Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Elgin Symphony Presents a Concert of Understated Excellence

A superb program of Nielsen and Dvorak did all the talking in a casual but outstanding Elgin Symphony matinee Sunday, featuring guest conductor José Luis Gomez.

Two works by the Danish composer Carl Nielsen were heard for the first time by ESO audiences. An orchestra of larger proportions leapt into the first, an opening overture from Nielsen's opera Maskarade (1906) led by a vibrant maestro Gomez, whose natural yet precise conducting ended with a smiling and flamboyant turn toward the audience.

José Luis Gomez conducts Carter Brey and the Elgin
Symphony Orchestra.
Joining the orchestra for Antonin Dvorak's Concerto in B Minor for Cello and Orchestra (1896) was Carter Brey, principal cellist of the New York Philharmonic. Brey listened intently and turned to look at the other players during the first movement's opening, which lifted the entire audience's consciousness of this beautifully played work. 

Shifting fluidly from growling lows to sweetly lyrical highs, Brey displayed great rapport with Gomez, and also with a particularly sympathetic wind section, playing so expressively throughout that one listener was moved to say, "I could almost understand the words ..." Brey's untucked shirt and relaxed comportment signalled that this virtuoso's performance would speak for itself, and it did so eloquently. 

The delightful Symphony No. 2 (1902) is one of Nielsen's growing number of works that are gaining new interest worldwide. The four movements, inspired by the Four Temperaments of ancient psychology, depart from classical symphonic conventions and explore shades of human nature the way a Freudian therapist might: through a network of imagery and associations. 

The ESO was incredibly well-rehearsed for this Elgin premiere, and the musical language of Nielsen proved to be endlessly fascinating. It was an impressive showing for Gomez, whose conducting style exhibited its own four-way humanistic balance of head, hands, heart and hips.

It is also a credit to the considerable talent and skill of the ESO and staff that guest artists of this caliber continue to bring their world-class performances to downtown Elgin.

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