Terrell deftly leads Philharmonic

Joshua Roman
Kentucky Herald Leader

By Loren Tice


One of the reasons to go hear live classical music is surprise. You would think that with Mozart, Haydn and Tchaikovsky on a program, Anton Arensky (a Russian, one generation after Tchaikovsky) would fade into the corner.

On the contrary, the gem of Friday night's concert of the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra was Arensky's Variations on a Theme by Tchaikovsky. And the reason was the conductor. Scott Terrell, in his second MasterClassics series performance as music director of the Philharmonic, swooped down on this strings-alone piece and made it soar.

Terrell seems to have an affinity for romantic music tempered by the kind of fine-line drawing in early Picasso. Every phrase of the music, every line of texture, especially inner lines, had a keen sense of purpose. There was warmth of tone and technical confidence that was not so apparent in other parts of the program.

Another surprise was cello soloist Joshua Roman in Peter Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme. Roman has the reputation of being the rock star of modern-day stringers, but he won over the audience with boyish charm instead. He took what is a full-blown cello concerto and made it child's play. Same with his solo encore, Mark Summer's Julie-O, which made whimsical fun out of blues smears and bluegrass licks.

Also surprising was that the music of the great Mozart just didn't take this time. It was his Nocturnal Serenade in D Major, which is supposed to wake the dead, I think. This performance was just too timid and unaccented. It's funny how the tiniest thing can point to what was missing. The violas had a miniscule hair-clip of an idea that they flipped out with great panache — exactly what the rest of the piece should have done.

No surprise, Joseph Haydn's "Drumroll Symphony" (Symphony No. 103), however, did take. Conductor Terrell is shaping up as having consummate control over complex music and a freshness of mind to boot. The balance of instruments, always tumbling over one another in Haydn, was calibrated almost perfectly.
The arrangement of strings was different in this concert, with the two violin sections on opposite sides of the stage. The best thing about this was that the cellos were placed in the middle, facing the audience, and you had to love it. They've never sounded so good. But second violins suffered, with the instruments' tone holes facing upstage. They played well but were outgunned.

The best thing about Haydn's finale was how well his humor was carried out, like a pie in the face. It was so well done that strings, winds and timpani raced to the finish line with Arensky-like assurance.