January 20, 2013

Review: Midcoast Symphony aces Copland's Clarinet Concerto


Spectacular is not a word one generally associates with the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra, but that is the only way to describe the performance of Aaron Copland's Clarinet Concerto, with soloist Peter Jenkin, Saturday night at the Franco-American Heritage Center.

Jenkin, a noted Australian musician, would have been admired by Benny Goodman, who commissioned the work.

The first movement of the concerto, marked "Slowly and expressively," evokes the atmosphere of "Appalachian Spring," wistful and melodic,  demanding a pure singing tone, blending with the strings. Then there is a slow waltz, which seems to have been inspired by Ravel. It ends in pyrotechnics, with a cadenza that seems to push the limits of the instrument.

The movement that follows, "Rather fast," leaves that cadenza in the dust, with virtually impossible transitions from low to high, jazzy interludes, rapid scales and arpeggios and whatever Copland and Goodman could make up.

The string orchestra, with harp and piano, is an equal partner in all of this, echoing, doubling and contrasting, in difficult syncopated rhythms. Under music director Rohan Smith, it succeeded admirably.

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