Review: Baroque program refreshing, impressive

Contributing Culture CriticApril 28, 2012 

Last Friday evening, the Lexington Philharmonic, pared down just to its core string players plus a few guest artists, treated the full house at the Singletary Center concert hall to a delightful program of works ranging from the very new to the very old.

The concert began with Mozart's Hymn, a piece for 16-part string orchestra by Daniel Kellogg inspired by Mozart's "Ave verum corpus." Lexington has heard a lot of music by Kellogg this season, with works either performed or premiered by the Philharmonic and the Lexington Chamber Music Festival, and Mozart's Hymn is another beautiful, accessible composition. The impressionistic piece begins with a gentle texture, becoming more fervent and rhapsodic as the music progresses. This rendition drew remarkably beautiful playing from the orchestra's concertmaster Daniel Mason, and the pre-performance comments by the composer and guest conductor Kelly Kuo gave the audience a handle for better appreciating what they were about to hear.

After Kellogg's piece, Kuo assumed a seat at the harpsichord, while the Philharmonic's violins and violas gave up their seats in preference to standing for the remainder of the concert, which was devoted to Baroque works for violin and string orchestra, with guest soloist David Halen also acting as leader of the ensemble. In J.S. Bach's Concerto for 2 Violins in D minor, Halen, concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony, was joined by Nathan Cole, a Lexington native who is now concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Both soloists more than lived up to their credentials. Halen and Cole played gorgeously, especially in the concerto's slow middle movement, with excellent support by the Philharmonic strings. The impact of the virtuosic last movement was stunning, and the audience responded with a sustained ovation.

The Four Seasons, Antonio Vivaldi's celebrated set of four violin concertos depicting spring, summer, fall, and winter, filled out the second half of the program. Halen approached the familiar music with imaginative colors and rhythmic vitality, and his conducting seemed to flow organically from his playing. It was most enjoyable to watch him interact with the other players onstage in a personable manner more typical of chamber music. His playing in trio with Mason and principal second violinist Julie Lastinger in the first movement of "Spring" was simply joyous, and in the subsequent movement, violist Henry Haffner gave Halen a full-throated, rhythmically precise underpinning with the famous "bullfrog croak" accompaniment. Cellist Clyde Beavers provided the bass line of the continuo expertly throughout the work, although some tuning issues intermittently plagued the cellos and violas alike, and Kuo's elegant work at the harpsichord was superb.

In fact, the most beautiful moment of the entire concert was the second movement of "Fall," with Kuo's ravishing solos on the harpsichord's lute setting. Halen's virtuosity, however, was the true linchpin of this endeavor, and he amazed the audience with the effortless fluency of his performance. After he played the first movement of "Winter" at a breathtaking pace but with perfectly clean articulation, an appreciative murmur arose from the crowd, as if everyone at once had leaned over to their neighbor and whispered, "Wow!"

This mostly Baroque program was refreshing in content and impressive in quality, meritoriously demonstrating the musicianship and depth of the Philharmonic's string section.

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

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