Orchestral Music Review



NC Symphony Dodges the Elements - Barely

July 5, 2008 - Cary, NC:


The threat of adverse weather seemed destined to put a hex on Summerfest V, planned as a tribute to "The Greatest Generation" (and reprising a program originally given in late March 2007), but, an hour or so before concert-time, the sun emerged, and a substantial crowd materialized in Regency Park, perhaps encouraged by the fact that the Town of Cary's fireworks display, postponed due to thunderstorms on Independence Day, was to cap the Saturday night performance. Humidity drenched the atmosphere, and the ground was sopping wet, but the rains held off as members of the NC Symphony (plus a host of fill-ins from elsewhere) and conductor William Henry Curry tore through parts of the program in an (ultimately successful) race against time and the weather gods. The concert was the third in three days for the instrumentalists as the NCS rode the crest of 2008's patriotic wave.

Following the National Anthem, things got underway with Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," the ever-popular wartime tribute to ordinary Americans. As delivered by the sound system, the sound was a bit harsh, and the timpani sounded somewhat soggy, as some listeners surely felt, but the evening's biggest problem, engineering-wise, was a perceptible leveling of dynamics, so soft places sounded loud (and surrounded by an electronic patina), and the loud places sounded, well..., often too loud.

The Symphonic Scenario drawn by Robert Russell Bennett from Richard Rodgers' Victory at Sea was the evening's most substantial offering. There were attractive solo contributions from Concertmaster Dovid Friedlander and Principal Trumpet Paul Randall, and the ensemble improved as the players warmed to their tasks.

Sgt. Christal Rheams, a Raleigh native who was educated at UNCG and is a member of the US Army Band, brilliantly encored two numbers from her 2007 NCS engagement: "Rosie the Riveter" (1942-3), by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb, and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," the Andrews Sisters' 1941 hit, which here featured Randall as the bugler.

At this point, the conductor broke for a quick intermission, during which members of the Concert Singers of Cary (Lawrence J. Speakman, director) took their places on stage for a further-abbreviated second half. A movement from Roy Harris' too-rarely-heard Folksong Symphony got things off to a fine start; this setting of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" is unusual but attractive and more richly varied than straightforward "standard" editions. The chorus sounded rock solid, and the diction was absolutely first rate. The last quarter of the so-called "Patriotic Overture" by Irving Berlin, arranged by Sam Ramin, is "God Bless America," and it received a stirring reading with some audience members joining in, too. Carmen Dragon's souped-up setting of "America the Beautiful" was taken seriously by the esteemed Summerfest Artistic Director, who inspired a moving and clearly heart-felt performance that, as it happened, capped the show, at just minutes after 8:30 p.m. The big booms began almost immediately thereafter.

The moral of this story is that it's better to have one's glass half full than to have one's cup running over, if rain is the fluid under discussion.

The works that fell by the wayside were selections from Porgy and Bess, Williams' Midway March and the "Hymn to the Fallen," from Saving Private Ryan, the familiar "Servicemen on Parade," and Peter Wilhousky's superb version of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." (The latter wasn't in the printed program but was prepared at the morning rehearsal.)

Summerfest continues through July 19. For details, click here [inactive 8/10].