Smart, dedicated, personable, precise and supremely musical. And yet ...?
Those were the first impressions of Scott Terrell, candidate for the post of music director of the Lexington Philharmonic orchestra. Terrell, of Charleston, S.C., led the group in Friday night's concert.
There was the problem of the program itself. There was no central dominant work. Instead, there were four slight works that had to make as quick an impact as a baseball relief pitcher.
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For a while, the performances were good, but somehow askew. The Ottorino Respighi Birds, a 20th-century reimagining of Baroque harpsichord works, seemed scattered.
The orchestra's part in the Joseph Haydn Cello Concerto in C Major wasn't so much crisp as it was over-urgent. Perhaps Terrell knew to expect the laser-focus of concerto soloist Hai-Ye Ni, of Philadelphia, who alternated vigor with a persuasive, vibrant lyricism. Her playing in the finale of the concerto was brilliant, with an edginess that only added to the excitement.
The program then moved on to the totally different realm of Edward Elgar's late-romantic Serenade for Strings. Perhaps Terrell's concept was too steeped in determination, and not confessional enough. But the end result was a string sound of unprecedented unity. It was especially wonderful to hear second violins, forgiving a lapse of concentration, with such depth of sound. Violas, sometimes tentative in the past, were simply solid. Terrell surely had a lot to do with that.
The finale selection began — Zoltán Kodály's Dances of Galánta. Terrell had prefaced the playing by telling the audience to expect some crudity, because this is gypsy music right out of the earth of Kodály's Hungary.
At first the orchestra sounded like polite people in a concert hall. But Terrell started some serious gymnastics at the podium. And out came music chock-full of flashing color and astounding emotional energy. At the beginning of the work, Mike Acord's clarinet solo had been rather elegant (no crudity there). By his last solo, there was soul-bending pathos in his tone.
It was a perfect set-up for an ending in which the orchestra says "To hell with it," and makes a final mad dash of delight to the finish line.
Forget the "And yet." This conductor has that extra something, after all.