in: Reviews

October 10, 2013

NEC Symphony Lets the Music Pour Forth

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David Loebel led the NEC Symphony last night in Jordan Hall in a thrilling concert of music by Berlioz, Haydn, Respighi, and Rossini. The program opened with Hector Berlioz, Chasse royale et Orage from Les Troyens. Excerpted from his opera, this music for large orchestral forces is a study in contrasts. The graceful leisure and restraint of the royal hunt gave way to the thunderous power of the storm. Judiciously executed tempo modulations enhanced the change in character without overwhelming the music. Loebel led the musicians in a regal performance which was a fit opening to this concert. Reduced orchestral forces then presented Franz Joseph Haydn’s Symphony No. 102 in B-flat Major. The opening Largo set the stage in a minor-keyed meditation with late-Haydn dissonant harmonies before the movement yields to a Vivace filled with characteristic ebullience that still managed to pack some surprises in the development. The Adagio was rich and expansive, tender and insistent. This unusual movement, orchestrated and transposed from Haydn’s Piano Trio in F-sharp Minor, Hob. XV/26, featured Taeguk Mun, principal cello, playing a lengthy solo part that flirted and melded with other musical lines, vying for attention then offering counterpoint by turns; while not the norm for symphonic movements, the effect was lovely. The third movement Menuet:  Allegro offered a musical contrast between nobility and appearances of the stern paterfamilias, with a slower Trio that allows time for the change in character to make its mark, before a return, albeit in modified form, to the Menuet. The concluding Presto opens fleet and quiet, returning us to the opening grace before gaining strength and becoming a whirlwind of sound, flirting with becoming a full-scale orchestral fugue, then plumbing the depths of the minor-keyed opening Largo before coming to an exciting conclusion and a well-deserved rest. In some ways this composition is a curious amalgam, but it is also filled with lovely music and novel changes wrought on the symphonic form so dear to Haydn. I very much enjoyed hearing this less frequently encountered music, especially when performed to such high standards. Following intermission, the full ensemble returned to the stage for Ottorino Respighi’s Fontane di Roma, P. 106. The four sections of this piece traverse a day at Rome from dawn to sunset through musical portraits of four of its fountains. The orchestration ranges from minimal to lush (although I find it always stops short of being excessive). The sections, like water, run seamlessly into one another. Fountains of Rome is a beautifully varied progression from the calmly flowing opening to the heated mid-day then calming back down to sunset repose. This performance beautifully captured that daily progress. Respighi’s music waned for a time but seems to be waxing again; personally I am glad of that because there is some wonderful writing here. The programmatic nature of this symphonic poem may be more allusive than literal, but the composition (even separated from the full Roman Trilogy) merits more frequent airings. The final work on this program was Gioacchino Rossini’s Overture to William Tell. There is an irony in concluding a concert with an overture; for us, though, this music is so thoroughly overlaid with associations that we might never again hear this music as it was originally presented. As an overture to the opera, it is a snapshot of musical moments, here strung together in a virtuosic portrait. The opening cello quintet was a sweeping and soaring portrait of peace and calm; the full orchestra punctured this repose with animation and vigor. The following pastorale showcased a lovely duet between Kyle Ruggles, flute, and Jonathan Gentry, English horn. The finale, that well-known march, gave the brass their day in the Swiss sunshine and brought the overture, and the concert, to a rousing conclusion. The audience reacted as though the Red Sox had swept the World Series. There were no riots so we may rest assured Jordan Hall stands unsullied for another day, although that Swiss revolutionary hero William Tell might have appreciated a well-aimed shot.

Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College.  He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.

1 Comment

  1. What a great concert! The trumpet and horn at the end of the “Chasse et Orage” were extraordinary–nuanced, accurate,beautifully modulated, and right on pitch throughout; not a single burble anywhere. Their dying pianissimos were as good as those of any professional brass players. Haven’t heard as good a performance of this piece in years. Bravo NEC Symphony!

    Comment by Alan Levitan — October 11, 2013 at 4:34 pm

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