Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tunes and More Tunes

OK! Where are we now? The Tennessee Theatre, of course. The “Big Orchestra” is hosting a guest conductor, Larry Loh from Pittsburgh. In that city, he is the Resident Conductor of the Pittsburgh Symphony, and director of the Pittsburgh Youth Symphonies. The January Masterworks concert pair is given over to music of Berlioz (Roman Carnival Overture), Shostakovich (Cello Concerto #1), and Tchaikovsky (4th Symphony). These shows have 7:30 starts at the Tennessee this coming Thursday and Friday nights.

Our soloist is Julie Albers, from New York. She has just been appointed Principal Cellist of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, but is also on the faculty of the McDuffie Center for Strings at Mercer University in Atlanta. Such is the life of an in-demand player; lots of frequent flyer miles there. As busy as she is, there is no sense of harriedness in her playing. The Shostakovich Concerto on which she is featured requires great concentration and focus, and she brings out the best in the work.

And now a little about that work. The more frequently performed and studied of the two Shostakovich Cello Concerti by far, the First Concerto in E-flat was written in 1959, 3 years before the String Quartet No. 8 that the Principal String Quartet performed this past November. The two works share some material; the main theme of the concerto's first movement appears in the quartet's scherzo. The outer movements of the concerto are boisterous, bordering on wacky, with some fairly simple melodic ideas receiving harmonization from Shostakovich's unique tonal and rhythmic palettes. The second movement Moderato is cast in a serene, meditative (but DEFINITELY not morose) mood, and features a duet between the solo cello (playing artificial harmonics) and the celeste, played by Carol Zinavage Shane. (Carol and I both agree that the Turtles' 1968 hit You Showed Me borrows its melody from this movement). The Moderato yields to an extended stream-of-consciousness cadenza, leading to an upbeat (and offbeat) finale. As a whole, the work definitely bears repeated listening; there is SO MUCH in it.

Speaking of so much, “Tchaik 4” is all of that. Before I knew the work well, I just assumed that the multitude of tunes in it were from different pieces by Tchaikovsky. Then I performed it for the first time, and I couldn't believe that all that stuff I had heard was in just the FIRST MOVEMENT. At least 8 different themes appear, ranging from lilting to soaring to tumultuous. The first movement Andante sostenuto/Moderato con anima is the longest symphony movement Tchaikovsky composed, but it is done so smoothly that one doesn't notice the length as much as Tchaikovsky's gift as a tunesmith. The 3rd movement Scherzo: Pizzicato Ostinato stands alone in all of the symphonic literature with not a single bowed note from the strings. The Finale is fast and furious, and provides a happy ending.


I haven't spoken of the Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture which opens the concert, but it is a true classic. It has to be, it is full of Berliozian wit and verve, and besides, it has an English horn solo in it. Don't be late or you'll miss it!

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