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The big news about the June 30 Summerfest concert is that it came off exactly as advertised. The weather gods cooperated and the program was given in full. It was for the most part an enjoyable evening in Cary's Regency Park at the NC Symphony's new summer home. The series' Artistic Director, William Henry Curry, was in fine fettle as he led the second of three "Classical Jukebox" programs planned for the entertainment and edification of the public. The concert began with a bracing rendition of the Overture to Verdi's Nabucco, the potboiler that gave Italy and Italians one of the most stirring choruses in all of operadom. Its tune figures prominently in the Overture and the piece served as a fine curtain raiser for a noteworthy salute to the nation its composer helped unite.
The evening's theme, "Viva Italia!," encompassed a somewhat tacky suite of tunes from Puccini's La Bohème (the evening's weakest link, in part because the bridge passages were often downright cheesy).More rewarding fare came from the pens of Vivaldi, Respighi and Rossini.
Paul Randall and Timothy Stewart brightened the evening with a Concerto for Two Trumpets by Vivaldi that allowed the soloists to display their outstanding technical and artistic skills; the synthesizer' s harpsichord button added a touch of authenticity to the proceedings augmented the string accompaniment. A medley of folk and popular tunes arranged by Ralph Hermann included one of Elvis's big hits as its centerpiece and ended with Luigi Denza's familiar tribute to the funicular railway that caused such a stir at its debut a hundred and twenty-one years ago.
Following the intermission, Curry introduced Respighi's Pines of Rome , long considered one of the great 20th-century orchestral showpieces. He led an impassioned, deeply felt performance of astonishing beauty, eliciting from his musicians-regular NCS members plus agumentees from other area orchestras-some truly magnificent playing. The off-stage trumpet solos worked well; the recorded bird calls were astutely balanced; and the grand finale, with six brass players perched in the balcony above the main ensemble, led to a rare mid-concert standing ovation from the crowd. Curry had explained that the piece would be "the sonic spectacular of the summer" and it may well have been, but the most remarkable portions of the performance came in the quiet sections, during which there was non-stop evidence of the orchestra's finest qualities.
There's little that could follow Pines, but the Overture to Rossini's William Tell served nicely enough, thanks in large measure to Principal Cellist Bonnie Thron's solo (and the support she enjoyed from her top-flight section). Here again, it was the quiet, reflective portions that to this listener seemed most moving and impressive, but the orchestra didn't stint in the finale, and the crowd responded enthusiastically, prompting a single encore--the "Anvil Chorus" from Verdi's Il Trovatore, with slightly out-of-tune anvilist Richard Motylinski.
Only one more "Classical Jukebox" concert remains - a July 14 choral-and-orchestral spectacular that will feature Cary's own Concert Singers in excerpts from Wagner's Lohengrin and the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Readers who have yet to experience our state orchestra in its new summer venue should not miss this opportunity to do so--and to hear the CSC in its first Summerfest appearance since 1994. For tickets, call 919/733-2750.
There are some problems at the site. The venue isn't finished-perhaps the sides of the shell will have been installed by the end of the run, but it's likely that the landscaping won't be complete till next season. The grass seating section is partly pinestraw and partly wheat straw, and some drainage issues remain.
The sound was less good at this concert than during the truncated June 16 performance; the show was over-amplified to the point that there was little sense of the music coming from the stage, and the rich bass from the lower strings that had so impressed us earlier did not seem to emerge from the two large stacks of speakers that flanked the stage, just outside the enclosure. It didn't help that the carefully engineered sound field, with its high-tech time-delay system, was disrupted by an array of eight (or more) temporary speakers at the mid-point of the grass section, and the conductor's microphone appeared to have been connected to speakers at the back of the venue. The net result was the sort of echo one often experiences in ballparks. We moved back several times but never succeeded in finding a "sweet spot" where the orchestral sound was natural in any sense. The point is that these aren't rock concerts, and the orchestra shouldn't sound disembodied.