Halloween came early for the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra on Sunday at Proctors with a full program of appropriate delights, a parade of well-dressed creatures from the large crowd and an orchestra in costumed headgear.
To get things in the spirit, music director Charles Schneider began with Mussorgsky’s darkly scary “Night on Bald Mountain.” A tone poem with great flavor, the orchestra knocked if off with color and splash.
To introduce Saint-Saens’ “Danse Macabre,” narrator Rayna Schneider dramatically told the legend the piece is based on. Then concertmaster Michael Emery performed the famous Death solo with rich tones and a stylish intensity as Schneider set a strongly rhythmic pace against lush strings.
Richard Strauss’ “Concerto No. 1 for French Horn” departed from the program’s theme. Victor Sungarian, the orchestra’s own principal hornist, gave an effortless and musical performance of this popular concerto written when Strauss was 18. In three movements, Sungarian produced a lovely mellow tone, showed great fluidity of phrase and an easy facility. He seemed as comfortable as if he were playing in his own living room. Schneider and the orchestra gave strong support and were careful with balances.
Just before the second half began, a sorcerer in a gorgeous star-studded purple cape and peaked hat led little witches, lions, elves, a frontiersman, and baseball players across the lip of the stage to much applause.
The second half was very commercial in that the three pieces sounded like what they had been used for in television or film. Robert McBride, known for his television arrangements, wrote the cute “Pumpkin-Eater’s Little Fugue.” Alfred Hitchcock stole segments of Charles Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette” to introduce his TV series.
Conductor Leopold Stokowski and Walt Disney made Paul Dukas’ “Sorcerer’s Apprentice” famous in “Fantasia.” Schneider introduced the plot to the Dukas with great animation.
The orchestra had a good time. The Dukas especially is tricky but Schneider kept the pace steady so the audience could visualize the crazy brooms, the apprentice’s turmoil, and the swirling waters. It was all great fun.
The next SSO concert is not until Jan. 22.