Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 11, 2020

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Mozart’s Concerto for Flute & Harp

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
February 8, 2020
by Michael J. Moran

In a pre-concert talk, SSO music director Kevin Rhodes said he’d been planning this “dream” program around Mozart’s flute and harp concerto, showcasing two instruments rarely given featured roles, since 1984. In the fifth concert of the SSO’s 76th season, two rising stars also performed three solo works among five pieces “with more variety and styles of music,” according to Rhodes, than the orchestra has ever offered in one concert.

First up was a true rarity by Beethoven, a 10-minute suite with the improbable title “Music for a Ballet on Horseback.” Commissioned for a 1791 production in his native Bonn, the eight brief numbers already show the 20-year-old composer moving in new directions, like the commanding horn fanfares of the “Hunting Song” and the tender “Romance” for pizzicato strings. The musicians performed it with affectionate flair.   

Emmanuel Ceysson
Next came a radiant account of Debussy’s lovely 1903 “Sacred and Profane Danses,” with guest harpist Emmanuel Ceysson adding delicacy and shimmer to the lush SSO strings. The French-born soloist had just travelled to Springfield from New York after playing that afternoon in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, where he is principal harpist. This hectic schedule never ruffled his professional poise.  

Guest flutist Denis Bouriakov then joined Ceysson for a magical rendition of Mozart’s concerto. Now principal flutist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Crimea-born soloist has worked with Ceysson in the Met Orchestra and as a duo. Their close rapport produced a lively opening Allegro, a hushed Andantino, and a rollicking final Rondeau-Allegro, enthusiastically seconded by conductor and ensemble.

Two rarely heard 20th-century masterpieces completed the program after intermission. Bouriakov was dramatic and incisive in Leonard Bernstein’s “Halil” for flute and orchestra, a rhapsodic tribute to a 19-year-old Israeli flutist killed in action during the 1973 Yom Kippur War (with whom two current SSO members had performed, Rhodes revealed). Ceysson was protean and riveting in Alberto Ginastera’s colorful, evocative 1964 harp concerto.

Standing ovations for the accomplished virtuosity and youthful energy of both 30-something soloists, an enchanting flute-harp encore of the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” from Gluck’s opera “Orpheus and Eurydice,” and many post-show audience comments like “one of the best ever” confirmed that Rhodes had finally realized his 36-year-old dream.