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Albany Symphony Orchestra @ Palace Theater 9/21/13

09.21.13
Cho-Liang Lin
Times Union

By Joseph Dalton

ALBANY – The Albany Symphony Orchestra’s new season got off to a stormy start Saturday night at the Palace Theater.  Yet that was all according to the music.

The program featured the thunderous and explosive Fourth Symphony of Tchaikovsky as well as the First Violin Concerto of Shostakovich, which has the political winds of Soviet Russia blowing through it.  Also, a premiere by Clarice Assad depicted a ritualistic invocation of a rainstorm in the Amazon.

From a performance perspective, it was smooth sailing all the way.

David Alan Miller’s account of the Tchaikovsky offered plenty of thrills and charms and showcased each section of the orchestra to fine effect.  The sturdy horns got things going and the full brass choir carried the finale.  In between, there were many passages where Tchaikovsky favored the woodwinds, and the players rose to the occasion.  Particularly memorable was the first movement’s brief and jaunty duet for the clarinet and flute.  As for the strings, the all-pizzicato third movement was a particular delight, with varied dynamics and surging tempos.

Cho-Liang Lin was the soloist in the Shostakovich, which is an oddly proportioned piece though rich in sentiment.  The heart is laid bare in the long cadenza that bridges the third and final movements.  Lin’s performance of it was exquisite and seemed to still the very air in the room.  In contrast, he had a meaty mid-range sound in the long unbroken lines of the long opening Nocturne.  Shostakovich’s characteristic mix of mournfulness and irony was never wholly absent in the four movements, but the Scherzo and concluding Burlesque were both given plenty of propulsion and style.

Assad is one of this year’s ASO composers, so we’ll be hearing more from her.  In her new work, “Nhanderú,” she wasted not a second in letting rain sticks and bells and sundry other percussion evoke the falling rain.  Other effects came when the orchestra rubbed their hands together and snapped their fingers or mumbled and even briefly chanted.  (They played their instruments, too.)  None of these gentle antics forged new ground and that’s fine.  What was lacking was any personal perspective or originality in overall form.  Maybe rainstorms in Brazil are just predictable.

ASO concerts certainly aren’t though.  More classics, star soloists and fresh works are still to come in the months ahead.