ASO dazzles with Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’

David Alan Miller
Albany Times Union

SARATOGA SPRINGS - Even the Albany Symphony Orchestra, with its trenchant focus on the music of today, must pay its respects to Beethoven. But when any ensemble does its duty to the master, the trick is making the performances not sound dutiful. That was no problem Thursday night at the Canfield Casino when David Alan Miller and his team delivered the Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" with bristling life.

Beethoven burst the bounds of what a symphony could be in this work, most obviously through its extraordinary length, which can sometimes feel like a slog. But instead, Miller's interpretation showed how much variety Beethoven packed into each movement.

The opening Allegro con brio took off at a rapid clip that seldom let up. The feisty revolutionary quality of the writing came through fully, and not just in the heavy whacks from timpanist Jeremy Levine. Yet the modest sized forces - only about 40 players - heightened the contrasts of textures. This was particularly the case with the reduced string choir. Lean and almost frail in the opening, its sound became warm and full bodied in the Adagio.

Miller's emphasis on the mercurial character of the music was most apparent in the Finale. Some opening eighth notes, bouncing amidst the woodwinds, came off like laughter. The performance went on to be cheerful, triumphant, consoling and ultimately revelatory.

Guitarist Eliot Fisk was on hand to debut a new concerto but composer Robert Beaser only completed two out of three movements. Perhaps Beaser would have delivered on time if the premiere was in New York City, where another orchestra is also slated to perform it. Played out of sequence - first slow, then fast - the essays felt disjointed at best. The orchestral writing, flashy and traditional, was far more attractive and memorable than the material for guitar.

Fisk filled out the time gap with some solo material. First up were some variations on themes from Mozart's "Magic Flute" by Fernando Sor. After the concerto came Paganini's 24th Caprice. The latter showed Fisk's excellent technique and gave us a tune to hum during intermission. One assumes the guitarist has a more elegant tone than ever came through the amplification system.

The concert began with a merry little overture from Rossini that was highlighted by the dexterous work of oboist Karen Hosmer and flutist Floyd Hebert.