Tucson Symphony’s final Classic Concert of 2014 combined one brand new piece, one solid old favorite and flashed a Prokofiev violin concerto between.
Harold Schonberg, respected music critic for The New York Times, many years ago noted the number of empty seats in Avery Fisher Hall one evening after the interval before a Brahms symphony. He opined that the New York audience had yet to come to appreciate Brahms.
Not so the Tucson audience. It saluted the return of Music Director George Hanson, after a brief hiatus, with rapt attention and the usual standing ovation for the Symphony No. 1. It all rewarded not only Hanson and the orchestra, but the 21 years Brahms spent on his first symphony from 1855 to 1876.
The lyrical beauty of the piece lies in the second movement, which sang in this reading much like an operatic aria. The opening movement on a recent Sunday found an orchestra apparently tired from not only a Friday night performance but from an opening program piece, a taxing concerto and a special tribute to Stephen Paulus that formed a long first half of the program.
Hanson, always an energetic conductor, was quite openly pumping up his players for the Brahms with, even for him, unusually physical conducting and cuing. After a somewhat pale opening, fronted with the striking tympani notes at the onset, the movement developed vigor as it progressed, ultimately providing a brilliant preview for the second movement.
Perhaps from fatigue, the fourth movement felt rushed, but the notes were all there and with the beautiful and familiar chorale which is part Beethoven, part Wagner, brought the symphony to a stunning climax.
The second Violin Concerto by Sergei Prokofiev is an interesting amalgam of the flashy and the florid. Movements one and three are for the virtuoso, providing lots of rising and descending scales, arpeggios and flourishes, demonstrating soloist Vadim Gluzman’s technical brilliance and incredible technique.
But it is in the second movement where Prokofiev pours out his heart, and possibly his love, according to pre-program comments by the conductor. Gluzman’s sound was huge on his big 1690 Stradivari, and both his visual and physical communication with Hanson and the orchestra produced a symbiosis, always a certainty for performance perfection.
The program opened with the premier of “Dusk Dances,” by Dan Coleman, TSO composer-in-residence. Coleman wrote the piece in honor of George Hanson’s contributions to the symphony and the greater Tucson community.
It is a small program piece intended to evoke the Santa Catalina mountains and the play of light on them from sunset through twilight and finally to a starry night. The constant pulsing of bass eighth notes throughout the piece became repetitious and, therefore, redundant. That issue might be re-thought in a future edition.
Not in the printed booklet but added to the program recently because of his untimely death was a quiet, somewhat mournful piece by Stephen Paulus, former composer-in-residence of the orchestra. Titled “Concerto in the American Style,” it provided a suitable tribute to Paulus, who died in October at age 65 from complications of a stroke.
TSO opens the 2015 Classic Series on Jan. 16 and 18 with Poulenc’s “Gloria,” and two favorites by Richard Strauss – the tone poem “Don Juan” and the “Trio from Der Rosenkavalier.” Tickets and information at www.tucsonsymphony.org or 520-882-8585.
Dr. Donald J. Behnke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org