Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 16, 2022

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, Dances of Spring

Springfield Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
May 13, 2022 
by Michael J. Moran

Mark Russell Smith
Three weeks after leading the first of two spring concerts by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, guest conductor (and former SSO music director) Mark Russell Smith welcomed an eager audience back to Symphony Hall for a diverse selection of music by four composers. 

The program began with “Liquify,” a nine-minute 2018 tone poem by his childhood friend Michael Abels, which Smith introduced as “a collection of riverfront scenes” that local patrons could relate to the Connecticut River. The colorful piece reflected Abels’ background in film music (most notably, the score for the 2017 horror movie “Get Out”), and Smith directed the SSO in an energetic, pulsating traversal.

Next in what he called this opening “triptych of dances” was the more traditional and familiar “Saturday Night Waltz” from Aaron Copland’s 1942 ballet “Rodeo.” The musicians gave the Brooklyn-born composer’s authentic-sounding western rhythms a jaunty yet relaxed flair. The last dance in the triptych was also the most exotic: the closing “Coqueteos” movement of the 2003 suite for string orchestra “Leyendas: An Andean Walkabout,” by California native Gabriela Lena Frank. Drawing on her mother’s Peruvian heritage, Frank describes “Coqueteos” as “a flirtatious love song sung by gallant men known as romanceros.” The SSO’s performance was every bit as “bold and festive” as the composer calls for. 

The evening closed with a cornerstone of the symphonic repertoire: a brilliant account of the first symphony by Johannes Brahms. Premiered in 1876 to popular and critical acclaim, it quickly established Brahms as a worthy successor to Beethoven. From a gripping “Un poco sostenuto” opening passage and a vigorous “Allegro” main part of the first movement, through a lush and radiant “Andante sostenuto,” a graceful and flowing “Un poco allegretto e grazioso,” to a dramatic, then triumphant finale, tempos and balances were virtually ideal throughout. As in the second symphony by Brahms mentor Robert Schumann last month, the result sounded simultaneously fresh and inevitable.  

In pre-concert remarks, SSO Interim Executive Director Paul Lambert promised an upcoming season with at least six concerts by the orchestra. Both of their spring programs demonstrated beyond a doubt that musicians and audience alike are more than ready for this enticing prospect.