Feathery soft sustained notes, smoothly articulated runs, and buttery tones are just a few phrases that hardly do justice to the superb performance of Paul Creston’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra that Jeffrey Siegfried delivered in his appearance (November 2) with the Vancouver Symphony at Skyview Concert Hall Siegfried, who teaches at West Virginia University, was a last-minute replacement for Albert Juliá, who experienced Visa problems. Siegfried had just three weeks to reacquaint himself with the pieces, and during that time he finished a tour with The Moanin’ Frogs saxophone orchestra before flying to Vancouver.
Using impeccable breath control, Siegfried held listeners spellbound and wonderfully showed off the merits of the alto saxophone as a solo instrument. He impressively shifted from double fortes to double pianissimos in a split second without ever twisting or tweaking the sound. Whenever he reeled off an unrelenting series of arpeggios, there was never a blurred note or a blip. His immaculate technique allowed him to create a hauntingly beautiful atmosphere during his cadenza in the second movement, “Meditative.” His expressive playing, supported with sensitivity by the orchestra under Salvador Brotons, communicated instantly with listeners, who responded to each movement with applause.
After the finishing the piece, Siegfried quieted the enthusiastic listeners by playing Claude Debussy’s Syrinx, which Siegfried had transcribed for soprano saxophone from the original score for flute. He created an enigmatic and ethereal mood with fleeting trills and a final note that seemed to gradually fade into the far reaches of the hall.
After intermission, Brotons interviewed a couple musicians from the orchestra, who mentioned their love for the music of Brahms. That feeling came directly to the listeners from the first beat of Brahms’ Second Symphony. Conducting from memory, Brotons elicited cheerfulness and optimism from his forces. The French horns demonstrated a polished, resonant sound. The strings created sunshine and enjoyed themselves, and the brass and woodwinds chimed in with buoyancy. The patrons loved it all, applauding between movements and cheering at the end.
Barber’s First Essay for Orchestra opened the concert with a solid but slightly sad sound that reminded me of his Adagio for Strings, which he wrote a year earlier. That heaviness transitioned to a lighter, brighter melody that skipped along before being subdued by the stately earlier theme. The brass section distinguished itself with firm fortes. Perhaps the orchestra will tackle Barber’s other Essays in the near future.