Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 15, 2013

Gershwin & Rachmaninoff

Springfield Symphony, Springfield, MA
April 13, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Two familiar headliners, but only one familiar work, appeared at the sixth classical concert of the current SSO season. In her welcoming remarks from the stage, SSO President Kris Houghton noted that at least two of the three works on the program were “new music” to many orchestra members. That may explain why they all sounded especially fresh and bracing.

The evening got off to an exuberant start with Gershwin’s familiar “An American in Paris,” which the composer called “a rhapsodic ballet…to portray the impressions of an American visitor as he strolls around the city.” Energetic leadership from Music Director Kevin Rhodes drew vivid and committed playing from all sections of the orchestra, which featured jazzy clarinets and saxophones and an enlarged percussion section, including car horns. 

The program continued with an unfamiliar piece by an equally unfamiliar composer, the Symphony No. 4, written in 1950, by Walter Piston. In a spoken introduction to the work, Rhodes called it an “incredibly beautiful” example of the composer’s strong influence on later generations of musicians whom he taught at Harvard. The orchestra seemed to relish the variety of rhythms and moods in the symphony’s four short movements, and the audience’s enthusiastic response suggested that Piston’s music should be played more often.

Intermission was followed by an unfamiliar composition by a familiar composer, Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 4, perhaps the least known of his four concertos but also the most harmonically advanced.  Written in 1926, its lack of a clear tonal center made it sound newer than Gershwin’s piece, which was written two years later. And heard after the two American works, the Rachmaninoff even seemed to reflect some of the jazz influence that was infiltrating classical music in the 1920's.

Guest soloist, Russian pianist Alexander Ghindin, who played Rachmaninoff’s only slightly better known first piano concerto with the SSO several years ago, made a passionate case for the fourth concerto, tempering virtuosity with lyricism in a performance so impressive that he played two encores by the young Rachmaninoff: a rarely heard but lovely Elegie; and the famous Prelude in c sharp minor.