The Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra ended its season Friday night with an ambitious concert of two well-known masterworks preceded by a short 21st century piece. Music director and conductor Scott Terrell was on point throughout the evening leading the difficult repertoire and lending it expression.
The opening selection, Jumping Bridge, from The Garden of Cosmic Speculation by Michael Gandolfi, is less than a decade old, but is quite accessible and pleasing to the ear. Its rhythmic dynamism in this performance was propelled by the precise interaction of the orchestra's mallet percussion instruments and piano. Despite its requirement of a sizeable orchestra, Jumping Bridge is a slight composition, which at five minutes in length made for a perfect curtain-raiser. The LPO under Terrell plays contemporary music exceptionally well.
The concert continued with the haunting Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius, featuring soloist Alexandre Da Costa. The LPO performed the work creditably, with beautiful contributions throughout by the woodwinds, and by the French horns in the second movement, but less so by the soloist. To give Da Costa the benefit of the doubt, it seemed that the Sibelius is brand new to his repertoire, as he did not perform from memory, rather keeping his eyes fixed on the music stand. Even so, his performance was littered with wrong notes, faulty intonation and inarticulate passagework.
The inaccuracies came to a head in the first movement's extended cadenza, which almost fell apart twice. He gave the impression of working hard, swaying to and fro, but even playing a gorgeous instrument (a Guarneri del Gesú violin from the 1730s) he did not really achieve a soloistic sound either in tone quality or volume.
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Nevertheless, the audience was politely enthusiastic (standing ovations are ubiquitous in our city's performing arts culture), although they had stopped clapping already when Da Costa reappeared onstage to play an encore, a Jimi Hendrix piece with the assistance of LPO cellist Clyde Beavers, which did but little to re-establish Da Costa's credentials.
The cornerstone of the concert, the gargantuan Symphonie Fantastique by Hector Berlioz, also did not receive a flawless performance but boasted plenty of interpretive substance.
The symphony tells a story in music of an infatuated love incurable even by a night at a ball or a day in the countryside, so intense that it leads the lover to hallucinate committing murder and celebrating it in a demonic ritual. Terrell and the LPO fulfilled the constantly changing character of the music with purposeful energy.
The most beautiful solo playing of the evening came from David Powell in the fourth movement's extended English horn passages, with his colleague Aryn Day Sweeney answering on the oboe from offstage. The flutes also had their share of exquisite moments (plus a few really faulty ones) throughout the symphony.
The clarinets, bassoons and low brass seized their opportunities to shine, especially in the exciting final movement, and the ringing final chord with which the symphony ends brought the audience to its feet again for a more deserved and heartfelt ovation, not just for the overall excellence of the Berlioz, but truly for the ambitious accomplishments of the whole season.