Hidden Valley String Orchestra

By Scott MacClelland

AN ODDLY CHOSEN program of string orchestra repertoire put very light fare against some deeply dark pieces that, to my taste, came out on top. This was presumably the Hidden Valley String Orchestra’s holiday concert, if not in so many words. Heard Saturday at Hidden Valley in Carmel Valley–it was repeated in Santa Cruz on Sunday–it opened with a 15-minute Suite for Strings by John Rutter, a setting of four English folksongs, one of which, “O waly waly,” was familiar for its common appearance during the Christmas holiday season. Rutter is justifiably better known for his choral music; composed in 1973, these arrangements are up against stiffer competition from Holst, Grainger and Vaughan Williams.  

Changes from the originally announced program were made late in the day. The Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was swapped out in favor of the previously unannounced Estampas Nocturnas by Manuel Ponce, the Mexican composer best known for his Estrellita. Like most of the program’s light music, its dark opening movement, La noche, stood apart from the rest, both in the depth of its shadows and length of playing time. The other movements were the courtly En Tiempos del Rey Sol (In the Times of the Sun King), Arrulladora (she who lulls babies to sleep—a lullaby) and the jocular Scherzo de Puck. (Another change was the addition of the two-minute Tango by the Spanish piano composer Isaac Albéniz, which exhibited no feel for the Argentine variety.)

In addition to La noche, the other dark, or at least deeply circumspect pieces, paired Elgar’s Sospiri (Sighs), which added a harp to the ensemble, with Arvo Pärt’s Summa of 1977, originally a choral setting of the Credo from the Latin mass. Whether planned or not, these left the strongest impression overall.

The program also included William Grant Still’s Mother and Child, most memorable for the simple inclusion of a solo for the violin. The Jig from Gustav Holst’s Saint Paul’s Suite, written for school girls, concluded the concert’s first half as a balance to the Rutter.

The excellent ensemble of 16 was led by concertmaster Roy Malan who had worked closely on the program with Hidden Valley “icon” Stewart Robertson.