Cape Cod Times: Symphony celebrates spacious skies

May 9, 2011

HYANNIS — There are many views of America. They range from those given to perfervid patriotism and steadfast faith in America’s exceptionalism to skeptics who believe we have lost our way and have strayed far from our founding principles. Saturday night’s Cape Symphony concert celebrated the positive and our uniqueness by acknowledging some of this nation’s most important builders — the founders of our first permanent colony at Jamestown, a pioneering couple pushing back the wilderness and our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.

The works chosen by Maestro Jung-Ho Pak for the last “Classic Series” program of the season were well-known and accessible, if not particularly adventurous or risk taking. They received well-sculpted performances by conductor and orchestra. Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” and “Lincoln Portrait, 1942” are by now staples of Americana; William Schuman’s “New England Triptych,” while less familiar, is as easily accessible. Recognition of the contemporary was provided by William Perry’s “Jamestown, Concerto for Cello and Orchestra,” written in 2007, with cellist Matt Haimovitz as soloist.

Haimovitz, a cellist with gracious tone and fluid ease, is a pathbreaker in his own right, having expanded the traditional venues for concert artists by playing such classical works as Bach’s “Unaccompanied Suites for Cello” in as many as 50 different nightclubs and coffeehouses in a year. His performances include many different musical sources, as well as improvisation.

Introduced by the cello alone, “Jamestown” is a five-movement work written in a fixed, sweetly intoned language reflecting the composer’s background writing for silent movies, television and film. There was plenty of space for the soloist’s deft melodic flights and interchanges with sections of the orchestra, but the predictability and the lack of adventuresome writing restricted a full sense of Haimovitz’s capabilities. This listener kept waiting for a passage that would push the limits of the instrument’s possibilities.

The concert opener, “New England Triptych,” was the most challenging, but also the most fully realized performance of the evening. The three-movement work is based on hymns of the 18th-century composer William Billings, regarded as the father of American sacred singing. In the opening movement, “Be Glad Then, America,” incisive and vigorous statements were heard from tympani, woodwinds and a cohesive brass section.

Movement 2, “When Jesus Wept,” opened with a lengthy duo exposition mournfully and solidly intoned by the principals — bassoonist David Gallagher and oboist Betsy Doriss. Conductor Pak summoned forth a strong and ethereal lightness from the strings.

The popularity and familiarity of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” makes it no less demanding on nuanced ensemble playing and deft conducting. A hallmark of the performance was the energetic and sprightly work of the strings and a summoning forth of a richly balanced depth from the violins through the violas and cellos to the double-bass section. Meter changes and transitions to the many episodes in the work were handled confidently and tellingly.

It was announced that the orchestra enjoyed record ticket sales this year. In a year in which many of our largest orchestras are undergoing major difficulties, the Cape Symphony can be grateful to the orchestra members, the conductor, the staff and its supporters and underwriters for its relative financial health and its artistic success.

by W. Henry Duckham II

View article at Cape Cod Times

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