ORONO, Maine — The reinvigorated Bangor Symphony Orchestra that Maestro Lucas Richman spoke of last week was in full effect at Sunday afternoon’s concert at the Collins Center for the Arts. The newfound dynamism that the BSO’s music director had hoped to infuse in the orchestra was distinctly present.
Richman, since joining the BSO last summer, has brought a liveliness to the venerable institution. The orchestra members seem to be paying closer attention to dynamic details, softening certain rough edges while turning up the volume elsewhere. They seem to be communicating on an imperceptible level with Richman. Whatever his approach may be, Richman has clearly developed a rapport with the musicians that is readily apparent in all of this season’s concerts.
Sunday’s concert began with a light, lithe reading of Mozart’s “Divertimento” in D Major, a sparkling bit of violin magic that showcased the sweetness of all four stringed instruments in the orchestra. Indeed, the concert lived up to its title of “Orchestral Showcase,” with each section of the BSO allowed a moment in the spotlight over the course of the afternoon.
A performance of the “Variaciones” concertantes by Argentinean composer Alberto Ginastera tested the limits of both the orchestra and the audience. The audience at a BSO concert isn’t generally accustomed to more modern pieces, meaning that even something written nearly 60 years ago — such as Sunday’s Ginastera — feels refreshing, even daring. The orchestra, in turn, had to contend with wide swings in tempo and dynamic. It’s probably a safe bet that a good percentage of the audience wasn’t familiar with the Ginastera piece to start with, which makes for an exciting, often unexpected listening experience.
Drawing heavily from South American music and dance, the music sways from the quiet and mournful to the raucous and celebratory. An opening theme, played by principal cellist Noreen Silver and harpist Isleen Halvorsen, began quietly and with great concentration before building to a sobbing, even gut-wrenching climax. Silver excelled at drawing tension out of her instrument.
By the fourth variation, the first of three big, loud, almost shocking rhythmic diversions occurred, with flourishes and fanfares akin to Leonard Bernstein. A haunting, discordant turn by the violas — especially first chair Laura Gallucci — and, later, by the double reeds and brass, set the stage for an exciting violin interlude by concertmaster Trond Saeverud. French horn principal Scott Burditt performed the lovely ninth variation, before the theme was recapitulated in a crashing, rousing finale. It was tough, challenging stuff, but the BSO was up for it.
The second half of the concert was taken up by a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major, which, as has happened before with BSO concerts, significantly lowered the energy level at the Collins Center.
Though it was performed admirably and with technical prowess, the second symphony is one of the lesser of Beethoven’s great works. In particular, the larghetto second movement was a bit on the slow side — dull, rather than meditative. No matter, though. The BSO proved earlier in the concert that it can handle challenging, exciting new programming with great aplomb.