Philharmonic steals the spotlight in concert loaded with soloists
We in Lexington are blessed to have a Philharmonic Orchestra and music director Scott Terrell who specialize in innovative programming and contemporary music, some of which was represented on Friday night’s concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts with Peter Maxwell Davies’ astounding tone poem “An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise.” However, sometimes an orchestra needs to take stock of itself by getting back to the basics of the repertoire, like a Beethoven symphony and a Brahms concerto. The Philharmonic showed its considerable artistic growth under Terrell by rendering these meat-and-spuds works in a manner more like filet mignon and loaded baked potatoes.
The Davies curtain-raiser is a festive, accessible piece, full of swirling orchestral colors. Indeed, it functioned as a concerto for orchestra, giving all the instrumental sections and their respective principal players opportunities to shine. One remarkable segment of the music utilizes the orchestral instruments in unusual combinations to sound like bagpipes, anticipating the climax when a live bagpiper marches onto the stage adding authentic Orkney Island flavor. Andrew Carlisle cut a fine figure in his traditional kilt and regalia, his folk instrument soaring above the standard concert instruments in the finale.
Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 1” is a big, bold work in the Classical style enlivened by forward-looking Romantic-Era musical gestures. Terrell conducted with bravado, and the orchestra responded with perhaps the best performance of any one piece I have ever heard it deliver. The players attacked the music with precision and tempered it with warmth, skillfully blending in and out of Beethoven’s busy textures. The first movement, especially, crackled with vitality, and the musicians approached the entire symphony with zest and vigor. The woodwinds were absolutely beautiful throughout the evening, and most of all in this symphony, played with patrician elegance and a richly sonorous blend. And the Philharmonic’s strings were truly sublime, etching out Beethoven’s lines with bite and infusing them with expression. That’s really what I liked about this performance: it wasn’t perfunctory at all, but rather, each phrase emerged as if carefully calibrated to the overall musical purpose.
Similarly, the Philharmonic played with world-class professionalism in Brahms’ “Concerto for Violin and Cello,” providing worthy support for the soloists Marc Rovetti and Yumi Kendall, leading violinist and cellist respectively at The Philadelphia Orchestra. Rovetti and Kendall played beautifully together and brought forth a rhapsodic quality in the music which contrasted effectively with the deeply burnished tone of the orchestra. Terrell demonstrated great sensitivity in frequently leading the Philharmonic to play lightly, deferring to the soloists’ prominence, despite Brahms’ thick textures in the accompaniment. The orchestra obeyed in providing background to their soloist colleagues, while still expressing the music itself with the same attention to color and phrasing they had employed in the Beethoven.
Indeed, despite the excellence of the three soloists on the program, the real stars of the show were the players of the Lexington Philharmonic itself. It was grand to hear them in a standard program that allowed us to gauge just how far they have come in this journey toward being one of the very finest regional orchestras in the country.