Thursday’s Intermezzo IV program delivered a fitting finale to this ever-dependable series, offering appealing and well-played selections by three very different composers. Doing the honors was a chamber-sized ensemble drawn from the ranks of the brilliant Spoleto Festival Orchestra, under the assured and expressive hands (no baton) of Bulgarian conductor Sergei Pavlov.
For starters, Pavlov eased his small band gently into the sultry, summery strains of Pastorale d’ été, a rarely-heard orchestral miniature by Swiss composer Arthur Honegger. Most music lovers know him from his main hit, Pacific 231, a near-violent orchestral evocation of a steam locomotive. But this lovely music couldn’t possibly be more different. Its apparent inspiration was an epigraph by Rimbaud: “I have Embraced the Summer Dawn.” The music is full of seasonal symbolism, like intimations of birdsong floating over flowing strings, evoking the mood and feel of a long and dreamy summer day. It forms a perfect arch, rising from soft and dreamy beginnings to an ecstatic climax, before falling back down into absolute serenity. Judging from the moment of silence before the applause began, it left the rest of the audience as entranced as I was.
Our musicians next treated us to a wonderful performance of American icon Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto, originally commissioned and performed by America’s “King of Swing,” Benny Goodman, who was also a pretty good classical performer. Our soloist was clarinetist supreme Michael Byerly, who’s been returning to play with the SFO for five years now. In fact, I know him: he used to hang out in my classical room at the old Millennium Music store between rehearsals and gigs, yakking about festival goings-on and advising me as to the best clarinet recordings.