Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 27, 2014


Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
January 25, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

Anticipating the Springfield Symphony Orchestra’s program of two mature masterpieces by Dvorak, Music Director Kevin Rhodes recently told the Springfield Republican, “If you love beautiful melodies, heartbreaking harmonies, and passionate drama…this [concert] is for you!”

Both the Cello Concerto and the Symphony No. 9, “From the New World,” were composed during Dvorak’s 1892-1895 residency as founding director of the first American music conservatory, the National Conservatory of Music in New York City. And both include original themes inspired by traditional African American and Native American melodies, which Dvorak believed should form the basis for a distinctive national style of American classical music.

Nina Kotova
From the dramatic start of the Cello Concerto, it was clear that this performance featuring Russian-born cellist Nina Kotova would be no ordinary one. She tore into her opening notes with gusto and flair, deftly balancing the technical and emotional demands of the first movement’s two contrasting themes. Her account of the central Adagio’s homage to Dvorak’s critically ill sister-in-law Josefina with a quotation from her favorite of his songs was graceful and sensitive.

The last movement, completed after Josefina’s death, contains another quiet passage in her memory, which Kotova poignantly set off against the wild energy of the concerto’s exuberant close. A composer of two cello concertos herself, who has also commissioned new concertos for her instrument from several other composers, Kotova was rewarded with a standing ovation by the enthusiastic audience.

A white hot reading of the “New World” Symphony followed intermission and concluded the SSO’s Dvorak tribute. After a haunting introduction the main theme of the first movement was taken at a breathless pace, while the second theme had a slower and more elastic tempo than usual, perhaps to heighten the “passionate drama” promised by Rhodes. The heartfelt Largo second movement flowed with warmth and tenderness. The Molto Vivace scherzo was brisk and forceful, while the Allegro con Fuoco finale surged forward with blazing impact.

The typically kinetic Maestro had all sections of the orchestra playing throughout the evening with a heady mix of taut precision and joyous abandon.