Works by Beethoven, Brahms and Clyne kicked off the second half of the Delaware Symphony Orchestra’s 2016-17 season at Wilmington’s Grand Opera House Friday, February 24, 2017.
DSO Music Director David Amado characterized the program as containing two sunny works by two of music’s more morose composers (Beethoven and Brahms) and a mournful one by a more sanguine one (Anna Clyne).
The primary work of the night was the Symphony No. 2 in D Major by Johannes Brahms. After waiting many years to complete his inaugural symphony, Brahms produced the second one in nearly a fortnight during the summer of 1877 while visiting the Austrian town of Portschach am Worthersee. Its bucolic character has invited comparisons with Beethoven’s Sixth.
The composer’s Alpine setting is felt from the opening notes, before the violas and cellos develop a variation of his famous lullaby melody for most of the first movement. Amado was masterful in bringing out the rich textures and contrasts between drama and reverie that characterize the movement, the longest in any of Brahms’ symphonies.
The inner movements were equally strong. The cellos played to the enigmatic Adagio, while the strings and winds danced playfully in the delicate Allegretto grazioso.
The energy of the final movement presented Amado with another opportunity to play up the shifting dynamics of the work. The return of the Alpine elements signaled that we had come full circle and the symphony wrapped with a glorious burst from the trombones bringing the audience to its feet.
Israeli pianist Alon Goldstein was the featured artist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in C Major. The concerto, dedicated by Beethoven to his pupil, the Countess of Bratislava, has been described as Mozartean in character. However, the Beethoven concerto is much more Romantic than Classic in style, as evidenced by its expanded orchestration, virtuosity and abrupt harmonic shifts.
Goldstein gave a fiery rendering of the concerto, performing the fast outer movements at brisk tempos with sparkling fingerwork. Likewise, he tossed off the torrent of notes in the first-movement cadenza with effortless virtuosity.
But Goldstein showed he was no mere musical acrobat. His playing was full of lyrical warmth and rhythmic flexibility, especially in the contemplative slow movement cast in the dark, distant key of A-flat Major.
Beethoven’s First Piano Concerto is a tough one to top in an encore, but Goldstein pulled it off with another fiery performance of the first of Alberto Ginastera’s three Argentinian Dances.
The concert opened with a sensitive performance of Within Her Arms, by young British composer Anna Clyne. This short (15-minute) work for string orchestra is an earnest, yet not overwrought, memorial to her mother who died in 2009. Based on a touching poem of comfort by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, the work begins with a stately processional, builds to an urgent climax and then returns to its opening serenity.
Amado led the 15 string players drawn from the ranks of the DSO through a moving performance of the sorrowful work. The ensemble brought a sensitivity to the music as well as to each other, blending the wispy counterpoint with bold, bass-anchored lines to produce chamber music at its finest.