Bloomington Herald Times
It was definitely an evening for strings on Saturday, when the Bloomington Symphony Orchestra performed in St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, there with ending its 41st season. Music director Charles Latshaw had titled the program “Violapalooza!” And to give substance to that title, he had invited Michael Strauss, principal violist of the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, to be a soloist.
Actually, he invited two masters of their instrument from the ISO: violist Strauss and his colleague, none less than its concertmaster, Zach De Pue. In concert, they joined the BSO for a performance of Mozart’s glorious Sinfonia Concertante. Strauss then added Carl Maria von Weber’s “Andante e Rondo Ungarese,” which calls for a viola soloist. To make sure that the label “Violapalooza!” fit the occasion, Latshaw assigned a movement from Georg Philipp Telemann’s Viola Concerto, the Presto, to the seven viola players in the orchestra.
As a juicy dessert, the BSO offered Zoltan Kodaly’s “Hary Janos Suite,” a flamboyant exercise designed to exhibit an orchestra’s skills. It was a pleasure to hear the reading of the Kodaly, which the ensemble handled with aplomb. There was exuberance in that performance. There was confidence. There was the joy of accomplishment. As played, one could well imagine what the composer intended through his tonal pictures of a Hungarian folk hero, a retired soldier who tells villagers tales about himself that get ever taller in the telling.
The word “telling” describes the impact Latshaw has had on the orchestra. The conductor/player relationship these days seems to be close and comfortable. A salutary result has been an enhanced level of performance even in a work of considerable instrumental complexities such as the “Hary Janos Suite.”
Saturday’s program opened with the Mozart, for which Latshaw relinquished the podium. Strauss and De Pue became the temporary leaders, providing helpful nods and gestures, these while playing their instruments with radiant tone, sometimes blending with the ensemble as just another viola and violin, at other times shining as duo soloists.
The Weber calls for lush resonance in the Andante, for frolicsome verve in the Rondo Ungarese. Strauss supplied both generously while Latshaw and orchestra proved a most capable complement.
For the Presto of Telemann’s Viola Concerto, the BSO’s seven violists (Brendan Gillis, Michael Smith, Hilary Hamilton, Julie Rooney, Marianne Ritter, Julie England and Desiree Cossyleon — did the work of one, remaining in admirable union through an array of lovely-to-hear obstacles.
The BSO’s farewell to the season pointed to a 42nd year one could look forward to.