By Roy C. Dicks: What’s the Score?
Raleigh, NC – Andrea Quinn returned as guest conductor of the N. C. Symphony Friday, January 14, in Meymandi Concert Hall, the site of her last visit here in 2004 as a finalist for the orchestra’s music director. Although Grant Llewellyn ultimately landed that position, Quinn’s performances, then as now, prove why she was such a worthy contender.
Quinn wields her baton with exuberant confidence, precise in her cues and intense in her body language, vividly responding to each work’s rhythms and emotions. Even when leaping straight up from the podium to emphasize a climax, such gestures seem organic, rather than showy, exuding warmth and sincerity that communicate directly to the audience. She demonstrated impressive range with this concert, equally comfortable with delicate intimacy and full-out bombast.
It was something of a surprise, with sonically overwhelming works by Wagner and Elgar also on the program, that the hit of the evening was Haydn’s compact, reverent Symphony No. 49 (“La Passione”). Based on a musical form used in church services, this work’s sober weightiness could have been boring in the wrong hands. But Quinn infused every bar with an engaging intensity, the rhythms tightly sprung, the pace driving but never rushed. Her finely graded dynamic changes and minute focusing of melodic lines clearly pleased the audience, rewarding her with the evening’s strongest response.
Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 is a gargantuan fifty minutes of stirring passion and uplifting inspiration, but it’s also riddled with daunting sudden shifts, overlapping lines, and disparate short passages. Quinn boldly took control from the opening measures of the extended first movement, emphasizing the several themes that would serve as material in varying forms for the other three movements. She seemed to relish the largest outbursts, encouraging the percussion and brass to unbridled heights. Despite the work’s often relentless repetition and restlessness, Quinn made a solid case for its continued appeal.
The program opened with the overture to Wagner’s “The Flying Dutchman,” full of hall-filling drama and lush melody. Quinn kept the piece taut, almost too rigidly so, in a somewhat lumpy performance that could have used more of the masterful interpretive skills she deployed so well in the rest of the concert.
[a version of this article appeared in the Raleigh News & Observer on January 16, 2011]