Thursday April 15 & Friday April 16, 2021

Orchestra Hall, Detroit

Leonard Slatkin, now the DSO’s Music Director Laureate, led two string-based programmes and introduced both.

The Thursday-evening broadcast opened with six folksong arrangements by William Grant Still (1895-1978), attractive music, sometimes familiar in singalong fashion, smartly laid-out for the guiding instrumentation, and this selection, offering variety, was played stylishly. Following which the Concerto for Strings (1965) by the Argentinean Alberto Ginastera (1916-83), a four-movement piece premiered during the next year by the Philadelphia Orchestra and Eugene Ormandy. The texture-conscious opener pits solos against tuttis, slow against fast, then comes a fleeting and fantastical Scherzo of nocturnal incident (suggesting fireflies flitting in the dark) on the edge of consciousness. Following an intense, emotionally charged, slow movement – quite Bartókian in place – the Finale fizzes along, dance-rhythms subsumed into an exhilarating moto perpetuo.

Twenty-four hours later, the second evening opened with Gerald Finzi’s ineffably lovely Prelude for Strings, tender and poignant, performed with eloquence. Then Jennifer Higdon’s take on Amazing Grace, the familiar tune made neither overt nor shrouded – shifting in perspective – and subject to new clothes. I haven’t heard either of Geneva-born Ernest Bloch’s Concerti Grossi in many years and then only via Howard Hanson’s Mercury recordings. Neither work was a hit with me then. I now hear No.1, for which Bloch adds a piano to the strings, differently. This fine/revealing performance opened my ears to a muscular and energetic opening movement, rhythmically vital; then to its pastoral and expressive successor that takes on a dusk-like pallor all its own, followed by a section that soliloquises against folk-dance measures (Percy Grainger and/or Henry Cowell came to mind) and, emulating Baroque spirit, Bloch (1880-1959) ends with an ambitious and vigorous fugue.

Thank-you Mr Slatkin and the DSO strings and pianist (all masked) for righting my Blochian wrong.