Cellist delivers agile, sparkling performance

ORONO — The Bangor Symphony Orchestra continued its Masterworks series on Sunday afternoon with “Bach, Handel & Haydn” at Collins Center for the Arts.

In his introductory remarks, Music Director and Conductor Lucas Richman explained that the BSO had added this sixth performance to the series as an opportunity to explore musical genres that are not usually focused on, often employing a smaller ensemble and featuring orchestra members as soloists.

Sunday’s program of Baroque and early classical music turned the spotlight on principal cellist Noreen Silver in Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major.

The concert opened with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major. Written during Bach’s Leipzig period, it is one of the composer’s four surviving orchestral suites. Bach followed a standard formula for this composition, with a stately French-style overture followed by courtly dance forms — the gavotte, bourrée and gigue — for the final three movements.

The BSO gave a straightforward performance, with nice energy in the faster sections and a tender, flowing second movement, “The Air on the G String,” surely one of Bach’s most well-known and loved compositions.

Franz Joseph Haydn’s Cello Concerto followed. Written sometime between 1761 and 1765, the piece was lost until 1961, and has since become a staple of the cello repertoire. During the pre-concert talk, Silver said that this “elegant” work is “a joy to play and a joy to listen to,” which was borne out in the afternoon’s performance.

The first movement began with a sprightly orchestral introduction, with the theme then repeated by the soloist, who then took off in a virtuosic display. Silver ended the movement with an extended cadenza (given to her as a student by its composer, Christopher Bunting), which itself was a masterful exploration of the instrument.

The orchestra’s strings alone accompanied the soloist in the second movement’s beautifully lyrical melodic lines, during which the rapport between the ensemble and soloist was especially obvious. A tasteful, more contained cadenza ended the movement.

Maestro Richman’s brisk tempo in the finale challenged the soloist, and the orchestra did its best not to overshadow her, not always successfully. Silver was all over the extreme demands of the solo part, with its many fast runs, frequent string crossings, and extreme changes of register, bringing the audience to its feet at the work’s triumphant final chords.

The last piece on the program was George Frideric Handel’s Water Music, Suite No. 1 in F major. Written as an entertainment for King George I of England, it was first performed by 50 musicians floating on a barge on the River Thames on the evening of July 17, 1717. The work’s 10 movements featured exchanges between the strings, a duo of horns and a trio of double reeds, with BSO principal oboist Michael Dressler contributing an alluring solo.

The orchestra is to be congratulated for stepping outside its comfort zone in this new programming format. It’s nice to know that we can look forward to refreshing and thoughtful explorations of repertoire in future seasons.

Marcia Gronewold Sly

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