This was a most extraordinary concert by the ASO. Music Director Spano earned by thanks for presenting something outside of the classical top 40- at least for part of the program.
Sibelius' Tapiola is a tone poem that deals with the forest god of Finland, Tapio. It evokes the forest and contains a wonderful storms sequence that rustles through the trees like an earlier-time Sandy. I like the music of Sibelius and the ASO has the requisite skills to make a convincing performance. Sibelius' compositions can become heavy and, well, boring, if the conductor does not have the ability to see the longer arch of the piece and give it a sense of movement. Last season the ASO performed one of Sibelius' symphonies that was so turgid that I couldn't wait for it to be over. Fortunately that was not the case with this presentation of Tapiola.
The concert ended with a great performance of Beethoven's Fifth. Yes indeed, one of the top 40, but an exciting performance none the less. I found Maestro Spano to be more attentive to some of the inner voices of the piece than I am used to in some of his performances. The violins played the fugue-like passages with great precision. All sections of the orchestra were great. The bassoons and the piccolo stood out, as did the flutes and brass. Laura Ardan seemed to be listening intently to the music and getting caught up in it, even when she was not playing. It is wonderful to see violinists Coucheron, Pu, Bruns and Lin play with almost choreographed unity. There is no doubt about their investment in a great performance.
For me, the highlight of the concert were the songs by Grieg and Sibelius. Solveig's song from Peer Gynt, often heard in an orchestra version, is so heartfelt, sad and full of longing that it touches the heart like few others. It was sung here by Jessica Rivera, who has a rich soprano, with a wide vibrato that warms up her voice but might border on the out-of-control if performed by a lesser singer. I am taken lately with how writers can use words to express love and longing. I am nearly incapable of being creative in my writing- I guess I spent too many years writing technical documents. Anyway, here are the words to Solveig's song from the ASO program guide (written by Ken Meltzer):
The winter and spring both may come, and disappear,
Summer, too, may fade, and the whole year,
But surely one day you will return to me,
And I will wait for you, as I promised long ago.
May God strengthen you, wherever you may go,
God bring you comfort, if you stand at His footstool.
I will wait here until you return;
And if you are in Heaven, I shall meet you there!
The second Grieg song is titled "I love you." It is a broadly romantic piece that is full of warmth and beauty. Here are the lyrics, again from the ASO program notes (as are all of the lyrics):
You have become the sole thought of my thoughts,
You are my heart’s first love!
I love you as no one else on Earth,
I love you now and for all eternity!
The first Sibelius song is titled "The First Kiss":
On a rim of silver mist sat the Evening Star,
The maiden asked from the shadowy grove:
Tell me, Evening Star, what does heaven think
when you give the first kiss to your sweetheart?
And Heaven’s timid daughter was heard to answer:
The angels of light look to earth
And see the reflection of their own happiness;
only death turns his glance away, and weeps.
The second Sibelius song was "Was it a Dream?":
Was it a dream that once, in a beautiful time,
I was your heart’s true love?
I remember it as a song, now silent,
Whose strains still echo.
I remember a rose you tossed,
A look, so shy and tender,
I remember a glittering tear when we parted.
Was it all, all a dream?
A dream as fleeting as the life of a cowslip
In a springtime green meadow,
Whose beauty soon withers,
To make way for new flowers.
But many a night I hear a voice,
Through my stream of bitter tears:
Hide this memory deep in your breast,
It was your best dream!
Schmaltzy? A bit. Beautiful? Undeniably.
The final song was Rachmaninov's "Vocalise." This is familiar music, often heard just in an orchestral arrangement. The solo soprano adds immeasurably to the stunning music. Again, Ms. Rivera was outstanding.
The inclusion of these songs, rather than the traditional concerto, was a welcome change and made the program leap beyond the usual.
It was nice also to see the audience size rebound to close to normal levels.
Thanks to all of the benefactors, patrons, musicians, and volunteers that made this concert possible.