Music News & Reviews

Review: Developing niche for modern repertoire, Philharmonic sizzles

Johannes Moser, cellist, will be playing Shostakovich in April 2013.
Johannes Moser, cellist, will be playing Shostakovich in April 2013.

The fine form of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by music director Scott Terrell, continues to impress this season. That was no different Friday, when the ensemble — with the addition of an exciting soloist, guest cellist Johannes Moser — sizzled with yet another excellent concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts.

Moser gave an intense and flamboyant performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1. His aggressive approach to the dramatic concerto employed a varied array of colors and articulations, never once sacrificing his gorgeous sound. Moser is a captivating artist, and he treated the enthusiastic Lexington audience to a compelling performance of Shostakovich’s complex masterpiece, plus a solo sarabande by Bach as an encore.

The Philharmonic also played beautifully and with full engagement in the concerto. The woodwinds were precise and biting throughout the busy piece, with particularly superb clarinet playing by Michael Acord, supporting and supplementing the soloist. David Elliott acquitted himself quite well in the excruciatingly difficult French horn part after a shaky start in the early, cruelly exposed passages. The argument could be made that this is a concerto for cello and French horn, and Elliott especially played the second movement as such, with refulgent tone and elegant phrasing.

The concert began with a refreshing modern piece by Chicago Symphony composer-in-residence Mason Bates, Rusty Air in Carolina for Orchestra and Electronica. As Terrell explained at length before beginning the performance, the electronic aspect of the score primarily captures the sounds of a Carolina night, at first naturalistically and later manipulated rhythmically. The orchestra develops some of these sounds of nature as part of a moody, humid nightscape in a loose, ambling musical structure. The Philharmonic played with tight ensemble, giving an enjoyable account of the work. Terrell and the orchestra are to be commended not only for including so many high-quality contemporary pieces throughout the season, but also for playing them all so well. They are making a specialty out of this modern “niche” repertoire.

The Philharmonic also plays standard works at a respectable level, as demonstrated in their rendition of Antonin Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8. Again, the woodwind choir shone brilliantly, especially flautists Emma Gerstein and Merrilee Elliott, to whom Dvorák entrusted many of the choicest morsels of this score, and oboist David Powell, who exquisitely rendered the beautiful solo in the third movement. Trumpeters Joseph Van Fleet and Leon Richard played with tender loveliness in the second movement, and then gave an explosive fanfare to begin the fourth. The Philharmonic strings were solid as usual.

This was one of those concerts in which Terrell conducted unobtrusively, letting the music have its way rather than “giving a performance.” He is good at knowing when to employ the more subdued or more extroverted persona on the podium. However, during yet another lengthy speech before the Dvorák symphony, I thought I had time-traveled back to the glory days of previous director George Zack’s loquacious tenure. When it comes to talking and curtain speeches at formal concerts, perhaps less is more. The music making at this concert spoke quite adequately for itself.

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