Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 1, 2012

Opening Night

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
September 29, 2012
by Michael J. Moran

In his familiar tradition of programming something new with something familiar, Kevin Rhodes opened his twelfth season as Music Director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra with three varied pieces by Central European masters, including two SSO premieres and a warhorse.

After another tradition of launching the new season with the orchestra playing and the audience singing the national anthem, the concert proper began with the seventh of Liszt's 13 symphonic poems, "Festklange (Festive Sounds)." With its blazing brass fanfares and exuberant climaxes, this 15-minute rarity proved a welcome program opener, especially in the SSO's exciting account.

Peter Serkin, the soloist in Bartok's Piano Concerto No. 3, is no stranger to the orchestra or to Springfield, where he played a benefit concert for the SSO as recently as last year. Reflecting Hungarian folk and American jazz influences, this concerto is one of Bartok's most accessible works, and Serkin has been among its strongest advocates since recording it while still in his teens. With the SSO he offered an ideal mix of muscular, athletic playing in the two outer movements and hushed delicacy in the prayer-like theme of the sublime central "Adagio Religioso." All sections of the orchestra provided nimble and sensitive accompaniment.

An exhilarating performance of Brahms's Symphony No. 1 in C minor followed intermission. The forceful opening notes set an urgent tone for the dramatic first movement. The slow second movement was lovingly shaped by lush strings and woodwinds. The third movement was taken at a lively pace, which gave it a brisk, playful spirit. The main theme of the finale was nicely prepared by an almost ominous start and followed by a thrilling race to the triumphant close. The work of conductor and orchestra was strong, natural, and cohesive all evening.   

The absence of any spoken introductions to the music by the famously loquacious maestro and of the "Rhodes's Reflections" column from the program book was a relatively small price to pay for a stimulating program that got the new SSO season off to a promising start.