Springfield Symphony, Springfield, MA
by Michael J. Moran
For the third concert in its 2011-2012 "Classical" series, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra presented what their Music Director Kevin Rhodes called in a program note "a trio of…old pieces…from the 19th century (which) seem to reference a time even earlier than that."
The opener was an unusually gentle piece by the composer best known for his rip-roaring "Ring" cycle of music dramas, Wagner's "Siegfried Idyll," first played in 1870 on the staircase of his Swiss villa by 13 musicians as a birthday present to his wife after the birth of their son, Siegfried. The piece incorporates themes from the just-completed Ring opera "Siegfried," and Rhodes led the SSO strings, woodwinds, and several brass members in a lush, heartwarming rendition of Wagner's expanded orchestral version of the score.
Rising young cellist Julian Schwarz then made his SSO debut in Tchaikovsky's rarely heard but delightful "Variations on a Rococo Theme." A sort of one-movement cello concerto, this 19-minute piece from 1877 was written in the style of Tchaikovsky's beloved Mozart for the same reduced orchestra that Wagner used in the "Siegfried Idyll." The 20-year-old soloist, a Juilliard student who has already performed with many professional orchestras, showed remarkable virtuosity and interpretive maturity in a masterful account of the demanding cello part, while Rhodes elicited delicate but lively playing from his orchestra. An enthusiastic reception drew Schwarz back to play another rarity as an encore, Dvorak's lovely "Silent Woods" for cello and orchestra.
The performance of Beethoven's exuberant "Symphony No. 7 in A Major" that followed intermission featured tempos and balances that sounded almost perfectly natural through all four movements. The "Poco sostenuto" opening of the first movement was taken faster than usual, while the "Allegretto" second movement was a bit on the slower side. The "Presto" third movement was lively, and the "Allegro con brio" finale was an exhilarating romp that swept everything before it. A joyous Rhodes literally jumped on the podium to acknowledge the magnificent work of the orchestra.