Tonight's guest conductor was Jonathan McPhee. As with the two previous concerts that I attended this season, the playing overall was reasonably good, if a little ragged at times. Granted, it's hard to maintain intonation in an outdoor summer concert, and I don't know how much rehearsal time the orchestra gets, so I'm happy to cut them plenty of slack given that these are free concerts and a wonderful gift to the city.
I go to concerts not just for passive entertainment, but in the hopes of getting new insights into the music. For example, in the performance of Beethoven's Fifth two weeks ago, I was struck by their interpretation of the fourth movement and how they brought out the hidden instances of the main motive.
On that basis, tonight's performance was an extraordinary success.
First, huzzah for taking all the repeats. I have never understood the practice of skipping the second time through the A section of a movement, unless it was to fit on one side of a 78. (Hey, kids, remember 78s?)
First movement, I loved the sound of the winds on the chords at mm. 434 et seq., especially the bassoons.
I never noticed before how the split on the Vc/Cb lines near the end of the first movement foreshadow their assignments in the second; in fact, what I wanted most of all was for the second to follow attacca on the heels of the first, which I've never heard done but which, tonight, seemed like an imperative. (And although they didn't do it that way, I'm thrilled to have heard the music in such a different way.) Think of how that would work -- the A major climax of mvmt 1: DUM da da DUM da da DUM(I), DUM (V), DUM (I) | DUM (2 bars held -- suddenly modulating into A minor and eviscerating the forward drive from the first movement's 6/8, turning it into the 2/4 of the second movement.)
In the second movement, I was struck by the triple vs. duple meter going on in the inner voices. In general, this season the Landmark Orchestra's performances have been distinguished by their ability to draw out the inner voices with extreme clarity. I was also quite pleased that when the strings had, say, a half note with sixteenth beams, you could hear each 16th note and not an unmetered tremolo.
On the other hand, I felt that the second movement tonight should have been a little faster; it's an Allegretto after all, even if it is the "slow" movement.
The fourth movement was quite good. At first, I wanted it to be faster, too, but at this tempo the players were able to make the rhythmic exchanges perfectly clear, so I think that was a fair tradeoff. (Three years ago, I posted how I would conduct the fourth movement.)
Something went horribly wrong at mm. 114-118; it sounded like a repeated wrong note in one of the winds, but I couldn't narrow it down. It was wrong on the repeat, too, so I wonder if it was a mismarked part.
But the incredible Vc/Cb line that starts at m. 362 was powerful and wonderful, and when m. 405 came around and the entire rest of the orchestra (except the violas) brings back the main theme one last time and the three low strings keep grinding away at that chromatic passage, you couldn't miss it.
The fff brass chords at the end were suitably triumphant, although to my taste the drop back down to piano at m.435 didn't get quite quiet enough. But that's a quibble.
Earlier in the program, they played the Egmont overture, and I was struck (as were several of my friends) by McPhee's unusual beat pattern for the 3/4. Instead of conducting it as a triangle (down, right, up; down, right, up) he seemed to conduct it as a duple meter, with the upbeat subdivided (down-right, up-left, bounce). I don't think he used that pattern in the Mozart or in the symphony, but we couldn't figure out what about the Egmont would cause him to use such an odd conducting idiom.
Overall, an inspiring concert. Next week, the fourth and Rhapsody in Blue. Don't miss it, if you can help it!