Stamford Symphony closes season with powerful Bruckner Symphony
22. Apr. 2013 – The symphonic music of Bruckner is set apart. It progresses and develops in ways that are unlike other repertoire, and requires an orchestra to recalibrate the way it plays. It also requires a conductor who can engage an orchestra continuously throughout a work of density and complexity that lasts more than an hour. As a result, Bruckner is seldom performed by professional orchestras in Connecticut.
Conductor Eckart Preu proved himself up to the Bruckner challenge and led a convincing performance of the Symphony No. 4 in E-flat Major, which was the centerpiece of their final event of the season in the Harmon Orchestra Classics Series at the Palace Theatre.
The fourth symphony was nicknamed the "Romantic" by Bruckner, but this name does not imply a candlelight dinner while whispering sweet nothings into a lover's ear. Instead the music evokes a vast medieval forest; a place that is idealized and lost forever to all but the imagination. Conductors often emphasize the rich brass chorales in the work and take slow and/or ponderous tempos that seek to make the orchestra into a grand organ.
Preu allowed the music to unfold with transparency and built his sound from the often overlooked contrasts within the work. Hidden within the slowly unfolding textures of the work are references to Austrian popular music, and a Schubertian quality which came across very clearly in the second movement.
The orchestral brass sounded great throughout the work; they produced a big and resonant sound without overpowering the strings and winds. Lawrence DiBello played the numerous horn solos with command.
The evening opened with the overture to "Don Giovanni" by Mozart, which seemed to invent the sound world of Bruckner with its famous opening chords. The Stamford Symphony can always be counted on to perform Mozart with lively energy.
Violinist Nigel Armstrong joined the orchestra as soloist in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto to close the first half of the program. Armstrong was a prizewinner in the Tchaikovsky International Competition in 2011 and brought the experience of that competition into play in interpreting this famous concerto.
Armstrong produced a dark, rich sound, especially in the first movement. By way of contrast with this dark sound, his high register playing was bright and delicate. His technical fluency attracted the audience, and with the big finish at the close of the first movement he was given the kind of applause one would expect at the end of the concerto.
This extended applause made the second movement feel strangely like an encore. Nonetheless, Armstrong brought out the inner stillness and the lyrical mystery of this Canzonetta in G minor.
The third movement started with jolting suddenness. Armstrong and Preu worked well together to articulate the sudden shifts between tempos as when the contrasting rustic music in A major snapped back into the faster tempos of the music that opened the movement.
This program closed the season by showing how big the Stamford Symphony can sound. It was a monumental and impressive closing.