Eckart Preu conducted the Stamford Symphony last weekend in their final concert of the season.
The program was not of the ordinary, really, beginning with a contemporary piece called "Le tombeau de Liberace." Instead of poking fun at the flamboyant pianist, it was a tribute to him, perhaps enjoying his eccentricities, bur remembering that, with all the capes and candelabras and sly winks at the camera, Liberace was a very fine pianist. There was a grand piano onstage, complete with candelabra, and the very talented piano soloist, Emily Wong arrived swathed in a floor-length gold lame cape. (What else?) The piece was in four movements. The thematic material reflected Liberace's ability to take a classical piece and swing it boogie-woogie style. "Rhinestone Kickstep" took us on a lively walk along the streets of Las Vegas. The second, "How do I love thee?" was based on the famous sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, one which Liberace loved to quote. It was bluesy, but complex, with interesting instrumental effects, but also elegiac, especially in the low strings. The third movement, "Sequin Music" was the composer's interpretation of the musical notes on the sides of Liberace's piano-shaped swimming pool, of all things, and it was full of florid, even bubbly, fun. The final section, "Candleabra Rhumba" was the sort of piece that made you want to get up and dance! I really liked this one.
The music of Jean Sibelius, the great Finnish symphonic composer, is unmistakably Nordic, moody, brooding, melodic and changeable. His Symphony No. 7 in C major is not broken up into sections but of one piece, full of dark yearning that suddenly turns to neo-Wagnerian thunder, stormy and occasionally bleak, then relieves it with some light chatter and dancing. As it ends, it leaves the listener with a sense of haunting, as thought there's something more, but what?
After intermission, Peter Tschaikowsky's Symphony No. 6 in B Minor, known as the "Pathetique" was given an outstanding performance. Before it began, some excerpts from Tschaikowsky's diaries were read with charm by Joel Dommel, a young actor from the Hartt School, whose name alas was not in the program, but was announced.
This is not happy music. The first movement, with its highly romantic main theme, had definite mood swings and the fourth, which an Adagio lamentoso, is just that, a lament. Maestro Preu's pacing in both gave the music energy despite its melancholy, which made the explosion of sound in the middle of the first section something of a shock The Allegro con grazia is almost a waltz, almost because the musical metre is 5/4 not the usual 3/4, but it is graceful, and even sunny. The third section, Allegro vivace, might have depicted a wild moonlit revel, with some (maybe not) surprising emotional, even tempestuous ups and downs. The music, utterly different from the first and last sections, was wonderful. The final movement began with music that resembled deep sighs, even sobs, which led into music of nearly overwhelming, but majestic, sorrow. This piece was the composer's last, as he died nine days later.
The orchestra's playing, in Maestro Preu's skilled hands, was excellent. There were a number of brief, beautiful, instrumental solos, the clarinet, (Liam Burke) the bassoons, (Maureen Strenge and Marc Goldberg) to name only a few. The brass sound was warm and gilded, and the entire string section offered up a voluptuous sound. I've rarely seen a tympanist work as hard, and well, as Benjamin Herman.
This was a wonderful finale to a fine season. The audience gave the orchestra and Maestro Preu a long, well-deserved ovation. We were then given the pleasure of an encore, the Grand Waltz from Tschaikowsky's music for the ballet, "Swan Lake." Next season, there will be some really interesting programs to look forward to, including Anton Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 and the Ninth Symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven! Don't miss them!