Sunday, March 31 Charles Evans conducted the Long Bay Symphony Orchestra in “Russian Masterpieces,” the final concert in this season’s Masterworks series.
Previous concerts in this series were the Leonard Bernstein concert last fall, and then as 2019 got underway, the “European Journey” began, first with a concert of French music, and then one of German music. Sunday’s “Russian Masterpieces” ended an especially rich Masterworks series, with both famous and lesser known works of the European symphonic repertoire.
Sunday’s concert began with the “Overture to the Opera Prince Igor,” by Alexander Borodin. The superb playing of the LBS was beautifully presented, with passages featuring individual sections of the orchestra, individual soloists, and well balanced interactions between sections. Evans shaped and paced the work perfectly, with just the right tempos and dynamics, and the audience responded warmly.
Tchaikovsky’s “Symphony No. 2,” the ”Little Russian” was the concluding work for the first half of the concert. Program annotator Richard Rodda explains that the nickname “Little Russian” was because Tchaikovsky used some themes from “…the Ukrainian region…known in Tsarist days as “Little Russia.”
The symphony is in the traditional four movements, and the contrasting moods and characteristics of these movements displayed the wonderful playing of the LBS – fast or slow, full chords to swirling interweaving lines, splendid playing of individual solos, interactions of the orchestra’s sections, different rhythms, dynamic contrasts – Evans brought it all together in a first rate performance which had the audience responding with powerful applause, whoops, and wows.
The second half of the afternoon began with Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini for Piano and Orchestra,” the newest work on the program, dating from 1934, a mere 85 years ago. The featured soloist was Kwan Yi, an American of Korean heritage. Program annotator Richard Rodda explains that “The Rhapsody…is a set of 24 variations [which] fall into three groups,…corresponding to the…traditional three movement concerto.”
This work gave the audience the opportunity to hear not only more wonderful playing by the LBS, but also the absolutely dazzling virtuosity of Kwan Yi. From crisp, clear, effortlessly played, beautifully shaped lines to full-voiced chords, he is superb. His dynamic control is remarkable, going from a powerful orchestra-rivalling loudness to ending a phrase with a just-audible note or two. He worked perfectly with the orchestra, with neither he nor the ensemble pushing the other, whether in fast passage work or in the sweeping romantic Variation 18, arguably the most familiar part of this work. The audience responded as described above, but with special bravos to the soloist.
The final work of the concert was “Capriccio Espagnol” by Rimsky-Korsakov. In this performance, the LBS showed its own true virtuosity. This work is a single movement in five sections, varying from using the full orchestra, to individual sections, to soloists.
Mention must be made of the percussion section, which often does not have a lot to do in traditional symphonic literature, but in this work, it is used to wonderful effect, adding colorful Spanish flourishes and tone color.
Here, the Long Bay Symphony Orchestra was just plain terrific – no missed notes, no hesitation - just stunning virtuosity. As the thunderous applause rolled through the auditorium at the end of the work, Evans recognized individual sections and outstanding soloists and brought the afternoon to a deeply satisfying close.
Stay alert for information about next season’s Masterworks series.
William Hamilton taught music for 28 years at Coastal Carolina University. He composed the music for CCU’s alma mater, wrote incidental music for several plays and still activelh plays jazz with the group U ‘n I.