Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 2, 2009

Springfield Symphony Orchestra & Peter Serkin

Symphony Hall, Springfield
February 28, 2009
By Donna Bailey-Thompson

Although the music selected by Music Director Kevin Rhodes for SSO’s first concert of 2009 was distinctly different, one from the other, the overall effect was artistically compatible. Each composer – Respighi, Bach, Beethoven – developed his own unique sound to create not merely harmony but moments of humor (Respighi), precision (Bach), and the sublime (Beethoven).

Respighi’s "The Birds" began and ended with a rhythm worthy of inspiring the dancing feet of mincing courtiers; in between, the composer brought to musical life feathered friends worthy of an ornithologist’s scholarship. Respighi transformed the bird calls with musical cunning: his "The Dove" was not the pristine white of peace but a pair of ground-feeding, dull brown mourning doves, cooing an oboe lament, that dissolved into nothingness as they flew skyward. However, "The Hen" was barnyard savvy, a possible prototype for the comical "Pick-A-Little, Talk-A-Little" busy-bodies in "The Music Man;" and oh-oh, watch out, the rooster’s arrival was heralded by the combined blasting of trumpet and clarinet. "The Nightingale," shy, hidden, its sweet calls of a flute were a harbinger for romance. Finally, "The Cuckoo" appeared with a Disney-like shimmer; its signature two notes continued with such abundance that the woods seemed full of Black Forest clocks. Truly, "The Birds" was an enchanting collection.

Guest artist Peter Serkin, his tall frame accentuated by his erect posture, performed the Bach Keyboard Concerto in D minor, BMV. 1052 with elegance, not as a finger exercise, but as a story complete with dialog and high drama. Following Intermission, he returned to enthrall the packed house with Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in B Flat Major. Those who attended Maestro Rhodes’ pre-concert talk could spot Beethoven’s take-no-prisoner attitude when he boldly shifted from the key of C to B flat. During the Adagio, Serkin played a series of single notes with such simplicity and emotional restraint that their beauty moved hearts to ache. His playing met the audience half way, thus creating a collaborative adventure, as if saying, "We came through that melancholia, now we may go on."

Under the energetic Rhodes’ inspired leadership, the SSO’s performance earned an enthusiastic standing ovation.