The best thing about this year’s “Rhapsody in Green” concert from the Boston Landmarks Orchestra was the venue. Not that the program — the Overture to Carl Maria von Weber’s “Der Freischütz,” Jean Françaix’s “L’horloge de flore,” excerpts from Edward McDowell’s Orchestral Suite No. 1, and Jean Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 — wasn’t attractive. But rain had caused the two previous week’s concerts to be moved to the Church of the Covenant, and the season opener had been canceled altogether. So it was a pleasure to hear the orchestra present its annual “green” concert, in celebration of America’s city, state, and national parks, at the DCR Hatch Shell on a cool, refreshing August evening.
Performing in the open air does have its drawbacks. The orchestra had to compete with heavy traffic on Storrow Drive, including roaring motorcycles and piercing ambulance sirens. A helicopter buzzed overhead; a quartet of flying geese honked off-key, perhaps in protest of the Weber’s hunting motif.
The “Freischütz” Overture nonetheless got the concert off to a good start. Music director Christopher Wilkins painted the love story of Max and Agathe in broad strokes, a dramatic, tuneful reading with pungent, autumnal horns. “L’horloge de flore” fared less well. Françaix’s 1959 suite for oboe and orchestra takes the form of a botanical clock, with each of its seven movements representing a flower that opens at a particular time of day. Andrew Price’s instrument had an attractively nasal, reedy timbre, but the subtleties of Françaix’s perfumed writing got lost in the great outdoors. The three selections from MacDowell’s suite — “In a Haunted Forest,” “Summer Idyll,” and “Forest Spirits” — also suffered, though the forest spirits suggested the frolicking fairies of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” and Wilkins conveyed MacDowell’s kinship to Sibelius.
The Sibelius itself was powerful but perplexing. The general shape was there, the sense of northern menace and mystery (abetted by the darkening sky and the chill in the air). Climaxes were well judged, but the transitional sections, where the composer scrambles his themes like jigsaw-puzzle pieces, often chugged. And balances were askew, so that we got an X-ray view of the symphony.
Perhaps that was the fault of the miking more than the conducting. The first two movements, the more difficult ones, were problematic. But the third went “Vivacissimo,” as marked, and the big hymn that concludes the finale, blessedly unsentimental, was a force of nature that put traffic in its place.
Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffrey