Midcoast Symphony Orchestra
Franco Center, Lewiston
May 12, 2018
by Christopher Hyde
The young French pianist, Lise de la Salle, impressed audiences of the Midcoast Symphony a while ago with an astonishing performance of the Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3. Last night at Lewiston’s Franco Center, she showed that she could be equally impressive in a more intimate role, with the Schumann Piano Concerto in A Minor.
One of my first recordings was an LP with the Schumann concerto on one side and the Grieg Piano Concerto in A Minor on the other (could it have been Dinu LIpatti?). I have never lost my affection for either work, the Schumann in particular, which is a strange animal indeed. It makes a real attempt to avoid the heroism of the Romantic concerto, opting instead for its membership in a brotherhood of the culturally elite —the Davidsbundler, whose march is incorporated in the final movement.
There are sections in which the piano not only blends with the orchestra, but actually takes on an accessory role, like a motor that can be heard purring in the background.
The score nevertheless demands a high degree of virtuosity, especially in the exclamatory chords, and rapid passage work, which de la Salle has in abundance. Her playing is both precise—fitting a cascade of notes perfectly into a bar, but emotionally satisfying as well, something I had been concerned about after hearing the Rachmaninoff.
The Midcoast, under Rohan Smith, supported the piano ably, realizing Shumann’s concept of “first among equals.” There was a little tug of war in the beginning between the conductor’s favorite tempo and that of the pianist, but that was soon worked out.
The program began on a less successful note with three dance episodes from Leonard Bernstein’s “On the Town.” Bernstein’s orchestral arrangements are are difficult in both scoring and rhythm, and one questions whether their performance by an amateur orchestra is worth the effort.
Many of this popular composer’s works have come to seem dated, and this tribute to a Broadway that never was is a case in point.
After the last dance, Smith admonished the large audience not to applaud between movements. In their defense, each of the dances stands on is own, without being part of an un-interruptible whole. And even highly-structured classical works were historically cheered (and sometimes repeated) after each movement.
Smith concluded the program with the best-known symphony that is never heard: Beethoven’s Fifth. It should be programmed more often, so that new generations can understand why it is so famous. It is simply a miracle. Just one of its triumphs is the orchestration, which allowed all sections of the Midcoast their moment in the sun– especially the woodwinds. It was a fitting way to close out the season.
Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.