But they'd brought Tchaikovsky, too - the inevitable Fifth Symphony - and he was done up like a Thanksgiving dinner: big plushy sound (it's a smooth operator, this orchestra), big gestures, big rubatos, big rhetoric - big "D" (for detail and Dallas) - but little or nothing of that peculiarly melancholic Russian character. A hint of vibrato applied to the second movement's great horn solo simply won't do it. It's not something you apply, it's something you feel, experience.
Now, deep in the heart of Texas, or over into Oklahoma - where the waving wheat, it sure smells sweet, when the wind comes sweeping down the plain - now that's something this orchestra can relate to. That's something that Roy Harris heard, smelt, and felt in the rustling pastorale (divisi strings, carolling woodwinds, and the shimmering heat-haze of the vibraphone) at the heart of his pioneering Third Symphony. The American Dream had a sound, and this was it. Better yet, the spirit was willing, the spirit moved. It moved mountains.
Harris's Third is about endeavour and hope and resilience, and Andrew Litton paced it like he was the first to stake a claim - urgently. There was determination in the opening hymnal for cellos and violas, there was resolve in that mother of a fugue. But still it sounded like someone was withholding. Or, to put it another way, the sound (cultivated, well-covered) was not relating to the spirit (primitive). Could it be that the modern American symphony orchestra has now evolved into such a luxury item that true grit is no longer an option? This Harris needed stripping down and roughing up a bit.
Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto just needed loving. And Joshua Bell saw to that. If Harris is the great outdoors of American music, this is the great indoors. It's the fireside song that wants to become an aria, the aria that longs for intimacy. Bell was a heart-breaker, tender and intense, a passionate young man playing in the grand old manner, violin held high as if always aspiring to the ascendancy. The ecstasy came from his being so bang in the middle of every note, the longing from his uninhibited way with portamento, from the illicit "blue" notes that slip enticingly from under the fingers of the left hand. He was at once a part of, and an extension of, the orchestra, spinning a girdle around the manic finale like some demonic Puck. It was one hell of a performance. Repeated tomorrow 2pm on BBC Radio 3Reuse content