Editor’s note: This guest review is by a student at Bluffton University of a concert held at that campus. The same concert was also performed Saturday at Trinity United Methodist Church in Lima.
The Lima Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Crafton Beck, gave a stunning performance at Bluffton University on Thursday titled, “Mozart by Candlelight.” The program, consisting of four Wolfgang Mozart pieces, was played with a beautiful candlelit background, bringing elegance to the scene.
Overture to “The Shepard King” was a great introduction to the concert. Beck’s animated conducting and the strings’ uniformity were just the beginning of a solid performance. The ensemble’s ability to show drastic dynamic contrasts and build intensity, through beautiful thematic lines, passing back and forth fluently and seamlessly, captured the audience’s attention.
The commentary provided between the first two pieces by Beck allowed for a smooth transition as the stage was prepared for the Piano Concerto No. 21 in C. Beck was able to provide a bit of historical context surrounding Mozart during the time of the pieces being played, but he chose the information tastefully, and had the audience chuckling throughout a quick and professional transition.
The second piece on the program, Piano Concerto No. 21 in C, was a nice contrast to the overture. The first movement opened crisply with a playful atmosphere among the orchestra. The melodic lines passed across each section with ease and maintained a clear balance across the ensemble. The way in which Mozart’s themes were so intertwined throughout the first movement — each similar in one way or another — and yet changed slightly as the piece developed, kept the material familiar but captivating. Piano soloist, Dr. Lucia Unrau, played elegantly and the balance between her and the orchestra seemed natural.
Although the second movement seemed to start out much lighter, it did not lack depth or complexity. The orchestra was able to provide a great underlying support for the piano as needed. But, as both the piano and orchestra traded the role of importance back and forth, they remained balanced — neither one’s importance overruling the other. It is also worth mentioning that Beck’s ability to modify his directing in a way that kept his gestures small and closed in during Unrau’s passages kept this potential distraction to a minimum.
Other than one entrance in the horn section seeming a bit heavy, and only a couple of questionable notes from the pianist during one of the cadenzas, the only complaint I would remark from the second movement was not within the orchestra’s control: A photographer’s camera clicked frequently throughout this and the next movement of the concerto as she walked around the recital hall.
The final movement of the concerto proved to be just as enjoyable as the first two.
The thematic material seemed to be echoing back and forth between the piano and orchestra in a smooth, lively and almost tauntingly energetic style. During several passages of the movement a large number of the orchestra dropped out, leaving a delicate ambiance remaining. This reminded the listener just how powerful the ensemble seemed in proceeding passages.
Although Unrau’s last cadenza entered a bit dynamically abrupt, it was a fittingly expressive transition to the closing material, which was so full of energy and power that it had Beck hopping with his conducting until the final release. The audience seemed to love the concerto, standing in applause for Unrau’s performance.
Next on the program, Horn Concerto No. 1, in D, featured Scott Fisher on horn. Before playing, Beck asked Fisher to provide a little background information on the natural horn he would be performing on, instead of the modern horn typically used in today’s ensembles. Fisher was able to provide the audience with a playing demonstration and enough information to keep them intrigued but not too much that it might be overwhelming.
Especially considering the difficulty of the piece on this instrument, his performance during the concerto was incredibly done. Because of the nature of the instrument, some of the passages were not as clear as one might have hoped, but overall the ensemble was a pleasure to listen to and gave a nice contrast among pieces on the program.
During the final piece on the program, Symphony No. 35, in D, Beck’s phenomenal conducting skills were demonstrated as he showed major contrasts in conducting style to fit the mood set by the orchestra. The orchestra did an incredible job allowing the intentional silences throughout to be very clear and evident.
The last movement was a great end to the concert, highlighting uniformity and animation across the entire ensemble. The audience, again, stood in applause as the program came to a close.