By Dennis D. Rooney
Although unmentioned by him in his prefatory remarks, Guillermo Figueroa’s scheduling of Hector Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique with the Lynn Philharmonia on the weekend before Halloween was a happy accident if not a deliberate choice.
The stupendous innovation of the work, composed only three years after the death of Beethoven, embraces a celebration of a disordered mental state (supposedly induced by opium but just as likely a product of Berlioz’s febrile imagination) displayed over five movements, anchored by an idée fixe heard in all of them, that ushered in an expanded way of thinking for orchestra, utilizing the timbral attributes of its string, woodwind and brass choirs almost as characters.
The instrumental sounds heard are often new to the realm of “absolute” music and partake more of the opera pit that the concert hall, like the Wolf’s Glen scene in Weber’s 1821 opera Der Freischütz. Whatever the means used, there is always an unending strangeness to the music.
The finale, the dream of a witches’ Sabbath, is the wildest of all the movements and the culmination of their succession of strange moods. Certainly no one could have conceived of a combination of a round dance of the witches and the melody of Dies Irae, a sequence in the Latin Mass for the Dead, especially when sounded by four bassoons and two tubas.
Figueroa led a performance Saturday at the Wold Performing Arts Center that valued all the work’s bizarrerie and grotesquerie, but was equally sensitive to the delicacy and atmospheric beauty in much of the first three movements. The student members of the Philharmonia responded to the music’s challenges with panache. As the Berlioz was the final work on the program, a slight falling off in tone production in the strings might be forgiven, although the col legno bowing near the end had plenty of snap.
The program opened with Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto (in D minor, Op. 30). Jon Nakamatsu was the soloist. He was technically unexceptionable but rhythmically buttoned-up. From my seat, the piano sounded dully voiced and its lower register quite unresponsive, which gave the solo part a pallid character at odds with the exceptional brilliance, wide range of color, and expressive ardency so integral to the work.
The orchestra, too, seemed overly backward in the balance, especially the winds in most of the Allegro ma non tanto first movement, where Nakamatsu chose the “regular” cadenza instead of the chordal “ossia” one. The succeeding movements continued to sound underplayed and too tidy (the Coda of the finale in particular) but the score seemed to be performed without cuts.