NEC spelled AWE as NEC Symphony took to Jordan Hall under David Loebel Wednesday. Their precision alone could have carried the evening, but their deep engagement made all souls once again believers in the power of the past. Wagner, Mozart, and Rimsky-Korsakov jumped off yellowing pages. The fresh ink of Dzuaby almost spattered us.
How many students were there, I could not tell; certainly, louder hooting and hollering for each successive entry on the program was completely justifiable and consistent with a crowd of proud young colleagues. Virtually everyone seemed buckled up for the remarkable ride.
How do these students prepare? Are there sectional meetings coached by Loebel? If so, how many are there? How much time is spent rehearsing? The result: This ensemble traveled as one, setting performance benchmarks all along the way.
Overture to The Flying Dutchman set the stage for things to come, somewhat of a tease, if you will. The NEC Symphony splendidly recounted Wagner’s super scene shifting with the excellent individual contributions as well as with full orchestra.
The opening theme of Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550, turned ringtone and now almost part of nature itself, sounded promising. It was a certain way of being resolute that messaged the positive. Nothing during Mozart’s hefty four-movement work, a timeless (so far) badge of late 18th-century Europe, tested negative—in our realm outside medicine that is, of course, the desirable designation, or diagnosis, if you will.
With hands free of the baton, Lobel gestured in discreet ways, slightly opening and closing arched fingers. The string phrasing was not so simply but most naturally modelled. For the Andante’s patterns in 6/8, his hands produced a lightness of downbeats by gently pulling upward.
The Menuetto: Allegro did not suggest a march as it can with its over-the-bar rhythms and minor key, it became one, an imperial grand one at that. And in the Finale: Allegro assai came a wider signaling through outstretched arms, the gravity of this movement mingling with joy then subtly becoming triumphant.
Everywhere the winds were to show up in this string-dominated music they either did so in refined, almost golden blend or in a prominent, meaning-filled statement. The latter was especially true in Mozart’s transitional passages.
Often arising is the question regarding the relationship of movements in the symphony. Loebel and NEC Symphony convincingly answered it: uncanny insight, the feel of each movement brought them together for a most powerful 40th.
Snake Alley (1989, rev. 1998 & 2014) composed by David Dzubay (b. 1964) earned a giant thumbs up from Loebel to his players. The title springs from the composer’s visit to a market in Korea teeming with such reptiles. This was near non-let-up fast and furious music often going to extremes with blaring brass, punched percussion, and a humongous NEC Symphony. This was a chance for nearly all the players to play all the time, a suitable exercise for these virtuoso orchestral players. In the end, the percussionist’s outpunched and the brass out-blared most of the winds and strings. Thrilling and disappointing best describe the eleven minute work.
Capriccio espagnol, Op. 34 by the Russian Romantic Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was a smash. Astonishing solos arrived from so many instrumentalists, including Luther Warren, resplendent on violin.
With baton now in hand, Loebel took to some dancing in the rousing Fandango asturiano. He then put the final “touches” on his masterly conducting with every part of his body moving in mounting celebrative motion. What a culmination to a concert that found orchestra and conductor at the top of their forms.