May 19, 2013

Review: Midcoast Symphony Orchestra gives polished, moving performance

By CHRISTOPHER HYDE

The final concert of the Midcoast Symphony Orchestra’s 2012-13 season Saturday night at the Franco-American Heritage Center demonstrated once and for all just how far the orchestra has come under the direction of Rohan Smith.

CONCERT REVIEW

WHO: Midcoast Symphony Orchestra

WHERE: Lewiston, Franco-American Heritage Center

WHEN: May 18

From the opening chord of the Overture to Mozart’s “Cosi fan tutt,” it was obvious that the players were so much in charge of the score technically that they could devote their full attention to its interpretation. The Midcoast now could stand comparison with many professional orchestras.

The Overture is difficult enough with its scurrying pace with powerful chords, but the rest of the program – Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, with soloist Eva Gruesser, and the huge Symphony in D Minor of Cesar Franck – are among the most difficult works in the repertoire. The orchestra met every challenge without faltering and with superb control of dynamics.

The Prokofiev Violin Concerto No. 2 is one of that composer’s more quirky inventions, with strange juxtapositions of instruments, quasi harmonics and eerie timbres that almost shout his name. To one critic, it seems that he is trying to employ techniques that work well for the piano – his instrument of choice – to the solo violin, without the same confidence.

The result in the first and third movements is a riot of color full of interest, but not going anywhere in particular. That is what made Saturday night’s performance so impressive. Without having any stable ground beneath their feet, the musicians were nevertheless able to conduct a clear and intimate dialog with the soloist.

In contrast, the slow waltz-like second movement is one of the most gloriously melodic things Prokofiev ever wrote. Under Greusser’s loving touch, and with the full support of the orchestra, it was ravishing.

After intermission came Franck’s monumental essay on the orchestra as organ. The composer’s training and successful career as a virtuoso organist are evident in every bar, but it works so well that the symphony has become a milestone of the literature.

It is as if Franck had gone to heaven and found an organ capable of every color in the rainbow, in infinite combinations, with thousands of keys and stops and enough volume to wake the dead. He made the most of it – so did the Midcoast – in one of the most polished and moving performances I have heard.

Bravo and brava to all.

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

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