Threads of passion
Symphony ties together works of Wagner, Tomasi and Hindemith
The North State Symphony’s fine program last weekend opened with Wagner’s “Prelude and Love-Death,” a lush translation of themes from his Tristan und Isolde. Set on the sea and on the coasts of Ireland and Cornwall, the work is filled with the sounds of rolling waves (which can also be read as swells of yearning). It opens with a sense of the sun rising over the sea and closes with a brilliant depiction of Isolde’s death via a simple eight-note motif that goes downward into minor and then rises into major. As this theme, which contains at once the downward motion of death and the upward motion of transcendence, comes together with the eternal rise and fall of the sea, the effect can be overpowering.
The second work, modern composer Henri Tomasi’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra, was superbly played by Brian Anderson. It was a mix of lovely quiet passages and some terrific, muted, whirling piles of notes—so exciting that when, in Redding, Mr. Anderson’s music picked itself up off his stand and whirled gracefully to the floor, it seemed somehow appropriate.
The pièce de résistance, however, was the Paul Hindemith’s concert-closing Mathis der Maler, a celebration of Renaissance German Painter Matthias Grünewald’s magnificent Isenheim Altarpiece. The symphony’s excellent performance was accompanied by brilliantly appropriate slides from the altarpiece itself. Thus, the first movement, "The Angel’s concert," combined pictures of angels and musical instruments with celebratory flute and wind sounds set against brass chords. And the grim, pulsating second movement, "The Entombment," was accompanied by pictures of weeping and suffering, of Christ’s punctured hands and feet. Finally, the last movement, "The Temptation of St. Anthony," began with an insistently raucous chase suggestive of how our own weaknesses drive us to madness, accompanied by pictures of bizarre little monsters threatening the saint. Then, in what was almost a fourth movement, the music shifted into a beautiful affirmation, during which the pictures of suffering suddenly became positive and followed the music toward a glowing representation of the victoriously transcendent Christ.