During their current season, the players in the Longwood Symphony Orchestra are observing a passing parade of six conductors for consideration as their next music director. BMInt has already reviewed the appearance of Susan Davenny Wyner here. The most recent candidate is Edward Jones, who conducted a program of chestnuts including Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto with the excellent Bella Hristova.
Weber’s Overture to Oberon gave us a good chance to observe Mr. Jones’s technique. His right hand etched an exemplary, clear dependable beat, not hesitating to subdivide or to emphasize important upbeats. His cueing and phrasing with his left hand were quite pointed in the former and shapely in the latter. The orchestra responded with attentive observance of the hairpin turns in the short overture. The frequent changes of tempo and the several mini-crescendi and diminuendi were well telegraphed and well executed.
The Bulgarian violinist Bella Hristova followed with a riveting account of the Mendelssohn concerto. Draped in a classical white pleated gown and with a very upright bearing, Ms. Hristova could have been a caryatid at a Temple of Music. She played with a stately charisma which was animated by a bright fire. She had the sweetness of Nathan Milstein but none of the syrup. Hristova spun a singing, shining thread of tone. Her Amati filled Jordan Hall even in her pianissimos. She was spot-on in her cadenza with all of the requisite virtuosity provided in full measure, though delivered with a real musical conviction.
And she does have her own ideas about how the piece should go. In the reception line she waxed so enthusiastic about her accompaniment from the LSO that I declare her my guest reviewer: “The conductor and players were with me and let me do what I wanted to do more than most professional orchestras I’ve played with. The big orchestras have their own ways of playing a piece as familiar as the Mendelssohn, and it isn’t always my way.” Jones led the attaca transition to the second movement convincingly and the subsequent duet between soloist and flutes was quite splendid. There weren’t many other memorable solo opportunities for the orchestra, but overall I agree with Ms. Hristova that the LSO was an admirable supporter and foil.
According to his notes, Edward Jones chose Mahler’s re-orchestration of Schumann’s Symphony No. 3 “Rhenish” in part because it is a Mahler year, and in part because that version rescues the symphony from a perceived imbalance caused by the fact that modern string sections have grown substantially from Schumann’s time, while the wind sections have not. Mahler’s retouchings were evident at the outset in the form of a noble horn call and there was clearly more to be heard from the brass and winds than in the standard orchestration. The symphony opens with great surging tuttis — perfect for this band — and perfectly evocative of a dark surging river entering the sea. No Moldavian rivulet for an opening here! The Scherzo second movement, with an opening theme feeling almost like a sped-up barcarolle (even though it’s in four), lacked the clarity that Jones was clearly attempting to extract. And Mahler’s additions of solo opportunities for the winds and brass did not always seem comfortable for the players. There were also some uncharacteristic moments of raggedness and questionable tuning.
The third movement in outline was well shaped and noble. The entrances were always well cued even if the players (except for the excellent wind choir) were sounding a bit fatigued and in less than perfect agreement. In the feierlich fourth moment the trombones and winds opened strongly. Jones drew a very expansive reading with wonderful fugal unfolding and great drama. When the fugal subject came back in major in the final movement, we were back into the surging tuttis which the LSO can execute convincingly. The brass relished their unleashed moments and the forces in general really delivered.