ORONO — Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s members appear in local halls and churches from time to time like stray egrets, accompanying various chorale concerts and theatrical productions with their violins, woodwinds, brasses and timpani. But it is another thing altogether to see and hear their lovely song in their natural habitat.Last weekend I had such a pleasure with the BSO’s third masterwork concert at the Collins Center for the Arts: a string serenade with maestro Lucas Richman conducting works of Handel, Vanhal and Dvorak. The afternoon delight began with Handel’s Concerto Grosso Op 6 No.1 in which the composer pulls out every melodic trick in the book in five movements that are at times somber, playful, conversational, stately and even humorous. They included a deft and lively solo by Jason Posnock along with several internal trios and quartets, adding depth and texture to each of the five movements. Standing in for the BSO’s concertmaster Trond Saeverud, Posnock is concertmaster of the Ashville Symphony Orchestra and Vice President for Artistic Planning at the Brevard Music Center.
Next up was Johann Baptist Vanhal Concerto for Double Bass in E Flat, featuring soloist Edward Allman. As one who finds the bass as both an instrument and vocal range profoundly sexy, when those low rumbling notes are felt more in one’s own chest than heard, I was looking forward to this piece, which was touted as the finest work written for the double bass.
But to be honest it was something like watching a dancing bear. It was amazing to see this big lumbering animal of an instrument executing the intricate steps of the Vanhal composition with its three demanding movements and solos. One had to marvel at Allman’s strong fingers making those four thick strings perform an impressive and unexpected range of notes, often at surprisingly swift tempos.
After the intermission, all the basses were relocated deep in the forest of other strings for the perfectly wonderful Dvorak Serenade for Strings in E major, Op.22.
This piece in five movements hit all the right notes, musically, emotionally and even visually. Some of them, brought to mind men in mutton chop sideburns, waltzing in marbled ballrooms, with lovely ladies in bustled silk gowns, under sparkling crystal chandeliers, while other, more heartrending passages evoked scenes from movies of lovers being parted forever — Bette Davis and Paul Henreid in “Now Voyager” or Bogart and Bergman in “Casablanca.”
But Dvorak filled most of this charming serenade with joy and optimism, which was just as infectious for today’s Maine audience as it must have been for 19th century concert-goers who surely also leapt to their feet in appreciation when the last shimmering note faded from the room.