The Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra continued with its new tradition of performing world premieres Saturday night at the Zankel Music Center with Ezra Laderman’s “Canto V.”
The work is based on that part of Dante’s “The Inferno” — specifically Robert Pinsky’s translation — and involved three singers: soprano Lisa Saffer as Francesca, tenor Joseph Holmes as Dante, and baritone Philip Lima as Virgil. Laderman, who was present, wrote a richly tapestried score, filled with much color — the percussionists played a host of different instruments, rhythmic interest, brassy punctuations and strings that were so light and busy they created a flurry of movement.
The work was very tonal, often with shimmery effects, which described the text. Although the singers were all in good voice and sang in English, they couldn’t always be heard, let alone understood. It was hard to tell whether they needed microphones or conductor Charles Peltz needed to bring the dynamic level down.
It might have been the hall, which tends to favor the lower ranges. The singers’ lines were very abstract and not easy. Text was provided, but not what the singers were singing.
Despite the work’s difficulties, the orchestra sounded terrific and Peltz was precise and solid throughout. There was also humor to spice things up. After what seemed to be an angelic ending with a harp chord, Laderman threw in a discordant blast to end it. After all, it was supposed to be hell.
Concertmaster Michael Emery was the featured soloist in the first half. In Vaughan Williams’ inspired “The Lark Ascending,” which is based on George Meredith’s poem of the same name, the violin is the lark. A meadow in the morning and we hear the faint sounds of a bird. Slowly its call gains force to soar, which Emery echoed from soft hints to a sweet lovely tone. Modal scales and harmonies were elegantly and very expressively phrased.
The orchestra maintained excellent balances and blended beautifully. Peltz made the transitions into the slightly uptempo sections and into and out of the cadenzas silken smooth.
Emery paced his solo lines with patience to create an ethereal effect.
It was a complete contrast to what he did to open the concert with the Autumn and Winter movements from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Working with only eight strings, harpsichordist Bryan Kirk and no conductor, Emery attacked his part with aggressive vigor.
The effect was more of a rough-and-tumble reading with hard edges, some pitch problems and unfinished phrases. His fast tempos were very fast and made the many scales closer to glissandos than anything bowed. He seemed in a rush to get somewhere.
Even the few slower sections had an almost antic undertow. Somehow, the rest of the ensemble kept up.
But the music still remains wonderfully descriptive of the text, which was provided not only in print but projected onto a screen behind the players.
Today at 4 p.m. the concert will be repeated in Glens Falls with the addition of poet Robert Pinsky, who is expected to read between the pieces on the program.