bassoonist Gareth Thomas.
Xuefei Yang is collaborating with the Toledo Symphony this weekend.
Friday night’s Toledo Symphony Classics Concert 8 was saturated with color, texture, and sumptuous melodies, performed both by guest guitarist Yang Xuefei and principal players of nearly every orchestral section.
Titled The Romantic Guitar, the program was all that and so much more.
Under the baton of guest maestro Maximiano Valdes, the orchestra saturated the Peristyle with drama, humor, irony, vigor, and passion. Spirited playing elicited the best from works that wouldn’t seem to combine as well as they actually did.
In fact, there was a surprising symmetry linking music from Spanish, Brazilian, and Mexican composers created within a slim slice of 20th century music, 1939-1951.
Yang, a young and gifted Chinese artist, set a high bar for performance excellence, which the symphony easily matched during two numbers featuring the guitar.
One of two local premieres of the evening, Villa-Lobos’ delicate and sophisticated “Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra,” introduced Yang to the audience and reminded them of the talent in the home team. Like so much of the Brazilian composer’s melody-rich music, this work offered many opportunities for virtuosic playing, both by Yang and by woodwind and brass section leaders.
Not an opportunity was wasted, particularly by the guest, whose technical control and artistry are exemplary.
In the “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Rodrigo — surely the most well-known and beloved solo guitar work today — Yang was masterful, sustaining melodic lines and working through complex and fast-paced runs with apparent ease. A bit more volume from the microphone in use might have helped make her superb performance even more pleasurable.
The opener, “Huapango” by Mexican composer Juan Pablo Moncaya, was a premiere for the symphony.
From a pulsing, simplistic opening, the theme emerges, angular and insistent, shared and passed around brass and woodwind sections, until a tender center section emerges, a cool drink of music amid a welter of rhythmic and harmonic forces. Not surprisingly, it’s a new fave among program planners in the U.S. classical world.
What was unexpected was the artistic fusion between the Moncaya opener and Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Symphony No. 9,” which dominated the program’s second half. Considered the third of a wartime trilogy by the Russian composer, it’s a standard inclusion on orchestra programs worldwide.
While far more angular and complex in structure than the Mexican number, the Russian piece shared with it enormous forward motion, piquant melodies, and powerful mood shifts. Under Valdes’ clear and coherent leadership, the symphony brought out the best side of both works.
Worthy of note were solos by principal bassoonist Gareth Thomas, and overall excellent playing by principal flute Joel Tse and piccoloist Mary Scudder; principal clarinet Georg Klaas; English hornist Michele Smith, and dynamic solos by brass leaders Garth Simmons and Lorraine Carpenter.
A note in the program credited Norman C. Nitschke for sponsorship of Yang’s performance with the orchestra.
This concert will repeat at 8 p.m. today. Tickets are $22-55 at 419-246-8000 or www.toledosymphony.com.
Contact Sally Vallongo at: firstname.lastname@example.org