Old classics are new again at Longwood Symphony concert

August 17, 2017 at 11:38 am

By Aaron Keebaugh

Ronald Feldman conducted the Longwood Symphony Orchestra at the Hatch Bandshell Wednesday night.

Ronald Feldman conducted the Longwood Symphony Orchestra at the Hatch Shell Wednesday night.

Last week on the Esplanade, the Boston Landmarks Orchestra teamed up with a group of teenagers from East Boston to present a new musical work, Views. The resounding message of the piece, a pop-infused anthem for today’s youth, is that music can bring communities of widely different backgrounds together. 

A similar message resonated on the lawn Wednesday night when the Longwood Symphony Orchestra, led by Ronald Feldman, sat on the Hatch Shell’s stage and delivered a more standard concert of music by Schubert, Mozart, Beethoven, and Johann Strauss, Jr.

In this case it wasn’t the repertory that transcended boundaries but the ensemble itself. The Longwood Symphony has thrived for decades in Boston as an orchestra made up primarily of medical professionals. And many of their concerts raise money for medical nonprofits that in turn provide care to underserved communities in the Boston area and beyond.

Wednesday’s concert of light classical favorites filled the lawn, and the audience for the most part was treated to an evening of fine music making.

The Longwood Symphony has a particularly strong string section that is capable of rich tonal blend. Winds and brass supplied solid blocks of sound when called upon, but there were a few moments of imbalance.

In the middle of the concert’s opener, Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, a wayward French horn note overpowered the sweeping melody played by the strings. The overture also suffered from a lack of ensemble cohesion. While tuttis were built from the ground up, the different sections of the orchestra didn’t always blend together in the softer passages.

Mozart’s Symphony No. 31, K. 331 fared much better. Phrases in the first movement coalesced into statements of power and weight. And the second movement, a soundscape of Arcadian beauty, was radiant.

Feldman, known to Bostonians for his work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and Boston Pops, led a reading that came off a little heavy-footed. The outer movements were lacking the grace and elegance that are so essential to Mozart’s symphonies, and the finale failed to lift off, though there were some enjoyable moments in the crisply played fugal section.

With Schubert’s popular Unfinished Symphony, the Longwood Symphony sounded like a completely different ensemble. Balance problems that marred the early part of the concert were gone, and the blend was full and vibrant.

Feldman deftly navigated the first movement’s abrupt changes in mood through passages of subtle rubato shading. The flutes floated an elegant first theme, and the famous second theme sounded with dark, honeyed tones in the cellos and violins. A trio of clarinet, flute, and oboe in the second movement provided a highlight of the evening.

Closing the concert were two pieces by Johann Strauss, Jr. His popular Blue Danube waltz had appropriate dance-like lilt as Feldman led the piece in a steady, energetic tempo. Accelerations also took off in a lively romp, yet the conductor crafted the phrases with the generous rubato shading so integral to Strauss’ style.

As the rousing encore of Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No. 5 encouraged many listeners to clap along in rhythm, it was clear that even the most familiar classics never seem to get old.

Christopher Wilkins will lead the Boston Landmarks Orchestra in music by Strauss, Enesco, Edwards, and Copland 7 p.m. Wednesday at the DCR Hatch Shell. landmarksorchestra.org

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