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Earthy Scottish musical mystique

Verizon Hall
01/18/2018 -  & January 19, 20* 2018
Peter Maxwell Davies: An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise
Max Bruch: Scottish Fantasy, Op. 46
Felix Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56

Juliette Kang (violin)
The Philadelphia Orchestra, Yannick Nézet-Séguin (conductor)

J. Kang (© Jessica Griffin)

The Philadelphia Orchestra’s mid-winter festivals engage with not only specific musical heritage but common threads connected to different cultures, last year it was Paris, this year Yannick Nézet-Séguin weighing in with a British Isle Festival. The second week of programming representing the musical allure of Scotland, which proved musically adventurous, full of Highland mystique with works by Bruch, Mendelssohn and the sole composer from the Isles, Britain’s Peter Maxwell Davies.

The atmospherics of Scotland appear immediately in the opening bars of Davies An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise, commissioned in 1985 by John Williams for the Boston Pops and since recorded and performed innumerable times. Davies also lived in the austere Scottish Isle of Orkney, and this raucous orchestral narrative was inspired by a wedding he attended.

Folkloric melodies and swirls of strings bursting forth. Bucolic vistas that give way to cinematic progressions in the best sense. Country dance melodies and punctuated with distant sounds or sudden sonics appear and vanish. Also his specificity of the artistry of country fiddlers from this region of Scotland is invaluable.

Those wedding dancers and rhythmic reels and traditional jigs never far afield, as the tempests rage outside with the orchestral descriptive of horizontal rain coming in from the Atlantic. The party is so raucous that the musicians get to soused to play depicted by Davies as (wry) rye with the jagged handoffs among the lead strings.

And in the finale, bagpiper Mark O’Donnell (a member of the Philadelphia Police and Fire Pipes and Drums) in full regimental regalia, makes his entrance from a distance – as composer Davies instructs for the Great Highland Bagpipe solo ushers in the sunrise with bonny command. Among the outstanding principal players at this wedding – oboist Peter Smith, Jeffrey Khaner (flute), David Kim (violin), C.J. Kang (violist) and cellists Hi-Nai Yi and Priscilla Lee. Davies died just last year after a distinguished and protean compositional career and this was a fine tribute to his immense compositional artistry.

Max Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy (“Fantasia for the Violin and Orchestra with Harp,”) with Bruch urging the soloist to “freely using Scottish Folk Melodies”. And those melodies are luminous as performed by first associate concertmaster Juliette Kang, with her signature unfussy artistry and rich tones making this a string fantasia indeed, most notably in the steel and silk dialogues with harpist Elizabeth Hainen, positioned in the center of the orchestra, directly behind the soloist. The aggressive almost staccato harp, Hainen with an immediacy with Kang. And Kang’s always fine collaboration with David Kim. Kang (wearing a gorgeous silk beige floor length gown) was coaxed back onstage in a fourth curtain call and she launched into a masterful freewheeling fiddling on Bach B Minor Partita “Tempo di Borea” the audience on their feet again.

Nézet-Séguin conducted the Mendelssohn’s mighty Third Symphony without a score or baton (something he is doing more frequently). Last year he conducted all of the composer’s symphonies with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, and the 35-piece ensemble, illuminates the inner drive, Nézet-Séguin eliciting similar orchestral translucence (and drive) with a full scale Philadelphia Orchestra.

The symphonic architecture of the 3rd not only realizes Mendelssohn’s musical universe, it is profoundly moving without any decoration or easy devises. It builds a valiantly and the central symphonic them is realized in all of its profound emotional depth.

The operatic symphonic tension in the third movement, admirably, is not leaned on. The balance and dimensional sound, the translucent striations of all of the strings. Among the outstanding players, Peter Smith (oboe), Ricardo Morales (clarinet) Jeffrey Khaner (flute), Daniel Makasawa (bassoon), the horns led by principal Jennifer Montone, David Bilger (trumpet) and Nitzan Haroz (trombone.)

Lewis Whittington



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