Review: Moscow State Symphony Orchestra @ Proctors, 11/13/14

11.14.14
Moscow State Symphony Orchestra
Times Union

By Mary Jane Leach

SCHENECTADY — The Moscow State Symphony Orchestra performed at Proctors on a chilly Thursday night, and under the tightly controlled direction of conductor Pavel Kogan, it sounded as if it was playing in its own Great Hall and not in an old Vaudeville theater. The balance of the different sections of the orchestra was impressive, with the winds just right, neither too subdued nor overpowering, so that you were able to hear melodies that sometimes get lost in the shuffle. The strings had a wonderful, lush sound, but weren’t overpowering. And dynamically, the orchestra navigated the softest of passages to letting it all out, all while staying balanced.

Opening the concert was a suite of ballet music from Charles Gounod’s opera “Faust,” in seven tantalizingly short sections that were like amuse-bouches, just enough to set the scene, to whet the appetite, and then moving on to something else, culminating in a demented romp that came to a crashing end.

Joshua Roman, the thirty year old cellist based in Seattle, performed Camille Saint-Saëns’s “Cello Concerto No. 1” in A minor, opus 33 with the orchestra. It is a work in three sections that are played continuously, and the soloist and the orchestra ran the gamut from soft to loud, from high to low, in an almost organic way, so that when the cello was playing at its softest, you could still hear him clearly, even though the entire orchestra was also playing. Roman showed impressive range, and he and the orchestra were in harmony with each other. In the third section especially, he played fast passages from high to low and back again with a feathery touch, all while staying perfectly in tune.

The Johannes Brahms “Symphony No. 4″ in E minor, opus 98 is a work performed so often, that one wonders what motivates an orchestra to program it. Well, with this orchestra, an attention to detail really paid off. This was especially true in the second movement, which showcased the woodwinds to great effect, from the opening modal melody played by the horns, with careful passing of the melody from one wind instrument to another and using deftly shaped dynamics, to the soft modal ending. The piece ended with a triumphant flourish to an enthusiastic audience.

Throughout the evening, maestro Kogan conducted with a tight precision, but when he came out to lead the orchestra in two encores, the “Annen Polka” by Johann Strauss and “Hungarian Dance No. 1” by Brahms, he and the orchestra loosened up and just had fun, spreading an infectious warmth to the crowd, which helped to offset the dismay of walking outside to find snowflakes falling.