The Albany Symphony Orchestra, wearing its mantle of a successful Carnegie Hall debut with conviction and confidence, opened its season Saturday night at the Palace Theatre to a huge crowd of admirers. The program featured works by British composers of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Music director David Alan Miller began with Anna Clyne’s “Rewind,” a piece she wrote in 2005 for a British dance company that simulated a tape being rewound. Dark and rhythmic with narrow tonal and dynamic ranges and some colorful instrumental effects, the piece was a bit hypnotic with its repetitive phrases. A second reading would make it tighter, but the orchestra still was able to create some otherwordly sounds.
More earthly bound was Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto (1919-20) with the debut of the esteemed American cellist Ralph Kirshbaum. The work’s four movements range from nostalgic lyricism to more sprightly, playful sections all connected by a deep eloquence. Kirshbaum, who played with a marvelous sense of phrase, strong nuances, long and fluid bows and rich tones, gave the work a very personalized statement. He seemed in conversation with the orchestra and the audience.
Miller was especially careful of balances and maintained a tight yet graceful hold of the orchestral support, which was stellar. After a standing ovation, Kirshbaum gave a strongly felt encore of J.S. Bach’s “Sarabande” from his third solo suite.
In contrast was Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” (1918). Its seven movements, which each use the names of the planets, are springboards into Holst’s interpretation both mystically and emotionally of what each planet signifies. The orchestra sounded superb; Miller was precise when necessary and conducted with an expansive ardor when possible.
Mars was martial, foreboding, had great splash and sensational brass work. In Venus, the woodwinds shimmered with pastels and lyricism. Mercury was speedy, light and like fairy dust. Jupiter was festive, a colorful carnival. Saturn had dark, plum-like colors as it plodded along. Uranus rolled with puckish colors in a mix of the martial with the mysterious. And Neptune was subtle, distant and ended with a tape of women’s voices that sounded like sirens.
To add to the celebration of an opening night and the first since its Carnegie Hall concert last May, Barbara Richer, the president of the orchestra’s volunteer organization, Vanguard Albany Symphony, presented a check for $78,000, the result of the group’s fundraising efforts last season.
The next concert is Oct. 22, featuring the music of Aaron Jay Kernis, this season’s composer-in-residence.