Saturday at the Palace Theatre was a special night for the Albany Symphony Orchestra. It was the first concert the ASO and music director David Alan Miller have given since they won the Grammy Award. A large crowd showed its appreciation in a cheering, sustained applause before the concert began.
The evening was also special for trombonists. Because principal trombonist Greg Spiridopoulos was the soloist in the Christopher Rouse Concerto, 16 of his students and a conductor came from the University of Massachusetts to entertain the crowd before the concert in a second floor alcove with arrangements of opera arias and overtures.
The concert began with Wagner’s paean to love and death in his “Prelude and Liebestod” from “Tristan and Isolde” (1865). Miller arched the long beautiful lines and allowed them to build to their ecstatic climax. The orchestra sounded lustrous in the full volume organ-like tones.
The Rouse Concerto, which received the 1993 Pulitzer Prize, is a different sounding, interesting piece. Written in three continuous movements, the mood is dark and often mysterious, even to the slow section’s angry lament. The trombone’s innately mournful sound supported that sense of foreboding, even as it was tickled by various percussion licks. Throughout, Rouse challenged the trombonist from the low pedal tones to its high register, the many fast passages and the high sustained attacks.
Spiridopoulos aced it all. His runs, which required a lot of fast slide work, were often brilliant. His tone was mellow and warmed occasionally with some vibrato. Attacks were gently consistent. The orchestra provided energetic support. Even the three section trombonists got into the act with some furious comments to what Spiridopoulos was saying. Miller stayed in control and kept the pace solid and the multi-meters well defined.
Ravel’s “Ma Mere L’Oye” (“Mother Goose Suite”) was originally a set of piano pieces for children (1908). Later, Ravel orchestrated the five sections into a transparent, lyrical and brilliant score. The orchestra played the charming set with great delicacy, sunny and pastel colors, sensitive phrasing, and some lovely nuanced solos from the woodwinds. Miller set excellent tempos to capture the work’s playfulness, occasional lushness, and many flourishes.
The finale was a strangely cautious “Bolero” by Ravel. Miller set a traditional tempo for this piece that is built on repeated motifs. But except for a couple of solos, notably the flute and the saxophone, most were erratic in one way or another. Fortunately, the swirl of the music eventually prevailed.
The next ASO concert is March 1 and 2 with Stravinsky, Tower, Brown, and Beethoven.