Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 23, 2008

Gliere, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
Symphony Hall, Springfield
May 17, 2008
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

During the pre-concert talk, Music Director Kevin Rhodes described the opening piece as "good, clean fun." Indeed! "The Russian Sailor’s Dance" (from "The Red Poppy") by Reinhold Gliere (1875-1956) began with fortissimo umpah, umpah and never slowed. Triple time! Syncopation! In the midst of such excitement, there were strains of Russian folk music, a partial phrase from perhaps "The Volga Boatman" and fragments of a particular tune, one of many, that claimed the public’s affection at the beginning of World War II for lively, heroic Russian songs. The program, billed as "A Russian Spectacular" was off and whirling.

Into "Serenade (for Strings)" by Tchaikovsky (1840-1893), seduced by the first notes, light, fanciful, strings dancing, tending an invitation, "Come into my music. You’ll like it." Six bass fiddles! During the second movement, the more familiar waltz dominated. The lilting melody encouraged visualization of dancing couples affecting the exaggerated posture of professional dancers – hesitating, dipping, swaying. The Elegie was appropriately reflective, the serenade melody renewed. Music swelled – climbing, climbing – such suspense before unwinding and culminating in a reverie. A similar mood continued in the fourth movement, evolving into a happy mode underscored by lush violas. According to the program notes, the composer wrote, "...I am terribly in love with this Serenade." Peter Ilyich’s "Serenade" is pure, refreshingly devoid of maudlin sentimentality.

"Symphony No. 1 in D Minor" by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873-1943) opened assertively. Soon the ascension of violas, higher and higher, was continued by the first violins. Trumpets startled with sharp punctuation. There was slashing, crashing, then melodic teasing, a fitting score for a 1940's Warner Brothers’ pot boiler. Throughout this substantive work, drama prevailed, culminating in the final movement with cymbals, snare drum, trumpets, the pageantry of a militant processional, providing Springfield’s incomparable Maestro Rhodes with an arobic workout and the audience with an infusion of Russian soul.