Cellist, Julie Albers, symphony keep it joyful

Lana Sweeten-Shults , Times Record News 12:44 p.m. CST November 13, 2016

Oh, the sweet melodiousness of Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Major.

If any classical work is just joy and bliss and beauty aplenty, it’s Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2. It does not falter in sheer giddy happiness.

I call it exuberant cello-ness. On steroids.

The Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra during its Nov. 12 concert at Memorial Auditorium embraced all of that symphonic sunshine, thanks to resplendent guest artist Julie Albers on the cello. She gave this piece the lightness, effervescence and sprightliness it deserves.

It was a good time for some sheer giddy happiness. Considering the stresses of the recent election, we were all due for something lovely. Let’s make America glad again, already.

Not that this concert reached the highest high it could have, as the concert hit a slow spot or two before bursts of utter enthusiasm, particularly in the last work featuring the orchestra alone, Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Eroica.”

The orchestra seemed to have turned down, just slightly, the vibrant energy that dazzled the audience so much in its opening concert in October. The WFSO also lost some of the nuances it displayed recently, namely all the texture it added by really contrasting the highs and lows of a composition to add emphasis and dramatic effect.

Still, overall, the orchestra did not fail to convey all that infectious joy under the helm of finalist conductor Daniel Black, the associate conductor of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. Black is one of three finalists vying for the job of becoming the WFSO’s new conductor and musical director after the retirement in the spring of Candler Schaffer.

The challenge for the soloist in Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 2 is that, while the work seems simple and effortless in all its happiness, it is a technically demanding work.

Albers was called upon to shine more than once in virtuosic solos with no orchestral accompaniment, all while throwing in tricky double stops and octaves. The cellist also must perform much of the work on the higher register notes, which is technically harrowing in itself.

The Cello Concerto No. 2 also speeds up and slows down for some tricky metronome-challenged passages that test the musicians’ timing.

Albers moved smoothly throughout the work, seemingly effortlessly. She impressed during those solos and when she lives in those high notes, never letting them get the best of her. But she also was plucky and confident in those low notes. She was so adroit in her fingerwork and technically spot-on, and her cello emitted such rich, gilded sounds that the audience couldn’t help but feel joyful.

Her performance was lovely.

And the strings – wow!

They are spectacular, so in sync and so rich in their sound. They dominated the concert this time around in a very strings-heavy evening, at least until the final work, Beethoven’s “Eroica.”

The Haydn piece wasn’t the only time during the concert that the strings dazzled. In the opening number, Beethoven’s Prometheus Overture, the violin players speed like a dervish through show-offy passages. They don’t tiptoe, but sprint, through what is yet another light, effervescent, full-happiness composition.

After the intermission, Black took time to speak with the audience about the final piece, Beethoven’s beast of a 45-minute, four-movement Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Opus 55, more popularly known as “Eroica,” or “Heroic”. He told how it was written not long after Beethoven learned he was slowly starting to lose his hearing and soon would not be able to hear at all.

This is, frankly, a mean, structurally demanding composition to perform with its dissonances, the span of human emotion it travels through, and some challenging horn passages. As musical lore goes, it was once dedicated by Beethoven to Napoleon to tell of his heroic triumphs and the great sorrow upon his death. Beethoven would later scratch Napoleon’s name out, which further adds to the legend of this work.

The orchestra was strongest in the third movement, the super-grand and very hyper and jovial scherzo. I loved it. Loved the chirping in of the amazing flutes and the horns and how one section echoed the other section. The orchestra really came together for the scherzo, with one section timed precisely to the other. The orchestra inspired a “Yeah!” yelled out from the audience at the dramatic ending of the movement. The musicians were all in, with blood, sweat and tears. They put all their energy into the movement’s very dramatic ending.

It’s also hard not to mention the second movement, “The Funeral March,” with all its low, rumbling-in-your chest notes that speak of death and that slow final walk to one’s resting place.The low-register instruments get to shine instead of playing a supporting role.

The “Eroica” did have its ups and downs, though, as the musicians really did not get fired up until those last two movements, and there were moments when the orchestra could have exploded much bigger in their sound. I’m not sure if the volume just wasn’t turned up enough, but I really wanted to feel the girth of that passion throughout the piece.

The WFSO’s next concert will be 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at Memorial Auditorium.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.