Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
April 25, 2015
by Michael J. Moran
For this season finale program built around Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring,” SSO Maestro Kevin Rhodes said in his “Rhodes’ Reflections” column in the program book, he “decided to pair it with other works which have something of a rite, or ritualistic quality about them.”
Accordingly, the concert began with the Overture to Wagner’s 1845 opera “Tannhauser,” whose depiction of the battle between sacred and profane love reminded Rhodes of “the somewhat ritualistic quality that Wagner’s operas have and inspire in fans of his work.” The SSO’s account of this colorful music was grand and majestic, as the hushed wind choir that opened the piece gradually built to a powerful climax by the full orchestra.
Rhodes’ other selection to accompany Stravinsky was Rachmaninov’s popular Piano Concerto No. 2, because it evokes the “rite…of going to a concert and the thrill of hearing and seeing a soloist conquer an incredibly difficult piece.” That soloist was rising 35-year-old American pianist Spencer Myer, whose SSO debut in April 2012 featured Mozart’s Concerto No. 25.
To Rachmaninov’s familiar score he brought generous romanticism and impressive virtuosity, from the full-bodied opening chords for solo piano to melting lyricism in the central Adagio and rhapsodic abandon in the closing Allegro. The SSO was with him every step of the way. A standing ovation prompted a lovely reading of Schumann’s dreamy Romance in F sharp major.
Intermission was followed by a sizzling rendition of Stravinsky’s masterpiece, which still sounds as wild and primitive as it must have sounded to its shocked first audience in Paris 102 years ago. In its original ballet scenario, a young girl danced herself to death as a sacrifice to the god of spring in pagan Russia, but it’s now best known as a demanding orchestral showpiece. All sections of the SSO, including an enlarged percussion section, reveled in the unpredictable rhythms and dissonant climaxes of the “Rite.”
Equally wild applause at the concert’s end was exceeded only by the pleasure of seeing so many young audience members, a heartening sign as the SSO ended its 71st season on a high note.