Last Saturday, conductor Philip Mann ended his inaugural season with the Arkansas Symphony on a triumphant note, and the orchestra continued to demonstrate the remarkable progress in musicianship it has made over the last decade or so.
The evening opened with a spritely reading of the seldom-heard “Minuet Antique” by Maurice Ravel, followed by the “Linz” Symphony of Mozart in an exuberant performance; for the first time in my hearing I believe all the repeats were taken. It was a stylish and personal interpretation, especially in the third “Minuetto” movement, and bucking today’s trend of “correct performance” Mann did not reduce the size of the string sections.
The highlight of the all-orchestral concert, however, was Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” the virtuoso piano composition in its most elegant of several orchestrations, that of Ravel. Mann overinterpreted some sections, especially “Gnomus” and the opening, which was more like a procession of nobles than a promenade. The latter sections were beautifully read, however, and the orchestra’s presentation of “The Great Gate of Kiev” was guaranteed to bring the audience to their feet.
Throughout, Mann’s showmanship, which was the quality that most recommended him to me for the post, was greatly in evidence. (At times he totally neglected “the beat” to encourage the emotions of his players.) And, I cannot help but say that 20 years ago, the orchestra could not have attempted the Mussorgsky and hoped to get all the notes right. Saturday night they played superbly.
— Edward Wooten