Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 26, 2021

REVIEW: Haydn & Schubert, Albany Symphony

Albany Symphony, Albany, NY
April 24 – May 24, 2021
by Michael J. Moran

This latest program in the Albany Symphony’s current season of livestreamed monthly concerts by smaller ensembles of their members during the Covid pandemic paired two pieces by living composers, including a world premiere, with two works by classic composers. The concert will be available for 30 days on demand at the orchestra’s web site, and the livestream added access to a pre-concert discussion and a post-concert Q&A session.

Recorded at Universal Preservation Hall in Saratoga Springs, NY, and led by the orchestra’s longtime Music Director David Alan Miller, the concert opened with the world premiere of Tanner Porter’s “A Flash of Teeth Before the Bite,” which she calls in her program note “a surreal dance for a moment of warning” that evokes “a dog lunging in slow motion.” The 28-member orchestra’s perky account of the colorful six-minute score belied its alarming title with spiky harmonies that often suggested a 21st-century Copland. 

The restless mood continued with Haydn’s “Symphony No. 46,” written in 1772 during his experimental “storm and stress” period. The Albany performance was dramatic in the opening “Vivace” movement, lilting in the “Poco adagio,” swift in the fleeting two-minute “Menuet: Allegretto,” and mercurial in a “Presto e scherzando” finale full of surprises and Haydn’s trademark humor.

Melissa White
Next came George Tsontakis’s 2003 second violin concerto, which the Greek-American composer and Bard College music professor described in the pre-concert talk as a “democratic concerto,” where the soloist blends in with the accompanying chamber orchestra. Rising African-American violinist Melissa White brilliantly captured the shifting Messiaen-like flavors of its four imaginatively titled movements: (1) “Surges (among stars);” (2) “Giocco (Games);” (3) “Cantilena (Heart);” and (4) “Just Go!” 

The concert closed in a mood of classical calm with a bouyant rendition of Schubert’s 1816 fifth symphony, which exuded Mozart’s strong influence on the nineteen-year-old composer. It featured a graceful opening “Allegro,” a flowing “Andante con moto,” a brisk “Menuetto: Allegro molto,” and a whirlwind “Allegro vivace” finale.

The musicians were masked except for woodwind and brass players, acoustics were full and clear, and videography was creative and engaging. Miller’s livestream pre-concert conversation with Porter and Tsontakis and their post-concert answers, plus White’s, to audience live chat questions were informative and entertaining.