A lively crowd packed Pilgrim Congregational Church in Harwich Port last Sunday for the Cape Cod Chamber Orchestra’s second-season opening concert, “Towards the Sea.” It’s a family affair, which made for a breezy atmosphere during the preconcert talk by music director .
Don’t let the mom-and-pop atmosphere fool you, though, Scinto and his group are onto something with community-relevant elements, eclectic programming — popular favorites and unusual finds like William Grant Still’s Serenade for Strings and Morton Gould’s Spirituals for Strings and Harp among pieces by Sibelius and Grieg. The concert title “America and the Nords” served to include In casual slacks and shortsleeved shirt, and sans with baton, Scinto made the whole vibe one of simplicity.
Although well-played, Sibelius’s Valse Triste made an odd choice for an opener. Still’s Serenade for Orchestra, which followed, is a beautiful work. According to Scinto, Still’s music is so rarely played that this performance (according to a database he frequents of 120 US orchestras ) will have been only the ninth this year. It featured beautiful lyric melodies shared by strings, flute and clarinet and an especially swoonworthy, throaty cello passage reminiscent of a spiritual sung. Still is surely worth the attention of more orchestras more often.
Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, commissioned by Benny Goodman, rounded out the first half. The piece has typical Americana sound, with open intervals, cross-rhythms and the angularity one would expect, but you can’t help noticing the range of leaps and the jazz influence, no doubt added for Goodman’s particular talents. Soloist David Dziardziel played handsomely. His opening, with floating lyric lines which soar into the higher registers of violins and clarinet alike, seemed a bit flat in pitch, but as the movement progressed, he relaxed. Dziardziel’s cadenza was agile and he took on courage, making the audience move with the jazz flavor in the little duet with bass and then piano. He handled jaunty rhythms and wide intervals with aplomb. The orchestra whipped up the boogie-woogie ending with virtuosity.
The second half opened with Erotik of Grieg followed by the inventive setting of Spirituals for Strings and Harp by Morton Gould. Special effects in the strings and harp imitated train whistle and train tracks in Gospel Train. Other entertaining colorations included an entire movement of strumming, pizzicato strings. The popular first movement of Grieg’s Holberg Suite followed as an encore.
Johnny Demartino impressed with sterling and rarely heard contrabass soloing. Harpist Charles Overton, pianist April Sun, and superior leading from concertmaster Jean Huang also gave us noteworthy work. Truth be told, every single member of this young and energetic ensemble, largely out of Boston, really plays for Scinto, and together they have an identifying sound. The violins in particular glow with a handsome sonic sheen. Mild intonation and precision problems did not obscure the joy and heart of the music.
The five-concert offering, takes its name from the Toru Takemitsu piece to be played at the final concert, next April. Commissioned by Green Peace in 1981 for the Save the Whales campaign, the work has a movement dedicated to Cape Cod. The organization strives to keep things locally related and have even added three different runouts, ‘Brandenburgs-by-the-Sea,’ in addition to the subscription series.