In one of their many generous free concerts, The New England Conservatory brought a selection of British-themed orchestral literature to the stage of the Jordan Hall.
Under the direction of David Loebel, the NEC Philharmonia imparted an appropriately stately atmosphere to Tippett's "Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles." Particularly in the "Intrada" and "Finale," the warmth of the brass and elegance of the string harmonies intertwined to form fittingly regal phrases. The "Berceuse" movement was strikingly beautiful with its swelling harmonies and, though more rustic in flair, remained full in harmony. The rapid runs in the strings during the "Procession and Dance" movement were clear and impressively articulated throughout all the string sections.
Somehow the fluidity, both dynamically and between sections, did not carry over into Mendelssohn's luscious 6th Symphony. From the onset there seemed to be a perpetual struggle for rhythmic unity. Throughout the first movement, the orchestra's sound fluctuated between repressed and unweildly. The most fluid movement was the "Adagio," which, though rhythmically steady, was still lacking in intensity. The ensemble realized this intensity at moments during the closing "Allegro Vivaccissimo," but often lapsed into muddled cacophony with clumsy entrances and sawing strings during climactic sections. The most noticeably nuanced player during the 6th Symphony seemed to be the timpani player. Overall, the Scottish Symphony seemed under-rehearsed and was lacking in subtlety.
Britten's "Sinfonia da Requiem," which was actually the second piece of the concert, was impeccably executed. The dynamic within and between sections was perfectly balanced and each individual tone was shaped with purpose. This harrowing work was a complete turnaround from Tippett's royal suite, and the Sinfonia's tumultuous World War II subcontext was immediately audible in the mournful "Lacrymosa." The ensemble maintained tension through the register transition from balmy lows to piercing highs and skillfully animated the harsh textures of the "Dies Irae." The gushingly lyrical lines of the final "Requiem Aeternam" movement were tinged with distress as Britten's subtle dissonances pervaded the sweet timbre of the ensemble.
It's a shame the Scottish Symphony did not achieve its picturesque potential, but Mendelssohn's rich music still possessed its signature charm. Tippet's "Suite for the Birthday of Prince Charles" and Britten's "Sinfonia da Requiem," on the other hand,could not have been played with more elegance by the NEC Philharmonia.