The eagerly anticipated 39th season of the Central Ohio Symphony started on Oct. 14 with works by Zoltán Kodály, Sergei Rachmaninoff, and Johannes Brahms.
After a rousing rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” the Symphony performed Kodály’s “Dances of Galanta,” a colorful and dynamic orchestral suite written in the Austrian-Hungarian verbunkos tradition. Researcher, teacher, and composer Kodály collected and edited Hungarian folk songs and folk dances, partially in collaboration with his compatriot Belá Bartók. He included Gypsy, Jewish, and Slavic elements in this composition. The joyful and gregarious work is not long, but it poses challenges. It is rhythmically taxing, with lots of syncopation. Its chromaticism is outside the prevailing diatonic scale. In addition, there are constant turns, twists, and sudden stops. The wind section is as important as the string section here, and there are multiple solo parts for the flute, clarinet, and horn. It took effort to master all the intricate details. However, the orchestra, under its conductor Jaime Morales-Matos, rose to the occasion and delivered a convincing performance that was snappy and sharp, clean and crisp.
Russian composer Rachmaninoff wrote four piano concertos, the second one being his most famous and most often performed. The soloist was Frank Huang, an American-born performer who teaches at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and has given concerts around the nation and the world. His mature technique is nothing less than brilliant. As an educator with a Ph.D., he values precision and accuracy, not unlike an engineer. However, as an artist he knows that passion is equally important. He played the lyrical, unaccompanied portions with great sensitivity, using lots of legato. In Huang, mechanical perfection, musical artistry, and emotional intelligence are blended, resulting in performances that are accomplished and satisfying. Given his ability for empathy and eagerness for collaboration, it comes as no surprise to learn that the pianist is also an avid chamber musician. It is equally gratifying to learn that he is a champion of less frequently performed composers such as Nikolai Medtner as well. The audience was thrilled by this talented young performer and honored him with a standing ovation. Huang responded with an unexpected encore — the seldom-heard nocturne in B-flat major (op. 16 no. 4), an intimate work by Polish composer and statesman Ignacy Paderewski.
German composer Brahms completed four symphonies. His number 2, in D major, is not a loud and stormy work. The concert program referred to it as Brahms’ “bucolic symphony” in the tradition of Beethoven’s sixth symphony. This view is not without merit. However, this reviewer sees it somewhat differently. The work does not depict happy bucolic or rustic contentment, at least not until the more joyous fourth movement. Instead, it is filled with passionate longing and insistent urgency that seems to demand resolution and relief. Perhaps Brahms’ complicated feelings for married Clara Schumann, 14 years his elder, had something to do with the symphony’s endless yearning, although the work was not completed until twenty years after Robert Schumann’s death. Yet for all the libidinal tensions contained in the four movements, they remain rigidly controlled and constrained as were Brahms’ own sentiments. Two of the movements have the instruction “non troppo” — not too much! Everything in moderation! In the end, convention and tradition won over the urges of the heart and the flesh. In this respect, Brahms was like sly Odysseus (Ulysses) — he did not want to miss the enchanting song of the Sirens, but had given instructions to be bound to his ship’s mast so that he wouldn’t give in to deadly temptation.
The motto of the Central Ohio Symphony is, ”Engaging the community through music.” The Symphony has been reaching out to the larger Delaware community for 39 seasons not only through its regular concerts, but also through numerous summer programs. In turn, the Symphony enjoys the wide and unwavering support of both patrons (through ticket sales) and governmental agencies and non-profit entities (through grants). The partnership has done much to enhance the quality of life in the City of Delaware, Delaware County, and beyond.