Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 16, 2015

Beethoven & Bernstein

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
March 14, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

Consisting only of two symphonies, this program presented the strongest study in contrast of the current SSO season, between (as Maestro Kevin Rhodes notes in “Rhodes’ Reflections” in the program book) Beethoven’s “trip to the country” and Bernstein’s portrait of the “angst of the city and modern life.” As Rhodes also notes in these “Reflections,” Beethoven “was the first person to give a symphony a program and a title” in his sixth, or “Pastoral,” symphony.

The Maestro’s urgent performance reminded listeners that for this most dramatic of composers even a walk in the countryside was an adventure. Thus, the first movement, subtitled “Cheerful feelings awakened on arriving in the country,” moved along at a brisk clip; the slower second movement, “Scene by the brook,” flowed swiftly past; the livelier third movement, “Merry gathering of country folk,” danced energetically by; the contrasting fourth movement, “Thunderstorm,” featured a shockingly loud drum thwack; it was only in the final “Shepherd’s song: Happy and thankful feelings after the storm,” that repose was finally achieved. The SSO played throughout with vigor and poise. 

Following intermission, Bernstein’s second symphony, named and programmed after Auden’s poem “The Age of Anxiety,” explores the meaning of life after the devastation of World War II. Its six movements are divided into two groups of three, set in a New York City bar (Part I) and an apartment (Part II). Its prominent role for a piano soloist makes it almost as much a concerto as a symphony.

Sara Davis Buechner
Sara Davis Buechner’s virtuosic playing showed off both the lyrical and the percussive qualities of the instrument, which Rhodes carefully balanced against the enlarged orchestra. The jazzy fifth movement, “Masque,” for piano and drum set, was particularly infectious, even foreshadowing “West Side Story.”

The audience included two groups of young students, and one boy no more than ten years old seated near this reviewer leaned forward through all 40 minutes of Beethoven totally enthralled by the performance. Though he didn’t stay for the Bernstein, he could have had no finer introduction to classical music and a potential lifetime of concert-going pleasure.