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According to the poet T.S. Eliot, the world of “The Hollow Men” ended “Not with a bang but a whimper.” Now, given the abundance of foodstuffs and diverse beverages spread out by the attendees at Booth Amphitheatre, it’s doubtful that there were many hollow men (or women) around. But the music dished up for them by Summerfest Artistic Director William Henry Curry and the North Carolina Symphony began and ended with a bang, and plenty of bangs in between. No whimpers need apply. (The first half of the program featured a project called “Play with the Pros,” wherein selected citizen musicians joined the professional players.)
The spirit of the evening was telegraphed early with the portentous and tempestuous "Night on Bald Mountain," Rimsky-Korsakov’s arrangement of the Mussorgsky tone poem of demonic revelry. It was the near-perfect selection to kick off the first one of this 2012 edition of the Summerfest Series. The players’ exuberant treatment of the piece demonstrated why it was a favorite for early audiophiles as they trotted it out to test and to show off their new “hi-fis.” (Come to think of it, as the malevolent revelers slink away at the coming dawn, the piece does indeed end with a bit of a tranquil whimper.)
Maintaining the vigorous spirit of the evening was the other number for the first half, Grieg’s Suite No. 1 from Peer Gynt. This familiar favorite in four movements runs the emotional spectrum from a somber doloroso, through “Anitra’s Dance,” and on “In the Hall of the Mountain King,” with its furious conclusion.
After intermission the chips and the dips, the cutlery and the charcuterie were largely deactivated. It was time for the clientele to settle in and give full attention to the heavy musical offering of the event, Schubert’s huge Symphony No. 9 in C often referred to for no really good reason as “The Great.” The players did a bang-up job on this powerful fifty-minute masterwork.
One could hardly have dreamed up a more splendid kick-off for the Series, the summer-season itself and the Memorial Day weekend. Many thanks go to Rex Healthcare for its sponsorship, as well as to the truly admirable weather that magnified the program’s fine qualities.