Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 11, 2016

Beethoven & Brahms

Springfield Symphony, Springfield, MA
April 9, 2016
by Michael J. Moran

The classical repertoire doesn’t get any more bread and butter than Beethoven and Brahms. In his “Rhodes’ Reflections” column in the program book, SSO Music Director Kevin Rhodes adds that while these two of the three B’s “go together so well,” the two works played at this concert – Beethoven’s “lightest symphony,” his eighth, and “the most massive” of all piano concertos, Brahms’ second -  also balance each other at opposite “end(s) of the scale.”

The Maestro goes on to observe that the symphony “doesn’t even bother…to indulge in a proper slow movement, opting instead for four light and relatively fast movements.” From the mock grandeur of the opening Allegro, the genial humor of the Allegretto, the boisterous swagger of the Menuetto, and the rollicking high spirits of the Allegro finale, the fleet and buoyant SSO performance, their first ever of this piece, got the evening off to a delightful start.

The “four monumental movements,” as Rhodes notes, of the Brahms concerto that followed intermission can make it sound more like a “symphony with piano obbligato” than a concerto. The piano part makes considerable demands on the soloist, but American pianist John Novacek, in his SSO debut, met them all with room to spare. His first notes were plush and full, reaching deep into the keys to produce the rich and resonant sound so characteristic of the mature Brahms. Novacek’s muscular technique, perhaps honed in his long experience playing ragtime music, insured that he could always be heard in louder passages. But he also excelled when a lighter touch was required, as in his magical account of the Andante.

The orchestra sounded just as luxurious and polished in the concerto as the soloist, with strings and brass working especially hard. Principal horn player Lauren Winter was lush and radiant in the horn solo that opens the work, and principal cellist Aristides Rivas was mesmerizing in the Andante’s opening and closing solo passages.