BSO serves up a spring tonic

Reviewed by Ginger Yang Hwalek

ORONO — In his opening remarks, Maestro Lucas Richman said Sunday that the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s performance of Brahms’ monumental Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 73 would be “like a breath of fresh air.”

True to his word, Richman and the orchestra’s playing not just of the Brahms, but Stravinsky’s Concerto in E-Flat (“Dumbarton Oaks”) and Tchaikovsky’s “Variations on a Rococo Theme, Op. 33,” featuring guest cellist Inbal Segev as well, exceeded my expectations and was spot on for easing us into a warmer season.

The program opened with Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks” written for a small chamber orchestra. I felt that the second movement could have been more energetic with a faster tempo but perhaps Maestro Richman wanted to err on the cautious side to accommodate the meter changes. He did, however, an admirable job of staying true to the “chamber music” intent of the piece while not losing the sound in the big hall.

I never tire of hearing the opening of Tchaikovsky’s “Rococo Variations” — it’s full of promise of what’s to come — and the BSO played it beautifully. That provided the perfect introduction for guest artist Inbal Segev whose sound is rich and musically satisfying. She projected well over the orchestra both in tone and in volume and I give some of that credit to Maestro Richman, who I have observed in the past as being sensitive to balance.

Segev captured the essence of each variation by making sure there was equal footing between lyricism and virtuosity. This piece has everything: trills, glissandi, double stops, harmonics, octaves, and plenty of scales. The entire range of the cello was exploited and Segev was absolutely solid. The applause and standing ovation from the audience was enough for an encore and Segev treated us to the Sarabande from Bach’s Suite No. 3 in C Major for unaccompanied cello.

Suffice it to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the BSO’s performance of the Brahms Symphony — it had depth, it had sound, it had resonance, it had energy. I would have liked hearing more of the violins in the first movement and that might have to do with the seating. I know Maestro Richman has his reasons for positioning the second violins where cellos traditionally are, but having the two sections next to each other would provide greater tonal support. But that’s small peanuts.

The absolutely beautifully played cello section solo in the second movement brought me back to the “Rococo Variations.” The staccato passages in the third movement were so together, it was breathless. And then there was the fourth movement — “the breath of fresh air” — which was exuberantly played. Everyone was on the same page; everyone was on the same mission.

Overall, it was probably one of the BSO’s most cohesive concerts that I have ever heard. It is a tribute to Maestro Lucas Richman in his commitment to making this orchestra be the best it can be.
Ginger Yang Hwalek is an instructor in music at the University of Maine. She teaches applied piano, keyboard musicianship and piano pedagogy and has a private piano studio in Bangor.

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