Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 14, 2014

Gershwin & Rimsky-Korsakov

Springfield Symphony Orchestra
April 12, 2014
by Michael J. Moran

At first glance, this program of three works by German, Russian, and American composers looked more miscellaneous than most SSO concerts. But at least two underlying connections became clear: the first two pieces had surprise quiet endings; and all three pieces required a larger-than-normal orchestra.

Maestro Kevin Rhodes led off with a rousing rendition of Richard Strauss’ early symphonic poem “Don Juan.” In his “Rhodes’ Reflections” column in the program book, he recalled that a performance he conducted of this piece for his Master’s degree got him his first professional job in Europe. Its personal meaning to him was evident in the vital playing and vivid characterization the orchestra brought to each episode, depicting several of the Don’s lovers and culminating in his death.

This familiar opener preceded a rarity by Rimsky-Korsakov, his second symphony, called “Antar,” which the composer later revised and called a “symphonic suite.” In colorful orchestration that recalled Rimsky’s famous “Scheherazade,” it told the story of a great Arabian warrior who finds power, love, and death in the Syrian desert. To make it more accessible to the audience, Rhodes introduced each of the piece’s four movements with a helpful explanation of what events it depicted in Antar’s life story. The audience appreciated both the expert performance of this exotic score and the maestro’s engaging commentary. 

Joyce Yang
Two years after her sensational SSO debut with Rachmaninoff’s third piano concerto, 27-year-old Korean-born pianist Joyce Yang returned for an equally distinguished account of George Gershwin’s Piano Concerto in F. From her first entry after the jazzy opening, Yang demonstrated an authentically American sense of rhythm and swing. She played with great delicacy in the bluesy middle movement and with a forcefulness that never allowed the orchestra to overpower her in the rondo finale. Yang’s triumphant return engagement fully justified the faith Rhodes expressed in his “Reflections” column that this concerto would be “a perfect vehicle for her amazing talent.” 

The orchestra played magnificently throughout the evening. Brass, woodwinds, and the enlarged percussion section, which even featured a trap set and wooden blocks in the Gershwin, did themselves particularly proud.