Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
September 24, 2016
by Michael J. Moran
To open the SSO’s 73rd season and his own 16th season as music director, Kevin Rhodes presented the first all-Tchaikovsky concert of his tenure, which moved, as he noted in his “Rhodes’ Reflections” column in the program book, from “a festive opening” through “tragedy and drama” to “a big final act in which heroics both musical and technical carry the day.”
After a lively audience-participation “Star-Spangled Banner” to launch the new season, the rarely heard “Festive Coronation March” got the evening off to a rousing start. Commissioned by Tsar Alexander III for his 1883 coronation, it quotes the same hymn, “God Save the Tsar,” that also appears in the composer’s more familiar “Marche Slave,” but it was refreshing to hear it in this different setting. The musicians performed it with snap and verve.
The “tragedy and drama” came next in an urgent performance of Tchaikovsky’s sixth, or “Pathetique,” symphony. From the dark opening bassoon solo, to the gentle, waltz-like second movement, the exuberant third movement march, and the quiet desolation of the “Adagio lamentoso” finale, the passionate commitment of the orchestra’s playing under the maestro’s kinetic baton fully conveyed the “highly emotional” meaning of the work’s subtitle.
“Not wanting to finish Opening Night on anything other than a high note,” Rhodes says in his “Reflections,” he cannily followed a longer-than-usual first half with a shorter “big final act” after intermission, when Italian pianist Fabio Bidini made his SSO debut in a full-blooded account of perhaps the most famous of all piano concertos, Tchaikovsky’s first. From the majestic introduction, through the lyrical Andante and the rip-roaring finale, Bidini skillfully varied his touch from delicate to thundering as the music ran its volatile course. Conductor and orchestra supported him masterfully.
In the musical humor department, Rhodes took a selfie with retiring SSO principal bassoonist Andrew Cordle during a pre-concert ceremony honoring his forty-year career with the orchestra, and later, replacing a part of the podium which had fallen to the floor during the concerto, he quipped “call me for all your plumbing needs.” Who could pass up the next chance to spend a musical evening with such a fun guy?