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A thunderous season finale for Boise Philharmonic

Idaho Statesman

By Dana Oland

Maestro Robert Franz served up a romantic feast for the Boise Philharmonic’s season finale Friday at Northwest Nazarene University’s Swayne Auditorium in Nampa. The vibrantly contrasting program ranged from the sublime to the delirious, the sensual to the rollicking, bringing the season to a breathtaking end.

The lush and expansive selections traveled from Elgar’s sweet and stately Introduction and Allegro for Strings to the wildly demented Berlioz “Symphonie Fantastique.” In between was a luscious performance of Edouard Lalo’s violin tour de force, “Symphonie Espagnole,” by guest soloist Chee-Yun.

In 1999, she performed the Mendelssohn concerto in Boise as a Young Concert Artist and blew us away. Now, with 12 years of experience behind her, her playing is mature and dynamic beyond belief.

Chee-Yun sizzled in the fiery concerto, lighting up the stage in her flame-red dress. As she brought it to vivid resolution, we knew why the Lalo concerto was so groundbreaking in its day. Filled with dynamic highs and lows, fast and furious finger work, and rich bow expression, it was executed by Chee-Yun with perfection. She elicited rich emotion from her instrument, and matched it with her physically expressive performance style.

She tackled this demanding violin piece with a passion and elegance that made it a joy to experience. She further wowed the audience with an astounding encore of Kreisler’s “Prelude and Allegro,” which showed the depth of her technique.

The concert opened with the Elgar piece, showcasing the orchestra’s string quartet — Jill Rowley and Paula Stern on violin, Tom Tompkins on viola and Ned Johnson on cello.

Each played with a clear articulation and expression as Rowley’s violin soared over the orchestra and ensemble. This well-practiced unit connected beautifully throughout. The title, Introduction, was a bit misleading, because two of its members, Rowley and Tompkins, will step down from their principal positions, and this group will reform with new players.

In fact, Franz announced several retirements: Pamela Howard, principal horn; Alison Baldwin, first violin; Rae Ann Norell, second violin; John Barnet, percussion; Aage Nielson, bass clarinet; and Diane Mathie, trumpet.

Next season, principal timpanist John Baldwin will move to percussion, and 10 new players will join the orchestra’s ranks.

The finale of the finale was Berlioz’s vivid, sweeping, sometimes tender, sometimes garish “Symphonie Fantastique” — a great closer for this broad and dynamic season.

Franz and the orchestra were on top of every nuance and complex interplay between strings, woodwinds and brass. Helped along by Steve Trott’s reading of Berlioz’s original program notes, the narrative of unrequited love and opium-induced nightmare came alive.

In the second movement, you could see swirling gowns in the ballroom scene, and in the third, misty pastures, the unanswered “ranz des vaches” and rolling thunder, which the percussion section nailed (there was a moment when Baldwin’s timpani sounded like real thunder). Demons danced in the demented nightmarish “Dream of a Witches Sabbath.”

At the end, the brass section came in like champions and blasted the final section in perfect unison and pitch.