This orchestra is coming alive. The Lexington Philharmonic, that is, in its third MasterClassics concert Friday night under new conductor Scott Terrell. There is a sense of cohesion, of belief that there is first-rate music being made here.
It was a trim orchestra, too, in the strings, which is perfect for the classic-period music that dominated the program. And the Mozart Prague Symphony itself made a completely convincing case for the new alignment of strings. Second violins are no longer buried behind the firsts, but face off on either side of the conductor like dueling swordsmen. What a great time to be second fiddle.
The concert began even trimmer, with a 23-piece "rag-tag" bunch, as Terrell called it, tongue in cheek. They played an unusual 1918 piece by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, who was later to be king of Hollywood composers (buoying Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, for example). Written when he was 20 years old, Much Ado About Nothing Suite was Korngold's incidental music to Shakespeare's play.
Much Ado was high-kicking fun, very articulately played, transmitting changeable moods with ease. The best movement was a little lullaby (virtually quoting Brahms for a bit), the melody briefly in a lovely cello solo by Suanne Blair, and then in viola, so tenderly played by the guy more well-known as composer Joseph Baber.
Next on the program came a source of uncommon inspiration in the piano playing of Joyce Yang, 23, in Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto in C Minor. Interpretation by all collaborators was all of one cloth, full of determination, but utterly unhurried. Yang could be very sharp-toned (the sudden clatter of the finale, for example), but much more often she was exquisitely clear and cool. Hers was quite possibly the classiest playing ever heard on the Singletary Center for the Arts' stage.
And she knew how to defer. How refreshing to hear a soloist who does not think she is in competition with the orchestra. I have never heard woodwind solos so clearly in any other performances of this work, and it was thanks to Yang's delicacy. The orchestra had to love her to death.
The treat of the evening was Mozart's Symphony No. 38, written in honor of his favorite city, Prague. This is when the orchestra's belief showed up best. To be honest, slips occurred, especially at beginnings. Perfection has sheen, and you notice it the more when the slips are momentary.
Terrell as a conductor is a subtle dancer, centered yet expressive. His intent was quite clear. He elicited sharper bowings from the strings than ever before. This Mozart symphony is chock-full of opera buffa, and Terrell's take was not to bring out the high drama of it. But he took great care to elicit a multitude of musical personalities. The gentlemen of the bassoons (Peter Simpson and Matt Schuler) were so good that they deserved a front-stage bow. And those parries by the first versus the second violins? Marvelous.