The Hudson Valley Philharmonic under the able baton of Randall Craig Fleischer offered a mostly Russian concert at the Poughkeepsie Bardavon Saturday night. The program opened with a little Bach as tribute the violinist Betty-Jean Hagen, second violinist in the symphony (who had once won the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow), who recently passed away.
They then played Sergei Prokofiev’s “Overture” to his opera War and Peace based upon his own libretto to Tolstoy’s masterpiece. I’ve always yearned to see and hear an opera production of this magnificent opus (difficult to stage), yet I had to content myself with this tempting announcement.
Then, to celebrate composer Richard Wilson’s birthday (he is depicted in teaser photo), they performed a premiere of his revised version of Revelry, first performed at Bard’s Fisher Center in 2002. The result was a more lushly orchestrated celebration of joy—appropriate both for his birthday and to create an achievement parallelism with the gorgeous Russian orchestrations that followed.
Pianist Joyce Yang, born in Seoul, a Van Cliburn Silver Medalist and winner of Juilliard’s Arthur Rubinstein Prize, performed Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto no. 3; she brimmed with dynamic propulsion, crisp clean notes with a lyrical edge, and a feminine sensibility that bestowed new breadth to this melodic masterpiece that creates unexpected symmetries between piano and orchestra. Her transfixing performance endowed the piece with color that was not brashly Russian, but perhaps a more universal joyous charm. She had no trouble connecting the intricate dotted rhythms of this entrancing work with its larger structure as she played from memory, as did all the singing strings, so well-rehearsed were the soaring violins and cellos. As to be expected after such a performance, the audience was ecstatic.
Tchaikovsky’s 1877 Symphony no. 4 in F minor remains a concert-goers delight written during deep depression by a composer in cold Moscow yearning for suicide, which became the prelude to a nervous breakdown, yet this piece has become the most popular of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies for many good reasons: its beguiling melodies, charming rhythms, and intense contrasting dynamics, even its good humor as it obsesses on reverie, fate, and longing. Opening with joy, progressing to melancholy, becoming friskily capricious, and concluding with contagious exaltation, it offers an irresistible psychological delight. The symphony may be said to be contemplation on unease that moves to breakdown and then is resolved with resurrected delight.
Tchaikovsky thought the first movement as the most original and accomplished while thinking the other three movements were better orchestrated. One should never miss an opportunity to hear this triumph, no matter how often it appears on a program. While the horns frolicked in the third movement, cellos sawed away with frantic, frenzied delight in the final climax.
The night was frigid cold, yet that never matters when a concert rings the swaying synapses inside one’s head.