Nothing sells like Beethoven 9.
And a sold-out Terrace Theater audience was on hand last Saturday night to hear it, as the Long Beach Symphony wrapped up its season.
They got their money's worth. Music director Eckart Preu led with his customary total command, the orchestra was in top form, and the Camerata Singers rose to the occasion magnificently.
First, Preu thanked the staff, the board, the volunteers, the audience, and his musicians. Several of the latter are retiring, most notably principal percussionist Lynda Sue Marks, whose first concert with the group was in 1957.
We were then treated to a nicely paced, straightforward account of Handel’s “Music for the Royal Fireworks,” the five varied movements serving as an attractive curtain raiser for the main event. Trumpets and horns lent a festive air, and Preu utilized the full string section, to maximum effect.
After intermission, it was down to business. Preu likes his Beethoven fast, and so do I. The first movement was brisk and powerful, and the orchestra sounded terrific; there were few substitutes employed for this one, and it showed. The string ensemble was superb, and the wind soloists spot on. The playing was full-throated and exuberant, and only occasionally verged on the raucous.
The scherzo was exhilarating, a virtuoso display that danced irresistibly. The quick tempo made demands, especially on bassoonist Judith Farmer (subbing for regular principal Julie Feves) and horn Teag Reaves, which were met in stellar fashion.
Preu solved the problem of the third movement’s languor and meandering diffuseness by taking it too fast, which is no solution at all. He ignored the Adagio molto marking, and took things at such a clip that at times the tempo almost waltzed. There are places in this movement that are designed to be lingered over, but Preu took no detours and just barrelled through them.
Then came the finale, which everyone had been waiting for all evening. It began with the requisite drama and passion, but got a little derailed when bass Steve Pence stood and started singing too early; that sort of spoiled the magic of the passages that followed, the string recitative, the quotes from other movements, and the quiet intoning of the main theme in the lower strings, which Preu handled beautifully.
Once he figured out where he was, Pence sang with power and a lovely tone. Jason Francisco was stretched by the tenor solo, but the women, soprano Kala Maxym and especially alto I-Chin Feinblatt, were excellent.
And the Camerata were absolutely brilliant, singing with gusto and raising the excitement level to fever pitch. The evening ended in a blaze of glory, the final section was encored, and the ovations went on and on.
Both the Long Beach Symphony and the Camerata seem to be on a roll these days, and we’re especially looking forward to the Verdi Requiem next season.