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Midwinter Music Breaks Bleakness

Spokane Symphony’s “A Midwinter Night’s Dream,” Sunday, The Met

Spokane’s midwinter weather, like that of England, can be a trial. Sunday at The Met, conductor Fabio Mechetti and the Spokane Symphony found some English music that lightened and warmed a dark, slushy Sunday afternoon.

Mechetti opened his survey of English music with the courtly elegance of a suite of four dances for string orchestra from Henry Purcell’s music for “The Fairy Queen.” Purcell wrote these dances for a 1692 “modernized” version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The Met’s severe acoustics reveal everything, including some tentative playing and patchy intonation early on in the Purcell suite. But both tone and intonation grew more secure as the players accustomed themselves to their surroundings, and the “Dance of the Followers of Night” was delicate and highly evocative.

The symphony’s concertmaster, Kelly Farris, made Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “The Lark Ascending” sing rhapsodically. Farris’ thorough musicianship and thoughtful leadership have been indispensable ingredients in the orchestra’s performances since he joined the symphony in 1969. Farris is not a flashy violinist, but the tonal ardor and technical assurance he brought to the work was quite winning.

Farris’ job was made just a bit easier by the 1715 Stradivarius loaned to him for this performance by Seattle collector David Fulton. The sound of this instrument has a boldness and warmth Farris clearly relished.

English music is not all courtliness and romantic ardor, it can be (gasp) funny. William Walton’s “Facade” has all the unrestrained impertinence of a ‘20s flapper.

Mechetti brought rhythmic zing and tart clarity to Walton’s orchestral version of five pieces from “Facade.” The audacious effect caused me to forget, temporarily, that the original setting with the patter of nonsensical verse by Edith Sitwell is ever so much funnier.

Good humor reigned in the second part of the concert, too, though not at the frenzied level of “Facade.” There was jaunty vigor in the way the Spokane strings dug into folk-derived songs and dances of Gustav Holst’s “St. Paul’s Suite.”

The breadth of expression in Benjamin Britten’s “Simple Symphony” was amazing for a 20-year-old student orchestrating piano pieces he had written some 10 years earlier.

Warmth and humor made both program and performance a midwinter afternoon’s delight.

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