Review: Symphony shows off brilliance with complex program in Troy

The Albany Symphony Orchestra under conductor David Alan Miller was in excellent form Friday night a

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For Gazette music writer Geraldine Freedman’s preview of this performance, click here.

The Albany Symphony Orchestra under conductor David Alan Miller was in excellent form Friday night at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall. Playing before a near-capacity crowd, the orchestra showed its brilliant chops in a program of complex musicality that included a world premiere by Timothy Andres.

This was the first time a noted composer, in this case John Harbison, worked with Miller to choose the pieces. He chose works that reflected his own inspirations. The first up was Aaron Copland’s infrequently performed early work, “Music for the Theatre.”

It’s a bold, spunky, colorful, highly rhythmic work with a strong jazz influence spread over five sections. Harmonies sparkled, rhythms were sometimes puckish, the orchestration was transparent with many chances for various instruments to shine as soloists. Copland also integrated eloquent long lines and a lullaby-like section into the mix. The orchestra sounded resonant, robust and in control thanks to Miller’s expertly precise conducting.

Harbison’s own Symphony No. 4 (2004) was a greater evolution from this style. Harbison told the crowd the work was still a mystery to him. Despite this warning, the work, which was written in five very difficult movements, showed off Harbison’s highly skilled talents as an orchestrator, his lively sense of color and his commitment to rhythm.

After an assertive introduction of strong rhythms, complex counterpoint with jazz elements created a direct, catchy atmosphere. The second movement was more subtle and less flashy with liquid, water colors and long lines. There was a sense of questioning thoughtfulness, almost a dark romance with several starts and stops. Part three was biting, dark edged and driving with Miller conducting in a concentrated and intense style. The fourth, considered the center of the piece, was a lush, aching, almost Mahlerian melody with strong colors, brass and percussion. The finale had a few gentle lilts but was mostly spiky, resistant and determined. Overall, there was a sense of direction to the movements. The orchestra sounded terrific.

Andres’ “Look Around You” with the excellent soloist Owen Dalby on violin and viola lacked that direction. Dalby was all fire and virtuosity and the orchestra followed the score with precision, but what was Andres trying to say?

Haydn’s Symphony No. 82 left no one in the dark. Robust, charming, lively and tuneful, the music is still fresh and appealing despite it being more than 220 years old. The orchestra was exuberant throughout.

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