In the wake of the NC Symphony's appearance at the Crystal Coast in connection with the visit of the tall ships, the orchestra's Music Director repeated the program on July 1 in Regency Park, as part of Summerfest. It's comforting in many ways to be able to report that composer and bass trombonist Terry Mizesko's new work, "The Last Voyage of the Currituck," was one of the highlights of the generous concert.
But first things first. As the summer wears on, the NCS starts losing players, tempting one to ask, "Will the real NCS please stand up?" There were lots and lots of fill-ins on this occasion, and it's a testimony to several things - including extra rehearsals (there were two for this program, whereas the norm for summer events is one), the Beaufort performance, the skill of the musicians - that the show was as successful as it was, given its sheer magnitude and the facts that one ditty was played three times and an encore was presented, too. Because many regulars (including principals) were absent, younger members had opportunities to shine, and many - including violinist Dovid Friedlander - did so.
The theme, of course, was the sea and ships, and while one might poke some holes in the lineup - three bossas nova might have been supplanted by Debussy's La Mer or the finale of Sibelius' Fifth, which makes a wonderful case for sailing the ocean blue - the selections were mostly on target. Thus the opening salvo was Berlioz's "Le Corsaire" Overture, which began sluggishly (as if becalmed) but soon took wind. It and other components of the evening were treated to somewhat windy commentary by Grant Llewellyn, whose remarks linking soccer to tall ships and this program seemed out in left field (especially since there was only one foreign-flag vessel in this year's "Sail"). A Venetian regatta was saluted next, with Jean Baptiste Arban's dazzling "Fantasy, Theme and Variations on Carnival of Venice," featuring dazzling soloist Paul Randall, the NCS' Principal Trumpet. He certainly earned his keep on this occasion, garnering ever-increasing amounts of applause after each variation. The orchestra stayed out of his way - the accompaniment seemed somewhat tepid and anemic, in places - but few seemed to care, so impressive was the solo work.
This prompts a mention of the acoustics; overall, the sound of the orchestra reached the audience (or, more properly, this listener) with somewhat less solidity and heft than during the MD's first Summerfest appearance, making one think that the midrange had been boosted at the expense of the lower end of the aural spectrum. The strings, too, seemed scrawnier and more spot-lit than before, so while there was nothing especially wrong with the amplification, it wasn't as good as it has been on other occasions.
The lovely Adagio from Khachaturian's Spartacus (used in the 1971 BBC-TV series, "The Onedin Line") and the storm music from Britten's Peter Grimes led to Mizesko's latest composition, premiered the night before in Beaufort.
The composer himself provided the introduction to the six-section work, which is played without pause. It is, he said, sort of a "mini movie score" depicting "an epic voyage of a ship" dubbed Currituck. The movements, he told us, embrace making ready for sea (by securing cargo and checking rigging), getting underway, a drinking song (sailors don't let work interfere with pleasure indefinitely...), and a beautiful and wistful "Tune of Longing" which is transformed into a "Devil's Dance," at the culmination of which the ship sinks. The coda is an affirming remembrance of the ship and her crew. The music probably doesn't need the program but it helped listeners chart its course as it unfolded. The players, led with passion and commitment by Llewellyn, gave their all to the score. The sea picks up early in the piece, its sounds rendered dramatically and effectively. The "Tune of Longing" is quite beautiful, reflecting the sadness of separation. Friedlander's solos in the "Devil's Dance" seemed overly amplified, at the expense of his colleagues. (Otherwise the balance was fine.) A few places in the run-up to the ship's last gasp - in the Bermuda Triangle - the music suggests James Bond scores, but the depiction itself is sonically consistent with such disasters - when the end comes, sinking vessels merely slip beneath the waves. The finale is somewhat hymn-like and makes all the right impressions. In sum, then, Mizesko has made another big splash with "Last Voyage...," on the heels of "Sketches from Pinehurst" (2005). A CD of this engaging new score would be most welcome.
The second half began with lighter fare - Robert Russell Bennett's "Symphonic Scenario" based on themes from South Pacific preceded three works by Antonio Carlos Jobim in orchestral garb that departed from the evening's main theme. (Bassist Bruce Ridge doubled on bass guitar in the latter group.) "Jack's the Lad," from Fantasia on British Sea Songs as done up by Henry Wood (a.k.a. "Old Timber"), provided a "clap-along" opportunity that wound up being repeated several times. Llewellyn then raced through the Overture to Wagner's The Flying Dutchman, lingering but little in the reflective passages, before sending the huge crowd away with Sousa's "Hands Across the Sea" March and a reprise of that aforementioned clap-in.
These concerts continue with a freebie on July 4 and a program with baritone Jason McKinney on July 8. See our calendar for details.