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Review: Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 captivates ASO audience

Review: Rachmaninoff Symphony No. 2 captivates ASO audience

Program also featured short Borodin piece, New York State premiere of Warshaw composition featuring a theremin

The Albany Symphony Orchestra’s concert Saturday night at the Palace Theatre was a mix of the rare and unusual with sublime romanticism for a memorable performance. But not at first.

The concert began with one of music director David Alan Miller’s favorite shorter pieces: Alexander Borodin’s Overture to an opera he didn’t finish “Prince Igor.” It was a bit of a ragged start but the orchestra eventually settled down with the lively piece and produced a rich, robust sound.

The New York premiere of Dalit Warshaw’s “Sirens: A Concerto for Theremin” with virtuoso thereminist Carolina Eyck was, however, a curiosity. The electronic instrument, the first of its kind, was invented in 1928.

In what appears to be a rectangular box, pitch is created by a player interfering within the electromagnetic field emanating from the rod on one side, while volume is produced through a loop on the other side.

Watching Eyck use balletic hand gestures to create the melodies, glissandos, and various levels of volumes was almost mystical. Two amps were used.

Warshaw did a brilliant job blending the various orchestral instruments’ colors with the theremin’s haunting, eerie, almost swoon-like sounds. The first movement showed off its huge pitch range and lyrical qualities. The second movement was darker; the third spiky. The large crowd didn’t seem to know what to make of it but politely applauded.

But Serge Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 captivated everyone. The hour-long, four movement work, which premiered in 1908 with the composer conducting, is one of the great masterworks for orchestra.

And this orchestra, which had never performed it before under Miller’s tenure, gave the work a sensational reading. The strings sounded lush; the brass were a solid, harmonious anchor; the woodwinds interjected seamlessly especially principal clarinetist Bixby Kennedy, who played his several solos with great eloquence.

The work is gorgeous on all levels: soaring melodies of great beauty and longing; interesting part writing and secondary undercurrents; mood shifts that beckon and sustain; and most of all, a marvelous understanding and use of instrumental color. The symphony is brilliantly orchestrated.

All this requires a conductor to do more than beat time and Miller was inspired. He paced the work with sensitivity and captured the sweep of the piece by allowing the long-lined, sensuous melodies to spin out, soar and stretch to the horizon. Dynamic levels and balances were excellent. Musicianship was at the highest level.

The crowd hooted its delight and clapped enthusiastically. 

The next ASO concerts are December 7 and 8 at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in a program of Barber, Pachelbel, Mozart and a work by Andre Myers that the Dogs of Desire premiered.

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