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Well, there was this orchestral gig in Raleigh's performing arts center on Sunday afternoon, but it wasn't given by the room's regular denizens. Nope, this was a bunch that might inspire Andy himself to drawl something about being a greatttt biggg orkester, 'cause it's a good deal larger than the medium-sized one — the one with aspirations to be great — that calls Meymandi Concert Hall home. So it's more than likely — it's a sure bet, really — that the afternoon's guest time-beater was impressed. For sure, he elicited some spectacular playing during the second half of the program — but it must have been due to the players, mostly, for things were just as spectacular in the opening part.
That opening part involved the first of the afternoon's two "London" symphonies, in this case, by Franz Josef Haydn. Now things could get a bit convoluted by the time we're through, so for the record, Haydn's "London" Symphony — No. 104, in D Major — is actually the twelfth and last of a set of works called "The London Symphonies" that Papa H. wrote for performance in London. Haydn symphonies don't get much better than these dozen works, and the last one — the "London" Symphony — is among the best.
In Raleigh, on this occasion, the Triangle Youth Philharmonic, the "senior" group of the Philharmonic Association's four educational ensembles (with, apparently, 32 seniors, recognized just before the concert began, who will be making 32 places for younger players at the end of the current season...), played the great Haydn work under the direction of its Music Director, Hugh Partridge. It was a plush-sounding, regal, elegant performance, a shade too slow, perhaps, but magnificent in nearly every respect, and this way of doing Haydn is certainly as valid, artistically, as the fleeter, more sinewy approach taken by the HIP ("historically informed performance") crowd. Doing justice to Haydn is almost as difficult as doing justice to Mozart, and indeed more than a few of our very greatest conductors have not managed to do music by both composers equally well, so Partridge's success with this score was notable, as was the extremely high level of execution by the young musicians — all hundred or so of them, give or take a few.
The TYP hosts an annual concerto competition for its own members (and with so much in-house talent, why look elsewhere?). This year's winner was Ashley Martin*, an exceptional fiddler we've been hearing — and from time to time reporting on — for what seems like a month of Sundays. Her vehicle this time was Wieniawski's Second Concerto, in D minor, Op. 22, beloved of violinists and their teachers for nearly 150 years (or 146, to be precise). She played it like there was to be no tomorrow, dashing off the technical challenges with hardly a lash batted and making it speak with somewhat more authority than the music itself may possess. Her colleagues provided superb support, and Partridge was his customary watchful self, tending to cues and balances and cutoffs like a pro (which he is, of course).
Part two was devoted to a performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams' Symphony No. 2, known throughout the English-speaking world as "A London Symphony," by which the composer meant not a tone poem so much as a series of depictions of parts of the city and of its residents' character and spirit, not all the attributes of which are buoyant. One reason for this is that the work, perhaps begun as early as 1912, coincided to a certain extent with the buildup to WWI; the standard (1920) version is dedicated to composer George Butterworth, killed in 1916. Along the way, however, there are often-fleeting vignettes of London, including fog and Big Ben's chimes. Guest conductor Grant Llewellyn, who happens to be Welsh, proved admirably sympathetic to the music and to the young musicians, all of whom played their hearts out for him during the course of the work's 46-minute running time. With a stage-full of strings — 68, according to the program — there wasn't much the winds or brass or percussion could do to drown 'em out, so the whole thing was bathed in a wonderful aura of warmth and richness that is, alas, not always true of large symphonies realized in Meymandi Concert Hall. And if you didn't look at the stage, but rather closed your eyes and just listened, the kids sounded every bit as good as a comparably-sized ensemble of seasoned geezers, too. Well done!
*Note: Over the years, Ashley Martin has served as Concertmaster of all three PA orchestras — the TYO, the TYS, and the TYP; she is the first person in the organization's history who has done all this.