Scottish Fantasy, with rain, at Long Beach

LA Opus

A rare wet evening for Southern California did not deter, fortunately, the Long Beach Symphony faithful from turning out to what proved to be – for this listener at least – a more satisfactory concert experience than the orchestra’s previous country-themed one (Spanish), despite there being, as Maestro Eckart Preu acknowledged at the start of his pre-concert talk, no actual Scottish composers on the bill (n. b. there are some good ones!). 

He began, however, with a great master who had, so far as is known, no Scottish connections –J. S. Bach and his beloved “Air on the G String” from the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major BWV 1068. So why was Bach here? Well, said Maestro Preu, this year marked his 333rd birthday, or as he said (tongue right through cheek) his “schnapps number”… averred by Leipzig natives to be a state of repetition caused by over-imbibing (and no, I couldn’t find it in a Google search either). More seriously, there was a kind of link with Scotland via Mendelssohn, who composed the "Scottish" symphony that filled the remainder of the concert first half and whose performance of the St. Matthew Passion in 1829, the first for a century, was a crucial element in the rediscovery of Bach’s music. Fair enough… 

Maestro Preu and the strings of the LBSO gave a lovely and loving performance of the “Air”, quite slow and with beautifully graded textures, but also with enough (HIP-inspired?) lightness of vibrato to avoid any tendency for those textures to coagulate. The whole orchestra followed it with a fine performance of the Symphony No.3 in A minor Op.56 “Scottish”, begun in 1829 under the specific inspiration of a visit to the roofless ruins of the chapel of Holyrood Castle near Edinburgh. The symphony, however, was not finished until 1842 and thus became Mendelssohn’s last, despite its number, and as Maestro Preu opined in his talk, his finest. 


The soloist was Caroline Goulding. Though still only in her mid-20s she had – as she said in her on-stage interview with Maestro Preu – been at the point in her career where she felt the need to withdraw for several months of meditation and self-discovery at a retreat in rural Montana. Now she is back on the concert platform, and if this performance was any indication, the timeout paid off big-time. Her playing was simply spellbinding, ranging from the veiled, husky, almost hesitant tone of her first quasi recitative that followed the Introduction’s somber opening orchestral chorale, to the whirlwind scales with which she, seemingly without effort, matched the conductor’s very fast speed for the finale (and with which the whole performance came in noticeably under its usual 30+ minute mark). 

In between came passages of hushed, withdrawn stasis, elsewhere an almost vocal confiding quality, in places a wayward sense of fantasy, and at times, as in the second movement Scherzo, a skipping, improvisatory quality that extended even to a bit of nifty footwork, Ms. Goulding’s slight lavender-dressed figure twisting and sliding to and fro as she interacted with individual orchestra members, strikingly contrasted with Maestro Preu’s tall presence rooted to the podium. The only regret one could have about the whole extraordinary performance was after it ended when (unless I missed it), there was scant acknowledgment of the sterling work of the harpist, Marcia Dickstein: not for nothing does the full title of Bruch’s work spell out that it is “for violin with orchestra and harp”. 
Read the rest of the review here