A pair of all-in performances from the major orchestra of a nearby metropolis rewarded our afternoon drive last Sunday. Newton’s 24-year-old New Philharmonia, yet to learn either fear or hubris, tore into Brahms’s Fourth Symphony and First Concerto at the intensely polychromatic First Baptist Church of Newton with no concessions to their volunteer status. Beginning under founding conductor Ronald Knudsen and continuing since 2015 with Francisco Noya, the ensemble has “proudly brought … music of, by, and for the people,” according to Richard Dyer in 1995. The orchestra dedicated last weekend’s concert to Susan Kaplan, the Newton cultural czar and NPO BFF.
In its juicy traversal of Brahms 4, the players filled the moderately large sanctuary with a satisfyingly emphatic sound. It soared, surged, ebbed, flowed, slid, pounded and blew its way into the friends’ and families’ decidedly not faint hearts. Get back a few rows from the scratchy first violins and you can supply you own remembrances of past elegances, delicacies, and refinements. But the committed playing was in fact enjoyable, and we particularly welcomed the non-emergency portamenti and pleasantly romantic excesses, tough mallets on the timps aside.
BoCo teacher Michael Lewin stumbled a couple of times as he strode to the piano for the concerto; apparently something troubles his spine these days. But aside from a couple of keyboard missteps, the playing showed mature mastery alternating with youthful nervous exuberance. His big tone never turned hard, his bursts of speed rarely lost control, and his power never faltered. Noya might not have gotten the orchestra down to a level that would allow Lewin vaporous pianissimo, but this show was more about the keyboard leading a charge up San Juan Hill with the Rough Riders following. In such an approach Brahms did not suffer much. And we all smiled at hearing an op. 119 Intermezzo after all that drama. Hear!