Stamford Symphony delivers scintillating performance
18. Nov. 2010 – In a performance that sizzled and sparkled, the Stamford Symphony continued its 2010-11 season with a program of music by Ligeti, Chopin and Schumann.
"Fear not," said conductor Eckart Preu from the stage just before conducting the Ligeti, "this is an early piece." He described the work, which is a delicious sound world very rarely played, as being inspired by two memories from Ligeti's childhood.
In the first, "local musicians wearing scary animal masks burst into his family's courtyard playing wild music on violins and bagpipes to scare kids." The other memory was when Ligeti was 3 years old and encountered an alpine horn player in the Carpathian Mountains. "That sound and atmosphere," said Preu, "stayed with him." The melancholy folk tune that opened the set was voiced with gorgeous sound by the SSO string section. Muted strings created rich colors that became like a narration that settled us into this piece. The brief second movement featured agile piccolo playing.
It was the second pair of movements in the set that seemed inspired by Ligeti's childhood memories. The third movement featured a horn solo played on a single overtone series. This allowed the horn to simulate a folk instrument. An off-stage horn echoed the music to create the impression of mountains in Stamford.
The "masked musicians playing wild music" were simulated in the finale. The SSO did not wear masks -- they did not need them to sound wild and frightening. Concertmaster Erica Kiesewetter rocks. She played the sky high solo violin writing with crystalline precision and perfect intonation.
Pianist Janina Fialkowska joined the orchestra as soloist in the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor. She gave a memorable performance built on vivid musical details. She used thoughtful pedalings and a light articulate touch. She explored the quiet spectrum of sound to great effect throughout the concerto. Tempos throughout were on the fast side and this helped to make the music dance. Fialkowska shaped the ornate figuration with focused attention on moving lines, and her playing maintains clear rhythmic pulses. This rhythmic clarity helps bring the world of Chopin to the orchestra. The orchestra responded with resonant sound and lovely solos for horn and bassoon in a work, sadly, not often admired for its orchestration.
After intermission we were treated to the second symphony by Robert Schumann. This symphony seems about the healing process. It opened in ambiguities and a quiet fanfare that might have even sounded at home in the Carpathian Mountains. Preu got an articulate sound from the orchestra as they notched up the tempo to play the first theme group. There were many memorable passages, like the voicings in brass as triplets take over the music from the first theme group in the recapitulation. The first violin section was surgical in the famous perpetuum writing in the scherzo.
Preu took a swift tempo for the third movement, faster than adagio espressivo, but the tempo was a revelation. It energized the heart-wrenching melodic lines in this movement and brought vitality to the Bach-like sound world that Schumann created.
The finale is about attempted heroism that comes to a stop midway. The remainder of the movement weaves references to earlier motives with an invocation of the last song in Beethoven's famous song cycle "An die ferne Geliebte." The instrumental passage that is frequently quoted translates in the original song as "Beloved, take these songs that I leave you." This was a performance that music lovers have every reason to celebrate. It was engaging at every level.