Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

April 26, 2022

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Of Heroes and Poets

Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Springfield, MA
April 22, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran

A sizable and enthusiastic audience gave the SSO and guest conductor Mark Russell Smith (their music director from 1995 to 2000) a warm welcome back to the stage of Symphony Hall, after a long absence, for the first of two concerts the orchestra is presenting this spring. 

In pre-concert remarks, Smith identified the “heroes” in this program’s title as Antonin Dvorak, for the commanding scope of his 1894 cello concerto, and its soloist, for the technical challenges it presents, and the “poets” as composers William Grant Still and Robert Schumann. Still’s 1948 “Danzas de Panama” for string orchestra reflect the Latin and African roots of their Panamanian folk sources. Smith and the SSO launched the evening with lively accounts of the first (“Tamborito”) and fourth (“Cumbia y Congo”) dances, in which the players visibly relished the rare chance to make percussive sounds by striking the sides of their instruments.     
Thomas Mesa

Rising young Cuban-American cellist Thomas Mesa then made a sensational SSO debut in a thrilling account of Dvorak’s masterful concerto, written in the United States but clearly evoking the musical traditions of his Czech homeland. A Juilliard graduate, winner of several major competitions, and widely acclaimed performer, Mesa brought deep, rich tone and flawless technique to a majestic opening “Allegro” (which also featured a lush solo turn by hornist Robert Hoyle), a soulful “Adagio, ma non troppo,” and a stirring “Allegro moderato” finale. Smith and the ensemble offered heroic and poetic support throughout. 

The concert ended after intermission with a vibrant rendition of Schumann’s second symphony, completed in 1847. From a somber “Sostenuto assai” opening passage to a joyful “Allegro, ma non troppo” main part of the first movement, through a playfully energetic “Allegro vivace” scherzo and a warmly rapturous “Adagio espressivo” slow movement, the emotional heart of the whole work, to a jubilant closing “Allegro molto vivace,” conductor and players had the full measure of this Romantic masterpiece. Strong cohesion and esprit de corps all evening made listeners forget their nearly-two-year hiatus from live performance.   

The SSO’s next spring concert, “Dances of Spring,” also under Smith’s direction, will feature music by Michael Abels, Aaron Copland, Gabriela Lena Frank, and Johannes Brahms on May 13, 2022.