I had been booked to review this concert, but my editor phoned up the day before and said they'd decided there were too many reviews scheduled for this weekend, so they cancelled it. Huh. This has happened before, too. I could wish this stage of the decision-making process grafted onto the original scheduling. It's a good thing I hadn't yet pinned anyone down to go as my guest, because that would have made a mightily awkward situation.
It was also disappointing, because not only did I like the repertoire - rarely-heard works by major composers - but I'd reviewed the guest conductor's previous concert here and was intensely curious as to how she'd handle this program. So I went anyway, on my own few nickles.
Very well, it turned out. Kamensek's dry, rhythmically-based conducting style was well-chosen for this repertoire.
First we had Respighi's Ancient Airs and Dances Suite no. 2, a popular work on the radio but rarely heard in concert. It was bright, chipper, and lively, especially in the "Danza rustica" bringing out complex subsidiary lines that gave the work the air of the raucous Italian street music that Michael Nyman began his career by emulating. Rhythmic intricacy is a key here, and that made the work go.
Then the ballet music from Verdi's Don Carlo, rarely heard because it's usually cut for length when the opera is staged. Forming a quick suite of varied moods, like much operatic ballet music, it's an absolutely typical chunk of Verdi orchestral music. The thythmic floor was secure in Kamensek's version, and that again made it go.
Lastly we had Harold in Italy, Berlioz's symphony with a viola obbligato so sparing that the soloist (here Patricia Whaley, SSV's principal, and completely up to the job) wanders off just after the start of the finale, delivering one last tiny utterance from offstage. Harold is less colorful than the Symphonie fantastique and vastly less well-known, but I think it's comparable in genius, particularly in the uncanny way it anticipates later composers: I keep hearing hints of Tchaikovsky, Nielsen, even Shostakovich whenever I listen to it.
Harold is capable of dragging, but Kamensek's regimen of rhythmic vigilance and conscientious phrase-shaping kept us well away from the indulgent school of Berlioz performance. Even the slow Pilgrim's March kept along at a fair clip and its repetitions became hypnotic.
Really glad I took the trouble to attend this one anyway.