Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

October 23, 2018

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Berlioz and Rachmaninoff

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
October 20, 2018
by Michael J. Moran

For the second concert in the SSO’s 75th anniversary season and his own 18th season as their music director, Kevin Rhodes presented three orchestral showpieces, including what he calls in the program book “the titan…in the pantheon of piano concertos.” Each piece requires a high level of virtuosity from all players, which every musician delivered abundantly.

The program opened with John Harbison’s 1985 “Remembering Gatsby (Foxtrot for Orchestra),” a musical reflection on The Great Gatsby which resurfaced in the overture to Harbison’s 1999 full operatic setting of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Jazzy and densely orchestrated, this lively eight-minute romp was executed with flair by the SSO and Rhodes, who also revealed that acting concertmaster Marsha Harbison is the Boston-based composer’s cousin and welcomed in the audience concertmaster Masako Yanagita, recovering from a broken shoulder sustained in a recent accident.

Natasha Paremski
Russian-born pianist Natasha Paremski next made what Rhodes later called “one of the most exciting debut performances I’ve ever conducted” in a dazzling account of that “titan…piano concerto,” Rachmaninoff’s third. Playing professionally worldwide since age nine, the 31-year-old’s technical facility and interpretive maturity came as no surprise. But her imaginative tempo shifts in the long opening “Allegro,” her radiant yet restless lyricism in the melancholy “Adagio,” and her fluid energy in the jubilant “Finale” revealed new facets in a work that can sound overfamiliar. Orchestra and conductor matched the intensity of their soloist.      

After a hilarious spoken introduction by Rhodes to the “Symphonie Fantastique,” the program closed with this one-of-a-kind 1830 masterpiece by Hector Berlioz. Its five movements colorfully depict a composer’s fever dream of his unrequited love for an actress in: a yearning “Largo;” a sparkling “Waltz;” a ruminative “Adagio;” a harrowing “March to the Scaffold;” and a feverish “Witches’ Sabbath.” The hyperkinetic Maestro and his ensemble pulled out all the stops, with woodwinds, brass, and percussion doing standout work, in an aptly shattering preview of Halloween.

The continuation of last season’s “real time notes” via cell phone after intermission seems to have attracted more young people to this concert and increased their enjoyment of the “Symphonie.”