Portland Symphony’s Apotheosis of the Dance

Portland Symphony Orchestra
Merrill Auditorium
May 13, 2018
by Christopher Hyde

Once in a great while there comes a relatively unknown work that is truly worth reviving. The Concerto in A Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 82, by Alexander Glazunov (1865-1936). is a prime example. As played by the Portland Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Meyer, with violinist Chee-Yun, Sunday afternoon at Merrill Auditorium, it brought something new to late Romanticism, with a voice all its own.

The first section of the concerto seemed a little hum-drum, with statements and development of not very memorable tunes. Then came a very long and technically ferocious cadenza, managed superbly by the soloist. It was followed by a peal of thunder and trumpet calls, and it was off to the races.

Glazunov explores just about every instrumental combination in the book at a high rate of speed, somewhere between a quick march and a jig. The violin quizzically answers massed trumpets, plays duets with various sections and imitates the oboe, all of it held together beautifully by the forgotten opening melodies, transformed by the faster tempo.

A tour de force, and something new under the sun to anyone who had not heard the work before. Then Chee-Yun spoiled it with an encore– a piece of prestidigitation (Recitative and Scherzo by Fritz Kreisler) without any redeeming musical value. Any lasting enjoyment of the concerto, replaying its beauties in the mind, was obliterated. Chee-Yun, who has a fine musical sense as well as technique to burn, should have known better, and Meyer, one of three finalists for the post of PSO music director, should have talked her out of it.

As a young romantic, I imagined impossibilities, such as taking the great hornist Dennis Brain on a fox hunt to perform the calls, or getting the Philadelphia Orchestra into the pit for a performance of “Swan Lake” by the Bolshoi Ballet (even though their own orchestra was pretty good). Meyer’s version of a suite from “Swan Lake” fulfilled more than half of the dream, conjuring up elegant images at every bar.

The music is divinely Romantic, without an ounce of the cuteness that sometimes mars “The Nutcracker.” The violin solo by concert master Charles Dimmick was worth the price of admission; when combined with a cello part, played by David Paschke, it was little short of spectacular. Every part of the suite was danceable, although the tempo in Czardas was a trifle fast.

I have always had a problem with Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, Opus 45. HIs last works, they seem less inspired than autobiographical. It is fun trying to identify all the snippets of previous works, the orchestration is striking, and the emotion obvious, but they fail to move one like the concertos or the earlier instrumental pieces, such as “Isle of the Dead.”  Speaking of which, the dances comes alive in the finale with a ferocious treatment of the Dies Irae. It finishes with a prolonged cymbal clash which may, or may not, portray the soul leaving the body.

I won’t go so far as to say that Meyer made the music sound better than it is, but he and the orchestra gave it the best possible reading.

Christopher Hyde is a writer and musician who lives in Pownal. He can be reached at classbeat@netscape.net.

2 thoughts on “Portland Symphony’s Apotheosis of the Dance”

  1. Dear Mr. Hyde,

    Re: paragraph 6 from this review……………

    A friend immediately sent me your review because I am mentioned by name as performing the cello solo. Delighted as I am in the fact that you regarded the concert very enjoyable and well-played, I have to own up to the fact that, in absence of our usual Principal cellist, it was actually another member of the cello section that sat in to take his place this time round. His name is David Paschke. I do think I did do a credible job ‘assisting’ him on this concert in my usual role as Assist. Principle cello; however, I feel credit should be given where credit is due when it comes to a solo.
    David is a friend and colleague. He worked very hard on not only the solo, but on the rest of the music as well to lead the section for this concert. I was not sitting Principal as i have often done for personal reason. I was pleased to be sitting with David.
    If there is any way to make a correction on this in a timely manner that would be wonderful. I would be most happy if you mentioned that you got the correct information on this from me.
    Thank you very much for this consideration and thanks for your many reviews of the Portland Symphony performances over the years. Our orchestra members work very hard under not the best rehearsal schedule and, depending on the difficulty of the repertoire, I believe we present some wonderful music to our community and we try to honor the opportunities we have in this endeavor.
    All the best to you.

    Richard Noyes
    Assistant Principal cello of the Portland Symphony Orchestra since 1983

  2. A correction has been printed. Thank you for letting me know, and my apologies to all concerned.

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