Despite a change in venue, from the Orion Performing Arts Center in Topsham to the Crooker Theater at Brunswick High School, Sunday’s concert by the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra was sold out.

A combination of well-performed classical standards, notable soloists and low prices has expanded the Sunday concerts to capacity over just two to three years. There was even an encouraging number of children in the audience.

(The Fiddle-icious concert at Orion, where I heard the opening number by the huge string orchestra, wasn’t bad either.)

Fortunately, although I missed the opening Overture to Weber’s “Oberon,” I was in time to hear the “Ruckert Lieder,” sung by the young soprano Charlotte Dobbs.

My gold standard for Mahler songs is the dark, compelling voice of Janet Baker, for which they seem to have been written. Dobbs’ lighter, more ethereal soprano, which has been called “angelic,” came close to changing my mind, especially in the powerful concluding songs, “Um Mitternacht” and “Liebst du um Schonheit.”

Ruckert wrote more than 500 “Poems on the Death of Children,” of which Mahler selected five for his cycle “Kindertotenlieder.”  The lieder chosen by Dobbs aren’t quite up to the same standard, but one, “Ich atmet’ einen linden Duft,” definitely presages Mahler’s final masterpiece, “Das Lied von der Erde.”

The orchestra does not accompany Mahler songs but is an equal partner in their unfolding, supplying color, emotional atmosphere and sometimes commentary. This can be a demanding job, but the Midcoast, under Music Director Rohan Smith, was up to it throughout.

The programmed encore, a Mozart display piece entitled “Bella mia fiamma,” (K. 528) was also well played and sung, but not as effective, more like a test for graduation from the conservatory than a deeply felt aria.

The concluding Dvorak Symphony No. 9 in E Minor (“From the New World”) is always a crowd pleaser, and Sunday’s performance was no exception. It is so familiar, however, that every sour note in the strings, every missed entrance, every garbled horn passage, stands out like a sore thumb. Just because the work is so popular doesn’t mean that it’s easy to play, and I sometimes thought that I was back in the days of the orchestra’s formation. It got better as it went along.

 

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: classbeat@netscape.net