Reviewed by Arnold Berleant
ORONO — Talk of snow was not enough to keep a large, enthusiastic audience from another outstanding program by the Bangor Symphony Orchestra last Sunday afternoon.
In its fourth masterworks concert of the season, the orchestra, under its music director and conductor Lucas Richman, offered an unusual program that included an early work by a great Romantic composer and a late work by a great Modern. The single exception to these rarely heard works was the popular and appealing Overture to “The Bartered Bride” by Bedřich Smetana, which opened the program. While lively and rousing, as befits an overture, the Smetana began unexpectedly with a tour de force in the strings. A light, rapidly moving figure in the second violins was imitated by each of the other string sections in turn, building an exciting fugato that erupts into the strong, rhythmic main theme. Such a great rush of notes was a fitting overture to the concert.
Béla Bartók’s Third Piano Concerto, one of the great works of the modern piano repertory, came next. The last work Bartók lived to complete, it is both the culmination of his musical development and, in its relative simplicity, a distillation of the musical achievement of a lifetime. It was sensitively performed by Orli Shaham with poetic grace or rhythmic forcefulness, as the music demanded. The performance displayed perfect rapport between soloist and orchestra, bringing out the exceptional lyricism of the first two movements and the dynamic intensity of the finale. The audience responded enthusiastically, encouraging Shaham to offer as an encore a lyrical setting of a Bach Prelude by Siloti, another unusual work played with disarming simplicity.
Tchaikovsky’s First Symphony occupied the second half. Completed in 1868 when the composer was 28, the work took Tchaikovsky two years to write. While its often fragmentary structure shows the marks of his growing pains as a composer, this symphony also displays many of the signal attributes that came to mark the master: strong lyrical lines, lush instrumentation, contrapuntal touches and inventive ideas, and what Tchaikovsky strove for especially, a distinctively Russian character.
The orchestra did justice to the varied demands of this unusual program. Under Richman’s remarkable control, the balance among the sections was nearly always in perfect proportion, with the brass restraining its enthusiasm and each of the sections maintaining its integrity. The slow movement of the Tchaikovsky contained a spell-binding passage when the solo oboe uttered a soulful melody while the flute and bassoon added peripheral touches. And there were moments of great beauty when the strings swept onward in rich harmonious union. The Bangor Symphony continues to develop and again proved itself one of our region’s outstanding cultural resources.