ORONO — “Viennese Masters” was the title of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s final concert last Sunday in its 2018-19 Masterworks series.
Vienna has spawned so many musical masters, but the Symphony’s choices, Mozart and Bruckner, are nothing if not exemplary.
The afternoon began with Mozart’s Symphony No. 33 in B flat Major. Written when the composer was 23 years old in Salzburg, not Vienna — although the third movement was added later in Vienna — it came from a dark period in his life. At the time, he was having employment difficulties and mourning his mother’s death. It’s remarkable that there’s not a trace of sadness in it, from the light, waltz-like opening movement to the bright and witty finale.
BSO Music Director Lucas Richman led a performance of clarity and finely balanced ensemble playing. The opening movement started the afternoon off at a cheerful pace. The orchestra’s string section was featured in the second movement, with the winds appearing for a playful, canonic interlude toward the end. The third movement, a minuet and trio, was beautifully shaped.
Maestro Richman’s brisk tempo in the finale brought to mind the symphonies of Haydn. Symphony 33 had no big solo moments, but allowed the orchestra of two oboes, two bassoons, two horns, and strings to “tune the hall” and prepare the audience for what followed.
What followed was Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 4 in E flat Major, “Romantic.” In his pre-concert remarks, Richman said that he is often asked how to listen to a piece of music. His advice was to “let the music wash over you,” and “to allow your other senses to be activated.”
Hearing Bruckner’s mammoth symphony this way is both something of a relief and a challenge: it is so large-scale, with so many fragments, episodes and repeats within repeats, that the mind works hard to make sense of it all. The players also were working hard and this was possibly the first time the BSO has played the piece, with barely seven hours of rehearsal and on an uncomfortably warm stage.
Richman was very much in control, and the orchestra responded with a passionate performance full of contrasts and many fine details, with strong playing from each section. The expanded brass section (five horns, three trumpets, three trombones, and tuba) clearly enjoyed themselves in the fanfares, chorales and hunting songs that dominate the piece. The audience responded with an extended ovation.
It was an exuberant finale to the Bangor Symphony’s 123rd season.