New World Kicks Off with Vivid Variations
October 2, 2001
By James Ross
Alasdair Neale, the New World Symphony's new principal guest conductor, led the season's first concert by the full orchestra at the Lincoln Theatre on Saturday night, and it crackled. He chose orchestral variations, beginning with Brahms' Haydn Variations and ending with Elgar's Engima Variations, which share a satisfying richness of symphonic texture.
The transparent centerpiece, Alberto Ginastera's Variaciones concertantes of 1953, evokes Argentine music and the gaucho guitar without actually quoting folk tunes. The New World's musicians, including 33 new players, made it more than a showcase for virtuosity, the ravishing harp answering the ardent first cellist, the winds, brass and strings putting a superlative polish on the score's kaleidoscopic colors.
Neale's interpretations were profoundly expressive. His deceptively matter-of-fact, brusque conducting style penetrated far beneath the surface of the music. His approach to the Brahms Haydn Variations was in the true Brahms tradition. There were bold definition and clarity, but also an eloquent breadth that lingered on the chorale-like writing and the darkly Brahmsian wind-brass colorings. It was broad-shouldered Brahms of deep-rooted strength.
Elgar, like Brahms, was a full-blown romantic, and Neale's tack in this classic English score, too, was expansively lyrical, but with no loss of momentum. In fact, it was terrifically jubilant and exciting in the boisterous variations and unfailingly lucid in structure. But it was also tender of heart with, if not the most poignant Nimrod section I've heard, one with a Scotsman's instinctive understanding of reverence and restraint.