Thursday, May 25, 2017

Closing the DSO Season with Love from Russia

By Christine Facciolo

The Delaware Symphony Orchestra (DSO) brought down the curtain on its 2016-17 Classics series on Friday, May 12 with a robust Russian program that included Stravinsky’s Ode, Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concert No. 3 featuring soloist Sergei Babayan.

DSO Music Director David Amado assured the audience that the program was curated well in advance of the 2016 elections and was not meant to reflect events taking place on the international stage.

Delaware audiences don’t get to hear enough Russian music performed, so this was a real treat to hear it played with the kind of fervor and genuineness that were on display in The Grand Opera House.

Rachmaninoff has a reputation for writing dark, sultry and impossibly difficult piano music. The Third Concerto in particular is often considered to be the Mount Everest of Romantic pianism, an image long cemented in the public mind thanks to its appearance as a major plot device in the 1996 film “Shine,” based on the life of pianist David Helfgott.

Soloist Sergei Babayan was born in Armenia into a musical family. He trained at the prestigious Moscow Conservatory and has performed in some of the world’s most foremost venues, including Carnegie Hall in New York and Wigmore Hall in London.

Babayan offered a multidimensional reading that revealed the depth of both composer and artist. His bass notes thundered on demand and there was no shortage of dynamic punch but there were also moments of ecstatic passion and quiet repose. The DSO for its part provided either gentle support or a rousing call to arms. The communication between soloist and conductor was obvious.

The DSO also gave Amado 100% in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 which followed the intermission. The first movement received an urgent performance yet one that was imbued with an appreciation of the composer’s balletic grace. The second movement was played in the manner of a song without words, allowing Tchaikovsky’s sumptuous melodies to soar. The string exhibited a pizzicato virtuosity in the brief scherzo while the finale crackled with plenty of rhythmic acuity from the strings and the woodwinds in their exchanges leading up to the various appearances of the “big tune.”

The program opened with Stravinsky’s Ode. Commissioned to mark the passing of Natalie Koussevitzky, the work manages only a fleeting elegiac tone in the bustling opening Eulogy. That element is reserved for the concluding Epitaph. The central Eclogue offers the most interesting music. Recycled from an abandoned “Jane Eyre” film project, this section features brilliant wind writing with its lively contrapuntal hunt motif nimbly executed by the DSO horns.

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