ORONO — The Bangor Symphony Orchestra ended its 122nd season on Sunday afternoon with a program of works by Italian composers: Rossini, Busoni, Puccini, Respighi. As Music Director and Conductor Lucas Richman quipped, “It sort of makes you hungry!”
More good humor opened the concert, with a lively performance of the overture to Gioachino Rossini’s opera “The Barber of Seville.” One of the most familiar compositions in all of Western concert music — thanks to Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny, among others — the overture was pure fun, welcoming the audience and putting listeners in a positive frame of mind for what was to follow.
What followed was Ferruccio Busoni’s Violin Concerto in D major, a piece as unfamiliar as the Rossini is well known. The concerto, which is essentially written in one long movement, travels through many changes in mood and tempo. Maestro Richman and the orchestra worked hard to make sense of it, but except for the obvious slower stretches and some repeated themes, the work’s structure was elusive.
It was up to the soloist, violinist Frank Almond, to lead and clarify, but while his playing in the quasi andante section was strong and lyrical, he raced through the many faster passages. Accuracy, intonation and any sense of narrative suffered. Too bad — it’s a piece that deserves to be heard (and with very few available recordings, we probably won’t have another chance anytime soon.)
After intermission we heard “Capriccio Sinfonico,” an early work by that master of verismo opera, Giacomo Puccini. The piece hinted at things to come, containing themes that appeared later, in his operas “Edgar” and “La Bohème,” with faint echoes of “Madama Butterfly” and “Suor Angelica.” The program notes quoted Puccini as saying, “I…composed it at home, in the street, in class…I wrote on odd sheets, bits of papers, and the margins of newspapers.” Indeed, it sounded like a “cut and paste” mélange of musical ideas. The opening was dramatic — even operatic — leading to a crazy waltz and some delicate, sentimental moments before a quiet ending.
The orchestra was augmented for the last piece on the program, Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome.” The brass section was doubled, more percussionists appeared, and piano, organ, celeste, contrabassoon, bass clarinet, English horn and off-stage trumpets were added.
“Pines of Rome” is a tone poem that vividly depicts four scenes: children playing and squabbling; psalm-singing in a Roman catacomb; a night scene graced by the singing of a nightingale (in this performance, what sounded like synthesized birdsong that was a little overpowering); a majestic march. The BSO pulled out all the stops, with star solos from almost every section of the orchestra. The brass section stood for the triumphant ending, a thrilling grand finale for the concert and for the season.