Ottorino Respighi's Gli Uccelli (The Birds, 1928) aptly set the tone with a suite of five short baroque-inspired movements named after the birds whose songs and sounds were imitated throughout. The ESO woodwinds gave brilliant voice to the characterizations (written a bit too persuasively in some places), accompanied by a studious and restrained orchestra.
With this first performance by the ESO, The Birds is a pleasant, listenable and welcome addition, which one patron described as "just beautiful ... so pretty."
The trees, lakes and especially the birds of Finland were loved by Jean Sibelius, whose Symphony No. 5 in E-flat Major was commissioned in honor of his 50th birthday, now an annual national holiday.
The work is important more for its evolution of musical structure than for its style, which adds a modern polish to essentially traditional language. At Squires' insistent direction, the orchestra's sound was quite majestic on the musical hilltops, though introverted at times among the many quiet ponds and frozen lakes of the symphony's three movements.
The wintery images were beautiful, if reserved, and the Hemmens audience responded with their own exercise of Nordic self-control.
|Cellist Matthew Agnew performs with Elgin Symphony Orchestra, Stephen Squires, conductor.|
Holding his instrument close, Mr. Agnew gave the classic melodies graceful and expressive detail, shifting through octaves with precision and velvety consistency of tone. In the high register, his skill was matched with nuances of shape and timing that any virtuoso would envy.
Throughout his captivating solo passages and cadenzas, the ensemble kept a delicate balance, playing with a deep affection, not merely deep respect.
The audience leapt to its feet with shouts of ecstatic admiration, and demanded three curtain calls for Agnew and Squires, a reception rarely given to any performance. ESO listeners recognize quality when they hear it, and are fortunate to find it every month on a stage so close to home.