Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 14, 2023

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, "Fearless Women"

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
March 11, 2023
by Michael J. Moran

The fourth classical concert of the SSO’s 2022-2023 season not only featured music by three women composers during Women’s History Month, but also honored ten local women, eight of whom appeared on stage before the concert, with “Fearless Women Awards” for their professional contributions to the greater Springfield community.

Led by Mark Russell Smith, Music Director from 1995 to 2000 of the SSO and, since 2008, of the Quad City (Iowa) Symphony Orchestra, the musical program opened with a gripping account of Joan Tower’s 1986 “Fanfare for the Uncommon Woman,” who is “much more active than the common man,” Smith wryly noted in brief remarks. He was referring to Tower’s inspiration, Aaron Copland’s 1942 “Fanfare for the Common Man,” which has far fewer notes to play. This was followed without pause by an evocative rendering of the finale from Florence Price’s 1934 “Mississippi River Suite,” which quotes the Negro spirituals “Deep River” and “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” in imaginative scoring that draws on her African-American heritage.

Next came a blazing performance of French composer Louise Farrenc’s 1847 third symphony, in G Minor. Its four movements, while occasionally reminiscent of her contemporary, Felix Mendelssohn, sounded mostly like her own original voice, with many distinctive instrumental touches and memorable tunes that often took unpredictable turns. From a dramatic opening “Allegro,” a warmly affectionate “Adagio,” and a mischievous “Scherzo,” showcasing a playful woodwind section, to a daringly intense “Finale,” conductor and orchestra captured every shifting nuance of this treasurable score. 

But no woman on the program was more fearless than rising Chinese-born pianist Wei Luo, who made a sensational SSO debut in Sergei Prokofiev’s rarely heard 1913 second piano concerto, also in the key of G Minor. She launched into the wild, dissonant opening “Andantino” with total confidence. Luo brought technical precision and interpretive finesse to the piece's clashing loud and lyrical passages, and to the fleet “Scherzo: Vivace,” darkly menacing “Moderato,” and turbulent “Finale: Allegro tempestoso,” dispatching the bravura solo cadenzas in the outer movements with apparent ease. Smith and the SSO offered nimble support.  

Luo rewarded her enthusiastic audience with the perfect encore, a thunderous reading of the “Precipitato” finale of Prokofiev’s seventh piano sonata, which capped an evening of rediscoveries with bold contemporary flair.