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Review: Lexington Philharmonic offers aural riches with massive student choirs

by | Nov 17, 2012 | Review Post



Review: Lexington Philharmonic offers aural riches with massive student choirs

Photo by Richie WiremanThe Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra continued its season Friday night with an excellent concert under the leadership of its music director Scott Terrell. Although the evening was billed as a program devoted to “Copland’s America,” much of the music was by European composers of earlier generations than Copland, so thematically the concert did not hold together. Artistically, however, the concert offered substantial riches to the audience.

The performance commenced with a superlative rendering of Finnish master Jean Sibelius’ Symphony No. 5. I have rarely heard the philharmonic play a work so cohesively as a unit, but from the beginning of this complex and subtle symphony, they approached it like chamber music, working together to bring out an expressive variety of colors and textures. The soft rustling of the strings throughout the piece was impressive in its precision and delightful in its fluidity; the woodwind and brass choirs sounded like they were truly listening to each other in their exchange of melodic material.

Terrell drew exceptional soft playing from his forces, achieving a malleable blend that sometimes eludes this or

chestra, yet allowing the climaxes their proper force within more disciplined parameters. In fact, I detected only one mistake in the whole symphony, but it was humorously obvious to everyone: one of the French horn players miscounted a rest at the very end and blatted its final note in an exposed moment of silence just before everyone else played the last chord. It was the kind of silly flub that elicited chuckles rather than groans from the audience and served to remind us that indeed, human beings had just offered this Olympian rendition of one of the craggiest masterpieces in the repertoire.

The orchestra’s exemplary ensemble playing continued in the Copland selections. They were joined onstage by a huge chorus composed of numerous regional college choirs: the Berea College Concert Choir, the Centre Singers of Centre College, the Eastern Kentucky University Singers, the Transylvania University Choir and the University of Kentucky Chorale. The fresh, sweet voices of this collegiate chorus served the folksy flavor of Copland’s Old American Songs (Set No. 1) well, bringing out both the humor and the poignancy of the songs with careful group diction. Baritone soloist Noel Bouley joined the forces for the first song, Boatmen’s Dance, during which there was some tempo disagreement between him and the orchestra, again a fairly small error within the considerable achievements of the evening. The philharmonic played Copland’s Suite From The Tender Land with restraint, making lovely music out of the subdued sections and then seizing on the exciting moments with verve.

The program ended with Five Mystical Songs by British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, an abrupt shift to sacred content after the sophistication of Sibelius and the vernacular of Copland. In these pieces, Bouley got to display his deep, meaty voice to full advantage, providing the appropriate tones of gravitas and rapture to this sublime music. The collegiate chorus also sang with thrilling sound in this selection, with the philharmonic providing radiant accompaniment.

To my ear, this concert was a foretaste of the kind of musical cohesion this orchestra might begin to achieve regularly under Terrell. The blend of sound throughout all the orchestra’s timbres and the singularity of expressive purpose by all the players is a harbinger of new growth and excellence the philharmonic seems poised to deliver to its audience consistently.

Tedrin Blair Lindsay is a musician, theater artist and lecturer at the University of Kentucky.

(Published: November 17, 2012)

By Tedrin Blair Lindsay — Contributing Culture Critic

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