Symphony’s own gifted musicians highlighted

ORONO — If the inclusion of pieces by Arnold Schoenberg and a living composer deterred people from attending the Bangor Symphony Orchestra’s first Masterworks concert of 2018, they were mistaken and missed a delightful concert.

Last Sunday’s performance, which featured soloists from the orchestra and a small string ensemble, was one of the most accessible programs imaginable, with a work by that genius of American neo-Romanticism, Samuel Barber, providing the most challenging listening.

Schoenberg’s four-minute “Notturno for Harp and Strings” began the concert. Dating from early in the composer’s career, long before his development of the twelve-tone method, the “Notturno” is purely late-Romantic. Music Director Lucas Richman led the BSO strings and harpist Mo Nichols in a quiet, lovely performance that set the stage for the afternoon.

“Conversations in Silence” by Nashville composer Conni Ellisor is an entertaining piece written in 1994 for string orchestra in four short, contrasting movements. The BSO musicians had fun with the folk- and jazz-inspired gestures, evoking here a little Gershwin, there a little klezmer, with lilting, humorous episodes framed by solidly Copland-esque statements.

Maurice Ravel’s “Introduction and Allegro” was written for a septet of harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet. Essentially a mini-concerto for harp, it was a fascinating showpiece for the harpist that fully explored the range of the double-action instrument. BSO principal flutist Jonathan Laperle, principal clarinetist Kristen Finkbeiner, and the full string ensemble provided beautiful, finely detailed accompaniment.

The “Capricorn Concerto” by Samuel Barber featured co-principal trumpet William Whitener, principal oboist Michael Dressler and flutist Jonathan Laperle. The soloists introduced angular thematic material in a fugue that worked its way through an energetic passage taken up by the strings. A poignant melody played by Whitener introduced a brief coda that ended the movement.

Maestro Richman drew out the contrasts in the second movement’s three sections, with textural variety provided in jaunty duets by oboe and muted trumpet alternating with flute and oboe, set off by a short lyrical section featuring Dressler and the strings. The quirky final movement was a beehive of activity that opened and closed with a proud trumpet fanfare.

The concert ended with a performance of Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite.” The popular piece started off with a highly energetic prelude, followed by four movements based on 18th century dance forms: Sarabande (with a contemplative cello trio by Noreen Silver, Marissa Solomon, and Tim Garrett), Gavotte and Musette, Air and Rigaudon.

The final movement featured a lively hoedown performed by co-concertmaster Lynn Brubaker. It was a satisfying finale for a program that showed off the considerable talents of the BSO’s own. Bravi tutti!

Marcia Gronewold Sly

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