It’s always so great to see children at a classical concert, even if they’re lured by a picnic on the grass on a summer evening and few restrictions on wiggling: The NC Symphony’s Summerfest series at Koka Booth Pavilion in Cary. There is no doubt that the fare is lighter at Summerfest, but the programs are well balanced between most popular and rare to medium classical. Saturday’s program, billed as an international festival, featured works from Spain, England, France, Finland and Bohemia under the baton of tour guide William Henry Curry.
First off the block was "Amparito Roca," one of those well known pieces from easy listening stations that you know you know but never knew the name of. Actually, the piece, perhaps by Spanish composer Jaime Texidor, has a cloudy history. Texidor copyrighted the work and had it published in Madrid and, in 1935, in London. However there is inconclusive reason to believe it was actually written by the British bandmaster Reginald Ridewood. A Boosey and Hawkes ad in 1936 included the work as "Amparito Roca," "The Sheltered Cliff." However the director of the Baracaldo band once directed by Texidor contends that Texidor dedicated the work to a girl named Amparito (diminutive of Amparo) Roca who lived in that area.
Things got lengthier, although not necessarily more serious, with Edward Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture, a finde siècle portrait of the city of London, which Curry dedicated to the victims of the London bombings. Cockaigne is the medieval fabled land of luxury and idleness, where the roasted birds wander around and wait to be eaten and the rivers run with wine. Elgar applied the term to London, and used it also as a play of words on the popular term cockney (which actually means a foolish person in Middle English). He tried to describe the vitality, self-confidence, rich variety and high spirits of the prosperous city, then at the height of its power. The NCS was not quite at the height of its power in this performance, but some ragged entrances, especially in the strings seemed to go with the relaxed atmosphere.
Sibelius’s Finlandia turned the mood more serious, and the orchestra straightened up for it, especially the low brass, who get most of the great licks in this piece.
In choosing a light Offenbach number to end the first half, Curry did us a favor by sidestepping the usual fare of overtures and the popular pastiche Gaiteé parisienne to offer the less well know pastiche, the overture from La vie parisienne arranged by Antal Dorati. It turns out, Curry owed Dorati one from his days as an under-utilized assistant conductor of the Richmond Symphony. When the featured conductor for Beethoven’s Ninth developed kidney stones on the day of the performance, the Richmond management called Dorati at 4:00 AM to try to get him to come down from Washington D.C. as a sub. Dorati, however, told them to use their assistant conductor and hung up on them.
Then came intermission and here we have a bone to pick. WCPE’s announcer William Woltz announced the winners of the Symphony raffle but then went on at great and intrusively noisy length to issue tee shirts to the multiple winners of the WCPE raffle, making it impossible to converse with friends. We recommend dispensing with as much loudspeaker disruption as possible during these affairs.
The program concluded with Dvorák’s Symphony No. 8, which Curry conducted with great sensitivity, especially the second movement with its endless suspense before settling on a theme. For this half of the program, however, the sound engineer changed the mix, enhancing the upper strings to the point where we could hear every little discrepancy in attack. No, the sound system still isn’t what it should be, but at today’s prices, it’s probably as good as it’s gonna get for the foreseeable future.