CSO's sounding even better in series' opener 

Lookin' Good

The clarion confines of the new Memminger Auditorium were perfect for the Charleston Symphony's Backstage Pass series opener.

The program's novelty was Fiesta, by young Peruvian tunesmith Jimmy López. Written just last year, it's a perky number that marks him as a composer to watch. Under resident conductor Scott Terrell's assured baton, the four-movement work engaged its listeners with infectious energy and complex, shifting Latin rhythms.

I liked the opening section's jazzy swing, leading into a languorous string theme floating over muttering woodwinds. The edgy second movement skittered in all directions, laced with violent outbursts. The CSO's crack percussionists got a real workout in the final two movements, as the piece drove to a frantic finish with primitive punch and brassy flourishes.

Next we heard Samuel Barber's seldom-heard Capricorn Concerto: a neo-classical gem. It showcased the talents of three of the CSO's principal players: flutist-extraordinaire Jessica Hull-Dambaugh, veteran oboe-meister Mark Gainer, and newly-arrived trumpet virtuoso Karin Bliznik.

The music's spare harmonics stood in stark contrast to its rhythmic complexity — and fiendish difficulty. After a serene start, the soloists' spicy "cackling" effects (as Terrell put it) led into the middle movement's breezy course, with the soloists tip-toeing through bright musical tulips.

The finale took us out in a blaze of trumpet-dominated glory. All three soloists were fabulous — but it was especially rewarding to hear our brilliant new principal trumpeter prove her worth.

I fall in love with Tchaikovsky all over again whenever I hear his glowing Serenade for Strings: one of the juiciest fruits of his later years. The musical cherries just kept piling up through all four movements — and, oh, the sound!

Concertmaster Yuriy Bekker has brought his gifted string players to new heights of section unity and lush sound — as they demonstrated here with gobs of melting, burnished tone.

And these days, there's no better place to show them off than the newly renovated Memminger. Its sharp, rather cavernous acoustics aren't kind to some chamber music, but the CSO sounded absolutely fabulous there.

Performance spaces and seating layouts can be tailored to suit anything from a solo recital to grand opera. Friday's configuration made for a cozy environment that surrounded the stage to the front and sides, leaving no listener farther than 50 feet from the action.

The evening's only downer was a subpar PA system that muffled much of what Terrell had to say in his chatty, ever-helpful spoken intros to each piece.

Otherwise, the respectably-sized crowd's standing O said it all.


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