Review: NBSO offers another dazzler

The first half of Saturday's program featured Suite #2 from Manuel de Falla's spirited ballet score "The Three-Cornered Hat," and Joaquin Rodrigo's soulful Concierto de Aranjuez — two works whose flirtations with the sexy harmonic minor evoke the exotic cross-cultural currents of Al Andalus. There the Spaniards, gypsies, Greeks, Moors and Jews mingled their musical DNA despite their precarious, and often deadly, proximity.What could be more welcome on a cold winter night in Massachusetts than a warm dose of "Spanish Soul" administered by Dr. David MacKenzie and the New Bedford Symphony Orchestra?

After the intermission, the orchestra played Saint-Saens' great Symphony No. 3, the "Organ Symphony," with harpsichordist Paul Cienniwa at the keyboard and pedals of the mighty 1923 Wurlitzer orchestra organ and one or two pianos in the orchestra itself.

The symphony's two movements break naturally into a classic four-movement structure. In the opening segment, the majestic orchestral line in the strings contrasts with the agitated, broken chords in the woodwinds. Next, lyrical passages give way to songlike motifs and arpeggios by the violins, and the organ makes a subdued entrance, which grounds the temporal strivings of the orchestra in the eternal. In the second segment, strong dotted rhythms drive the scherzo, which soon morphs into a fugue. Then after a recapitulation of the opening theme, which shows the composer's versatility with classical forms and contrasts, a fugal duet between the violins and violas is joined by the winds and brasses, then a phalanx of cellos.

The second movement, or third segment, opens with a powerful chord from the organ and subsequent "discussion" between various sections of the orchestra, followed by a thrilling finale wherein majestic hymn-like chords alternative with a fanfare from the brass and another huge fugue, as though Saint-Saens is trying to hang onto the counterpoint of Bach and Mozart while venturing into the revolutionary territory of his friend Franz Liszt. I especially like the way Saint-Saens gave the tuba, trombone and percussion instruments a crucial role in the fourth segment's fugue and inverted fugue before the tympani announces the resolution of all tensions and struggles with a flourish, bringing this brilliantly composed and brilliantly performed symphony to its close and we excited listeners to our feet applauding this magnificent concert.

A last word: In the audience were some 100 people who had taken the NBSO up on its offer of two free tickets to anyone who had not previously attended. I am sure those "newbies" — to use Maestro MacKenzie's word — will be back for more great music.

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