The latest installment of the Charleston Symphony Orchestra's Backstage Pass series — entitled Ash (for reasons I still haven't figured out) — offered a wide variety of instrumental sonorities in a pleasing program that showed off two of the band's main sections.
For starters, we were treated to Czech master Antonin Dvorak's Serenade for Winds. Scored for the usual woodwinds (minus flutes) and horns, the composer gave the piece an absolutely unique sonic flavor by adding a contrabassoon, plus cello and double bass. It's one of those hybrid works that falls somewhere between the chamber and orchestral genres. From the stately opening march, the work unfolded in unmistakable Czech style, employing a number of folksy dance forms — though the music, as ever, is Dvorak's own (he rarely used actual folk tunes). Conductor Scott Terrell and his musicians delivered it with style and spirit, enchanting the happy (and fairly substantial) Sottile crowd with the composer's usual profusion of gorgeous melodies and harmonies. The evening's top toe-tapper.
Enter the CSO's mass of strings for an entirely different sort of sound. Their vehicle was an unusual item by contemporary Finnish composer Aulis Sallinen: his rather oddly-titled Some Aspects of Peltoniemi Hintrik's Funeral Music. It took awhile to reconfigure the stage between numbers, and Terrell took advantage of the lull in the action to offer some tips (and instrumental demonstrations) that helped many of us get into the music. Based on a doleful folk tune known to many Scandinavian children, the piece was adapted from one of the composer's string quartets. It takes the basic theme through a series of increasingly complex variations that alternate between lush passages and thornier sections, with some fascinating instrumental effects (like twangy string plucking) along the way.
Finally, all of the CSO's nearly 50 core musicians (plus a couple of extras) got into the act for the final work, Sigurd Jorsalfar (Sigurd the Crusader) by Edvard Grieg. We heard the three-movement concert suite from 1903, based on his earlier incidental music to the Bjornsen drama of the same title that spins the tale of an ancient Norwegian king and his entanglement in an unlikely love triangle. Terrell and company turned out a glistening account; the tender passages for cello quartet in the third movement were especially fetching. You can depend on this innovative and laid-back series for a bracing and well-chosen assortment of smaller-scale orchestral jewels.