The Midland Symphony Chamber Orchestra held its annual concert at Trinity Lutheran Church Sunday afternoon, with a soloist that elevated the concert to star status.
For the third year in a row, conductor Carlton Woods pared the Midland Symphony down to chamber orchestra size, showcasing its best players, and exploring the magnificent repertoire for the smaller ensemble. This year’s concert featured the music of two European countries, with three (native born or adopted) English composers, and a Swiss master.
The program began with Elgar’s wonderful gem of a work, the Serenade for Strings, a truly elegant Romantic peek into English Edwardian drawing rooms. Woods led the orchestra in a flowing, nicely nuanced reading that had an unselfconscious cantabile feeling, particularly appropriate for a “serenade.”
The Serenade’s second movement is one of the loveliest in all of English music, and the most successful sections were those when Woods seemingly backed off conducting every beat and just let the strings sing plaintively to each other. In particular, the violas carried their memorable melody with great richness and sweet nobility.
The simplicity of this delightful little masterpiece nevertheless gives it some extremely exposed writing, and unfortunately here and later in the Haydn symphony there were more tuning and articulation problems in the upper strings than would have been expected.
After some confusion about on-stage seating of the soloists, next came Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Concerto for Seven Winds, Percussion and Strings. This work’s soloists included flutist Joanna Cowan White, oboist Roger Rehm, clarinetist Linda Hargett, bassoonist Drew Hinderer, hornist William Wollner, trumpeter Richard Tirk, and trombonist Daniel Spencer, all of whom gave a fine account of their solos.
Of particular note was the second movement’s hypnotic 2/4 rhythmic ostinato, in which the seven featured players were far more integrated with the orchestra than in a typical concerto. Woods brought together a focused dynamic whole, with the string orchestra and percussion at the top of their game.
After intermission came the true highlight of the performance, harpist Joan Holland, featured in Handel’s Concerto for Harp, a reworking of the composer’s Op. 4 No. 6 Concerto for Organ. Holland’s reading was captivating, in the literal sense, warm, colorful, varied, and full of rich nuances. Her second-movement cadenza was sumptuous and scintillating, epitomizing a lyrical and masterful performance. Woods led the orchestra, who also seemed enamored of Holland’s solos, in a supportive and sparkling accompaniment.
The concert ended with a straight forward, generally energetic reading of Haydn’s Symphony No. 92, usually subtitled the “Oxford.” This symphony is truly the work of the mature and masterful Haydn, reminiscent in places of the composer’s towering “Mass in Time of War.” Woods and the orchestra spoke eloquently through Haydn’s melodies and wit, with fine ensemble playing. It was an appropriate and enjoyable finale to an engaging concert.