Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 28, 2008

Rossini, Chopin, Brahms

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall, Springfield
April 25, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

What a satisfying program, one that began with Music Director Kevin Rhodes pre-concert comments about what we were about to hear. Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2, F minor "is beautiful from beginning to end." His talk focused on Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F Major, "the least played of his four symphonies" and his favorite, "if one can say such an insane thing."

The first few seconds of Gioacchino Rossini’s (1792-1868) sprightly Overture to "La scala di seta" (The Silken Staircase) featured screeching violins reminiscent of Hitchcock’s horrific shower scene. What followed was not a slashing knife but background music suitable for a flock of hummingbirds whose geometric flight pattern continuously surprises.

Pianist Claire V. Huangci’s spirited playing of Frederic Chopin’s (1810-1849) concerto was the evening’s piece de resistance. She glided onto the stage wearing a frothy white strapless gown with a full bell-like skirt sprinkled with sparkling ,mini stars. The orchestra’s long introduction heightened anticipation. When her cue arrived, she attacked the keys – clean, sharply-delineated chords and passages – serving notice that she was in charge, a girl just 18, playing Chopin’s concerto as if she were channeling him or Lizst. From the high registers, clusters of descending notes sounded like a delicate clinking of crystal cubes. During interludes ideal for profound thinking, Huangci's nimble fingering loosed hundreds of butterflies into meadows of wildflowers. With her third curtain call (even the orchestra applauded), she graciously returned to the piano to play Mozart’s intricate and rousing Turkish March, further energizing an enthralled audience. Of all the glowing comments overheard by the smitten at intermission, the most-often expressed was, "A tour de force!"

Under the energetic direction of Maestro Rhodes, the full-bodied tones of Symphony No. 3 in F Major by Brahms (1833-1897) were brought forth. The composer’s virtuosity was showcased along with the need by Rhodes to mop his head, face and neck. During the third movement, the plaintive melody was woven like a dance – disappearing briefly before reappearing. Brahms indulged his pleasure of the theme by gifting future audiences frequent repetitions of the exquisite melancholic theme. He knew a good tune when he heard it.