Maestro Novo lets music take its sweet time

Newly hired conductor's approach to pieces is leisurely and full of warmth

Review

Arundel Live

September 30, 2005|By PHIL GREENFIELD | PHIL GREENFIELD,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The opening concert of the Annapolis Symphony's 45th anniversary season presented at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts afforded a third opportunity to assess the artistry of Jose-Luis Novo, the orchestra's newly hired conductor.

There was his audition concert last fall, an oddly conceived salute to Gypsy influences in music celebrated in works by Ravel, Falla, Kodaly and Johann Strauss. Then, last May, Schubert's Unfinished and Dvorak's New World symphonies were offered at Novo's victory lap concert celebrating his ascension to the ASO post.

This time around, as the ribbon was cut last Friday for his first season at the helm, the Spanish maestro via Yale, the Cleveland Institute and the University of Cincinnati gave us Franz Joseph Haydn's Surprise symphony and Jean Sibelius' Symphony No. 2, plus a feisty, festive Outburst for Orchestra composed especially for the occasion by Michael Abels.

Obviously, we're just getting to know Novo, and pigeonholing him this early (if ever) would be a silly thing to do. But the overwhelming impression thus far is that he is simply not a man in a hurry.

I don't mean that grass is growing under his feet professionally.

He is, after all, the conductor of not one but two fully functioning Eastern regional orchestras, the ASO and the Binghamton Philharmonic, which makes some pretty nice music itself up in New York state.

Musically, though, the early returns indicate that this is a conductor content to let music unfold naturally, at its own rate, without any undue hectoring from his baton.

We heard this in Novo's tempo choices in Schubert's Unfinished, which was accorded uncommon breadth and dignity at the maestro's unhurried pace, and again in last weekend's Sibelius 2nd.

In his great D major symphony and elsewhere, Sibelius was a master at fusing disconnected bits of musical rhetoric into extended lyrical episodes of bardic eloquence.

Some conductors feel that disconnected Nordic chill in the air when they interpret the Finnish master, playing him cool, clear and straight while playing up the jaggedness of his transitions.

Others, and Novo is definitely one of them (as am I), respond that Finland borders Russia, and that aftershocks from the Slavic passions that fueled Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff were felt in Scandinavia as well.

As a result, his Sibelius 2 was a warm, burnished affair full of long lines, deep, chocolatey sonorities from the strings, and expansive tempos building inexorably to the ringing climaxes that impart such emotional thrust to the music.

From the surging opening theme, to the tender lento e suave oboe interlude in III (which nearly swooned dead away, so eager was the conductor to stop and smell the roses), to the trumpet fanfares of the final movement, unforced eloquence was the name of the game.

Complementing Novo's Sibelius was some very nice Haydn; warm, full-bodied, and utterly natural, save for the Minuet, which was fitful, over-inflected and surprisingly devoid of charm. There, less would definitely have been more.

Abels' curtain-opening Outburst was a delight; a quick, aptly named concert overture that set a colorful, feisty tone for the occasion.

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