By Marcia Gronewold Sly
Special to The Ellsworth American
BANGOR — The Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s second Masterworks concert of the 2021 season began Friday evening with Arvo Pärt’s “Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten,” performed by a small string orchestra and one percussionist under the baton of Music Director and Conductor Lucas Richman. The piece began with three beats of silence, interrupted by the tolling of a bell on a single note. Then the violins began at the top of their register, playing a descending minor scale. One by one, the orchestra’s other sections joined the downward spiral, creating layers of sound. The bell sounded intermittently throughout the eight-minute piece, which ended as it began, in silence.
Opening this concert with Pärt’s elegy was a somber reflection on the past year, during which so many voices and so much music have been silenced.
The mood shifted for the second offering, excerpts from Russian composer Rodion Shchedrin’s “Carmen Suite.” Maestro Richman rearranged six movements from the score so that a short adagio began the performance. A large percussion section — four percussionists and a timpanist playing 40-some instruments — joined the strings on a romp through Shchedrin’s witty treatment of familiar tunes from Bizet’s opera. The BSO brought a vibrant intensity to Shchedrin’s seductive string writing, off-kilter rhythms, moments of dramatic foreboding, and almost cartoonish takes on the original, including a missing toreador melody. Although the percussionists (along with the rest of the orchestra) were masked, which hid their expressions, it was obvious that they were having a great time with the piece.
The percussion section left the stage for the program’s final piece, Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings.” Maestro Richman led a confident and sweeping performance of this perennial favorite. The first movement, Pezzo in forma di sonatina (Piece in the form of a sonatina), opened with a sonorous chorale, followed by crisply dispatched torrents of fast notes before a forceful return to the opening chorale. In his introductory remarks, Richman said that the melody of the second movement “feels like a burst of sunshine.” The BSO delivered a rather straightforward performance of the lovely waltz that was not without charm, but which might have benefited from more shaping. The third movement, Élégie, which Richman said was “simply gorgeous string writing,” was simply gorgeous. The finale, which is based on two Russian folksongs, started quietly, before bursting into a rollicking dance that spun faster and more furiously, pausing only to return to the chorale from the work’s first movement before driving on to the finish.
It’s a joy to hear the BSO playing so well, and while it isn’t the same as a live performance, being able to see the players and conductor from all angles is a treat. Kudos to Maestro Richman, BSO Executive Director Brian Hinrichs, the players, staff and video production crew for another excellent digital production. Masterworks II: Pärt & Tchaikovsky will be available for streaming at a reasonable ticket cost, for 30 days. To view, go to bangorsymphony.org. Also, take a look at the pre-concert talk, which can be found on the same website.