ORONO — In what has become a standard feature of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s programming, Edward Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstance, No. 1” served as a fanfare for Sunday afternoon’s concert, settling audience members into their seats and warming them up for what followed.
To call the piece “familiar” is an understatement, with its trio section almost a requirement for commencement exercises across this nation. Music Director and Conductor Lucas Richman led a spirited if somewhat aggressive rendition, with the chunky march-time chords often overpowering instead of accompanying the tune. What was missing was the audience singing along, as is the tradition in England, where the trio theme “Land of Hope and Glory” is considered the second national anthem.
Elgar’s “Enigma Variations” comprises a theme and set of 14 variations that propelled the composer into prominence with its premiere in 1899. The variations, which are musical portraits dedicated to Elgar’s wife and friends, vary widely in mood and only occasionally refer directly to the principal theme. The BSO’s performance brought out the details and contrasts, with a gentle, lovingly shaped exposition of the theme. Moments of humor, playfulness, romantic lyricism, melancholy, and powerful emotional intensity followed. Maestro Richman confessed during the pre-concert lecture that he was moved to tears by the most famous of the variations, “Nimrod,” and his conducting of it was fervent and sweeping. The triumphant final variation ended in a blaze. The orchestra was in fine form, with beautiful solos by violist Laura Gallucci, cellist Noreen Silver, flutist Krista Kwon and clarinetist Kristen Finkbeiner.
William Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast” is a masterpiece of choral music that tells the story of “the writing on the wall” and the fall of Babylon. It’s a big work, with a huge orchestra that includes expanded brass, percussion, winds — including saxophone —as well as two harps, piano, and organ. Sunday’s performance was the orchestra’s annual collaboration with University of Maine’s University Singers and Oratorio Society under the direction of Francis John Vogt. From the first entrance of the tenors and basses, the choral singing was confident and precise, with excellent diction drawing the audience into the dramatic sweep of the story. The demands on the chorus are extreme, with punishingly high writing for the sopranos and tenors and only a few measures of rest for the entire duration of the piece. Soloist Isaac Bray sang the a cappella recitatives from memory, his light baritone no match for the sound produced by nearly 200 others on stage. Belshazzar’s death was proclaimed in a choral shout, “Slain!” A feverish, jazzy celebration of triumph ended the performance.
In a video presentation, Maestro Richman announced the 2017-18 season, the orchestra’s 122nd, remarking, “How many orchestras can say that?” We can look forward to another extended season, with a sixth Masterworks concert featuring members of the orchestra as soloists, in addition to Pops and “Nutcracker” programs.