The Albany Symphony Orchestra gave one of its most traditional programs Saturday night at the Palace Theatre, which seemed to thrill the near-capacity crowd.
When the pieces are the stuff of legend, few can complain, including Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto with pre-eminent soloist David Shifrin, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 and Joan Tower’s “Made in America,” the newcomer on the program, which premiered in 2005 and received a Grammy Award in 2008.
Conductor Daniel Hege, who made his debut, was equally embraced.
Much to the amusement of the audience, Tower, who teaches at Bard College, quipped about not being comfortable on the same program with the other two giants, but since she was a living composer and was first on the bill, that kind of equaled things out.
Her piece, which was written for a consortium of 65 orchestras and premiered by the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra, is a vigorous, colorful, splashy piece with “America the Beautiful” cleverly inserted in bits and pieces throughout. There were many interesting staggered or syncopated sections with some tricky wind duos that the orchestra managed very well. Hege, who’s conducted the work before when he led the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra, was solidly energetic.
The audience got a treat in the Mozart piece as Shifrin played on a basset clarinet, the instrument Mozart wrote the concerto for. This allowed him to play all the low notes the modern clarinet can’t get, and they were beauties. Shifrin plays in a conversational style, and each phrase was carefully expressed with numerous nuances, a wide dynamic palette and a marvelous musicality.
He seemed very comfortable with the instrument, which can sometimes be difficult to control. But the affection he has for the piece was very evident. Joy seemed to ring out with every note.
Hege led a very supportive orchestra and kept a very close ear as Shifrin stretched the tempos on occasion. Balances were never an issue.
Despite the popularization of the Beethoven selection — especially those opening four notes — the piece’s vitality always impresses. It strides forth with bold, confident steps.
Beethoven doesn’t mince or hesitate; he declaims. He sings a beautiful melody and then challenges the cellos and basses to make tricky comments. Dynamics are so soft and then, let’s hear it, he says. Let’s go out in style with color and splash.
The orchestra was in fine fettle, and Hege did well with the dynamic shifts, the strong cues and setting up each section with efficient conducting. The cellos and basses were especially noteworthy, even as the woodwinds were occasionally ragged.
And the audience loved it all.