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March 28, 2000

Symphony Performs Lighter Program

A review by Pat and Ernie Pinson

Saturday night, March 18, the Mobile Symphony saw the last of the four conductor interviews this season, with Robert Moody at the podium conducting a rather light program.

The first half of the program was a tribute to the Irish -- coming as it did on the heels of St. Patrick’s Day-- with the first two works built around the second most known/played work of the western world -- “Danny Boy.” (Silent Night is first.) The opening Irish Rhapsody by Charles Stanford is not heard very often, but deserves to be. It is more of an overture than rhapsody with only a reference to the Irish tune at the end. The Percy Grainger “Irish Tune from County Derry” is written for string choir and will make any shamrock wearers heart glad with its forthright “Danny Boy” performance.

The Cello Concerto No. 2 was by an Irishman made famous for his New York operettas at the turn of the century more than his serious music -- Victor Herbert. However, it was this concerto which is credited with having inspired Herbert’s colleague, Antonin Dvorak, to compose his own cello concerto a few months later. Soloist Zuill Bailey returned this season after a strong performance a year ago, and he played beautifully again. Expressive and dramatic lyrical melodies dominate this work and reminds us of Herbert’s memorable melodies of the stage. Although here the greater depth and intensity break through in anguished cries using intervals of the second. The three movements meld together with little break and with recurring themes which almost make it a tone poem for cello and orchestra. It was good to get acquainted with this work.

The second half of the program was about Mountains -- Hovaness’ Second Symphony, subtitled “Mysterious Mountain” and Copland’s mountain folk work - Appalachian Spring.

The “mystery” of the Hovaness work comes through in the orchestration using the harp and celeste, and the odd chord changes sometimes seeming to be in two keys at once. Moody brought the orchestra to a very powerful, crashing climax in the middle of the work, but the ending caught the audience rather off guard waiting for something to follow. I wished there had been a little more subtlety or magic in the quieter sections. The solos were beautiful, but not haunting.

The Copland was the most demanding work on the program with its transparent orchestration and rhythmic complexities. The colors of single instruments were juxtaposed like a quilt of carefully sewn pieces creating patterns of sound on a larger frame.

Moody was at his best in this work. It is always after intermission that you see what a conductor can do, since he is usually tied down in the first half to the obligatory openers and during this season, the concerto.

His conducting is extremely clear and precise - handling rhythmic complexities with easy control. He is articulate and comfortable on stage and seems to feel very much at home in the 20th century works on this program. But there was not much opportunity to see what he can do with Classical and Romantic works which form the heart of the symphonic repertoire. The Herbert was the most Romantic work on the program, but there it was Bailey who was more responsible for interpretation, and they worked very well together.

No warhorses on this program unless you think of the familiarity of Danny Boy -- perhaps more of a pony than a horse -- or the Shaker hymn “A Gift to be Simple” in Appalachian Spring, well known particularly to dance enthusiasts. It was a program of primarily minor works -- well done but not overwhelming.

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