Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” needs muscle to be played properly. It needs zip. It needs oomph. If it lacks that, it’s weak, boring and disappointing — especially considering it’s one of the greatest symphonies of all time (and happens to be one of my favorites of all time as well).
Fortunately, the Bangor Symphony Orchestra had muscle, zip and oomph in multitudes Sunday, as the ensemble ended its fourth concert of the season with a rip-roaring rendition of Dvorak’s classic. From beginning to end, conductor Trond Saeverud led the BSO through a performance that was as dynamic as it was sensitive.
The first and last movements are to be played with an edge-of-your-seat kind of intensity — loud and exciting. Picture Native Americans hunting buffalo; railroads being built; majestic Western vistas. That kind of thing. Trombonists Jim Trembley, Dan Flagg and Anita Jerosch provided the heavy-duty, propulsive low end that led the way for the two main melodic themes, with a powerful sound that remained rich and full, while still amping up the fortissimo. On more than one occasion did goose bumps rise upon my arms.
Of course, then there’s the opposite of those two movements — the largo second movement, with the famous English horn solo. Laura Green Estey set the mood of tranquility and peace, with Saeverud holding his strings in delicate balance to counterpoint the main melody. A devoted Dvorak fan, I may be biased, but I found the BSO’s reading of the “New World” to be among the ensemble’s finest performances in recent years.
The other two selections for the afternoon, Robert Schumann’s Cello Concerto in A minor, Op. 129, and Harald Saeverud’s Sinfonia Dolorosa, Op. 19, provided a satisfying first and second courses, before the Dvorak entree.
Harald Saeverud, grandfather to conductor Trond, composed the Sinfonia Dolorosa during the Nazi occupation of Norway during World War II. Though it is never explicitly referred to by the composer, the overtones of war, urgency and ominous, unresolved tension in the piece certainly give the impression that times were not good. It doesn’t really resolve until the last few notes, with a dark kind of momentum propelling it along until that point.
The Schumann piece, featuring cello soloist Noreen Silver, starts out with a melancholic air before ending with a vivacious flourish. Silver, principal cellist for the BSO, played sympathetically and evocatively.
Special commendation must be given to guest conductor Trond Saeverud. It was with great aplomb that the loose-limbed Norwegian led the orchestra through the program, which spanned the gamut from foreboding and heavy to light and wonderful. You get the sense that Saeverud understands dynamics both in the sense that he sees what is written on the score, and he feels it innately in his body.
When he’s not conducting, Saeverud is funny and engaging with the audience, as in when he related a delightful anecdote about his composer grandfather and his “unique” way of walking as he reached his 90th year. It remains to be seen to whom the BSO will turn to lead the symphony permanently, but one hopes that Saeverud might be in the running for the position.