Stamford Symphony serves up a sweet repast

25. Oct. 2008 –

" Dolce" means sweet, or sometimes gentle, in Italian. In music it means that and more - it has a sound of its own. It could be defined by the way pianist Vladimir Feltsman played the figuration near the close of the second movement of the "Emperor Concerto" by Beethoven with the Stamford Symphony on Oct. 18.

In a sudden gesture, he turned his left palm up to cue the flute and clarinet entrance and then did something only the most humble and sensitive soloist would do - he played underneath them so the melody that Beethoven intended could ring clearly. He played dolce.

He was setting up one of the most incredible and dramatic moments in the concerto, when the music sinks suddenly from B major to B-flat major, and anticipates the explosive opening of the finale.

Feltsman is a power player, able to project thunderous sound where it is called for, as in the staccato triplets in his opening entry in B-flat major, or the place where he single-handedly answers the entire orchestra with massive C-flat major chords in the development.

But he also projects an intelligent awareness of how divergent and seemingly different passages of music are interrelated and finds ways of voicing them to create clarity.

He is a character. With both arms straightened, he comfortably leaned against the fallboard for a large part of the orchestra exposition. Then, he shifted his weight, removed only his right hand, and played his chromatic entry as if it were an inspired improvisation.

This sense of improvisation characterized the performance. The orchestra, led by conductor Eckart Preu, developed Feltsman's energy and provided interaction and support that was inspired and playful.

The orchestra was sufficiently warmed up; it had performed the "Coriolan Overture" by Beethoven and the massive C-Major Symphony by Schubert on the first half prior to Feltsman's appearance.

The Coriolan was played with fierceness. Careful attention was given to the relationship between motion and silence. A strongly articulated sense of balances in the tutti passages made an impression.

The "Great C-Major" Symphony by Schubert closed the first half of the program. The orchestra made clear distinctions between rhythms that divided in two and rhythms that divided in three. Often, through inattention these distinctions are blurred in performance, and throughout the symphony this made for vivid textures.

Set against this larger machinery, there were several outstanding individual performances, including several lyrical and affecting oboe solos by Melanie Feld, a strong clarinet presence, led by Dean LeBlanc, and excellent horn playing, not only in the exposed opening, but throughout the symphony by Julia Pilant and Louise Crowley. The section trombone playing was also fantastic.

This was an adventurous and massive program, played by the orchestra with unbelievable stamina. When the string section reached the four sets of four sforzando C major chords just before the end of the Schubert symphony, it attacked them with vigorous and full bow strokes. It gave the impression of rowing - something like a sculling crew rallying toward victory.

It was an auspicious and athletic way to launch the new season.



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