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BBC Concert Orchestra delivers fine performance

Even before the first note was played, concertgoers knew they were in for a treat when the BBC Concert Orchestra performed Monday evening at The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Upon entering the theater, attendees were informed by the ushers that the performance would be recorded.

The orchestra delivered, under the direction of American conductor Keith Lockhart, who gained fame by working with the Boston Pops.

The evening’s program featured a suite from “Henry V,” by William Walton, Joseph Haydn’s “Cello Concerto No. 1 in C Major” and Felix Mendelssohn’s “Symphony No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 56,” also known as his Scottish symphony.

To create the score for the film, Walton worked closely with Laurence Olivier, who starred in and directed the 1944 film. Their collaboration was intended to create a seamless blend between music and image, and the orchestra’s performance re-created that perfectly. Just listening to the contrast between the woodwind and percussion instruments during the “Overture” immediately set a historical tone for the piece.

Later, during “Charge and Battle,” one could visualize the struggle between good and evil forces through the drums’ military cadence and alternating focus on music by the string and brass instruments. A clip-clop pace also brought to mind images of horses galloping across a battlefield. The aftermath, featuring the gentle sounds of a harp, brought to mind the dawn of a new day.

The Walton suite was a highlight of the concert.

Haydn’s concerto was a string-centric piece. In fact, with the exception of a couple of horns, the performance featured only violins, violas, cellos and double basses. However, between the melody and harmony of the strings, the other instruments were not missed.

Cello soloist for the Haydn concerto was Sophie Shao. A recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant at age 19, Shao has earned numerous accolades for her performances around the world and has won the top prizes at the Rostropovich and Tchaikovsky competitions. As she played Monday, one could hear why.

Shao put her heart and soul into her performance. Her entire body moved in rhythm with the music and in sync with her bow as it glided across her cello’s strings.

The second half of the concert was devoted entirely to Mendelssohn’s Scottish symphony. According to Lockhart, he spent 12 years composing the symphony, drawing inspiration from the country’s mist and folk music.

The music had a touch of melancholy, interspersed with traces of traditional Scottish songs and the sounds of winds blowing across the country’s rugged, mountainous terrain. There were lively refrains, dirgelike passages and soft ballads. The final movement was a joyous celebration, combining elements of the three previous movements with all the instruments joining in vivacious harmony kept in pace through a percussive undercurrent.

Those who would like to hear the concert can do so at 2 p.m. Wednesday on BBC Radio 3.

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