Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 11, 2024

REVIEW: Springfield Symphony Orchestra, "Fantasias"

Symphony Hall, Springfield, MA
March 9, 2024
by Michael J. Moran

In notes for this concert, dedicated to the memory of SSO principal pianist Nadine Shank, Michelle Pina defines a fantasia as “a musical composition whose improvisational nature casts aside traditional musical forms and in turn bows to the fancy of the composer.” Guest conductor Adam Kerry Boyles, Assistant Conductor of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, and the SSO musicians found this spontaneous quality in all six pieces on this imaginative program. 

The program opened with a glowing account of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Greensleeves,” a 1934 orchestral setting of the classic English folk song. A faster midsection, which quotes the traditional song “Lovely Joan,” offers a lively contrast. Lili Boulanger’s 1918 “D’un matin de printemps (Of a Spring Morning”)” takes the opposite approach, framing a soft, dreamy interlude with brisk, joyful outer sections. Boyles and the SSO made an exuberant case for this rarity.   

Quynh Nguyen
Vietnamese-American pianist Quynh Nguyen next soloed in classical and film composer Paul Chihara’s 2021 “Piano Concerto-Fantasy,” written for and in collaboration with her. This colorful score draws on both Vietnamese folk music and modern jazz to depict Vietnam’s past and hopes for the future. Nguyen’s technical prowess and interpretive sensitivity captured all the music’s shifting moods. Boyles and the orchestra were enthusiastic partners.

The concert’s second half featured the Springfield Symphony Chorus and UMass Amherst Chorale, well prepared by their respective directors, Nikki Stoia and Reagan G. Paras. Gabriel Faure’s 1864 “Cantique de Jean Racine” set a sacred text by the French poet to music of gentle consolation for chorus, harp, and low strings. Randall Thompson’s poignant 1959 settings of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and “Choose Something Like a Star” are for chorus and full orchestra. Voices and instruments blended with seemingly effortless clarity under Boyles’ nuanced lead.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s 1808 “Fantasia for Piano, Chorus and Orchestra,” last performed by the SSO with Shank in 2015, completed the program. Nguyen and the ensemble rendered the many tempo changes in this sometimes ungainly but always entertaining twenty-minute piece with forceful virtuosity. Though only heard for the last few minutes, the combined choruses sang with equal strength and fluidity, investing Christoph Kuffner’s text on the power of the arts with triumphant conviction.

The next SSO concert is “An American Celebration” on April 6, 2024